Oroville is a small town in the Sierra Nevada foothills of Northern California. With a population in the greater urban area of 40,000, it is the seat of Butte County. A relaxed place, it boasts a massive dam that has created the man made Lake Oroville. There are excellent outdoor activities including boating, hiking, biking, and fishing.
For a California town located no small distance from the state's major population centers, Oroville has a rather extensive history. It was the first major town in the area and grew enormously in the mid-19th century due to the Gold Rush. Unfortunately the timeless wisdom that holds "what comes easy won't last and what lasts won't come easy" certainly held true in Oroville, as it has the lengthy ignominy of being the seat of one of California's poorest counties (Butte). Constantly overshadowed by neighboring Chico with its vibrant California State University campus, Oroville has spent most of its post-Gold Rush existence quietly serving administrative purposes with some unfortunate race tensions in the middle of the 20th century.
Since the construction of the massive dam which in turn created Lake Oroville, outdoor tourism has become one of the main draws of the town and more people have moved there as it becomes a "bedroom community" of towns such as Chico and even Sacramento. Visitors to Oroville will more than likely be spending their time hiking or on the lake as the town proper, while having a nice, old historical area, isn't heavy on cultural attractions.
There are three main bus methods to get to Oroville:
- Amtrak - While better known for their trains, Amtrak does run a connecting bus service from their Sacramento hub. In Sacramento you can transfer to trains that will take you nearly anywhere in the country. The number of buses varies a great deal based upon the season and it's best to consult their website to make plans specific to when you want to travel. The stop is not near the center of town though as it is just off the main highway at a gas station, so visitors would need to plan an additional ride accordingly. If the timing works, the hourly B-Line 24 Route can connect visitors to the rest of town.
- Casino Buses - With the opening of two large Indian gambling casinos in the town several years ago, bus routes were created to link up gamblers in the San Francisco Bay Area with these casinos. The schedules are not ideal, but the cost of the ride is considerably cheaper than any other option given it is offset by the fact that they believe those riding it will be gambling upon arrival. To use this, inquire directly with the Gold Country or Feather Falls Casinos.
- Greyhound - The stalwart American bus service. There are at least two regular bus connections with Oroville a day that are exceedingly slow, although they stop closer to the main part of town. The hourly B-Line 25 Route is available to connect people to other areas of town.
You will most likely need a car once arriving in Oroville, so it is better to arrive with your own first. Oroville straddles Highway 70 and has four exits off this main thoroughfare.
During Gold Rush times, there were several trains a day down to Sacramento and San Francisco. Today, there is no direct service. The Amtrak Coast Starlight stops in neighboring Chico, but has quite horrible arrival times and frequency to get to Oroville, not mention being a half-hour drive from town.
The public transportation in Oroville is not amazing, but strides have been made to have a more reliable system. The B-Line covers not only the core of the town, but also has hourly connections to neighboring towns.
Bicycling can be a wonderful way to see the area, especially in the Fall or Spring when the temperatures are more moderate and the natural scenery pleasing.
Taxis are scarce and not to be seen running around. You actually have to call a taxi to come to your specific location if you want one and they are not cheap.
While the immediate downtown area is a pleasant walk, to go anywhere else will require your own car. If you don't have one upon arrival, there are several rental offices in town such as Enterprise and Hertz.
- 1 Bidwell Bar Bridge (Original), North end of Bidwell Canyon Rd.. The Bidwell Bar Bridge is the first steel suspension bridge built in California. It was relocated to its current location in 1965 to avoid inundation by the rising water of Lake Oroville. Free.
- 2 Cherokee Museum & Ghost Town, 4226 Cherokee Rd. (HWY 70 North, turn on Cherokee Rd, about one mile in look for the museum.), ☏ . What was once a boom town during the mining days, this is a small ghost town with several structures you can walk through from the road including what was the Wells Fargo Bank. There is also a small museum that has varying opening hours. There are a few scattered places where people still live, so tread carefully.
- 3 Chinese Temple, 1500 Broderick St., ☏ . Daily: Noon-4PM. Built in 1863, this temple served the needs of all the Chinese north of Sacramento. Now it is a museum open to the public showing the history of the Chinese in the area as well as artifacts from the days when the temple was in full service. Adults: $3.
- 4 Ishi Emergence Spot, 2552 Oro Quincy Highway (Immediately west of the Oak Avenue intersection.). The location where Ishi, the last Native American to live in the wild came in to contact with European Americans in 1911 which is mainly just a plaque marking the spot. Much more can be found at the Lake Oroville Visitor Center. Free.
- 5 Lake Oroville Visitor Center, 917 Kelly Ridge Rd., ☏ . Outside of the town, this state-run visitor center offers a splendid observation of the town and the history of the construction of the lake and the Indian tribes that were in the area. Free.
- 6 Mother Orange Tree, Bidwell Bar Bridge. The original orange tree brought to California 1856 which is still bearing fruit to this day despite a near fatal frost in 1998. Free.
- 7 Oroville Dam. Billed as the largest earth-filled dam in the world, it is the tallest dam in the United States at 230m/770ft, and the top of the dam spans 2,110m/6,920ft. The view over the Sacramento Valley is stunning, especially after a good rainstorm. For security reasons, you can't park directly on the top of the dam. There are also quite impressive tours under the dam showing the massive hydroelectric turbines, although the hours and offer of these tours are unpredictable. Free.
- 8 Pioneer History Museum, 2332 Montgomery St., ☏ . F-Su: Noon-4PM. Opened in 1932, this museum houses a very large collection of tools and other historical items used by people in the Gold Rush. A must-see for anyone who has any interest in Gold Rush history. Adults: $3.
- Bald Rock (Hwy 162 dir. Berry Creek, turn off on Bald Road Rd. and drive to trailhead). A massive granite outcropping that sits in the mountains above town. It makes for an excellent morning hike with impressive views from the top. Free.
- 1 Feather Falls (Hwy 162 towards Berry Creek, right on Forbestown Rd., left on Lumpkin Rd., left just before town proper (there is a sign)). A great day hike for those wishing to see one of the highest waterfalls in the United States with a drop of 410 feet (120 m). Great spot in the middle of the hike to see a massive ladybug migration. Free.
- Green Line Trail. A contiguous route running from the center of town up to the dam with a number of options along the way. It's for those wishing to make longer bike rides around the area and enjoy the scenery with a very easy to follow green line to mark the path. Free.
- 2 Lake Oroville State Recreation Area (HWY 162 East towards Berry Creek, left on Canyon Drive). The main attraction of Oroville and a huge destination for boating and fishing. Boats can also be rented from Bidwell Marina and taken far upstream to the forks of the river where there are usually waterfalls depending on the year.
- 3 Table Mountain (Take Cherokee Rd. Drive 6.3 miles to the unmarked parking area on the left at a green cattle gate). While this area can be visited year round, it is best seen in the Spring when the large, flat field on the plateau of this mountain are full of endless wildflowers. Additionally, there are excellent waterfalls to hike to and be seen such as Ravine and Phantom Falls. Those interested in preparing can read up on these hikes as well as read the book, "Wildflowers of Table Mountain" by Mackey & Bills. Free.
There are no items specific to Oroville that warrant special attention of purchase. Here are a few places where more basic items can be found.
- Geenline Cycles, 1911 Montgomery St., ☏ . The most thorough local bicycles shop located in the heart of the old town. The best spot to pick up parts if one is looking to do a lot of cycling in the area.
- Raley's, 2325 Myers St, ☏ . The best supermarket in the area with a large selection of products. especially good for those looking to go camping up in the mountains and needing to stock up on supplies for the trip.
- Wagon Wheel Market, 4607 Olive Highway, ☏ . While the groceries are much higher-priced than in town, it's hands down the best butcher in town. If you want meat for a BBQ, this is the place to go. Also excellent beef jerky that they cut and make.
- Boss Burger, 2482 Montgomery St, ☏ . One of the best burgers around and a much better option than all the fast food joints that line Oro Dam Blvd.
- Casa Vieja, 1560 Huntoon St, ☏ . Been serving the best authentic Mexican food in town at this old local favorite since the 1960s or so. Muy generoso portions and a tasty fresh cabbage salsa. In a nice part of old downtown.
- Papacito's, 1751 Oro Dam Boulevard East, ☏ . Mexican food for people who don't like Mexican food. It's fine, but it's not amazing.
- Taqueria Estrella, 1361 Feather River Blvd, ☏ . One of the only to-go burrito shops in town that varies a great deal in quality from day to day.
- Tong Fong Low, 2051 Robinson St, ☏ . Opened in 1912 and run by Chinese ever since. It's the best Chinese food option in town.
- The Lighthouse Candy Shoppe, 2065 Bird St, ☏ . M 10AM-4PM, Tu-Sa 10AM-5PM. An old-fashioned candy shop.
Oroville is not lacking in drinking options, which is probably a tribute to its bawdy Gold Rush past. The issue is more that the vast majority of bars fall under the "dive" classification.
- Keg Room, 3035 Oro Dam Boulevard East, ☏ . A true dive bar in town with dim lighting and the regulars. If you want the Oroville local bar experience, this is it.
There are also several small wineries of varying levels of quality in the foothill area of Oroville. While not an area known for wines, the hot summers make growing wines quite possible, although winemakers in the area are overall still learning how to work the terroir and which varietals grow best.
- Motel 6, 505 Montgomery St, ☏ , fax: . Directly off of Highway 70, it is not a place one goes for charm, but it is one of the cheaper places to stay in Oroville.
- Western Motor Lodge, 2255 Bird St, ☏ . A basic motel for the budget conscious with basic amenities.
- Holiday Inn express, 550 Oro Dam Blvd., ☏ . The newest hotel in town, located on one of the main boulevards, close to the highway.
- Days Inn Oroville, 1745 Feather River Blvd, ☏ . Check-in: 2PM, check-out: 11AM. Room amenities include refrigerators and microwaves. Property amenities include free parking for cars, trucks and RVs, free breakfast, free USA Today newspaper, free Wi-Fi, outdoor pool and 24-hour front desk.
- Feather Falls Casino Hotel, 3 Alverda Dr, ☏ . A casino hotel that's more classy and resembles an upscale hunting lodge. More removed from the casino so that you can stay there separately of the gambling sadness.
- Gold Country Casino Hotel, 4020 Olive Highway, ☏ . It might seem odd to stay at a casino in such a small town, but it's one of the nicer hotels in town, especially if you avoid the rather dreary casino.
Oroville is an overall safe town. Because most people drive, there are few if any petty crimes such as pickpocketing or mugging. There is an underbelly of methamphetamine producers and users in the town, which tend to be focused in the area known at "South Side", roughly bounded by Lincoln, Wyandotte, and Ithaca. Although this is an over-simplified definition, there is little reason for a visitor to go to this area, so it should be a non-issue.
The area just east of Hwy 70 and between Oro Dam Blvd and Ophir road has been heavily contaminated by the chemical waste leftover from wood processing back when Oroville was a more prominent lumber town. It's advisable to not spend any time in this area, although again, it offers next to nothing as far as attractions unless a trip is needed to the local garbage dump for some reason.
While the area is low in humidity, the summers get incredibly hot, usually staying at a minimum of 37 °C/95 °F from June through August and sometimes peaking to 48 °C/120 °F. This makes for great fun at the lake or on the river, but when not on the water, make sure to stay very hydrated and wear sunscreen.
On the other end of the seasons, the winters are quite cold. While snow is extremely rare, it will often get below freezing which creates the hazard of "black ice" when driving. Also to note is the period in late January or February when a longterm fog settles in for a week or two that is quite cold, but more importantly makes for very hazardous driving due to decreased visibility. Make sure to take care and reduce speed as during this time there are often large pileups on the freeways of multiple cars.
- Chico - Twenty minutes west of Oroville, Chico is the main town of the area with good shopping and a state college.
- Gold Country - Where the formation of California really took place.
- Mount Lassen - Excellent outdoor hiking and breathtaking scenery in the volcanic park about a 45-minute drive from Oroville.
- Sacramento - About an hour south of Oroville and the capital of California.