Cruising along Highway 99 through Gridley and Biggs offers a legitimate California-style tour of Americana:
- A mix of main-street drags full of most of the town’s business, dining, and leisure activities? Check.
- A checker board of food-producing crops growing not only a bounty of food for farmers, but livelihoods for many of the area’s residents? Check.
- Honest-to-goodness water towers and a county fairground? Check.
Founded by a sheep rancher before its incorporation in 1905, Gridley has held on to its farm-centric lifestyle in many ways. The county fair is a yearly occurrence at the local fairgrounds, where classic small ag-town delights reign: piglet races, livestock judging, rodeo and mutton busting, mud trucking, and Lynyrd Skynyrd cover bands all authenticate the experience.
With its prevalent history of farm and ranch work, a large population of migrant workers contributes to a majority Hispanic population in this part of south Butte County and shapes the culture significantly, especially seen in some of the local cuisine. A few key taco trucks appeal to the masses in prime locations, and the local Casa Lupe is a destination those from out of town seek out. Gridley’s cultural blend feels particularly balanced between classic Americana (the Gridley Grill, for example, is a diner that would be at home in any small town in the country) and agricultural Latino heritage.
Neighboring Biggs, north of Gridley along Highway 99 and smaller still, might be best known for its rejection of a 2002 request to change its name to “Got Milk,” CA, at the request of state’s Milk Processor Board. But those who know it well find that it is so much more than that. Thanks to abundant access to land water, popularly represented in a picture-famous water tower, Biggs offers a diverse spate of farmlands, with rice and walnuts as the main crops, that surround the city on all sides. Primarily residential, Biggs tends to eschew commercialism in favor of a quaint, quiet feel for the people who live there, happy to live within easy driving distance of the county’s vast recreational opportunities. But Pizza Roundup—an eatery well known to any county traveler who has had a hunger driving through—is a can’t-miss and worthy spot at the town’s major four-way intersection on 99. Even the smallest towns need a go-to place to eat.
Located at the foot of the Sutter Buttes (which, fun fact, are not actually in Butte County), Gridley and Biggs are a stone’s throw from outdoor play. Sportsmen and women in particular will find the appeal of hunting, fishing and naturalist opportunities all over. The Gray Lodge Wildlife Area, which is more than 8,000 acres of Pacific Flyway wetlands, is located just 10 miles southwest of Gridley. And launch ramps for both the Feather River and Lake Oroville are just 10-minute to the northeast.
What Gridley and Biggs may lack in urban comforts, they more than make up for in wide-open spaces, a nostalgic home-town feel for those comfortable in the country, and an unmistakable Main Street, USA vibe.