Outsized food, attractions in small-town Chico

Bidwell Mansion State Park
Bidwell Mansion State Park Courtesy of California State Parks

Chico simply means “boy” or “small” in Spanish, and population-wise, this 88,000-person, tree-lined town at the base of the Sierra foothills is decidedly modest. On a road trip, it’s precisely four exits long on Highway 99.

A turn into Chico’s streets, however, reveals outsized eccentric charm, with parts history, natural beauty and California quirkiness expanding the town’s profile.

To start with, it’s the home of the Sierra Nevada brewery (1075 E. 20th St., 530-899-4776), a pioneer in the craft beer revolution that hosts tours of its brewing area and taproom. This legendary business, with its popular pale ale, is a must-see destination for craft brew aficionados around the world.

The bucolic California State University campus just off downtown also offers more than what it appears at first glance. With its Spanish-tiled Kendall Hall and rolling lawns, the university is the postcard image of scholarly calm. The school has over the years ranked among the country’s top party schools, and a visit to its surrounding streets most weekend nights shows why. In particular, Argus (212 W. Second St., 530-570-2672) and The Banshee (134 W. Second St., 530-895-9670) draw the crowds.

Then there are all the little restaurants, hotels and parks that are best discovered while wandering Chico’s breezy blocks. One of the best-known spots is the Madison Bear Garden (316 W. Second St., 530-891-1639), a restaurant-bar in a historic red house that’s filled with so many tchotchkes it makes your average TGI Fridays look like a minimalist modern art museum.

Also downtown is the Upper Crust Bakery & Cafe (130 Main St., 530-895-8366), with its beloved coffee, pastries and desserts. The spired Senator Theatre (517 Main St., 530-898-1497) is the town’s architectural landmark and a good place to catch live shows.

What defines Chico for nature lovers is the largest municipal park in California, Bidwell Park. It starts up near Bidwell Mansion then heads northeast along Big Chico Creek through town into the foothills, featuring lovely river and rock landscapes along the way. If you want to spend a night in Chico, you can try the vintage Hotel Diamond (220 W. Fourth St., 530-893-3100) with the tony restaurant Two Twenty.

Linda Gonzales contributed to this report.

Grinch goes hip-hop

What: “The Holly Feet & Grinch’s Groove Musical Dance Show” features the Tahoe Dance Company with a Grinch-themed hip-hop twist.

When: 7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 19

Where: Olympic Village Lodge at Squaw Valley, 1901 Chamonix Place

Cost: $25 adults; $15 children, ages 5 to 12


‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’

What: In front of an animated backdrop, actors perform the TV classic “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” while the San Francisco Symphony provides the music. Tony Award-winning singer Ruthie Ann Miles (“The King and I”) kicks off the show, performing holiday favorites.

When: 2 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 21, through Saturday, Dec. 24. Also 8 p.m. Wednesday and 11 a.m. Thursday and Friday.

Where: Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness Ave.

Cost: $15 to $85


Candlelight tour at the McHenry Mansion

What: Stroll through the candlelit McHenry Mansion and see how people celebrated Christmas in the 19th century.

When: Sunday, Dec. 18, 5:30 p.m. until the last tour starts at 8 o’clock.

Where: The corner of 15th and I streets

Cost: $5


Jessica Hice