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14 Fun & Best Things to Do in Chico, California

14 Fun & Best Things to Do in Chico, California

Chico is a small city in Northern California. The city is located in Butte County, roughly 90 miles north of the state’s capital, Sacramento.

Chico is most famous as the home of one of the largest municipal parks in the nation, Bidwell Park. The park contains numerous amenities, as well as the Chico Creek Nature Center, Bidwell Park Golf Course, Sycamore Pool and several hiking, biking, and walking trails. South of the city is the Butte Creek Ecological Preserve, a 93-acre site along a section of Butte Creek.

California State University, Chico sits just northwest of the City Plaza. The university houses the Gateway Science Museum and is home to the Cal State Wildcats.

For those interested in art and history, there is the Chico Art Center, as well as the former site of the historic Honey Run Covered Bridge that burned down in the November 2018 Camp Fire. Since 2019, restoration efforts have been underway to rebuild the beloved bridge.

If this is your first time visiting Chico, you will also find a growing food scene. Surprisingly, there are also over half a dozen breweries and brewpubs throughout Chico, including the Secret Trail Brewery.

This small but vibrant town is perfect for a weekend getaway. And there are enough things to do in Chico, California to keep you entertained and leave you relaxed and refreshed. Here are the top things to do in Chico, California:

Holiday Inn Express Suites Chico an IHG Hotel
1. Holiday Inn Express & Suites - Chico, an IHG Hotel Top Recommendation

Located in the heart of Chico, Holiday Inn Express & Suites - Chico, an IHG Hotel is a great place to unwind after exploring the beautiful city. The hotel offers comfortable guestrooms with amenities like free Wi-Fi access and spacious work desks. All rooms at the hotel are equipped with 32-inch flatscreen TVs, as well as ergonomic chairs. Guests can enjoy their favorite snacks and drinks from the 24-hour onsite snack bar or relax in the hot tub during their stay. For convenience, a business centre is also available at this property.

Oxford Suites Chico
2. Oxford Suites Chico

The Oxford Suites Chico Hotel is located at the centre of Chico and 4 stars hotel. It offers a special room that is designed especially to help you relax after a long day. This property is placed in the city center, 5.2 km from California State University Chico. The Oxford Suites Chico features a restaurant which serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Guests can also access 24-hour room service.

Quality Inn Chico
3. Quality Inn Chico

The Quality Inn & Suites Chico hotel is located in Chico, California. This hotel features rooms with free Wi-Fi and free parking on site. All accommodations at the Quality Inn & Suites Chico feature cable TV with premium channels. The hotel also has an outdoor pool, a fitness center and business services. Local attractions within walking distance include the Chico Mall and the Chico State University campus.

TL;DR

  • Most significant landmark – Bidwell Mansion
  • Best park – Bidwell Park
  • Best free activity – Chico Air Museum
  • Best thing to do for kids – Gateway Science Museum
  • Best thing to do for adults – Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. Tour
  • Best food – Crush
  • Best nightlife – Duffy’s Tavern
  • Best all-around accommodation – Holiday Inn Express & Suites Chico

Best & Fun Things to Do in Chico, California

1. Downtown Historic Walking Tour 

Downtown Chico Scenery
Travisthurston, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Address: 132 W 4th St, Chico, CA 95928

The Historic Walking Tour is a great way to learn about the city and could be considered a living museum. The tour begins at the corner of 5th and Main Streets. It covers eleven blocks that pass roughly two dozen of the town’s most historic locations.

Walkers can detour from the original tour to see iconic buildings including The Junction, Stansbury Home, and St. John’s Catholic Church. Those interested in the California State University campus can veer from the main group to see this impressive university. The final stop is the majestic Bidwell Mansion.

The Chico Heritage Association curates this one-hour tour. In addition to the historic locations, the route passes by many of downtown’s coffee shops, food truck vendors, and restaurants for a quick bite or a leisurely cappuccino. For some great drinks and nightlife nearby, check out Duffy’s Tavern.

If you have spent the day wandering downtown, it may be time for a relaxing nap before dinner. If you are looking for budget accommodations downtown, the Quality Inn Chico is within walking distance of Chico State and provides a daily continental breakfast and free Wi-Fi.

See Related: Most Exotic Places in California to Visit

2. Bidwell Park

Pool in Bidwell Park, Chico, California

Location: Chico, CA 95928

Bidwell Park was established in 1905 by a large donation of land from Annie Bidwell, wife of General John Bidwell, who founded Chico. The urban space covers over 3,670 acres with 19 separate relatively challenging hiking trails.

The park is one of the largest municipal parks in the United States. It extends from downtown Chico to the 10-Mile Trailhead at the edge of the Big Chico Creek Ecological Preserve.

This amazing green space offers parkgoers full amenities including picnic areas and playgrounds such as Caper Acres. There is also the Chico Creek Nature Center, Sycamore Pool, and Horseshoe Lake. 

The park is also home to the highly-rated Chico Municipal Golf Course immediately off Upper Park Road in Upper Bidwell Park. And the Chico Community Observatory sits in Upper Bidwell Park as well. 

If those activities are not enough, Bidwell State Park also has a couple disc golf courses and supports fishing, and horseback riding. Bidwell Park is an extraordinary urban space that over the past century has set the tone and enriched the lives of all of Chico’s residents and visitors.

If you are looking for contemporary Northern California cuisine near the park, then Crush is a great choice, specializing in Italian Flavors mixed with fresh, local, seasonal ingredients and an impressive wine list. After a full day at the park and dinner, it’s an easy drive to your spacious room and comfortable bed at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Chico.

3. Gateway Science Museum

Gateway Science Museum Building, California
image by Management/TripAdvisor

Address: 625 Esplanade, Chico, CA 95926

California State University Chico, or Cal State Chico is a big part of vibrant downtown Chico. And located on campus is the Gateway Science Museum, a kid-oriented museum with hands-on activities.

The Gateway Science Museum offers many hands-on exhibits. With a major focus on technology, robotics, and space, this Chico museum is a great place to spend a few hours with kids in tow. And it is the perfect place to cool off or stay dry in inclement weather.

A few permanent exhibits include interactive discussions on earthquakes and their association with electricity or a hands-on experience on the formation of fossils. Visitors are also welcome in the fossil lab, where resident scientists prepare newly found fossils for study and display. 

Nearby, the Tea Bar and Fusion Cafe serves light meals, smoothies, and hot teas for a refreshing stop. Or if cravings are more towards hamburgers, Mom’s is a great American restaurant.

See Related: Fun & Best Things to Do in Fairfield, California

4. The National Yo-Yo Museum 

National Yo-Yo Museum Exhibit, Chico, California

Address: 320 Broadway St, Chico, CA 95928

Even today, yo-yos are an important part of childhood. The National Yo-Yo Museum holds hundreds of items. There are examples of all types and shapes of yo-yos. Yes, shape, not all yo-yos are round. This is one of the many things you will learn about the iconic toy’s history.

The National Yo-Yo Museum is also home to the immense, working, 256-pound wooden yo-yo, Big-Yo. Most Chico locals agree that the massive collection is one of the most impressive in the region.

This small museum also hosts an annual yo-yo contest. It will take about two hours to enjoy the many exhibits and items.

After revisiting your childhood, the historic Hotel Diamond is only a few blocks away for a drink or a relaxing evening. This boutique hotel offers spacious rooms and modern amenities in an intimate setting.

5. Sierra Nevada Brewing Company

Sierra Nevada Brewing Company Building, Chico, California
Frank Schulenburg, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Address: 1075 E 20th St, Chico, CA 95928

The Sierra Nevada Brewing Company was founded in Chico in 1980.

Sierra Nevada’s beers are known for unique flavors and styles and their profiles run the gambit. The best way to experience this hometown hero is with a guided tour of the brewery. The tours end with a stop-off with some freshly brewed beer in the Brewhouse Bar. 

The Sierra Nevada Brewing Company complex is located south of Chico, in the beer brewing district. There are actually over half a dozen breweries in the small town.

Whether you are a Certified Cicerone or new to the craft, the Brewhouse Bar at Sierra Nevada Brewing Company is a one-of-a-kind experience. Located immediately adjacent to the West Brewhouse, visitors are afforded the first pour of the freshest Sierra Nevada beer. 

After the last tour, check out the competition and grab a hearty dinner at the Farmers Brewing Restaurant and Taproom down the road. Then opt for an early night at the nearby Oxford Suites Chico – a stylishly simple hotel with modern amenities.

See Related: Sierra Nevada Mountains Travel Guide: Things to See & Do

6. Chico Certified Farmers Market

Chico Certified Farmers Market
image by Management/TripAdvisor

Address: E 2nd St &, Wall St, Chico, CA 95928

The Chico Certified Farmers Market makes for a great free outing for the whole family. The market is a combination of local and regional vendors. Local farmers offer a variety of organically grown fruits and vegetables. 

Area entrepreneurs are also part of the market, selling their handcrafted jewelry and craft items. Prepared foods such as olive oil, honey, and baked goods are always on hand.

Located in the heart of downtown Chico, the Certified Farmers Market is open year-round on Saturdays from 7:30 am to 1 pm. Their other locations are the Holiday Market Parking Lot on Mondays (June through September), and the North Valley Plaza Mall on Wednesdays, year-round from 7:30 am to 12 pm.

7. Chico Air Museum

Chico Air Museum Aerial View, Chico California
Bsudicky, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Address: 165 Ryan Ave, Chico, CA 95973

The Chico Air Museum celebrates aviation’s history and is one of the top Chico attractions. Located north of the city, the museum’s collection has grown significantly. It now includes aeronautical and aviation equipment and memorabilia that are engaging and educational for visitors of all ages.

Almost two dozen refurbished planes sit at the Chico Airport in an authentic World War II hangar. The collection spans roughly 100 years and includes a World War I SPAD XIII, an Antonov AN-2 Russian Biplane, and a Grumman Guardian.

There are also fascinating speakers and local events held throughout the year. The indoor exhibits include photographs and uniforms from the beginning of the United States Army Air Corp to the International Space Station. 

For anyone interested in aviation or history, the Chico Air Museum is free to the public and a must-stop while in town. And while you’re there, stop into the gift shop for a small token of your visit.

See Related: Fun & Best Things to Do in Auburn, California

8. Sycamore Pool

Sycamore Pool, Bidwell Park, One-Mile Recreation Area Chico California

Location: Vallombrosa Way, Chico, CA 95928

Sycamore Pool, located at the One-Mile Recreation Area in Bidwell Park, is a rock pool that formed when Big Chico Creek was dammed. The water runs from a wading depth to over six feet near the dam and maintains a brisk temperature throughout the year. 

This living pool is creek fed and surrounded by high rock walls, tree canopy, and open fields. During the summer, safety is key.

From Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend, the pool keeps lifeguards on duty. This ensures a safe experience for everyone.

And during the winter, it is the spot for the annual New Year’s Day Polar Bear Plunge. Reminiscent of an old-fashioned swimming hole, Sycamore Pool is one of the best things to do in Chico, CA.

9. Bidwell-Sacramento River State Park

Bidwell-Sacramento River State Park Scenery
Frank Schulenburg, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Address: 12105 River Rd, Chico, CA 95973

Bidwell-Sacramento River State Park is located roughly 7 miles west of Chico on the banks of the Sacramento River and is jam-packed with popular amenities.

This 300-acre park is also full of protected areas for unique and endangered wildlife along the Sacramento River and Big Chico Creek. These riparian habitats, wetlands adjacent to rivers and streams, are home to amphibians and even leeches. 

Surprisingly, Bidwell-Sacramento River State Park has a beach area and trail camping. And while some hunting is permitted in the area, fishing is usually the main draw.

Salmon and bass are all found throughout the Sacramento River run. The park also has a boat ramp for small-craft fishing.

The Bidwell-Sacramento River State Park features numerous trails where bird watching is popular. Hikers will find interpretive exhibits along the trails and bikers also enjoy peace and tranquility, away from the crowds of the city.

See Related: Best National Parks to Visit in November

10. Museum of Northern California Art

Museum of Northern California Art Exhibit
image by Explore Butte County/TripAdvisor

Address: 900 Esplanade, Chico, CA 95926

The Museum of Northern California Art houses a collection of work that celebrates the unique qualities of Northern California artists and provides art-related educational programs.

It is located near the campus of California State University, Chico, and is a multi-medium gallery, which includes fine art paintings, drawings, and sculptures. The Museum of Northern California Art has an extensive photographic gallery that features Northern California area themes. The most notable are regional peoples and landscapes, which emphasize the differences in culture and geography as individuals move northward.

Past exhibits at the art museum included installations entitled Wings in Photography and Tales of Tattoo. Permanent collections include works by Ann Pierce and Salvatore Casa. If you are looking for an art gallery dedicated to glass and glass blowing, then check out the famed Orient & Flume Art Glass Company.

After browsing the galleries, a few short blocks away is the unpretentious eatery, Nash’s Restaurant. Grab a bite or a fresh coffee and dessert to round out your day.

11. Chico Theater Company

Chico Theater Company Sign
image by Management/TripAdvisor

Address: 166 E Eaton Rd # F, Chico, CA 95973

The Chico Theater Company, located in the northwest corner of the city, is popular with adult theater lovers and produces live performances. They regularly produce musicals, non-musicals, comedy, drama, and a few things that fall somewhere in between. This intimate venue allows local talent to hone their acting skills.

Opened nearly two decades ago, many productions are family-friendly. There are also holiday performances and a few things for adults only. The Chico Theater Company has also developed a Youth Company for children and teens interested in acting as a hobby or a career.

Before the performance, have an early steak at the Spanish eatery, Basque Norte. Or wait until after the performance to stop by Wine Time a block or so away for a relaxing glass of Napa wine and a dessert.

See Related: Best & Fun Things to Do in San Diego, California

12. DeGarmo Park

DeGarmo Park Entrance, Chico, California
image by Johnny0110/TripAdvisor

Address: 199 Leora Ct, Chico, CA 95973

DeGarmo Park in northwest Chico is a quirky park with amazing equipment and facilities for the family and free runs for the family pup. 

This 36-acre community park boasts softball and turf fields, soccer fields, and a striking playground. A leash-free dog park, DeGarmo Park is complete with cool-off pools when the pups get hot.

There are picnic tables and picnic shelters throughout the area and the park has paved, peaceful walking paths for a leisurely stroll after lunch. Open to the public from sunrise to sunset, DeGarmo Park has quickly become a community favorite.

As you leave the park and head back to your rooms at the Best Western Heritage Inn Chico, don’t forget to order a pizza or calzone from MOD Pizza for a late-night snack.

13. Stansbury Home

Stansbury Home, Chico, California
MARELBU, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Address: 307 W 5th St #5505, Chico, CA 95928

One of the oldest museum houses in Chico belonged to Dr. Oscar Stansbury. It was designed by Sacramento architect A.A. Cook and constructed in 1883.

It was the Stansbury family home for almost a century. Now, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The two-story home’s exterior boasts molded arched windows. At the roof’s center is a wrought iron fence with a fleur-de-lis.

Visitors can tour this magnificent example of late 19th-century architecture with full furnishings each weekend. The home contains Dr. Stansbury’s office, which includes a display of the tools used in his practice.

The home and tours are operated by the Stansbury Home Preservation Association. During the holidays, the home is host to a Victorian Christmas House.

See Related: Best Things to Do in Northern California

14. Silver Dollar Speedway

Vehicle at the Silver Dollar Speedway, Chico, California
image by Explore Butte County/TripAdvisor

Address: 2357 Fair St, Chico, CA 95928

The Silver Dollar Speedway is located on the Silver Dollar Fairgrounds, south of Chico. This venue is a top Chico attraction.

Established in 1951, the Silver Dollar Speedway is home of the Gold Cup, a California showdown of open-wheel drivers to find the best in the country. The Speedway is also host to Monster Truck Rages and Winged 360 Sprint races.

If you have never been to a raceway, you are missing an incredible experience. The Silver Dollar Speedway is the perfect way to get your feet wet and watch heart-pounding racing at its finest.

FAQ

What is the best thing to do with kids in Chico, California?

One of the best things to do in Chico, CA with kids is to visit the Gateway Science Museum. It offers interactive and hands-on exhibits of robots and dinosaur fossils.

If your kids love airplanes, then a trip to the Chico Air Museum with over two dozen refurbished planes is great fun. If the kids like the outdoors, heading to either Bidwell Park or Bidwell-Sacramento River State Park will provide some fresh-aired fun.

What are some things to do in Chico, California, when it’s raining?

Although rare, it does rain in Chico, California. So there should be a few things on the agenda, just in case. While you could always go to the movies, a trip to the National Yo-Yo Museum to see the 256-pound wooden yo-yo makes for a more memorable afternoon.

But don’t be surprised if you come home with a toy or two. In addition, visiting the Museum of Northern California Art and the Orient & Flume Art Glass Company is great for art lovers.

What are the best tourist attractions in Chico, California?

One of the best things to do in Chico has to be a day at the Silver Dollar Speedway. Located a mile or so from downtown Chico, the Speedway is home to the California Gold Cup, a heart-pounding year-long challenge to find the country’s best open wheel.

The Speedway is also host to Monster Truck Shows and race rallies. And for the outdoor-types, Bidwell Park is one of the largest municipal parks in the country, and provides countless activities for several days’ worth of fun.

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