San Francisco | February 28, 2020 10:28 am

Butte County Is Your Next Secret Northern California Destination

Almond blossoms, wildflowers, kayaking, and a year of adventures

Lake Oroville
Lake Oroville

Stipulated: the perfect travel time for a three-day weekend getaway is four hours. More, and you waste your vacation. Less, and you’re still near home. Hence our series, The Four-Hour Rule, dedicated to revealing the best destinations that are far away, yet still close to home.

You’ve been to Napa, Sonoma, the Santa Cruz Mountains, out east to Tahoe and up to Mendocino. But what about … Butte County? 

North of Sacramento, under-the-radar Butte County offers outdoor adventures — kayaking, hiking, biking, fishing, birding, you name it — along with a refreshingly low-key vibe. 

Lake Oroville Brad Freeman Bike Trail Loop (Photo credit: All Trails)


Wildflower season is just a couple weeks away — let the crowds show up for them. But you, the smarter travel, will go now, as thousands of almond trees blossom. (Seriously, with a more aggressive marketing campaign, these could easily be Central California’s version of Japan’s cherry trees.) You can find them around both Durham and Chico — see here for exact directions. Lazy cyclists will want to head to the 40-mile, 75-percent-flat Brad Freeman Trail around Lake Oroville, while the Middle Fork of the Feather River offers superlative fishing and kayaking on one of the U.S.’s original eight Wild and Scenic rivers.

Goodman House Bed & Breakfast Inn (Photo credit: California Association of Boutique & Breakfast Inns)


If you’re looking for five-star resorts, head to Tahoe (or stay home in S.F.). Otherwise, take your choice of quirky, locally owned spots like the Bambi Inn or Chico’s Goodman House Historic Inn (ask for Room 1, with a claw-foot tub in the bathroom). For something more rustic/less expensive, consider Lake Oroville State Recreation Area’s Loafer Creek Campground, which is open year-round.  

Bloody Mary flights from Mom’s


If you’ve done Napa to death, consider a tour of Butte County’s vineyards — like the family-owned Quilici. Prefer apples to grapes? Lassen Traditional Cidery offers a Saturday-only tasting room. And of course, the biggest name out here is Sierra Nevada, which offers tours (of the brewery) and tastings (of the beer) at its HQ in Chico. For eats, head to Mom’s, the brunch-centric diner of our dreams (think: Bloody Mary flights, spiked milkshakes, and chicken fried steak). And for dinner, take a look at Crush, with wood-fired pizzas and Italian (grilled sea bass, chicken piccata, etc.).