Make your next road trip all about the journey instead of just the destination. If you’re coming down from Oregon or generally heading south on I-5 to Sacramento and beyond, adventure off the beaten path for unique wine and beer experiences, outdoor hidden gems, and a different spin on the Northern California expectations.
All it takes is a detour from I-5 at Red Bluff to connect to Highway 99 South, and then you can explore the less-trafficked path with a Highway 99 road trip through Butte County.
New Clairvaux is not just a winery, it is a Roman Catholic abbey and the home to Trappist-Cistercian monks who manage the vineyard and winery. In addition to the abbey, there is also a chapel and a bookstore, not to mention plenty of natural beauty. Fifth-generation winemaker Aimée Sunseri produces wines that have won a host of awards, which makes the trip to New Clairvaux a worthwhile one for all wine lovers.. Be sure to visit the chapel and take a few bottles home with you before you leave.
Get there: From Hwy 99, turn west onto Vina Rd and follow it onto 7th St. The paved road ends at the entrance to the Abbey property; continue along the dirt road and follow the arrows all the way to the tasting room.
From New Clairvaux, hop back onto CA-99 South to CJ’s Last Chance Diner, your first chance to grab a late lunch coming into town. The diner offers an impressive array of road trip favorites, from comfort food brunch and breakfast options, to a huge selection of burger and BBQ sandwiches, plus salads, sides, and a small kids menu.
After fueling up, head to Chico’s Lower Bidwell Park for a refreshing wind-down in one of the loveliest (and largest) municipal park areas in northern California. If the weather is favorable, enjoy a dip in the iconic Sycamore Pool fed by Big Chico Creek, or simply take some time to walk under the tree-filtered sunlight for a while as you let your mind (and stomach!) settle.
Get there: From CA-99 take the E. 1st Ave. exit and head west. Turn south (left) onto Mangrove Ave, and then turn left onto Vallombrosa Avenue. The outskirts of Lower Bidwell Park stretch along the right side of the street, with a few convenient places to park, including at the Community Center; but for the most direct access, drive about a block past the Post Office and turn right onto Vallombrosa Way (across from Arbutus Avenue) and park alongside Sycamore Pool and One Mile Recreation Area.
After your Lower Park explorations, it’s a short drive to nearby Downtown Chico, the bustling epicenter of the city and neighbor to California State University, Chico. Here you’ll find a treasure trove of shops and restaurants. Visit Made in Chico, a local-favorite that sells hand-crafted goods, clothing, local food items, and more. If you’re interested in books, stationary, games, toys, and a variety of home goods, you’ll enjoy a trip through Bird in Hand. This popular spot also houses the National Yo-Yo Museum, with a huge display of different yo-yos, including the world’s largest working wooden yo-yo, which sits in the center of the small museum.
Downtown dinner options are no less abundant than the shopping. Gogi’s sits not far from the Chico State campus, offering some of the best Indian cuisine in the area (plus a dedicated menu of delicious vegan options, including lassi and naan). If burgers are what you’re after, Burgers and Brew has a giant menu of burgers, sandwiches and hot dogs (and a pair of stellar vegan choices) supplemented by an unbeatable selection of beer on tap, including local favorites and their own line from Sacrament Brewing, or visit college favorite Madison Bear Garden for a Jiffy Burger and curly fries. If you’re looking for a fine(r) dining experience, Crush or Christian Michaels would fit the bill.
Get there: From Lower Park, take Vallombrosa Avenue back to turn left onto Mangrove Avenue, then a right onto East 3rd Street to access the Salem Street parking garage across from Momona. Street parking is usually available, but will be a lot more crowded on event nights, and be aware that while you can use a card to pay on the street, the parking garage requires coins.
There are plenty of places to stay in Chico, no matter what your budget. Options roughly equidistant from Downtown are available both north and south. If you head north, try the highly rated Super 8 or Best Western Heritage Inn just off of the Mangrove Avenue and Cohasset Road exit. Slightly south, closer to the Sierra Nevada Brewery, is the Courtyard by Marriott, just off of the Skyway exit.
Chico loves its coffee, and there’s no shortage of places to find a perfect roast. Stoble Coffee offers delicious and responsibly sourced coffees, teas, and blended drinks, plus breakfast, sandwiches, soups, and salads, served in a recently remodeled historic building downtown with a rooftop lounge. Day Camp Coffee, just off E. 20th Street, offers a comfortable, two-story experience with an assortment of plates, small bites, and top-notch coffee options. Coffee Ranch sits on E. 1st Ave, and they’ve got a more robust food menu with great morning options (including a few vegetarian ones) to go with their excellent coffee.
If you’re driving through on a Wednesday or Saturday, make sure you make the stop at one of Chico’s certified farmers markets. The Wednesday market is close to the highway at 30 Plaza Way. If you’re lucky enough to be in town on a Saturday, then the farmers market will be located at 1 East 2nd Street, in the heart of Downtown just by the roundabout. At either market you’ll be treated to vendors of all shapes and sizes, offering produce, local food, fresh breads, coffee both brewed and to brew at home, plus live music and other entertainments. See what all the locals are talking about and pick up a little something to take home with you.
One of Chico’s can’t-miss stops is Sierra Nevada Brewery and Taproom. Located on E. 20th Ave right off Highway 99, you’ll find yourself at a paradise of food and drink whether you’re a huge beer enthusiast or just accompanying one. The brewery offers several different tours of their state-of-the-art facility, beer tastings are available (sometimes with local-only and small-batch brews), and the Taproom restaurant serves a selection of cuisine sourced so locally it might even have been grown in Sierra Nevada’s on-site garden.
Explore Sohnrey Family Foods gift shop on the outskirts of Oroville. This local shop is known for creative flavors in its variety of nut butters, plus whole nuts, candies, local honey, local wine, and handmade home goods from local creators like Mary-Lake Thompson. Be sure to leave a little extra space in your bag for a jar (or three) of whichever nut butter samples you like the best!
Get there: Turn onto East 20th Street to merge onto CA-99 South toward Sacramento. Stay in the right two lanes to turn slightly right to stay on CA-99. Turn right onto Skillin Lane.
If you want like to sample the ultimate distillation of pure nostalgia, continue south to the Gridley Museum. This local museum is sure to delight visitors of all ages. The building itself heralds all the way from 1909, originally used as a local bank, with the upper floors reserved for dentists, doctors, and attorneys. There is a fully-furnished period dental office available to walk through upstairs, and the lower floor contains all manner of local Gridley and Butte County history, with clothing, wartime memorabilia, antique appliances and kitchen equipment, and all manner of photographs.
Get there: From Sohnrey Family Food, continue south on CA-99 to take a right on Spruce Street and then a left on Kentucky Street.
Your next meal is just a few blocks away from the museum at Casa Lupe. A staple in northern California for 50 years, this family run market and adjoining restaurant offers fresh salsa and tamales prepared traditionally daily. Locals know about the Lupe’s carnitas special, available only on the weekends, so make sure to show up early before it’s sold out.
Get there: Head south on Kentucky Street toward Hazel Street, turn left on Sycamore Street, and then right onto CA-99. The restaurant is on the corner of 99 and Magnolia Street, just across from East Gridley Road.
A designated Wildlife Area of approximately 9,100 acres surrounded by miles of rich agricultural lands, Gray Lodge Wildlife Area is available for visitors to hunt, fish, and bird watch. Birders will be happy for this stop—especially during the migratory season November through February, when snow geese and flocks of other birds take their rest in the area—but everyone can enjoy these pristine wetlands year-round, either for a relaxed car tour, or as a perfect sunset hike to end a day of local adventure. If the birds are present, make use of the few indoor blinds to capture unforgettable moments, or simply walk around the wetland loop and appreciate the pink skies as they contrast the water, trees, and local wildlife. You’ll also enjoy a view of the Sutter Buttes—known in the region as the “world’s smallest range”—on the horizon.
Get there: Take Sycamore Street to Colusa Highway heading west, take a right on Pennington Road, and a left onto Rutherford Road.
After that final sunset, continue your trip by returning to Highway 99 and continuing south for one more hour to reconnect to I-5 near the Sacramento International Airport and settle in for the night at one of the many available lodging options in Sacramento.
Whether you enjoy some time in Sacramento or continue down the interstate to your final destination, we hope that you enjoy the souvenirs, photos, and memories of your time spent in beautiful Butte County and remember to explore more off-the-beaten paths on your return trip.