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Chico State

Your Best Summer Ever—The Wildcat Way

A family with a bike filled with summer adventure gear.
(Jason Halley / University Photographer)

Tips and Tricks for a Season You Won’t Forget

Summer’s approaching fast. That means it’s time to gas up the barbecue, blow up the floaties, and turn up the summer jamz playlist. Or maybe you envision a trip to the forest or a faraway destination. To help our fellow Wildcats plan for success, we asked 20 alumni experts—from safari leaders to librarians—for tips and tricks to make this the Best. Summer. Ever. And of course, they delivered, because one of the things we Wildcats take seriously is having some serious fun.

Embrace The Outdoors

California is home to 270 state parks and 9 national parks—the most in any state. There’s no better way to connect with nature than among towering trees, below star-frosted skies, hearing waves crash. With so many options, here are some key tips from experts to help you avoid decision paralysis.

Camping, Glamping, and Backpacking

Sometimes you want to get lost for days in the wilderness. Other times, you want a taste of the outdoors, minus all the preparation traditional camping entails. Here are some of my favorites, depending on your tastes: 

  • Glamping: Donner Memorial State Park. Awe-inspiring alpine trees and a cool, clear lake. It’s perfect for paddling and has a world of natural beauty to fill your cup. The town of Truckee is also just minutes away, providing ample opportunities for shopping, dining, and more.
  • Camping: Pitch a tent in Calaveras Big Trees State Park, one of the crown jewels of the state park system. Take in the giant sequoias and lush meadows nestled in the spectacular Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. 
  • Backpacking: For more lightly-treaded trails, venture into the Sinkyone Wilderness State Park (coastal) or Henry Coe State Park (woodland/grassland hills). Both include miles of wilderness beauty accessible only by trail—for those willing and able to go the extra mile. 

Eduardo Gonzalez (Natural Sciences, ’17)

Interpreter, California State Parks and Millerton Lake
A California State Parks patch with a bear in the middle.

INSIDER BOOKING TIP: Look out for cancellations!

We all know California has some of the best camping in the world—which means it can be tough to snag a spot. Get notified when a campsite opens, even in top spots like Yosemite or Big Sur with a free Hipcamp alert. It happens more often than you’d think!

A patch depicting a lantern with a stylized mountain scape where the flame would be.

Not sure what kind of camper you are yet? The best way to find out is by starting a packing list. If all that gear seems like too much of a hassle, give glamping a go. Either way, keep perfecting that packing list every time you head into the wilderness. You’ll be glad you did.

Jenna Valdespino (Journalism, ’13)

Global Content Marketing Lead, Hipcamp

Backpacking for Beginners

Looking for a dynamic day hike or a top trail for a 10-day trek? Northern California has a wealth of areas to explore. Go into your local outdoors store and ask staff to help you decide your best option and answer any other questions you have.

A merit badge depicting a hiker.
Backpacking Essentials
  • Appropriate footwear: You’ll thank yourself later.
  • Comfy sleeping bag: You don’t want shivering to cut into your sleep.
  • Good cookware: Easy to use, lightweight, and effective
  • Good backpack: Don’t overpack—beginners almost always do.
  • Leave no trace. Make sure the backcountry remains beautiful for future generations.

Bruce Hart (Biological Sciences, ’73)

Owner, Mountain Sports, Chico

Day Tripping

You don’t need to commit to an overnight stay to enjoy the North State’s gems. Pack a lunch, some essentials, and be back in time for dinner. 

Whiskeytown Lake is a wonderful and welcome respite from the summer heat. Swim, suntan, paddle, and fish on your own, or sign up for a $1 patio boat, kayak, or paddleboard tour, led by an interpretive park ranger. All gear is provided. (You read that right: $1.)

A patch that reads "Good Shoes & Mountain Views" and depicts a mountain peak with a sun setting behind it.

Scott Einberger (History, ’07)

Supervisory Interpretive Park Ranger, Whiskeytown National Recreation Area

As far as hikes go, the high-elevation treks to Bumpass Hell, Lassen Peak, Brokeoff Mountain, and Manzanita Lake offer outstanding views. Lassen Peak and Brokeoff Mountain are strenuous but well worth the effort. The Brokeoff Mountain Trail features wildflowers of every color of the rainbow, and the hike up Lassen Peak provides incredible views across the North State and likely an opportunity to toss a snowball off the top of the mountain while wearing shorts and a T-shirt!

Fly Fishing

The Upper and Lower Sacramento, Lake Shasta, and the legendary McCloud River, Fall River, and Pit River are all world-class fisheries for both Rainbow and Brown Trout.

My #1 tip is to engage the services of a reputable destination specialist, just like the staff I manage here at The Fly Shop. Be honest about your abilities and outline exactly what kind
of experience you’re seeking. Then, let the pros help you out. Also: keep your expectations in check. It’s called fishing, not catching.

Patch depicting someone fly fishing.

Pat Pendergast (Recreation Administration, ’90)

Director of International Travel, The Fly Shop, Redding

Summer Is For The Birders

Birding is the fastest-growing outdoor activity in the US and several other countries. It’s easily accessible no matter your age or physical condition. You can do it any time of the year and any time of the day—even in the dark, if you want to look for owls. And you can find birds virtually everywhere, from outside your kitchen window to a federal park or reserve. For a little bit of exercise, some mental stimulation, and outright pleasure, birdwatching is hard to beat.

A patch depicting binoculars.
4 Ways to Make Birding Even More Interesting
  • Pick up a decent pair of binoculars and a field guide for less than $100. Both will last you for years.
  • Attend a local Audubon Society field trip for a head start.
  • If you prefer a solo expedition, download an app that identifies birds by both sight and sound.
  • Get up early. Birds avoid the hot midday in the summer.

Roger Lederer, Professor Emeritus, Biological Sciences

Author of 11 books, including Pacific Coast Bird Finder

Adventure Awaits

On the hunt for an epic excursion? Whether you’re dreaming of the wine country, the North Coast, a fairground corndog—or even a Marc Chagall—our experts have you covered.

The Perfect Napa Valley Vacation

Becky Barrango (International Relations, ’81)

Associate Director of Business Development, Visit Napa Valley
A patch depicting a hot air balloon.

Nichole Peterson (Liberal Studies, ’05)

Associate Director of Partnership Marketing, Visit Napa Valley

A dream weekend itinerary involves a pre-dawn hot-air balloon ride—watching the sunrise as you drift quietly over a patchwork quilt of vines on the golden hills is about as good as it gets. To satisfy your morning sweet tooth, stop by Bouchon Bakery in Yountville to ogle the French pastries in the glass cases, then take your goodies and coffee to enjoy on a bench outside.

For a picnic lunch, stop by one of the valley’s excellent delis to pick up provisions. Then explore one of the many local hiking trails (try Bothe-Napa State Park) and lunch in a spot with a view.

Raymond Winery’s Blending Room allows you to be “Winemakers for a Day,” blending your own red wine. You’ll leave with a bottle of your own blend featuring your own custom label and can even order cases of your personally crafted wine to share throughout the year.

Cap off the experience with some bubbly. Learn how Domaine Chandon’s sparkling wines are crafted and aged, following the wines’ path from vineyard to bottle to cellar via an in-depth tasting experience at Chandon’s spectacular Yountville winery. Or do a tasting in the 125-year-old caves at Schramsberg in Calistoga.

A patch that reads: "Wine Country Napa Valley, CA" and depicts two glasses of wine and a bottle in the foreground, as well as a depiction of a vineyard in the background.

Fun at the Fair

  • Buying Tickets: If you know you are going, buy your tickets in advance. They are often cheaper and include entry to the signature special event.
  • Check out the animals and exhibits: As an ag major from Chico State, I have to say that the livestock and agriculture element of the fair is what makes it a fair. Without that it’s a festival. Go check out all the livestock and the ag education booth. Support the FFA and 4-H—two great organizations that have a positive impact on young people.
  • Fair Food: You’re at the fair, you’re going to get your steps in, so it’s okay to eat whatever you want! Get something on a stick. There’s nothing like a corndog at a fair.
  • Get Involved: There are a lot of competitions at the fair where people showcase their talents. Walk through those buildings and find something that you think you can do and learn about how to participate in the fair. Make a quilt or paint a picture. It’s cool to get a blue ribbon, and there’s not a huge barrier to entry. A little hack—a lot of fairs will give you tickets if you enter a competition.

Scott Stoller (Agricultural Business, ’02)

General Manager, Colorado State Fair
A patch depicting a corndog.
A patch depicting two beer glasses clanking together.

Take a Fort Bragg Brewery Tour

It starts on the way! If you’re taking Highway 20, stop at Northspur Brewing Co. in Willits for a brew and a bite. If you’re taking Highway 128 through Boonville, don’t miss Anderson Valley Brewing Company—the world’s first solar-powered brewery—which features 20 taps.

Once you arrive in Fort Bragg, visit North Coast Brewing Company’s full-service pub and pair an award-winning beer with a tasty meal. Two blocks away, Tall Guy Brewing features a variety of small-batch brews in a comfortable setting. And at Franklin and Elm streets, Overtime Brewing offers small-batch beers and food
in a cozy and casual environment.

Jennifer Owen (Business Administration, ’82)

CEO/CFO, North Coast

Enjoy Butte County’s Beauty

Patio dining is a must! Consider Odyssey Winery for an out-of-the-way adventure or pizza at the Commons Social Empourium if you’re looking for something simple. 

When the sun sets, it time to spend time with friends, new and old, at one of Butte County’s amazing weekly events: Try Paradise’s Party in the Park on Wednesdays, Chico’s Thursday Night Market, and First Fridays in Oroville.

Check out for even more ideas.

A patch with the words farmers market and baskets of vegetables.

Nichole Farley (Agricultural Business, ’09)

Executive Director, Explore Butte County

Your Library Card: A Ticket to Adventure!

A patch depicting a cat reading a book.

Libraries are not just for books! (Although we do recommend them for summer reading. What better way to transport yourself to a different time and place?)! That said, did you know with your library card, you can access:

  • California State Parks passes, which can be checked out for three weeks from your local library and provide free vehicle day-use entry to over 200 participating state parks.
  • The Discover & Go program, which provides free and low-cost passes to many museums, zoos, theaters, and more. The Exploratorium and California Academy of Sciences, for instance.

Talk to your local librarian to learn more. Many of these same opportunities are available through Chico State’s OneCard program.

Kimberlee Wheeler (Humanities, ’93)

Youth Librarian, Butte County Library

More Awesome Activities at Your Local Library

I always encourage people to center their summer around reading. Of course, we have real books, but libraries also offer online access to a huge collection of e-books and e-audiobooks, news sources like the New York Times, free classes in about any subject you can imagine, and movies and television that you can access from the comfort of your home. But there are extra benefits to visiting your local library. Here are some examples of activities that might be happening:

  • Yoga
  • Walking groups
  • Art programs
  • Film screenings
  • Conversation groups
  • Gaming

Take some time to visit your library to pick up some books, find out which activities you want to be part of, and ask about accessing any of the amazing online resources you are interested in.

Todd Deck (Journalism, ’01)

Community Engagement Services Manager, Sacramento Public Library

The Amazing Staycation

Sometimes, the best plans are those you cancel or never make. If 2024 is your year to spend a summer at home, tending to your kin, your garden, and (most importantly) yourself, we’ve got you covered. 

Beat the Heat: Practice Self-Care

Summer Seasonal Affective Disorder is real, and it can increase irritability. If you’re like me and struggle with the heat, here are some important steps to take:

  • Exercise early, before it’s too hot.
  • Have a plan that includes a good hat and sunscreen when you do go outside.
  • Avoid the hottest parts of the day. Instead, stay in and do things like play board games, do puzzles, or make popsicles.
  • Spend time in a coffee shop, bookstore, or an ice cream shop.
  • Drink lots of water.
  • Finally—and this tip applies year-round—stick to a consistent sleep routine.

Aisha Kamala (Psychology, ’08; MSW, ’10)

Licensed Clinical Therapist and Performance Coach, Next Action Counseling, Chico
A patch depicting an ice cream cone.

Grill Like a Pro

A patch depicting a barbecue.

If you’re looking, you’re not cooking. One of the biggest mistakes I see new cooks make is opening the lid of their smoker or grill to see how their food looks—making the cooker drop 100 degrees or more. Get a wireless thermometer that allows you to check the internal temp of the meat without opening the lid. It will result in both a smoother cooking process and a better result. 

Experiment for yourself, not for your guests. Finding new flavors and techniques is part of what makes cooking outside exciting. I encourage people  to combine different rubs or sauces to create a “Franken-flavor.” But reserve these experiments for yourself or your immediate family and friends rather than a big crowd of guests.  

Plan, then plan for the things you can’t plan for. When cooking for a crowd, pick proteins that allow for flexibility and buffer time. A whole brisket or pork shoulder can (and often should) rest for hours wrapped in an empty ice chest. That allows you the flexibility to serve the main course when your guests are ready to eat. 

Dan Avery (Business Administration, ’06)

Co-founder, Kinder’s Premium Quality Seasonings and Sauces

Get to the Theater

A patch featuring the words "Movie Day" and depicting popcorn, soda, and a film cannister.

The communal aspect of watching a film with an audience is something I hope we never lose. The convenience of streaming is real, but losing yourself in a well-told story, soaking in the music and sound in a dark room full of strangers is pretty special. Get a few friends or family members together and head to your local movie theater!

Mark Nielsen (Journalism, ’92)

Producer, Pixar Animation Studios

What to See on The Big Screen: I’m producing Inside Out 2 at Pixar and it releases this summer—June 14 to be exact! I can’t wait to see it with an audience on the biggest screen possible. I’m also excited to see The Fall Guy (May 3) and Tim Burton’s sequel, Beetlejuice Beetlejuice (September 6).

A Garden of Delights

Gardens aren’t just for growing food. They also provide a place to find peace and joy. We love to host parties where we eat from the plants and have a water fight, and if the timing and crowd is right, maybe even a tomato fight!

I like to encourage people to plant things that keep producing, like cherry and/or big beefsteak tomatoes, or things that will last into the winter, like butternut squash.

A patch depicting a tomato.

Francine Stuelpnagel (Special Major, ’08)

Owner, Grub CSA Farm, Chico

A Few Tips for Growing Tomatoes

  • A simple irrigation system, like drip tape or a soaker hose, really helps.
  • Water them deep twice a week (for a long time) to encourage the roots to go low.
  • When you plant your tomatoes, give them calcium to prevent blossom rot.
  • Grow some basil, too. Just harvest it before it goes to flower and use it to make a bunch of fresh basil and tomato salad this summer!

Finally, don’t forget to plant some fun flowers too, like zinnias and sunflowers. You’ll be glad you did.

Big Tips For Big Plans

While summers often provide more opportunities for spontaneity—a midnight swim or last-second trip to the city, for instance—there are some things you want to think long and hard about when planning. If you have a once-in-a-lifetime trip in mind, perhaps a safari or some other epic vacation, or wedding bells are in your future, these tips can help ensure all that planning results in bliss.

A patch of a suitcase with the words Bon Voyage.

Be Flexible and Make Long-Term Plans

Visit a premium destination during the off-season. Shift your perspective and see a great destination outside of the high season—and away from the crowds. Think of winter ski resorts in spring, a cozy beach in fall. I always think about 13 months out. When you book 13 months out, as rates open for the first time, you will get the best deal.

Here are two places I recommend:

  • Domestic: Washington, DC, in August. Congress is out of session and locals are at the East Coast beaches with their families. It’s one of the best times of the year to see some of the country’s most iconic sites.
  • International: Summer is the low season in Argentina, but that’s one of the best times to go. It’s beautiful, affordable… and the malbec.

Tyler Jones (Recreation Administration, ’11)

Director of Sales and Marketing, Hyatt Regency Crystal City, Arlington, Virginia
A patch that reads "Safari" and depicts giraffes in the foreground with a sunset in the background.

Setting up Your Dream Safari

  • Plan a year ahead.
  • Study up on the country you plan to visit
    • its culture
    • its diversity of wildlife
  • Understand the difference in costs, which are often based on the time of year you travel, commonly referred to as the green season, shoulder season, and peak season.
  • Learn a few simple greetings in the local language.
  • Develop a tailored itinerary with an experienced tour leader. You’ll spend more, but you’re talking about the trip of a lifetime.

William Burns (Industrial Arts, ’88)

Owner and Tour Guide, Dewan Adventure Travel LLC

Wedding Planning Wisdom

  • Put pen to paper: Decide on your guest list and budget. The numbers often shift once you really start doing the math.
  • Identify your top priorities: Planning a wedding requires many decisions. By starting your process with your must-haves in mind, you’ll make the decision-making process when it comes to other decisions much easier. 
  • Choose your team carefully: Professionals should provide you with a more positive experience than you would have had otherwise. From planners and caterers to DJs and bands, your money and time will go further if you have experienced people you can trust.
A patch that reads "Just Married" and depicts flowers.

Jodi Drysdale (Health Science, ’00)

Owner and Primary Planner, CES Weddings and Events

Two More Things Worth Keeping in Mind

  • Hosting at home doesn’t make things easier: Too often the biggest pain points of your event are the things that get overlooked. Venues know how to deal with things like cleanup, electricity, tech, and parking.
  • DIY always means more work for someone. It’s tempting to try to cut corners by borrowing or making things yourself. The reality is, someone must do the work, and that can lead to complications or guests feeling obligated to pitch in. Paying for service staff is an area where I think money is well spent.

Header Photo: Rick Kilby (Kinesiology, ’06), who recently returned to Chico with spouse Simone and kids Max (in arms), Winona (standing), and August (far left), helped us capture this story’s essence on a perfect afternoon at Bidwell Park.