The History: A town square was a must for Chico’s founders in the 1860s. The result, City Plaza, is still a hub of activity, hosting everything from art shows to culinary festivals. The history in this town, not quite 200 miles northeast of San Francisco, remains accessible as well. Some of the original buildings stand unchanged; others have undergone a refresh, but their bones have stayed intact.
Start at the grand Renaissance Revival–style Chico Midtown Station (i.e. Downtown Post Office), which has looked the same since its opening in 1916. Then check out the Senator Theatre—an Art Deco gem built in 1927 that was home to vaudeville acts and movie screenings and is a concert venue today. Don’t miss the gorgeous animal mural inside. There’s an 11-block self-guided historic walking tour that provides an overview of some of the city’s history that winds past the Bidwell Mansion State Historic Park and the Stansbury Home, two monuments to the region’s 19th-century prosperity. It’s not all about the past, though—the Gateway Science Museum, located right around the corner from the Bidwell Mansion, has interactive exhibits that focus on science, technology, and engineering.
Where to Play: The Plaza area offers some fun activities that are historic in their own way: the National Yo-Yo Museum, free to tour and featuring the world’s biggest working wooden yo-yo; and the Janet Turner Print Museum, with a collection of more than 3,500 fine-art prints. To surround yourself with history, stay at the Hotel Diamond, which has been around since 1904. The hardwood floors are still originals; the rest has been refurbished into a stately property that includes the gourmet Two Twenty Restaurant.