Chico’s Arts and Culture Scene: Where Art, History and Community Collide

Get ready to immerse yourself in Chico’s vibrant arts and culture scene. With diverse exhibits, a rich history, and exciting live performances, Chico invites you to discover the heartbeat of its cultural community.

Explore the Arts Scene

You could easily spend the day touring Chico’s many art spaces, each presenting diverse exhibitions and experiences. With a visit to the Museum of Northern California Art (monca), you’ll find the finest collection of works from regional artists, from Chico to the Bay and beyond, across their regularly rotating exhibits. If you can’t get your day started without a morning latte, then head to 1078 Gallery, where you can admire the latest exhibit on display with a cup of joe from in-house Equilateral Coffee. Or come back on nights and weekends for special events like poetry readings, performance art pieces, and artist talks.

For those looking to get hands-on, the Chico Art Center offers classes and workshops, where you can learn from seasoned artists and meet new pals. Of course, you can always just stroll through their gallery, which regularly features diverse community member exhibitions, or stop by during the annual Open Studios Art Tour, where you can visit artists in their studios to understand their process and admire their work. And of course, no trip to Chico is complete without stopping at Chico State, where you see original prints, archival favorites like Picasso, and trailblazing contemporary printmaker’s works at the Janet Turner Print Museum.

A woman enjoying the arts and culture at the Museum of Northern California Art (mona)
Museum of Northern California Art (monca)

Discover Local History

History lovers will find Chico full of opportunities to dive into the city’s past. Right off the gingko-lined Esplanade, take a tour of the Bidwell Mansion, a pink Victorian and former home of the city’s founder, John Bidwell, and his wife, Annie. When you’re done, meander along the scenic Big Chico Creek to Chico State and head to the Valene L. Smith Museum of Anthropology to see what new exhibits Museum Studies students have created.

Afterward, grab a slice of New York-style pizza from Celestino’s or a burger from Madison Bear Garden for lunch before heading to the Chico History Museum. Located in the historic Andrew Carnegie Library, the Chico History Museum now houses Butte County historical artifacts, including those on indigenous history, agricultural products, and city development. Make sure to chat with one of their docents to learn even more about the city’s deep history.

A man and a woman looking at a Chinese artifacts display
Chico History Museum

Admire Public Art

Chico State’s already beautiful grounds are enhanced by the public art you’ll find throughout campus. Snap a photo with the Three Sisters, a set of sculptures created by Deborah Masters that welcome you to the fragrant campus rose garden. But be careful when you’re at Taylor Hall—John Pugh’s Academe mural looks so real, you might try to walk through it if you’re not careful!

In nearby Downtown Chico, abundant artwork turns everyday activities into delightful opportunities to appreciate the arts and culture community’s commitment to artistic expression. Hit up Naked Lounge or Upper Crust Bakery & Cafe for a mocha, and enjoy stellar local artwork on display inside. With ever-changing art installations, your coffee run becomes a moment to savor your surroundings. Other establishments, like Tender Loving Coffee and Ital Imports, display colorful and impactful murals on their exteriors. For more information about public art installations in Chico, join a summer walking tour with the Chico Arts and Culture Foundation; locals will astound you with their knowledge of specific works and the city’s background in supporting art.

Downtown Chico Art & Wine Walk
Art on display during the annual Downtown Chico Art & Wine Walk

Catch a Show

Cinefiles and theater nerds have robust options for entertainment in Chico. Chico State’s Laxson Auditorium invites you to revel in gorgeous architecture and professional performances from influential dancers, bands, comedians, and writers. Watch local productions of your favorite Broadway hits or groove in your seat to a seasonal cabaret at the First Street Theater or California Regional Theater, featuring impressive local theater troupes guaranteed to stun with hilarity, creative design, and delicious intermission treats. For a film screening, check out the Pageant Theater, an intimate local cinema showing classics like Fellini and new flicks like their selection of annual Oscar-nominated shorts. The Pageant’s cushy seating, organic popcorn, and craft beverages will keep you coming back for more. 

People watching a performance at Laxson Auditorium
Laxson Auditorium (Photo credit @jasonhalley_csu)

Get Into the Groove

Live music in Chico is a blast, and all genres are welcomed here. Dance and share a beer with friends during the Friday Night Concerts at the City Plaza in Downtown Chico; local musicians rock the stage, and you can chill out on the lawn with a picnic for this classic summertime event series.

Put your dancing shoes on and get down with Chico’s community of music enthusiasts. Big names and local acts perform regularly at the Chico Women’s Center; you’ll love the cozy atmosphere for dancing and the backyard for mingling in the warmer months. Or hit the dance floor with regular instructional groups teaching West Coast Swing, African Dance, and Flow Arts. For a relaxed partner dance experience, join the Chico Area Recreation & Park District (CARD) social dances once monthly at the Lakeside Pavilion event center.

A woman dancing with a hula hoop in front of water fountains
Friday Night Concerts (Photo courtesy @juliannarose_art)

Whether you spent your time in Chico admiring masterpieces in galleries, tracing the city’s history through its landmarks, or tapping your feet to the rhythm of live music, one thing is certain: Chico’s arts and culture scene offers endless opportunities for exploration and discovery.