7 Great Ways to Explore Chico State: An Iconic Campus Park for Everyone

By Clayton Truscott

Chico State is its own historic neighborhood in the city’s downtown core—steps away from restaurants and boutiques, yet enchanted and tranquil like an extension of Bidwell Park. As the second oldest California State University campus, it has been a cornerstone for local arts and culture as well as a captivating educational backdrop for generations of Wildcats—their collective memories and pride for Chico State are reflected in every inch of these well-loved and cared-for grounds. 

A visit to campus holds something special for everyone: nature, history, auditoriums, galleries, public artwork, museums and more. But the best way to get acquainted with this iconic Chico gem is on foot or on wheels, the way scores of Chicoans do every day.

Follow Your Curiosity

Officially a dedicated arboretum spanning 132 acres, the Chico State campus is a living, breathing collection of native and rare trees and plants. Towering and ornate, the sycamores, gingkos, and other natural giants mark time by showing off their deep and mesmerizing colors each season—especially fall, when you’re treated to a daily festival of red, orange, and yellow leaves raining down on breezy afternoons.   

Looking across a bridge at Chico State
Looking across a bridge at Chico State (Jason Halley/Chico State)

Take a Tree Tour Around the Chico State Campus

Accessible to all levels of mobility, a network of pathways and marked trails allows visitors to follow their curiosity and be delighted. No matter where you go, you should take it slow—you’ll want to stop often to fully appreciate all 1,000+ species of plants and trees, the squirrels and other wildlife skittering and fluttering around, and the enchanting, constant song of Big Chico Creek flowing through campus. If you’re lucky, you might even see one of the fabled otters frolicking in its waters. 

Trinity Hall at Chico State as seen from a drone
Trinity Hall as seen from a drone (Jason Halley/Chico State)

Take a Creekside Break

The creek has several nooks that are prime places to unwind. A popular one is the Mary Lemcke Camellia Garden, with its canopy of trees and view of the water. Stop by in spring, and you’ll be treated to a bevy of blooms in pink, cream, and white. From there, it’s a short stroll over the Gus Manolis Bridge—one of nine walking bridges on campus—to the heart of campus: the George Petersen Rose Garden.

Big Chico Creek at Chico State in the Fall
Big Chico Creek flows through campus (Jason Halley/Chico State)

Snap a Selfie at The Roses

No casual trip to Chico State is complete without a stop at the rose garden. Originally planted in 1957, this beloved bed holds roughly 400 bushes today (complete with personalized name tags for their species) and creates a calming detour for meandering students and visitors. In addition to beautifying the campus, it also contributes to the University’s status as a Certified Butterfly Garden by the National Butterfly Association, an official Monarch Waystation via Monarch Watch, an official Bee Campus USA, and a Certified Wildlife Habitat through the National Wildlife Federation.

Roses in the George Petersen Rose Garden bloom
Roses in the George Petersen Rose Garden bloom (Jason Halley/CSU, Chico)

Be a Patron of the Arts

In addition to the overwhelming natural beauty on campus, you’re surrounded by art and stories embedded into the landscape architecture and carried through in performances. There are sculptures and frescoes by alumni and noteworthy creatives, including the Three Sisters (named for Chekov’s play of the same name) facing the rose garden, and the wild-spirited Monoliths outside of Ayres Hall. At the corner of the ARTS Building is a rotating student mural space. While at ARTS, stop in to the interior courtyard on weekdays for a chance to catch our ceramics and glassblowing students creating their crafts on full display.

For something more formal, campus has six theatres, recital halls, and auditoriums. Chico State brings a wide range of new and returning performers and shows to Chico every year, most of which are open to the public. Laxson Auditorium, the university’s premier venue, welcomes visitors into one of its most impressive historic buildings (built in the 1930s) and hosts more than 100 performances annually—past headliners have included Willie Nelson, Ali Wong, and Joan Baez. Visit Chico Performances for tickets and information. And the School of the Arts’ musicals are not-to-be-missed, as talented students from an array of majors put on shows that rival big city stages.

Students Working in the Glass Blowing Studio (Jason Halley/Chico State)
Students Working in the Glass Blowing Studio (Jason Halley/Chico State)

Feel the Wildcat Spirit

The best way to experience the Wildcat spirit up close is at a home game supporting one of Chico State’s Division II athletics programs. The dedicated athletes embody the Do and Dare spirit of the University every time they play their hearts out—and the community knows it. Whether it’s cheering courtside for the basketball teams at Acker Gymnasium, in the bleachers at University Soccer Stadium, or at the Nettleton Stadium for baseball, you’ll be a lifelong fan by the final whistle. For schedules, tickets, and more information, visit chicowildcats.com. Go ’Cats!

Two Chico State Softball players hugging (Jason Halley/CSU Chico)
Chico State Softball (Jason Halley/CSU Chico)

Connect Beyond Campus

Just 13 miles from the main campus, Big Chico Creek Ecological Reserve is a living example of Chico State’s commitment to learning by doing and leading by example. This 7,835-acre learning laboratory offers miles of trails, a rich variety of habitats, and impossible depths of beauty to explore, making it a dreamy extension to the classroom. Over 2,000 students go there for a class each year, and more than 8,000 community members are welcomed as visitors. Open to the public, you can explore it on your own or on a guided forest therapy trip. 

The Chico State experience goes well beyond the boundaries of campus. It’s something you feel, share, and recognize in other people who understand it. Chico State is proud to be a welcoming campus that promotes its culture of belonging by making every visitor feel like a Wildcat—so come and experience this for yourself.

Water Monitoring at Big Chico Creek Ecological Reserve
Water Monitoring at Big Chico Creek Ecological Reserve (Jason Halley/CSU, Chico)

More Great Ways to Connect with Campus

  • Tag along on an Admissions tour. 
  • Pose with the Wildcat statue.  
  • Explore the gemstone collection in the Science Building and admire the views from the third floor—you can see all the way to the foothills. Learn about Chico Tribal history, with a display on the first occupants of this land, the Mechoopda. 
  • Pay a visit to the Janet Turner Print Museum. Originally created when distinguished artist and Chico State art instructor Janet Turner donated her collection of more than 400 fine art prints to campus, the collection has grown to more than 4,000 prints.
  • Have a picnic. The perfect complement to Northern California’s nigh-perfect weather is an outdoor picnic surrounded by myrtle, redwoods, London Planes, and others. The immaculately manicured lawn outside of Kendall Hall, the University’s administration building, offers a bevy of shaded places to throw out a blanket and share something tasty from the Chico Farmers Market, one of our diverse downtown restaurants, or an on-campus food truck or eatery.  
  • Visit the Gateway Science Museum (a short stroll from Bidwell Mansion). Equal parts laboratory and learning playground, the museum offers a mix of local and global attractions that bring wonder to the young and young at heart. 
Sunset falls on Kendall Hall (Jason Halley/Chico State)
Sunset falls on Kendall Hall (Jason Halley/Chico State)