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Bidwell Mansion State Historic Park 525 The Esplanade, downtown. Fee. An early pioneer, General John Bidwell arrived in California in 1841 and founded Chico in 1860. He built this 3-floor, 26-room Italianate Victorian mansion in 1868. Its cavernous rooms have 14-foot ceilings and provide a cooling break in summer. Interesting features include eight slate fireplaces painted to look like marble and a third-floor ballroom that--because the owners were Presbyterians--was never used for that purpose. Shockingly, the house once served as a Chico State dormitory. A gigantic Southern magnolia tree planted out front in 1863 is now taller than the house, and an adjacent carriage house displays several antique coaches and wagons.
Bidwell Park Free. The third-largest city park in the U.S. (Phoenix’s South Mountain Park is the largest; Los Angeles’ Griffith Park is second), this 3,670-acre park was the movie stand-in for Sherwood Forest in the original 1938 Adventures of Robin Hood. Among its numerous trails is the ½-mile-long World of Trees Independence Trail nature path that winds through a former U.S. Forest Service tree nursery and is accessible to both the physically and visually challenged. Most of the park is closed to cars and so is particularly enjoyable on a bicycle, which can be rented downtown. In summer, Chico Creek is dammed to form several swimming holes. Imaginative Caper Acres playground located at the south end has a nursery rhyme theme, and a stables rents horses.
●Chico Creek Nature Center By donation. This busy center displays living examples of area wildlife and operates a children’s program.
California State University, Chico (Chico State) 2nd St./Hazel St. Founded in 1887, this beautiful campus has several art galleries, an anthropology museum, and a rose garden. Free guided campus tours are available; reservations advised.
Chico Museum 141 Salem St. Fee. Housed in an architecturally interesting former Carnegie Library dating from 1904, this gem of a museum focuses on Chico’s history and culture. Collection highlights include the town’s original Chinese Taoist Temple and some exceptional Maidu and Yahi Indian baskets.
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National Yo-Yo Museum 320 Broadway, in Bird in Hand store. Free. More than 2,000 yo-yos are displayed here. Among them is the world’s largest--a 256-pound wooden behemoth that requires an 80-foot crane to operate.
●The National Yo-Yo Championships are hosted here annually in October.
●Orient & Flume Art Glass 2161 Park Ave. M-Sat 10-5. This stunning glass art studio has work displayed in the Metropolitan Museum and Smithsonian, and pieces are for sale in Gump‘s in San Francisco. The artists here make everything from paperweights to vases. Prices are high, but seconds are available for less. You can view glassblowers in a warehouse behind the gallery, and an art glass museum is on-site.
●Satava Art Glass Studio 819 Wall St. Using ancient techniques to create nature-themed glass pieces, Richard Satava has been blowing vividly colored artworks at his studio here since 1977. His ethereal jellyfish pieces sell for between $400 and $10,000. Less expensive items are also available in the gift shop inside a converted house. Watching him in action out back in his cool, open-air studio is fascinating. There, surrounded by mature black bamboo and a giant fig tree, Rick and crew perform their finely orchestrated glass-blowing dance to vintage Beatles tunes and squawking jays.