An A-to-Z Attraction Tour of Butte County
National media mentions in recent years have highlighted Butte County’s greatest hits, like Bald Rock and Feather Falls in the foothills, Bidwell Mansion and Chico State University in Downtown Chico, and the always popular Lake Oroville. However, Butte County locals know the area is packed with so many more noteworthy things to do, see, and experience that deserve mention alongside our nationally known favorites.
So come along with us as we take an alphabetical tour through under-the-radar attractions, hidden gems, and everything in between.
A hatchet a day keeps the psychiatrist away—that’s what the folks at The Hatchet House believe, and it’s etched for all to see above its wooden lanes, each with a waiting bullseye at each end. But there’s more ways to chill out than just chucking around chopping hardware, and the Hatchet House accommodates with a laid-back vibe and an intriguing beer selection, in addition to its main attraction.
That the fairly rural Butte County community has an axe-throwing hall may not raise many eyebrows, but few might guess that the Hatchet House is a female-owned and -operated venture. Entrepreneur Arianna Mathiopoulous takes great pride in that fact and has created a unique venue here, combining two of humanity’s favorite forms of stress relief: Knocking back a brew and throwing stuff.
Mathiopoulous’s passion shines through in every element of the Hatchet House, from plenty of axe pun-centered merchandise to her own central positioning in the businesses’ operations and marketing. It’s not uncommon to see her or staff giving hatchet-throwing tips to patrons—which they relish doing, considering that fun and safety are key priorities. The Hatchet House’s friendly, endearingly off-beat environment is all about Mathiopoulous’ influence—after all, not too many bars will invite you to pull up a stool to play Mario Kart on Super Nintendo with the owner. (Then again, no other bars around here let you fling axes around, either.)
There are levels of competition for everyone, from first-timers to folks looking to get into league play. Above all else, it’s a one-of-a-kind social club in Butte County, where a few buddies looking for a low-key way to pass the time over a beer would be just at home as a bachelorette party. With its easily accessible location on Hwy. 32 and Cherry Street, day-drinker friendly hours of operation, welcoming environment, and novel concept, the Hatchet House is a worthy part of any leisure-focused trip to Chico, whether you’re kicking off a night out with friends or decompressing from a stressful week at work. Honestly, more places should have hatchets to throw.
Butte County has a rich history of pioneering, reaching back to the Gold Rush era. Oroville has been a renowned site for some significant “firsts” and “largests,” especially when it comes to dealing with water. To wit, the Bidwell Bar Bridge—which locals know is actually a reference to two bridges—stands as both a California Historical Landmark and a monument to some of Oroville’s ingenuity as it has managed the Feather River since the mid-1800s.
Most passers-through in Butte County will only ever see the “big green bridge” constructed along Highway 162; even most locals in the area only recognize the 1,108-foot suspension bridge that spans Lake Oroville. That bridge, built in 1965, is historic in its own right: When it was built, it stood as one of the world’s highest suspension bridges, soaring more than 620 feet above the Feather River’s streambed; now, when full, Lake Oroville’s surface is much closer to the bridge. (Bit of a macabre fun fact: “Bidwell’s Bar” is the name of the town in the original Feather River canyon that was flooded with the creation of the Oroville Dam. Something to think about when boating on the lake!) Visitors who partake in Oroville’s ample aquatic recreation will almost assuredly see this green, two-lane giant, and, depending on where they launch their boat from, may even scoot across it on the drive over.
But the more adventure-minded will also make a point to visit the original bridge, a 240-foot suspension bridge built in 1855 and moved to the south side of Lake Oroville 111 years later. The original was California’s first steel suspension bridge, and supported vehicle traffic for almost a century. It’s now functionally only a foot bridge (and superb selfie locale), but it still stands as an engineering marvel in state history. The American Society of Civil Engineers has declared Bidwell Bar a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. If you get the chance to hoof it across the original, consider that you’re walking on steel that originally traveled from New York by ship, around Chile’s Cape Horn.
Ever seen someone frown while wearing a balloon hat? Neither have we. (We’re pretty sure it’s physically impossible.)
Regardless of age, there’s something about balloons that adds a certain happiness to any situation. No child’s birthday party, farmers market, or celebration in Butte County is complete without the "Chico Balloon Man." With more than 30 years in the juggling business across eight different states, Michael Taylor is an established comedy juggler and balloon artist who offers high-energy solo or two-man shows.
Taylor has become a fixture in the local arts community for the creative way he contorts and twists balloons into awe-inspiring animals, hats, and other balloon-based creations. By bringing an overwhelming sense of joy to his balloon-twisting craft, Taylor’s unique skill set has earned him a reputation as the life of children’s parties, school celebrations, and countless other events.
That’s not the only trick up Taylor’s sleeve, however. As a master in the ancient skill of juggling, Taylor’s toss-by-toss method has helped thousands of people learn how to juggle over the years. He also puts on quite the show with his own juggling, thanks to use of items that include but are not limited to: rubber chickens, flaming torches, jump ropes, machetes and more. If it can be tossed in the air, Taylor can juggle it.
Taylor specializes in both children’s and business events, customizing each of his shows to his specific audience. For children’s events, Taylor maintains a fast-paced performance to keep each young viewer engaged and on the edge of their seats. Business events, meanwhile, incorporate participation and volunteers from the audience for a lively, action-packed spectacle sure to wow the crowd.
Taylor and his balloon-twisting, object-juggling craft are a fixture in the Chico community. Whether you’re at a local event like the Thursday Night Market or a private party, there’s a good chance that you might run into the Chico Balloon Man. If you’re looking to mix Michael Taylor’s custom balloon creations or juggling expertise into your next event or celebration, visit www.catchitquickjuggling.com.
If you fancy the preservation of unique cinema and supporting local business, you’ll find a perfect departure from the conglomerated movie-multiplex scene at The Pageant Theatre, right on the edge of Downtown Chico. The venerable local theater has long provided Butte County residents with a venue to view more off-beat cinematic fare—the types of productions more likely to star at Sundance than to show at Cinemark. A film arthouse in every sense of the word, The Pageant has always strived to show films that break from the blockbuster mold. Though the well-worn front-row couches of yesteryear are gone, the theater remains an intimate, cozy setting in which to take in a thoughtful show, be it a provocative documentary, the latest independent film raging across the film festival circuit, or even major Oscar winners.
It isn’t just the cinematic offerings that set The Pageant apart, though. Since 1980, the theater has maintained its “neighborhood arthouse” feel; from the street, only the decorative film reels and a couple of modestly sized posters on the walls give away what lies behind the single red door. That, of course, is a charming, comfortable viewing venue featuring some more health-oriented twists on old-school musts, like its vintage organic popcorn maker and cash-only snack bar, complete with vegan-friendly options, beer, kombucha, and natural soda. Plus, The Pageant’s owners recently updated the theater with a new filtration system, dedicated wheelchair spaces, and other accessibility features.
If your moviegoing excursions have felt a little stale lately, or if you’re simply wanting to take in a documentary or film that’s not available anywhere else in the county, The Pageant is more than simply an alternative to a big theater—it’s a unique opportunity to expand your cinematic horizons, support a beloved community icon, and get a true arthouse experience you just won’t get anywhere else in the area.
Butte County is a terrific place to soak in some nature, but one area, in particular, stands out as a must-visit: the Gray Lodge Wildlife Area. If you haven’t been birdwatching against the backdrop of the world’s smallest mountain range, can you really call yourself an outdoor enthusiast?
Gray Lodge, located in Gridley, is home to more than 300 species of wildlife, including shorebirds, waterfowl, and a variety of mammals. During fall and winter, more than a million waterfowl pass through the area, setting the stage for a stunning display of these majestic creatures in the sky. And it’s not just waterfowl, either. Hawks, eagles, kites, owls, and more frequent the area. Depending on when you visit, you can encounter migratory flocks of ducks, snow geese, corvids, and even white pelicans.
The gathering of migrating birds and the area’s indigenous species, all in one major rest stop along the Pacific Flyway, makes for a spectacular sensory show—a cacophony of birdsong and the incredible whoosh of feathers in flight. You can bring your binoculars if you really want to spot individual specimens, but much in the way you would take in a fireworks display—a visual feast with the naked eye—the birds of Gray Lodge light up the sky just the same.
Whether you’re driving the 3-mile auto loop, trekking through Gray Lodge’s assortment of trails, or taking a guided tour, the wildlife area is the perfect venue to enjoy a tranquil, relaxing experience in the middle of nature. General hours are dawn to dusk. Note that you’ll need a California DFW Lands Pass or valid hunting or fishing license to visit. For more information, call (530) 846-7500.
Maybe you’re with a group of family and friends, or on a solo expedition. Maybe you’re a wildlife lover, birding journal in hand, seeking a glimpse of an exotic specimen. Or maybe you’re a photographer armed with the gear to capture the skies. Whatever your interests and however you visit, everyone will appreciate what Gray Lodge offers: a magnificent backdrop that highlights both the serene beauty of nature and its inspiring, wild force. Simply put, it is not to be missed.
How can you top a warm day in Butte County? Just add music! One surefire way to transform a great summer evening into a fun-filled spectacle that you won’t soon forget is to top it off with some live tunes. Between Chico, Oroville, and Paradise, there’s an abundance of free spring, summer, and fall concerts to infuse warm evenings in Butte County with great music for you to enjoy with family and friends.
Chico’s Friday Night Concerts, hosted by the Downtown Chico Business Association, are a highlight of hot summers in town, combining live, local music with all the comforts and entertainment options that the city’s downtown offers. There’s no better way to enjoy your Friday night than to stop by downtown to pick up a delicious bite to eat, then mosey over to the city plaza with blankets and lawn chairs to set up shop from 7-8:30pm for the show.
Hosted by the Paradise Ridge Chamber of Commerce, Paradise’s Party in the Park markets itself as a convergence of families, community members designed to reinforce neighborhood bonds. These Wednesday celebrations run for eight weeks between June and August, and feature everything from produce, crafts, commercial and non-profit vendors, live bands, and intermission acts that include dances, youth groups, and demonstrations. These events last from 5:30-8:15pm, offering a succinct blend of community and commerce.
Oroville offers spring and fall versions with its Concerts in the Park series. Held on Friday nights April through May and Saturday nights September through October, the Concerts in the Park series offer a mix of live music, local vendors, food and drink options and even some fun on the Feather River. Hosted by the Feather River Recreation & Park District, the concerts take place at Riverbend Park in Oroville. There, you can shop local vendors, splash around on the banks of the Feather River, or simply relax and enjoy live local music.
Whether you are capping off a lazy summer day with a chill concert or kicking off a spring night out with a show, the free concerts available in Butte County serve as a great foundation to get outside for an evening with your friends, family, and community.
History, nature, and agriculture are the beating heart of Oroville, and all are on display in the Greenline Tour. The 15-mile driving tour, following a painted green line across town from the Feather River to Lake Oroville, covers the major aspects that make Oroville what it is. Area residents might know Oroville as a Gold Rush boomtown, but even the most studious locals can appreciate this comprehensive living history trip. And visitors may be shocked to see how much historical significance this corner of the state holds.
How long the tour takes is up to you. You’ll appreciate that freedom at Riverbend Park; you can launch a boat, hit the playground, play disc golf, or venture into one of several hiking trails. If you’ve got all day, you could spend much of it recreating here and Bedrock Park. Otherwise, move on to Oroville’s ample museum scene, which includes the C.F. Lott Home, dating back to 1856, and the Chinese Temple. An official California landmark, it highlights Chinese contributions to the North State. There’s also Bolt’s Antique Tool Museum (learn more about them at letter X), a one-of-a-kind, 12,000-hand tool collection. Move next through Centennial Plaza, where you’ll take in a killer view of the Feather River. Next up are visits to the Chamber of Commerce, the Ehmann Home (a pivotal contributor to California’s immense olive industry), and the Oroville State Theatre, which has stood for nearly a century. The Pioneer History Museum caps off the historical part of the tour before crossing the Greenline Bridge and giving way to some breathtaking nature.
The Feather River Nature Center & Native Plant Park sits on the site of a former Maidu fishing village. Across the river is the Feather River Fish Hatchery, which serves as a waystation for steelhead and Chinook salmon and allows visitors to check out the migration with underwater windows. Finally, a trip to the top of the Oroville Dam—America’s tallest—and a drop-in at the Lake Oroville Visitor Center, complete with its incredible viewing tower, round out the tour.
A town as rich in history as Oroville can’t possibly be fully experienced in a day, of course. But the Greenline Tour gets pretty darn close.
If walking in a winter wonderland is your ideal way to spend a day in the colder season, Butte County is home to ample room to roam when it snows.
Primary cold-weather activities in the higher-elevation areas of Butte County include snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and snowmobiling. For any of these, Jonesville is the place to go. Lying just beyond Butte Meadows within the Lassen National Forest, Jonesville is inarguably one of the best winter waystations around for adventurers looking to enjoy a snow day. For families with kids, sledders can whisk around on the hills near the staging area or build a snowman before retreating to the tailgate for a thermos of hot chocolate. Others will find acres of pristine powder to crunch through on foot, perhaps exploring the surrounding woods. And of course, snowmobilers can enjoy the crisp, bracing wind in their faces as they motor over the high country.
The Staging Area up off Humboldt Road serves as the home base for numerous winter voyages. Cross-country skiers, or those looking to break out their snowshoes, have access to 9 miles of untamed trails in the Colby Creek valley, with options for newcomers, intermediate skiers, and even experts. Those looking for a little more difficulty can opt for the 1,000-foot, 5-mile climb to Colby Mountain Lookout. For another fun but less intense option, you can also reserve a sweet backcountry yurt, just 1.3 miles off from the Staging Area, through CSU, Chico’s Adventure Outings.
If you’re ready for a longer trek via snowmobile from the Staging Area, you’ve got more than 60 miles of trails over forest service roads up through the High Country. There is access to Colby Mountain Lookout, and ambitious riders looking for a challenging day trip could even snowmobile clear up to Lake Almanor. And of course, if you’re seeking a milder snowy outing for the family, the hills and banks up along Humboldt Road through Butte Meadows are excellent toboggan spots!
Butte County might not offer prime downhill skiing, but that’s okay—there are plenty of spots where you can make a trek, gear up, and traipse through the powder.
Nothing quite says “holiday season” like a trip to the outdoor skating rink. Butte County is scarcely cold enough to freeze over any ponds, of course, but thanks to the development of two great ice skating rinks—the first in Paradise, at Paradise Recreation and Park District’s Terry Ashe Park & Recreation Center, and the second newly constructed in Downtown Chico’s city plaza—there are now options for visitors and locals alike to sharpen up the skates, throw on a scarf, and enjoy a brisk skate. Both are fantastic venues to learn to get comfortable on the ice!
New to the ice rink game is Chico Ice Rink in the Plaza, which opened in November 2021 in the form of a temporary installation over the plaza’s fountain. Accompanied by seasonal decoration, winter excitement and occasionally even holiday-season music, even spectators can easily get into the spirit! The rink adds a charm to Downtown Chico that could fill out a full afternoon and evening of fun. Holiday gift shopping is terrific at the many local shops downtown, plenty of cafes and restaurants are nearby to grab a warm bite or a hot drink, and the hustle and bustle of Christmas downtown adds to the seasonal vibe.
PRPD’s Paradise on Ice is the original go-to for skating enthusiasts since its opening in 2013. At a slightly higher elevation than the rest of the county that lies in the valley, the Ridge maintains fairly cooler winters, and the cozy, wooded environment Paradise offers is a special one. After a closed 2020 season due to COVID-19, the rink’s return is a much-welcome development for Paradise, which continues to recover from 2018’s Camp Fire. Open from November through mid-January, the rink offers lessons for skaters of all ages and skill levels.
No matter your comfort on the ice, the rinks provide sheer delight: the thrill as you and your date venture away from the sideboards, the kids’ shrieks of joy (then panic, then laughter) as they figure out how to go but not how to stop, the classic nip of the cold at your nose—and yes, even the inevitable ice dusting on your backside. You might forget you’re not actually on a frozen pond, after all.
If you’ve made the journey to North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve to take in the waterfalls and wildflowers, you may not have realized that Oregon City was just a stone’s throw away. At this point in its existence, it’s a city in name only, but it packs a few picturesque landmarks and bears plenty of historical significance to make it worth the slight detour next time you’re in the area.
Oregon City was established in 1848 as one of the first mining camps in the county. A group of 150 Oregonians made the trek south via the Applegate and Lassen trails as part of California’s gold rush, settling in the area and naming it after their original home in Oregon City, Oregon. At its peak, Butte County’s Oregon City was home to upwards of 1,000 people, featuring attractions like saloons and dance halls as a reprieve for miners hoping to find their fair share of gold. When that gold eventually ran out, however, the town’s population dwindled.
Today, Oregon City stands as a California Historic Landmark. It may not be the bustling community it was nearly two centuries ago, but there are some remnants of that era to help remind you of what it once was. The Oregon City School, for instance, was built in 1877 and held classes until 1922, when a shortage of students forced its closure. It has since been transformed into a museum maintained by the Butte County Historical Society, serving as a unique time capsule from a forgotten time.
The Oregon City Covered Bridge is much more modern (having been built in 1983), but stands tall as a picture-worthy highlight that welcomes you into town. The drive to Oregon City is worth it for the bridge photo op alone. But what really makes this trip special is the chance to reflect on an earlier age of this county’s history, and to capture a sense of the impact that California’s thrilling, short-lived gold rush had on these small mining communities. The town may be all but abandoned, but the charm of a previous time in Oregon City perseveres.
Few bodies of water in the North State offer a combination of leisure and excitement quite like the Feather River. Depending on your experience level and desires, you could revel in the peace and relaxation that accompanies flat water kayaking on the Lower Feather River, or seek out the adventure and adrenaline that are trademarks of the river’s Middle Fork.
There’s a certain serenity to logging a few hours (or an entire day) on the Lower Feather River. It’s surrounded by picture-perfect scenery, complete with the quaint silence that many nature lovers chase. As many in Butte County know all too well, it can get pretty warm on this stretch of the river in the summer months, meaning plenty of water (plus a hat!) is essential. However, outside of a kayak, stand-up paddleboard, or other preferred floatation device, you won’t need much else to thoroughly enjoy a pleasant day on the water.
The Middle Fork (and North Fork, for that matter), by comparison, is something of a different beast. While the uppermost stretches of the fork can be classified as a gentler kayaking experience, large sections of the Middle Fork appeal to more seasoned, thrill-seeking kayakers. The kayaking on this part of the river is anything but flat, featuring exhilarating rapids, countless boulders to navigate around (or over), and waterfalls that are not for the faint of heart. The scenery throughout the Middle Fork is incredible and unmatched, and any veteran kayaker in the North State should unquestionably have this destination on their bucket list. They just have to be completely prepared for the thrilling, difficult twists, turns and rapids that the Middle Fork of the Feather River will mercilessly toss their way.
The Feather River has something to offer all age levels and experience ranges. There’s family fun to be had on the Lower sections of the river, where safe, aquatic fun can be cultivated just below the Lake Oroville dam. And, if you’re game for some of the best white-water kayaking this part of the state has to offer, the Middle Fork has you covered. Whatever path you paddle, the Feather River is sure to live up to expectations.
The majority of performing arts fans across Butte County are already familiar with Paradise’s legendary Theatre on the Ridge. If you aren’t in the know, though, you’re in luck. The Theatre on the Ridge is steeped in history, dedicated to being a center for creative theater experiences, and revered as a landmark in Paradise that withstood even the harshest of natural disasters.
The Theatre on the Ridge (TOTR) is the state’s oldest non-profit community theatre north of Sacramento, with roots dating back to 1975. What started as two small productions yearly inside a local gymnasium eventually expanded into seven annual shows hosted at a venue built in large part by volunteer labor and contributions from the surrounding Paradise community. Today, the theatre boasts more than 750 unique season-ticket subscribers to help fill the 101-seat facility on a routine basis.
In 2018, when the devastating Camp Fire ripped through Paradise, TOTR miraculously survived, albeit with smoke damage and destroyed fencing around the property. Nevertheless, TOTR reopened in February 2019 with a rendition of Radioland’s “Return to Paradise”—what TOTR Artistic Director Jerry Miller described as “a love letter to Paradise.”
TOTR prides itself on promoting education and involvement in the performing arts as well as presenting opportunities for locals to both participate in and enjoy theater. There is no age limit when it comes to who can get involved in productions with TOTR, and the theater regularly welcomes opportunities to showcase both classical productions as well as drama created by up-and-coming local writers and artists.
TOTR visitors can expect a range of under-the-radar gems, plus adaptations of more well-known fare, like “Dracula: the Musical” and renditions of Broadway shows like “Too Many Cooks.” (Check their site for info on the current season’s performances.) Regardless of which shows you decide to attend, TOTR brings together the best of what Butte County’s performing arts community has to offer, evidenced by its long history of successful shows. Heading up the Ridge to see what TOTR has to offer is worth every penny.
You don’t have to go far to get up close and personal to a majestic relic of California’s Gold Rush; just head to the California State Park Northern Buttes Headquarters in Oroville, where you’ll find the Mother Orange Tree, the oldest living orange tree in California.
For something that literally sets down roots, this California Historical Landmark sure has been on the move over the years. The tree, which is officially a Mediterranean sweet orange Citrus x sinensis cultivar, was merely two years old when it was acquired in Mazatlan, Mexico, back in 1856. Judge Joseph Lewis of Sacramento was the original buyer, and the tree was first planted in Bidwell’s Bar, a gold mining camp just northeast of Oroville founded by John Bidwell.
The tree quickly became a fan favorite of miners in the area, especially as it grew to over 60 feet tall and produced around 600 pounds of oranges each year. More than that, though, it served as proof that citrus trees could thrive in a climate like Butte County’s. By 1863, 75 acres of orange trees had been planted across the county. That number ballooned to 3,300 acres by 1900, with 50,000 orange trees being planted in Oroville alone by 1888.
It hasn’t always been oranges and sunshine for the Mother Orange Tree, however. The tree has been relocated twice: first from its original planting site in 1862 to escape flooding from the Feather River, and once more in 1964 during the construction of the Oroville Dam. More recently, the tree suffered from frost in 1998 and had its survival threatened before eventually resuming fruit production.
The Mother Orange Tree may not be an action-packed attraction. It is, however, a living landmark that is steeped in historical significance dating back to the infancy of Butte County. And while it’s illegal to pick oranges from the Mother Orange Tree, whatever falls to the ground is fair game. So if you’re in the area, it’s absolutely worth the pit stop. But this beautiful, venerable bit of natural history is worth the drive alone—and maybe you’ll even get to taste a bit of history.
There’s a new pair of reptile experts in town, and they’ve brought enough scaly friends to share with the whole county. Kenni and David Huff own Nor Cal Reptile Adventures (NCRA), Butte County’s newest one-stop shop for all of your reptile needs. Whether you or animal-lovers in your life want to stop by the shop for the thrill of feeling a python coiling over your arm, or simply admire these creatures’ beautiful colors and patterns from a close-but-safe distance, the Huffs can help you create that experience.
The roster includes familiar favorites such as turtles, tortoises, lizards, and snakes. But the self-proclaimed reptile addicts care for a far wider variety of cold-blooded critters. From false water cobras and Burmese pythons (Calvin is the largest at 13.5 feet and 96 pounds) to blue tegus, Sulcata tortoises, and leopard geckos, the Huffs have just about everything that any visiting reptile enthusiast could ask for. The two opened up shop in 2020, having taken over family friend Ron Greenberg’s business “Ron’s Reptiles.” Since then, Nor Cal Reptile Adventures has been hosting birthday parties and special events, coordinating school visits, and selling feeder rodents and insects, supplies, and even some reptiles themselves.
These interesting creatures sometimes even make their way to the public—supervised, of course. They’ve been known to make appearances at the Downtown Chico Thursday Night Market, with Speedy, the 120-pound tortoise, providing the occasional shell ride to lucky, delighted toddlers. NCRA is also a “safe surrender” facility and accepts animal donations from owners who can no longer care for them.
The response from the community has been overwhelmingly positive. It’s not uncommon for Nor Cal Reptile Adventures to help new reptile owners learn how to properly feed and care for their ball python, or to provide an entertaining and educational performance for a child’s birthday party. Around town, the consensus is clear: Kenni and David and Co. are relentlessly passionate about what they do, and they’re more than happy to help any of Butte County’s reptile lovers.
Life’s a little different out at the Chico State University Farm. Time moves a little slower, the sun shines a little brighter, and the produce grown through the Organic Vegetable Project is just that much more delicious.
As one of Chico’s hidden gems in plain sight, the 800-acre Paul L. Byrne Memorial University Farm is the bedrock for agricultural education at Chico State. Established in 1960, students both attend class labs and work as part-time employees at the facility, which includes a beef unit, a mushroom unit, an organic dairy unit, and so much more. There’s a good chance that if you’ve eaten at a local restaurant in town, you’ve eaten something grown or raised at the University Farm.
If you’re eager to discover how the grub you’re eating made its way to your plate, the University Farm offers monthly, guided public tours on the third Friday of every month, when members of the public can hop on a tractor and explore Chico State’s “living laboratory.”
One of the most popular and successful programs coming out of that laboratory is the farm’s Organic Vegetable Project (OVP), which kicked off as a small-scale undertaking in 2008. But what began as one acre of produce has flourished into three acres and more than 50 varieties of vegetables to supply the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) membership. Those who sign up for a CSA membership are treated to a box of produce every week from April through December in exchange for their monthly membership fees.
The project incorporates the efforts of students, faculty, local farmers and other members of the community to help support the local food movement and small scale organic vegetable production. Its goal, among several other initiatives, is to identify and share information about the latest and greatest new vegetable varieties to help local farmers get a leg up on the competition.
Local farming is a linchpin of the Butte County economy. With an abundance of organic produce to contribute to the area’s eateries, Chico State’s “living laboratory” at the University Farm is an important part of the local farm-to-table process.
At its best, Downtown Chico is an environment filled with decadent food and drinks, exhilarating atmospheres, and memories that you’ll cherish forever. And, as anyone who has done even a little bit of walking around downtown can tell you, those memories are incomplete without a high-energy, tune-blasting encounter with the area’s favorite pedicab driver, Mike G.
If you haven’t heard of Mike “G-Ride” Griffith before, you’ve almost surely seen him. Cruising down Main, Broadway. or elsewhere in Chico’s network of iconic downtown roadways, Mike G and his dog, Lil G, have been long-time fixtures in the city’s nightlife. You’ll hear him before you see him, thanks to the powerful speakers delivering upbeat tunes that fill the night air. But when you see him and his energetic dance moves, it becomes evident that he truly shares a passion for patrolling the streets and giving rides to those in need.
He’s far more than just a pedicab driver. Mike G dons creative costumes for the holidays, dressing up as Mr. Incredible for Halloween and donning an elf costume around Christmas (look for him giving Santa a ride during Chico’s Christmas Preview). He’s become deeply ingrained in community activism, serving as one of Chico’s first ambassadors between local businesses and the homeless population. As a recovering addict with more than a decade of sobriety under his belt, he's also been a staunch advocate for providing alternatives to drunk driving. To that end, he’s regularly hosted events like an annual drunk driving awareness fundraiser in honor of Kristina Chesterman, a Chico State student who was killed by a drunk driver in 2013. And although he makes a living serving as a human taxicab, anyone you ask is bound to have a story about the time Mike G got them or a friend home safely for the night without asking for a dime.
The man is a certifiable living legend, having recently earned the moniker by being named the top local personality for the fifth straight year by the Chico News & Review. When it comes down to it, there’s no single individual more embedded in the Downtown Chico experience than Mike G.
Even if you haven’t gotten out to the grandstands, chances are you’ve heard engines roaring in the distance most Friday and Saturday nights during Chico summers. The familiar hum belongs to the Silver Dollar Speedway, home of some of the most exciting, adrenaline-filled action in the North State.
The high-banked, quarter-mile clay oval track has been operating since 1962, though dirt racing in Chico has even deeper roots. Between 1948 and 1950, sprint car races were held on a half-mile track that sat where today’s track stands. Two additional tracks were auditioned over the next decade-plus, culminating in the construction of Silver Dollar Speedway.
Today, it stands out for the unique entertainment it offers. The racing is fast, the cars are loud, and the dirt flies farther than you could imagine (don’t dress too nice if you plan on moving down the grandstands). The high-octane laps under the speedway’s illuminating towers are a spectacle to behold. And, if you’re lucky, you may catch a glimpse of one of the world’s best racers. Household names such as Tony Stewart and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. have taken to the track at Silver Dollar over the years.
Although sprint car racing is Silver Dollar’s bread and butter, it doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of the types of racing that the track hosts. Each week boasts a lineup of several classes of cars, dirt modifieds, hobby stocks, and more. The track even hosts annual monster truck and dirt bike extravaganzas for those who are less interested in speed and more keen towards high-flying acrobatics and jaw-dropping hang time. Silver Dollar is also home of the Gold Cup Race of Champions, a September staple that attracts some of the best sprint car drivers in the country.
If you’re a newcomer, there’s more than a few track veterans and bleacher mainstays that would be more than happy to show you the ropes. Fair warning: Casual fans at Silver Dollar Speedway quickly transform into dedicated regulars, and the weekly engine revving down on Fair Street will keep drawing you back for another exciting night at the track.
Across Butte County, residents have strong feelings and emotions around the word “resilient.” Most recognize it as the rallying cry for the people of Paradise, Magalia, and other Ridge communities that endured the crushing effects of the Camp Fire in 2018.
Mercer’s project, a sculpted phoenix made from roughly 14,000 keys that belonged to those who lost something during the Camp Fire, resides at the Building Resiliency Center in Paradise. It took Mercer eight months to create the statue, carefully placing keys from homes, businesses, cars and other belongings that were lost in the fire. The final keys added to the piece were from her parents, placed in the phoenix’s beak to depict the care parents have for their children.
The project has been just part of Mercer’s efforts to give back to a community in need. In the months following the fire, the Paradise native and Chico State alumna utilized her mobile art studio, Butte County Art on Wheels, to hold art classes for 12 Paradise and Magalia K-12 schools. In 2019, she partnered with artists and students that had been displaced by the fire to paint 11 murals at schools impacted by the destruction. And, with the help of a grant from the North Valley Community Foundation, she assembled 1,000 “You Matter” art supply kits for individuals affected by the Camp Fire.
The “Ridge Key Phoenix” was revealed at the Camp Fire’s one-year anniversary remembrance. As Paradise and its surrounding areas have continued to piece their lives back together and rebuild their communities, the phoenix has stood to showcase what’s possible with resilience behind us. It may have been born from disaster, but it represents thousands of people joining forces to create something better, a sentiment that has not been lost on the residents of the Ridge.
As locals will be quick to tell you, Upper Bidwell Park isn’t home to just daytime outdoor attractions. Just before Horseshoe Lake sits the Chico Community Observatory, a facility that provides the public with access to telescopes in order to gaze at the universe in all its glory.
The observatory is dedicated to providing access to the heavens through its telescopes to help educate the community’s youth and let visitors of all ages enjoy the unfiltered beauty of the universe. “Unfiltered” is the key word here, because the Chico Community Observatory relies on ideal weather conditions and clear skies in order to open its doors and showcase the galaxy. When it is able to offer its telescope to the masses, it offers a view unlike any other in Chico.
In January 2022, for instance, the Observatory was able to capture an image of Asteroid (7482) 1994 PC1, a rock the size of the Golden Gate Bridge that passed Earth from about 1.2 million miles away. Of course, you won’t always get the chance to check out a gigantic asteroid hurtling through the universe. Most trips to the Observatory do, however, present the opportunity to view amazing spectacles such as Jupiter, Saturn, our own moon, or even a collection of bright, deep sky objects out there in the cosmos.
The observatory is a free, nonprofit facility dedicated to the memory of Anita Ingrao. A documentary filmmaker who was widely regarded as the “queen” of the Chico Community Observatory, Ingrao volunteered as one of the directors of the observatory from its inception in 2001 before passing in 2014 after a battle with stage-4 brain cancer. Ingrao was credited with inspiring several youth volunteers to pursue PhDs in astronomy and physics, likely due to her passion for exploring the night sky, and the observatory works to continue her legacy on clear weekend nights (check for current open nights).
With the unparalleled beauty and serenity of Upper Bidwell Park as its backdrop, the Observatory features a unique way to interact with nature - both Earthly and otherworldly - that you won’t be able to find anywhere else in Butte County.
Whether it’s the highly anticipated Labor Day Float or just a standard Saturday cruise, there’s no summer staple in Butte County quite like tubing down the Sacramento River. When temperatures soar into the triple digits in Chico, going floating isn’t just one of the best ways to spend a few hours—it’s one of the few that’s actually enjoyable to do outdoors. Once you load up on sunscreen and pack a cooler, you’re all but ready for one of this area’s most cherished afternoon pastimes.
The Sacramento River is the largest in California, and the section of it running through Butte County is home to hundreds of acres of protected riparian habitat. It’s a great getaway in its own right when it comes to fishing or wildlife watching, but around these parts, it’s best known as the waterway locals utilize to hop in, cool off and let the current carry them.
As far as dropping in and getting out, there’s several options that can extend or shorten your stay on the Sacramento River. The classic route for most tubers is to launch at the Irvine Finch River Access area, found on the west side of the Highway 32 bridge after leaving Chico. From here, you’ll be able to enjoy a 3-mile float downstream (roughly 1-2 hours) that gently guides towards the Pine Creek area and Scotty’s Landing, Butte County’s well-known riverside restaurant. If you don’t want your float to end quite as quickly, make a pit stop at the aptly named Beer Can Beach just before reaching Scotty’s.
Alternatively, you can extend your trip by continuing down the river an additional three miles to the Big Chico Creek area and “Wash-Out” Beach. Or, if you’re feeling extra adventurous, you can start your float at Woodson Bridge State Recreation area, a whopping 19 river miles north of Irvine Finch. It makes for a significantly longer tubing excursion, but it does feature gorgeous snapshots of the Sacramento River National Wildlife Refuge system complete with a massive diversity of birds and mammals.
However you choose to float this summer, have fun, be safe, and be sure to take in the picturesque scenery that surrounds you as you effortlessly travel down the river.
For outdoor enthusiasts in Butte County, Upper Bidwell Park is basically Disneyland. If you’ve never ventured past Manzanita Avenue, you might think that’s an exaggeration. But if you have, you know that comparison barely scratches the surface of how truly awe-inspiring Upper Park is.
Upper Bidwell Park is based in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, featuring steep terrain, dazzling rock formations, and trails for all skill levels of hikers and mountain bikers alike. It’s also home to an abundance of wildlife, ranging from the occasional deer sighting to birding opportunities that include sparrows, phainopepla, great horned owls, Golden eagles, and more.
The park’s most redeeming quality is its diverse offering of activities that cater to a wide range of interests. If you’re up for a casual, shaded hike with plenty of access to water, Yahi Trail is a perfect route as it runs through the park along Big Chico Creek. Eager to test your limits on a mountain bike? Make the grueling climb up the North Rim Trail, rewarded by spectacular views and the chance to ride the best downhill in the park (that’s B Trail). Once you’ve switchbacked your way down, hop on Middle Trail to complete the heart-pumping loop. Or, if your legs are up for it, cross the creek and explore the exciting singletrack found on both the Annie Bidwell Trail or the South Rim Trail.
Of course, your experience in Upper Park doesn’t have to be nearly that exhilarating. In the brutal heat of the Chico summer, the park hosts some of the city’s best swimming spots, be it the ever-popular Bear Hole or a more secluded option further into the park. And a quick drive up Highway 32 brings you to Peregrine Point, an 18-hole, advanced disc golf course that mixes the fun of the sport with the sheer beauty of the park.
At the end of the day, Upper Bidwell Park truly has something for everyone. It’s Chico’s most poorly kept secret, hiding in plain sight for all who visit it to marvel in its scenery and enjoy as much (or as little) outdoor adventuring as they desire.
Did you know the North State is home to the “world’s smallest mountain range?” Indeed, the Sutter Buttes—a small, circular complex of eroded volcanic lava domes that sits just over an hour away from Chico—claim that (somewhat debatable) title.
OK, let’s get a small confession out of the way here. The Sutter Buttes are technically not in Butte County. In fact, they reside in neighboring Sutter County, just outside of Yuba City, but they are a prominent view along Butte County’s skyline. If you're willing to work with a slight suspension of disbelief and are open to exploring (just outside) Butte County, then the Sutter Buttes are a can’t-miss spectacle.
The Sutter Buttes are steeped in indigenous history, having been featured prominently in stories and traditions of the Nisenan, Maidu and Wintun tribes. Each of these tribes visited the Buttes regularly to forage for food and hunt. Additionally, in the Maidu and Nisenan religions, the Sutter Buttes was the location where dying tribe members traveled to ascend to the afterlife.
There’s plenty of other history to dive into regarding the Sutter Buttes (Spanish explorers in the 1800s referred to them as “los tres picos,” or three peaks). At present, the Buttes are 10 miles wide and cover 75 square miles, having been formed by volcanic up-thrust more than a million years ago. The tallest of the Sutter Buttes’ three peaks stands at 2,132 feet above sea level. That may not be much compared to other well-known mountain ranges in the state, but that’s still plenty tall enough to be easily viewable from many points in Butte County.
Currently, the Sutter Buttes reside on mostly private property. Access to the range is available in the spring and fall thanks to guided tours with Middle Mountain Interpretive Hikes. Plus, you can take a scenic 40-mile driving or cycling tour that circles around the entirety of the Sutter Buttes in a day.
Are the Sutter Buttes technically a Butte County feature? Well, no. But don’t let semantics ruin a good time.
Imagine, for a moment, the era of the silent film. No spoken words, just a collection of subtitles and black-and-white scenes. Like a historical version of watching Netflix late at night without waking up the rest of the house.
Interestingly, these silent films weren’t always silent. At vaudeville theatres, much like Butte County’s own Oroville State Theatre, a Wurlitzer theatrical pipe organ would be used for everything from playing the film’s musical score to providing “dialogue” for actors and delivering a wide range of sound effects. Whether it was horses galloping, dogs barking, or the timeless pie connecting with a face, the Wurlitzer was behind it all. The organ was regularly used for live performances and other theatre-based spectacles, of course. But its initial rise to stardom stemmed from being the soundtrack for the birth of cinema.
Fortunately for folks in the area, the Oroville State Theatre is proud to have a piece of history within its very walls. The organ was donated to Oroville in 2011 by the Sierra Chapter of the American Theatre Organ Society. Later, in 2017, the installation and restoration of the organ began with the help of the State Theatre Arts Guild (STAGE). This particular organ has a core that originally belonged to Cecil B. De Mille, the famous American film producer. Additional ranks of pipes were added to complete the organ, with STAGE having to cut into the theatre’s backstage wall to make room for the restoration. In all, the restoration was a three-year process that finished in late 2020.
In July 2021, the completely restored Wurlitzer Theatre Organ got its debut at the Oroville State Theatre. Renowned organist Walt Strony was at the helm of the 1,100-pipe organ for a pair of concerts, featuring patriotic ensembles as well as the Laurel and Hardy silent film “Liberty.” The debut performance cemented the Oroville State Theatre as being among the fewer than 250 theatres nationwide that features a fully operational theatre organ. So, if you’re a fan of the arts in Butte County interested in a unique theater-going experience, you won’t have to go far.
Next time you’re enjoying a day out in Oroville, consider heading over to Bolt’s Antique Tools Museum on Broderick Street. The unique museum celebrates the tools that built civilization. What’s more, the Smithsonian recognized Bolt’s museum as the largest known documented collection of hand tools in the entire world.
Inside this history-filled museum, you’re bound to find something awe-inspiring. There are tool displays with pieces thought to be the work of ancient Egyptians and the Roman Empire, possibly dating back to 400 BC. There’s tools depicting the creation of 51 different railroads in the United States, plus antique gas pumps, a captivating barbed wire collection, and tons more. The museum has eight different categories spanning its walls in all, featuring something to pique the interest of even the most common tool fan.
The museum is the child of Carl “Bud” Bolt, whose fascination with tools both old and new dates back to 1957 when he was a representative of Snap-On Tools. Bolt had originally planned on capping his collection at 1,000 pieces. Like any avid collector, though, Bolt didn’t stop there. Today, the museum houses more than 13,000 tools that have been cataloged, referenced, and thoroughly researched.
Bolt’s dream was to amass a collection that could be studied by tool enthusiasts, scholars and students alike. To that end, the museum offers group and classroom tours, an interactive student discovery program, and a lecture service that ranges from grade school to adulthood.
In Bolt’s words, tools are the most important industry in the world as we know it. He regards tools as an integral component of human history, rising time and time again to meet the needs of humanity in order to push technology—and society —further. With that in mind, Bolt set out to preserve tools of all ages as a living tribute to the role they have had in shaping the world we live in today—and succeeded.
It’s hard to say this about an institute that’s been in business since 1993, but the National Yo-Yo Museum is a Butte County icon hiding in plain sight at its location in the back of Bird in Hand in Downtown Chico. There, museum founder Bob Malowney sells yo-yos, educates visitors about yo-yo culture, and leads a collection of local and national contests.
“The yo-yo museum is kind of a given here in town. People know we’re here, and go, ‘That’s neat,’” Malowney said. “But when we go somewhere else, Chico is a big deal. It’s like Cooperstown for baseball, or Canton for football. All you need is somebody who has a passion about something to do something about it.”
Interestingly enough, yo-yos hadn’t yet become a national craze at the time of the museum’s opening in 1993. It wasn’t until the final years of the 20th century that yo-yo popularity began to skyrocket in America. Yo-yos are believed to date back to ancient Greece and possibly even 1,000 BC China, and Malowney’s museum aims to showcase its entire history. The museum relies on donations to feature old models and styles, but also regularly holds Saturday contests and free lessons to teach visitors about the iconic toy. Yo-yos can be purchased in the toy shop, but the museum is completely free to visit.
In one sense, Malowney likens the National Yo-Yo Museum to all museums as a space that tries to preserve something that not everyone was able to experience. At the same time, it’s still very much a living, breathing entity. The museum oversees the National Yo-Yo League, with Malowney’s team presiding over every official contest from across the United States.
You wouldn’t guess it, but Chico, CA is the capital of the yo-yo, largely because of Malowney and the National Yo-Yo Museum’s impact on the phenomenon. According to Malowney, the average Chico resident displays not just an interest, but oftentimes an exquisite knowledge about the world of yo-yos.
“There’s just something about it,” Malowney said. “The world is spinning, and this is spinning, so it all feels like it just works together.”
Butte County is well known—at least by its residents—as a Northern California mecca for outdoor sports. Hiking, running, cycling—all over the county, the opportunities are endless and overwhelmingly fantastic.
If you haven’t already, go ahead and add rock climbing to that growing list of adrenaline-filled activities in the area. Out in Chico’s Upper Bidwell Park, the canyon walls on both sides of Big Chico Creek are lined with basalt and reach up to 150 feet tall in some spots. The park doesn’t allow permanent gear, but it does serve as a great place to climb and hone your skills.
Speaking of honing your skills, the Terrain Park Climbing Center (TPCC) resides in Chico as a space committed to community and sharing the climbing culture. The staff at TPCC believe that anyone can improve both their lifestyle and state of mind through the avenues of “climbing, slackline, fitness and personal relationships with like-minded individuals.” Both memberships and drop-in rates are available at the TPCC, with activities at the climbing center including: summer camps, birthday parties, study rooms, ping pong, and other community events.
If you’re an avid climber that’s motivated to get mobile, Butte County also has a generous handful of climbing destinations that are just a day trip away. Past Oroville in the Plumas National Forest, both Bald Rock and Grizzly Dome are paradise for local climbers. And if you’re up for a few hours of driving, spots like Pigeon Cliff, The Mill, or the Leavitt Training Area are especially exciting spots to test your climbing skills before moseying on back to Butte County for night on the town to celebrate a successful day on the rocks.
When you do head out to grab some granite, make sure to follow all the necessary safety precautions to ensure your day of climbing is fun and exhilarating, but stops short of dangerous. And, while you’re out in the elements, be sure to take a moment to soak in all of the natural beauty that has long been one of Butte County’s calling cards.