Nestled in the heart of Northern California, Butte County is a hidden gem waiting to be discovered. With its breathtaking natural beauty, rich history, and vibrant communities, this charming county offers a plethora of activities and attractions for visitors of all interests. Whether you're an outdoor enthusiast, a history buff, or a foodie, Butte County has something to offer. In this travel guide, we'll take you on a journey through the best things to do and see in and around Chico, Durham and Oroville.
It's natural to develop a bias when it comes to a place that holds cherished memories, and in my case, Chico holds a special place in my heart as a Chico State alumni. However, beyond my personal attachment, I have genuinely fallen in love with the vibrant community and the many attractions it has to offer.
Whenever I return for a weekend trip, I can't help but feel a sense of excitement and nostalgia. Having spent considerable time exploring the town, I feel qualified to share this information and help you navigate your way through the hidden gems and must-visit spots. So, let's embark on this journey together and discover the wonders of Chico and its surrounding areas.
Where to Stay
For a charming and centrally located accommodation, I highly recommend the Hotel Diamond in downtown Chico. This boutique hotel captures the essence of the city with its historic architecture and quaintness. Located within walking distance of local shops, restaurants, and attractions, the Hotel Diamond provides a comfortable and convenient base for your weekend getaway.
There are some chain hotels in Chico such as a Double Tree by Hilton and Holiday Inn, while clean and comfortable choices, they are not in the heart of downtown. If you are planning to explore the Oroville area, check out the Gold Country Casino, and play some slots before heading out to the lake.
If you are looking for a rental home in Chico, check out TripAdvisor to see their options.
Things to do in and near Chico
Explore the Great Outdoors
Butte County is blessed with an abundance of natural beauty, making it a paradise for nature lovers. From exploring the local swimming holes to renting water toys at the lake, there is a little bit of everything for families, couples and adventerurers alike.
Begin your exploration at Bidwell Park in Chico, one of the largest municipal parks in the country. Spanning over 3,600 acres, this park offers miles of hiking and biking trails, swimming holes, and picnic areas. Lower and Upper Bidwell Park in Chico offer distinct experiences for visitors, each with its own unique appeal.
Lower Bidwell Park, the picturesque section closest to town, is an ideal destination for those seeking a leisurely stroll or a relaxed outing. Spanning several miles, this section of the park boasts well-maintained walking paths, shaded picnic areas, and serene creekside access. Lower Bidwell Park is particularly popular for its accessibility and proximity to downtown Chico, making it a convenient option for a quick nature retreat. One Mile Recreation, located in Lower Bidwell Park, features a stunning creek and a local natural water swimming pool, providing a refreshing and idyllic setting for visitors to cool off and have a picnic.
On the other hand, Upper Bidwell Park caters to hiking enthusiasts and adventure seekers. This expansive section of the park offers a diverse range of rugged trails, basaltic lava terrains, and breathtaking vistas. Hiking through Upper Bidwell Park allows visitors to immerse themselves in the region's natural beauty while engaging in a more rigorous outdoor experience. Whether you're a seasoned hiker or simply crave an adrenaline-filled escapade, Upper Bidwell Park offers the perfect opportunity to explore the wilderness and discover hidden gems along the way. The most popular hiking route is to hike the short but sweet Monkey Face Loop trail, but I highly recommend to hike to take the Yahi Trail and find one of the 5 swimming holes (Alligator, Day Camp, Bear Hole, Salmon Hole, and Browns Hole) in Upper Bidwell!
Chico Seed Orchard
Chico Seed Orchard is a unique destination that serves as both a plant breeding and research facility and a serene public space. This multifaceted facility welcomes visitors to enjoy a peaceful one-mile walking trail that is dog and wheelchair friendly. As you stroll along the trail, you'll be surrounded by a diverse array of plants and trees, providing a serene and picturesque backdrop. Definitely worth the stop on your way in or out of town on a visit to Chico!
Forebay Aquatic Center
Located in Oroville, the Forebay Aquatic Center is a popular destination for water enthusiasts. With its serene setting on the shores of the Thermalito Forebay, the center offers a range of activities including boating, fishing, and picnicking. Visitors can rent kayaks, canoes, and stand-up paddleboards to explore the calm waters or try their luck at fishing for various species. The center's picnic areas provide a relaxing spot to enjoy a meal amidst beautiful surroundings. Whether seeking adventure or a peaceful day in nature, the Forebay Aquatic Center offers an enjoyable experience for all.
As the second-largest reservoir in California, Lake Oroville also plays a vital role in water supply and hydroelectric power generation for the region. Located in Butte County, the lake offers a multitude of recreational activities and stunning natural beauty. With its expansive surface area and 167 miles of scenic shoreline, Lake Oroville provides outdoor exploration such as boating, fishing, swimming, and water sports.
Explore the Local History and Culture
Butte County has a rich historical legacy that is worth exploring. Begin with a visit to the Butte County Historical Society Museum in Oroville, which showcases the county's fascinating history through exhibits and artifacts. Next, head to the Bidwell Mansion State Historic Park, a Victorian-style mansion that was once home to John Bidwell, a prominent figure in California's history. Guided tours provide a glimpse into the opulent lifestyle of the Bidwell family.
For a step back in time, venture to the town of Paradise, which was devastated by the 2018 Camp Fire but is steadily rebuilding. Explore the Gold Nugget Museum to learn about the region's Gold Rush era and the town's history. Additionally, the Chinese Temple in Oroville is a testament to the county's Chinese immigrant heritage and is the oldest continuously used temple in California.
Indulge in the Farm to Fork culture:
Butte County boasts a thriving food scene, with an emphasis on farm-to-table dining experiences. Begin your gastronomic journey by exploring the Saturday Farmers Market in Chico, where you can sample fresh produce, artisanal cheeses, locally crafted wines, and much more. Tip: I recommend bringing a small cooler with you so you can take home some of the fresh produce and food found at the farmers market.
If you're a beer enthusiast, make sure to visit the famous Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, one of the pioneering craft breweries in the United States. Take a brewery tour, sample their award-winning beers, and enjoy a meal at their taproom.
Go Wine Tasting in Durham
Just a short 10-minute drive from Chico, Durham is a charming farming town that offers delightful wine tasting experiences. In Durham, wine enthusiasts will find a selection of excellent wineries to explore.
One of the must-visit destinations is Almendra Winery & Distillery, where visitors can savor handcrafted wines and spirits. With its serene orchard setting and friendly atmosphere, Almendra Winery & Distillery provides a perfect backdrop for a memorable tasting experience and a delicious food menu to enjoy lunch!
Another noteworthy option is Nascere Vineyards, a boutique winery known for its limited-production, artisanal wines. Nascere Vineyards offers a personal and intimate tasting experience, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in the flavors and stories behind their exceptional wines, and enjoy a lovely outdoor patio looking out to the vineyards.
Lastly, Gale Winery, which specializes in small-lot, handcrafted wines. With its rustic and inviting tasting room, Gale Winery provides a warm and welcoming ambiance for guests to enjoy their impressive selection of wines. Whether you're a local or a visitor to the area, Durham's proximity to Chico makes it an ideal destination for wine lovers looking to indulge in a day of wine tasting and exploration.
Tip: Don't miss a visit to the road side Maisie Jane's Gift Shop, especially on your way back from wine tasting in Durham, where you can indulge in a delightful shopping experience filled with a variety of local treats, gourmet foods, and unique gifts.
Festivals and Events
Butte County hosts a variety of festivals and events throughout the year, showcasing its vibrant culture and community spirit. The Chico Wildflower Century, a popular cycling event held in April, attracts thousands of riders from around the world. For music lovers, the annual Paradise Chocolate Fest in May offers sweet melodies, delectable chocolates, and family-friendly entertainment.
Other notable events include the Oroville Salmon Festival, which celebrates the return of salmon to the Feather River, and the Gridley Bok Kai Festival, a colorful Chinese New Year celebration in Gridley.
Best Places to Eat & Drink in Butte County
Best Food & Drink in Chico:
My favorite coffee shops in Chico include Stoble Coffee, Tin Roof Bakery, Tender Loving Coffee and Upper Crust Bakery
The best breakfast spots in Chico include Mom's, Cafe Coda, Morning Thunder, Beatniks and The Roost
The best lunch spots in Chico include Broadway Heights, T Bar Cafe, Madison Bear Garden, Smokin' Mo's BBQ, and Burgers and Brew.
The best dinner spots in Chico include Grana, Crush, The Banshee, Sicilian Cafe, 5th Street Steakhouse, The Raw Bar and Momona.
The best places to grab a drink in Chico include Argus, The Winchester Goose, The Handle Bar, Sierra Nevada Brewing.
The best happy hour spots in Chico include Tres Hombres, Parkside Tap House, Crush, and B Street Public House.
Notable Food & Drink in the surrounding Butte County area:
Union, Ethan's Eatery, Coffee Tyme, Mug Shots in Oroville
The Patty Wagon, Nic's, Lynn's Coffee & Crepes in Paradise
Butte County, California, is a hidden treasure waiting to be explored. From its breathtaking natural landscapes to its rich history and vibrant communities, this region offers a wide array of activities and attractions for visitors.