By Ryan Loughrey
Chico is a beautiful college town sitting in the valley of Northern California. Whether its exploring the vast park system or enjoying the downtown scene, Chico has a ton of fun things to do. So we visited Chico and hit four of the major locations in a 24 hour span. This is what we saw:
1. Sierra Nevada Brewing Company
We were able to join in on one of the free, 90-minute brewery tours of the number three craft brewer in the US. We were led through the inner workings of the Chico brewery by our “Beer Adventurer” guide, and yes, that was her real job title. We learned of the humble beginnings from the fertile mind of Ken Grossman, who discovered the beauty of the north state on a cycling trip with his childhood friends, to the current state of the business that has expanded to an east coast brewery that focuses not only on brewing but sustainability.
The tour is perfect for novices to the craft beer world (and ends with a complimentary beer tasting, a nice touch!) or to those beer snob entrepreneurs who are wanting in on the growing craft beer industry.
2. Bidwell Park at Sunset
We were near Horseshoe Lake on the way to Upper Bidwell Park, and oversaw numerous groups of hikers, joggers, lovers, and everyone in between. This was our opportunity to avoid the consumerism, and to really just explore the muddy trails. All of the people we passed were happy, albeit a little cold, and one couldn’t help but stop and smile at the strangers who all were gathered for the same reason.
Horseshoe Lake was low, and in the sunset I realized why it was such a popular destination. The water reflected the golden sky with the gentle ripples of the wind, and Bidwell Park is no doubt a natural escape that everyone can be thankful for. On this holiday, having trails so close and 11 miles to hike and explore was a great alternative to spending all day waiting in line at various shopping centers.
3. Downtown Chico
Of course, a trip to Chico wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the quaint-by-day, vivacious-by-night downtown area of Chico. Although there is Uber in Chico as well as numerous cab services, they were all quite busy on the night we were there so we decided to drive downtown. We parked by CSU Chico, and our first stop was Madison Bear Garden.
If Madison Bear Garden was a person, it would be one of those people obsessed with everything vintage who has an insane energy and talks quite loud. The self-serve style of dining was interesting, and it blurred the line between restaurant and bar leaning heavily towards the latter. A college hangout that is accessible to anyone who wants to have a good time, with walls and ceiling decorated with a near-sensory overloading amount of eclectic and nostalgic menagerie. A good time.
In addition, the Crazy Horse Saloon was recommended to us. We did not go here though, due to the fact there were huge lines leading into it, and the night was bitter cold. Nearby, we found a small little bar called Down Lo, so called because you have to go down a small flight of stairs. We rented a pool table for an hour, played some two player pac man, and generally enjoyed ourselves.
We only wanted a taste of the downtown experience and since we were getting up pre-dawn the next day, we decided to call it a night after walking around a little more.
4. Bidwell Park at Sunrise
The park is larger than I remembered, approximated 11 miles long. For sunrise, we opted to go to Monkey Face, an easy hike and easy locale to find given the fact the rock formation looked like a monkey’s face. In fact, we could see it from where we were parked the previous night. There was one other car in the parking lot, and we braved the cold morning air to climb right up the center of the rocks, and eventually sat on top to watch the sun slowly rise above the eastern hills. We could see the expansive park beneath us, ranging from the rocky canyon-esque portion that makes up Upper Bidwell Park, and imagined where the river was formed into a public pool in Lower Bidwell Park.
Again, we felt a kind of awe at nature and were glad we had chosen to opt outside, albeit so close to home. And we were still able to make it back to see our families and spend the holidays with those we were close to.
I can’t wait until we actually have more time to dive into the rich history and natural beauty of Chico, but until then, here is just a slice of what can be done with a short time allotted.