by Richard Barlupi

Almond Trees In Orchard   Surrounded by almond orchards this charming university town is home to historic bungalows, Spanish-colonial campus buildings and leafy tree-lined streets. The college scene isn’t where you’ll find the heart of this city. The action here is downtown, a vibrant and welcoming six-block area between Main and Broadway Streets.  Spend a summer day exploring the town, packed with retail, museums, fine dining, and chic bars.   If you haven’t visited Chico lately, it’s high time to drive the short distance down Highway 32 and revisit with a fresh perspective.  Having lived in Chico for seven years, I know some of the best-kept secrets (sans any national chains) in historic downtown Chico.

Shopping: Chico’s historic downtown boasts many independently owned boutiques located in spectacular restored buildings.  Admire the gorgeous tablescapes and kitchen cookware at Zucchini & Vine (2nd & Main St.). Made in Chico (127 W. 3rd St.) celebrates 27 years of supporting local farmers, artists & entrepreneurs with tastings, guest exhibits, music and refreshments.  Book lovers will want to browse The Book Store (118 Main St.) jam-packed with used titles on every subject.  Shop for quality western apparel, hats, jewelry, gifts, tack and over 5,000 varieties of boots at Diamond W Western Wear (181 E. 2nd St.).  If you need a one of a kind gift, the Tom Follery specialty shop (3rd St. between Main & Broadway) will have it waiting for you.  In addition to the many businesses to visit, downtown offers ongoing events year-round.  Keep your eyes open for the printed Downtown Chico Directory available in most stores.

Exploring: The National Yo-Yo Museum is at the back of Bird in Hand Toy and Gifts (320 Broadway), and home to the world’s largest yo-yo, weighing 256 pounds. Try walking the dog with that! The Museum features the largest public display of yo-yos from the earliest commercial production in the 1920s to the current performance designed models used by top competitors. The Chico Museum (141 Salem St.) is located in the beautiful Arts and Crafts Carnegie Library building. The history of Chico is featured as a permanent exhibition.   The Stansbury House (307 W. 5th St.), listed on the National Register of Historic Places is one of the best preserved Victorian-era homes in Chico and offers guided tours.  The newly renovated City Plaza Park is a popular draw in the heart of Downtown Chico, between Main & Broadway at 4th & 5th Streets.  Relax and watch the world go by while playing a game of checkers or chess on one of their inlaid game board tables.

Eating: Start the day at Mom’s Restaurant (209 Salem St.) known for its enormous servings and applauded by the locals as one of the town’s best places for breakfast. Health food meets fast food at Plutos (201 Main St.), one of many unique eateries and cafes. The world famous Madison Bear Garden (corner of 2nd & Salem), adjacent to the CSU Chico campus has been serving up great food and fun since 1977. Explore the amazing collection of memorabilia, have an ice-cold locally brewed Sierra Nevada beer with the legendary, mouth-watering Bear Burger.  Either at the Taco Bar, the Long Bar, in the dining room, or out on the sidewalk patio, Tres Hombres (1st & Broadway) offers unique Mexican cuisine with flavors from all over Latin America.  My favored restaurant is Caffè Malvina (234 3rd St.), a little hole in the wall serving excellent Italian dishes.  Over the years, Italian restaurants come and go in downtown Chico; however, since 1977 owner and chef   Salvatore Corona has been serving up a true taste of Italy.  My favorite is their lasagna, the best you’ll ever have, even your own.

Drinking: Chico State’s reputation as a party school has softened, but the town is far from dry. If you wish to sip in style where the students do not hang out, try Monks Bistro Wine Lounge (128 W. 2nd St.) or Christian Michaels Ristorante (192 E. 3rd St.), where the locals celebrate special occasions at their full bar and elegant lounge.

Treats: The Upper Crust Bakery & Eatery (130 Main St.) fires up their ovens early each morning offering customers warm delicious pastries, sweet scones and coffeecake to complement a morning cup of java.  Pick up a cookie or brownie for later while relaxing at the City Plaza Park.   If you’re like me, it would not be summer without some old-fashioned, rich, and creamy ice cream.  Shuberts (7th & Main St.), Chico’s oldest ice cream and candy store, has been making their own on the premises since 1938.
To market:  Every Saturday since 1980, rain or shine from 7:30am–1:00p.m. the Chico Certified Farmers’ Market (2nd & Wall St.) creates exceptional opportunities where farmers and vendors from all over Butte County come to sell directly to the consumer.  This open-air market is filled with families, college kids and hippies enjoying an old-fashioned sense of community.

Make it a weekend:  Enter Diamond Alley through gorgeous mosaic-pillared arches at 3rd Street and make your way to the Hotel Diamond, Chico’s only downtown full-service 43 room hotel.  Boarded up for almost 20 years, the hotel was given a lavish multimillion-dollar restoration a few years ago by a local businessman, hoping to bring back the city’s early 20th-century vitality.  The elegant foyer, custom woodwork, and etched glass reflect the historic charm of the original hotel.  Johnnie’s Restaurant, located in the Hotel Diamond, serves up terrific food and includes a full bar in a casual relaxing atmosphere.    220 W. Fourth St., or 866/993-3100. HYPERLINK “,20633,1169039,00.html”