It’s hard to believe Bakersfield is just a 90-minute drive from Los Angeles. Visit Bakersfield, and it’s as if you’ve stepped back in time, but don’t get it twisted: Bakersfield isn’t preserved in the past. With ample opportunities to immerse yourself in local history, entertainment, recreation, and culture, there are plenty of things to do in Bakersfield that are fun for all ages. In fact, it’s one of Southern California’s best-kept secrets.
Whether you’re a born-and-bred Bakersfieldian seeking a new adventure or you’re planning a weekend trip with your kids, this Bakersfield City Guide is designed to help you create an itinerary that takes advantage of all the uniqueness this city has to offer.
Explore Local Basque Culture
Early settlers came to the West Coast during the California Gold Rush in the 1800s, but it wasn’t striking gold that helped them earn a living – it was the fertile soil and prime farming conditions.
Many of these early settlers emigrated from Basque Country in the Pyrenees Mountains of Northern Spain to California Gold Country. They eventually made their way to the farmlands of the Southern Central Valley. Drawn to cheap land, Basque immigrant settlers went back to their shepherding roots. Today, Bakersfield has the second-largest Basque community in the United States, second only to Boise, Idaho.
Local Basque restaurants in Bakersfield double as museums, decorated with memorabilia documenting a unique history and culture, and serve up authentic Basque cuisine daily. You’ll want to bring your appetite.
Visit Wool Grower’s, a beloved Bakersfield restaurant, for their family-style lunch. Think of it as an introductory course in Basque shepherd fare. The midday feast opens with the “set-up,” which includes cabbage soup, baked beans, and a delicious spicy tomato sauce, plus fresh-baked bread and tomato salad.
The Noriega Hotel is a great hole-in-the-wall spot for a hearty dinner. Founded in 1893, Noriega’s has served as a restaurant, bar, boarding house, and jai alai court. Dinner is served at 7 p.m. on communal tables and begins with the traditional Basque set-up. Don’t leave without at least trying the pickled tongue—it’s a local favorite. On Saturdays, diners can enjoy Noriega’s famed oxtail stew and delectable fried chicken.
Appreciate Southern Central Valley Agriculture
There’s a good chance you ate something today that was grown in Bakersfield. Bakersfield is nestled in the southern portion of one of the biggest agricultural production areas in the world, and the things grown here make their way to just about every corner of the globe.
Gain an appreciation for local agriculture by hitting up one of the many Bakersfield farms and farmer’s markets. Visit Murray Family Farms, a working farm where you can pick your own cherries, strawberries, and other produce depending on the time of year. You can find locally-grown produce, farm-fresh eggs, honey, fresh-baked bread, and other items at farmer’s markets in Bakersfield, including the Brimhall Farmers Market, California Fruit Depot and Haggin Oaks Farmers Market.
Groove to the Bakersfield Sound
When Dust Bowl refugees moved west to find work during the Great Depression, they brought their music with them. Many of these migrants settled in Bakersfield hoping to cash in on agriculture and oil, and a new sound began to develop by the 1950s: the Bakersfield sound.
Steeped in Western swing, honky-tonk and rock ‘n’ roll, the Bakersfield sound was tough, gritty, and the polar opposite of the pretty, polished, orchestral arrangements of the ruling Nashville sound. If you’ve ever listened to the likes of country music outlaws like Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, or Waylon Jennings, you’ve listened to the Bakersfield sound.
The honky-tonks that made Bakersfield “The Country Music Capital of the West Coast” have sadly dwindled over the years, but you can still catch live country music at Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace, Temblor Brewing Company, the Rustic Rail and Ethel’s Old Corral Café.
Attend an Annual Bakersfield Community Event
If you’re looking for things to do in Bakersfield, look no further than one of the city’s community events. Each year Bakersfield hosts dozens of annual festivals and events that draw locals and visitors alike. Here’s a sampling of some of the events in Bakersfield held throughout the year:
- The Great 48-Hour Bluegrass Jam (January)
- Amestoy’s on the Hill Chile Verde Cook-Off (March)
- Bakersfield Jazz Festival (April)
- Kern County Scottish Games and Gathering (April)
- The Macaroni and Cheese Festival (April)
- Basque Festival (May)
- Bakersfield Wing Festival (June)
- Kern County BBQ Throwdown (June)
- Bakersfield’s Food Truck Festival (July)
- Tehachapi Mountain Festival (August)
- Kern County Fair (September)
- Via Arté Italian Street Painting Festival (October)
- Bakersfield Christmas Parade (December)
Get a Slice of Bakersfield’s Authentic Side
Bakersfield is full of so many old school, authentic institutions, like the Fox Theater, a local treasure. The Spanish Colonial and Art Deco theater is the only remaining Fox Theater with its original interior of ornate Spanish motifs still intact. Today, the theater continues to serve as a film and entertainment venue.
The Padre Hotel is one of the most historic buildings in Bakersfield—and allegedly one of the most haunted! But chances are you’ll forget all about the prospect of an otherworldly experience as you soak in the Padre’s swanky interior, great nightlife, and farm-to-table restaurants.
Other unique things to do in Bakersfield? Eating as the locals do! Grab breakfast at the 24th Street Café, an old-fashioned dinner and popular hangout that serves everyone’s favorite comfort classics. Visit Luigi’s, an Italian grocery store and restaurant, and fill your basket with as much olive oil, meats, cheeses, and sauces as your heart desires.
Satisfy your sweet tooth at Dewar’s Candy Shop, a local spot that’s been peddling their famous taffy chews for more than 100 years, or visit Smith’s Bakeries or Pyrenees French Bakery for fresh bread and more sweet treats.
Immerse Yourself in Local History, Art & Culture
If you’re on the hunt for things to do with kids in Bakersfield, you’ll want to check out the city’s historical, artistic and cultural offerings.
Kern County Museum
Learn about local history and culture at the Kern County Museum. One of the most prominent features of the museum is Pioneer Village, a 16-acre exhibit with more than 50 original buildings from around Kern County that offer an accurate depiction of life in the late 1800s. The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday and offers a variety of guided tours.
Buena Vista Museum of Natural History & Science
The Buena Vista Museum of Natural History & Science is located on Chester Avenue in Bakersfield’s downtown Arts District. The museum’s exhibits touch on the region’s rich geological history, and it boasts the largest collection of Sharktooth Hill Miocene-era fossils in the world. The museum is open Thursday through Sunday.
California Living Museum
This zoo that boasts more than 400 plant and animal species native to California serves a fascinating purpose: its 250+ animal species are non-releasable, meaning that only animals that are injured or cannot survive in their native environment live at the California Living Museum.
Within the confines of the 14-acre zoo inside Kern River County Park, you’ll find exhibits featuring black bears, big cats, birds of prey (including two rare California Condors), waterfowl, reptiles, sea creatures, and a petting zoo. The California Living Museum is open daily.
Bakersfield Museum of Art
Located in Central Park in the heart of Downtown Bakersfield, the Bakersfield Museum of Art has four galleries, including a permanent collection with works by regional artists on display, as well as galleries that feature traveling exhibitions.
In addition to its exhibitions, the Bakersfield Museum of Art offers a variety of community events, including Art After Dark, free yoga classes, and art camps and classes for students. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday and offers docent-led tours at an additional cost.
Be Active in Bakersfield
It’s so easy to get moving in Bakersfield, whether your idea of athleticism is taking a 10-mile day hike or cheering on a professional team.
Spend the Day at Lake Ming
Just 10 miles northeast of Bakersfield, Lake Ming is one of the most popular recreational destinations in the city. It’s part of Kern River County Park, which includes Hart Memorial Park and the Kern River Campground. The man-made reservoir is primarily a water-skiing and motorboat lake that holds community events throughout the year, including boat races and a triathlon. A walking trail encircles Lake Ming, and there is a playground and picnic area on site. The Kern River Golf Course is located to the east.
Go Whitewater Rafting on the Kern River
What better way to cool off on a hot Bakersfield summer day than by navigating class II and III whitewater rapids on the Kern River? After months of steady rain and snowfall, water levels on the Kern River are higher than average and the 2019 rafting season is poised to be the best yet!
River’s End Rafting offers rafting trips perfect for thrill-seekers and families. Their two-hour rafting trip starts at the mouth of Kern Canyon and finishes near Lake Ming. Monday is a designated family day where families can book at a generously discounted rate. River’s End Rafting is open Monday through Saturday.
Take a Hike
Located at the base of the Southern Sierra Nevada Mountains, Bakersfield is within proximity to some fantastic hiking opportunities. The Kern Valley Hiking Club organizes day hikes every other Saturday in nearby Sequoia National Forest where you can traverse the Packsaddle, Mill Creek, Kern River, or even Pacific Crest Trails.
Support Local Athletics
Bakersfield is home to several club, collegiate, and professional sports teams. The Kern County Rugby Club has a diverse roster made up of players from Bakersfield and around the globe. If you’ve never attended a rugby match, it’s a sight to see. The team’s regular season runs November through April.
Cal State Bakersfield has a host of collegiate men’s and women’s athletics teams, including basketball, soccer, baseball, softball, wrestling, and beach volleyball. Tickets are available to the public, and some events are free to attend.
Bakersfield is Condorstown! Cheer on the Bakersfield Condors, the NHL affiliate of the Edmonton Oilers, at Rabobank Arena. Cheer on the Bakersfield Condors at Rabobank Arena. The team just finished first in their division for the 2018-19 season. Regular season runs September through April.
Start Exploring Bakersfield!
At Personal Express, we’re proud to call Bakersfield home, and we want to make sure our neighbors are protected where their adventures take them. Let Personal Express help design an affordable auto, homeowners or renters insurance policy that makes sense for you. Visit your local Personal Express office or call 1-800-499-3612 to get started.
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Bakersfield image courtesy of Bobak Ha’Eri via Wikimedia Commons