15 Best Things to Do in Chico (CA)

Written by Bart Meeuwesen
Updated on
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With a population of about 90,000 residents, Chico is the most populous city in north-central California’s Butte County.

The city is relatively equidistant from the Pacific coast to the west, Oregon to the north, Nevada to the east, and the state capital of Sacramento to the south.

Chico’s proximity to a number of the state’s largest national forest and state and national parks makes it a popular destination for outdoor recreation enthusiasts like hikers, campers, mountain bikers, and anglers.

The city has a number of historic attractions and museums, and lots of dining and lodging options suitable for a variety of budgets.

1. Chico Air Museum

Chico Air MuseumSource: cvtperson / Flickr | CC BY-SA
Chico Air Museum

If it has ever flown through the atmosphere or space, chances are you’ll have the opportunity to learn about it at the Chico Air Museum.

Located on Ryan Avenue, the Chico Air Museum is dedicated to preserving the area’s rich aviation past. Over the years, its collection has grown to include an array of aeronautical and aviation equipment and memorabilia that are engaging and educational for visitors of all ages.

Of course, the refurbished aircraft tend to steal the show; they’re housed in an authentic World War II hangar at the city’s municipal airport.

The museum is only open a few days a week, so check their schedule before making a special trip.

2. Sycamore Pool

Sycamore PoolSource: Roadwardbound / shutterstock
Sycamore Pool

Due to its northern location, the weather in Chico can be cool or downright cold for much of the year. But during the warm summer months, there are often days that lend themselves to a dip in a refreshing pool.

Sycamore Pool is located in Bidwell Park and was created by constructing a concrete dam across a segment of Big Chico Creek.

The resulting natural swimming area features brisk water throughout the year. During the summer, there are lifeguards on duty, making it a good fit for families traveling with children.

There’s also an annual ‘polar bear’ swim on New Year’s Day for those with strong constitutions.

3. The Museum of Northern California Art

Art GallerySource: guruXOX / shutterstock
Art Gallery

Though they share many of the same influences, there are several distinctions between art created by Northern and Southern California artists.

The Museum of Northern California Art’s collection features works from dozens of Northern California’s premier artists; they’re displayed in some distinct collections.

The works include paintings, drawings, sculpture, and photography, most of which feature distinctly regional themes.

The staff also hosts many special activities throughout the year, including guest speakers, art workshops, and festivals.

The museum is located on Esplanade Drive in Chico and is usually only open four days per week.

4. Sierra Nevada Brewing Company Tours

Sierra Nevada BeersSource: LunaseeStudios / shutterstock
Sierra Nevada Beers

Since it was founded in 1980, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company has become one of the country’s most popular breweries.

Though it started small, it’s now among the top ten largest brewers by volume in the US, and it all got started in Chico.

Known for their bold flavors and top-notch ingredients, Sierra Nevada’s beers come in nearly all colors and flavor profiles. There’s no better way to see how they’re made and sample them than by hooking up with a guided brewery tour.

A number of tour options of varying lengths are available, and tastings may include beers that haven’t yet been released to the public.

5. The Chico Certified Farmers’ Market

Chico Certified Farmers’ MarketSource: Michaela Warthen / shutterstock
Chico Certified Farmers’ Market

The Chico Certified Farmers’ Market on East 2nd Street is a local market offering a variety of locally and regionally grown organic fruits and vegetables, as well as handcrafted products made by artists and entrepreneurs who live in the area.

Though the produce tends to be the big draw, visitors also have access to other items like arts and crafts, handmade jewelry, health and body products, and prepared food items like olive oil, artisan baked goods, and honey.

The market is open two days per week, year-round. There are two affiliated seasonal markets that take place in nearby Paradise and Oroville on different days as well.

6. Bidwell Park

Bidwell ParkSource: Michael Mercer / shutterstock
Bidwell Park

At more than 3,500 acres, Bidwell Park is one of the area’s largest municipal parks. It offers visitors a variety of outdoor recreation options.

The park’s amenities include a nature center, lake, several impressive geological formations, abundant treed areas, and a popular municipal golf course that’s popular with cost-conscious golfers.

On the weekends during the warm spring and summer months, the park can draw sizable crowds. If you’d prefer to visit when the masses are at work or still in bed, consider stopping by in the morning during the week.

7. Chico Theater Company

TheatreSource: thanasus / shutterstock

Located on East Eaton Road in Chico, the Chico Theater Company offers live performance enthusiasts an intimate venue in which to enjoy a wide range of locally produced productions throughout the year.

The theater was officially opened nearly two decades ago to foster local talent. Its productions include a variety of performances, many of which are produced with school-aged visitors in mind.

Their schedule includes lots of performances for adult theater lovers as well. Tickets to the most popular shows can go quickly, so it’s wise to reserve seats in advance if you know when you’ll be in the area.

8. National Yo-Yo Museum

National Yo-Yo MuseumSource: Daderot / Wikimedia | CC0
National Yo-Yo Museum

Though they’re definitely not as popular with little ones as they were in decades past, yo-yos hold a special place in the hearts of lovers of vintage toys.

The National Yo-Yo Museum is located on Broadway Street in downtown Chico. According to locals, it features one of the most impressive collections of historic toys in the region.

Guests will learn about the iconic toy’s history, see a dizzying array of examples of all shapes and sizes, and gaze upon a massive 200+ pound specimen that’s one of the world’s largest.

The museum hosts an annual yo-yo contest and other fun events throughout the year, and it’s open to the public nearly every day.

9. Brave Coffee

CoffeeSource: Africa Studio / shutterstock

Featuring great coffee, a comfy and quiet atmosphere, and friendly staff, Brave Coffee is a perfect destination for harried travelers running low on energy.

Previous visitors who’ve tried numerous area competitors claim Brave’s coffee puts the others to shame.

Their menu includes no-frills drip coffee as well as hot and cold specialty drinks like lattes, cappuccino, and fraps.

There are also plenty of non-coffee drinks and fresh baked goods available, as well as abundant seating, easy parking, and fast Wi-Fi for those looking to settle in with a laptop to get a few hours of work done in the pleasant surroundings.

10. Bidwell–Sacramento River State Park

Bidwell–Sacramento River State ParkSource: Frank Schulenburg / Wikimedia | CC BY-SA 4.0
Bidwell–Sacramento River State Park

At just over 300 acres, Chico’s Bidwell-Sacramento River State Park isn’t the area’s largest, but what it lacks in size it more than makes up for in amenities.

The park includes protected riparian habitat along the Sacramento River and Big Chico Creek. It is home to a large variety of mammals, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and fish.

There are several day-use areas within the park’s boundaries. For those interested in boating and fishing, there’s a boat ramp.

The park features a network of multi-use trails popular with bird-watchers, hikers, bikers, and those looking to spend a little quality time away from the crowds in the great outdoors.

11. Honey Run Covered Bridge

Honey Run Covered BridgeSource: Roadwardbound / shutterstock
Honey Run Covered Bridge

Located on Honey Run Road in Chico, Honey Run Covered Bridge is a wonderfully preserved example of historic engineering. It spans Butte Creek just outside city limits on the way to nearby Paradise.

Though it has undergone a few renovations over the years, the bridge’s impressive wooden structure is still largely intact. Its maintenance is managed by a local association dedicated to preserving the unique piece of history for decades to come.

The bridge is surrounded by an idyllic park popular with picnickers, photographers, and artists looking for inspiration for their next work.

Most guests leave a few bucks at the park’s donation site to help with maintenance costs.

12. Gateway Science Museum

California State University, ChicoSource: David A Litman / shutterstock
California State University, Chico

Located on the campus of Cal State Chico, the Gateway Science Museum is a child-centered learning attraction featuring interactive exhibits that touch on a number of topics, like technology, the natural world, and the wonders of space.

The museum is a great place to spend a few hours out of the elements when the weather isn’t conducive to outdoor activities. Though it was designed with kids in mind, it usually ends up being an engaging and educational attraction for older children and adults.

Though the museum is open year-round, it’s not open every day, so check online or give them a call before heading out.

13. Silver Dollar Speedway

SpeedwaySource: Engineer studio / shutterstock

Since it was founded in the early ‘60s, Silver Dollar Speedway on Fair Street in Chico has been one of the area’s premier auto racing venues.

The speedway’s grandstands can hold more than 6,000 spectators, making for an exceptionally raucous and fun-loving activity for those who love the roar of engines and the smell of exhaust.

The quarter-mile track is highly banked and features a clay surface that makes traction an issue; cars tend to slide around corners more than they do on traditional blacktop tracks.

The racing season typically runs from early spring until late summer, and the largest event is held over Memorial Day weekend.

14. Gordo Burrito

NachosSource: Shawn Sosa / shutterstock

Gordo Burrito is often described as a hole-in-the-wall, but therein lies much of its appeal.

Featuring authentic Mexican cuisine from the Mexican state of Sinaloa, Gordo Burrito is a favorite dining destination for hungry travelers who like big flavor, hefty portions, and an all-around low key atmosphere.

Its menu includes traditional favorites like tacos, nachos, fajitas, and burritos. They come with a range of fresh sauces and sides, like salsa, guacamole, and sour cream.

The restaurant is conveniently located just off the highway on East 8th Street, making it a great option for those looking for a quick bite before heading off on other adventures.

15. Butte Creek Ecological Preserve

Butte Creek Ecological PreserveSource: Roadwardbound / shutterstock
Butte Creek Ecological Preserve

Located in a protected natural area along Butte Creek and the adjacent canyon, Butte Creek Ecological Preserve on Honey Run Road in Chico features a variety of environments home to an abundance of plant and animal species.

The preserve is particularly popular with bird watchers who come to observe falcons, wading birds, woodpeckers, waterfowl, and hummingbirds.

During the spring and summer, the creek’s shores are often awash in large tracts of vibrant multicolored wildflowers. The preserve offers multiple beaches that are great places to while away a summer afternoon swimming, sunbathing, and picnicking.

15 Best Things to Do in Chico (CA):

  • Chico Air Museum
  • Sycamore Pool
  • The Museum of Northern California Art
  • Sierra Nevada Brewing Company Tours
  • The Chico Certified Farmers’ Market
  • Bidwell Park
  • Chico Theater Company
  • National Yo-Yo Museum
  • Brave Coffee
  • Bidwell–Sacramento River State Park
  • Honey Run Covered Bridge
  • Gateway Science Museum
  • Silver Dollar Speedway
  • Gordo Burrito
  • Butte Creek Ecological Preserve