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12 Top-Rated Things to Do in Bakersfield, CA

Written by Brad Lane
Jul 5, 2019

At the southern end of California's Central Valley, Bakersfield is a city in Kern County built upon a rich history of oil and agriculture. Much of that history is still on display but is now combined with modern attractions, including an emerging art and culture scene fueled by a creative community. Places to experience some of the old Bakersfield with the new include the Bakersfield Museum of Art and the nearly 90-year-old Fox Theater in the heart of downtown.

Bakersfield

The soundtrack for visiting the city would have to be the Bakersfield Sound, a sub-genre of country music popularized in the 50s and 60s by local musicians like Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. This explosion of country music and its ties to Bakersfield aided in the city earning its moniker of The Country Music Capital of the West Coast. The Bakersfield Sound can be experienced at places like Buck Owens' Crystal Palace and the Kern County Museum, where visitors can walk through Merle Haggard's childhood home.

Bakersfield is also a gateway to the great outdoors and nature lovers will find no shortage of things to do. Within city limits, places like Hart Memorial Park and Panorama Vista Preserve provide immediate access to lakeside picnic spots and mile-long views. The mighty Kern River passes right through the city, paralleled by the pedestrian-only Kern River Parkway Trail. A prominent backdrop of the city, the world-renowned Sierra Nevada Mountains are easily reached from Bakersfield, including the grandeur of places like Sequoia National Forest and Kings Canyon National Park.

For more ideas on the best places to visit, read our list of the top things to do in Bakersfield.

1. Hart Memorial Park Editor's Pick

Hart Memorial Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Dedicated in 1929, Hart Memorial Park still holds the hidden gems of what makes northeast Bakersfield so special. In the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and nestled along the banks of the Kern River, this 370-acre public space features two fishing lakes stocked with rainbow trout, bluegill, and bass. Dotted with picnic tables, playgrounds, and paved walking trails, the entire park is also covered with shade thanks to numerous mature trees throughout.

Popular for hikers, cyclists, and families looking for a picnic, Hart Memorial Park is still undergoing improvements through a vast revitalization project undertaken by the county. Two disc-golf courses wind throughout Hart Park, including a challenging 18 holes that navigate the steep terrain of the adjacent Sharktooth Hill.

Located 10 miles from downtown, Hart Memorial Park is part of the much larger Kern River County Park, which includes the nearby California Area Living Museum and Lake Ming.

Address: Hart Park, Bakersfield, California

2. Buck Owens' Crystal Palace

Buck Owens' Crystal Palace | Panegyrics of Granovetter / photo modified

A music venue, restaurant, and museum all in one, Buck Owens' Crystal Palace is dedicated to keeping the Bakersfield Sound alive and well. This is one of the city's most popular tourist attrations. Featuring contemporary and classic country western concerts and dancing, the lineup at the Crystal Palace includes multiple performers each week. The menu at the Crystal Palace ranges from appetizer opening acts to main stage entrees, including chicken fried steak.

The on-site Buck Owens' Museum features memorabilia and interpretive information about the local musician's career, as well as the overall rise of country western music in the United States. Fun for the whole family and offering a unique slice of American history, it's hard not to enjoy the positive atmosphere of the Crystal Palace even if you don't consider yourself a country music fan. For more insight into the Bakersfield Sound, the Kern County Museum includes a special exhibit detailing the musical phenomena.

Address: 2800 Buck Owens Boulevard, Bakersfield, California

Official site: https://www.buckowens.com/

3. Kern County Museum

Pioneer Village at the Kern County Museum | Danny Chia / photo modified

Immersing visitors into the storied history of Kern County, this family favorite educational experience features costumed characters and well-preserved artifacts. Over 60 historic structures comprise the museum's outdoor Pioneer Village, a living-history museum spanning over 16 acres. An interactive exhibit regarding the region's history with the oil industry provides insight on the black gold that spurred development in Kern County, and the Lori Brock Children's Discovery Center at the museum blends science education with hands-on learning.

The "Bakersfield Sound" exhibit at the Kern County Museum highlights many of the influential musicians who developed their voice in Bakersfield. Buck Owens is on full display at the museum, and his legacy lives on at the nearby Buck Owens' Crystal Palace. Visitors can learn more about local legend, Merle Haggard, through the exhibit, as well as at the Haggard House on the museum's grounds—the original home where Merle was born and raised.

Address: 3801 Chester Avenue, Bakersfield, California

Official site: https://kerncountymuseum.org/

4. Fox Theater

Fox Theater | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Opened on Christmas day in 1930, the Fox Theater is a historical venue in Bakersfield known for its ornate interior and excellent acoustics. Originally a movie house and eventually showcasing some of the first "talkies" to hit the screen, this architectural treasure narrowly avoided the wrecking ball throughout the 1980s. Saved by community efforts, the Fox Theater Foundation formed and re-invented the venue in 1994. Today, live music performances take over the stage at the Fox Theater, adding a great soundtrack to enjoy the decorative interior.

Address: 2001 H Street, Bakersfield, California

Official site: http://thebakersfieldfox.com/

5. The Park at Riverwalk

The Park at Riverwalk | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Connected to the Kern River Parkway Trail southwest of downtown, this charming city park features two connected lakes popular for fishing. The stream connecting the lakes meanders throughout the rest of the 32-acre park, with scenic footbridge crossings throughout. Popular for family picnics and leisurely strolls, the park really glows come sunset. Within the park, the Spectrum Amphitheater is one of the largest outdoor venues in the county, hosting live music festivals and events throughout the year.

Address: 11298 Stockdale Highway, Bakersfield, California

6. Kern River Parkway Trail

Kern River Parkway Trail

A free and fun way to spend the day, the Kern River Parkway Trail is a non-motorized pedestrian route that follows the banks of the scenic Kern River. Connecting many natural spaces and outdoor attractions of Bakersfield, including Hart Memorial Park and Riverwalk Park, this scenic corridor is popular for strollers, runners, and cyclists. An achievement of city planning and public land access, the Parkway and paved trail span over 20 miles, including through the heart of the city.

7. California Living Museum (CALM)

Lake Ming

Part of the larger Kern River County Park northeast of downtown, including the nearby Hart Memorial Park, the California Living Museum (CALM) provides a home for injured and non-releasable California native animals. Accredited by the Zoological Association of America, CALM strives to connect the community to local fauna through education, inspiration, and hands-on experience. Animals under the care of CALM include black bears, bighorn sheep, and a variety of birds.

Within Kern River County Park and a short drive from CALM, Lake Ming offers more scenic appeal and a campground to spend the night. This man-made recreational lake is lined with picnic tables and shade spots, perfect for fishing or eating a picnic near the shore. Accessed from the lake road, the Kern River Campground allows visitors to spend the night in a tent or RV with nearby flushing toilets and showers.

Address: 10500 Alfred Harrell Highway, Bakersfield, California

Official site: http://calmzoo.org/

8. Bakersfield Museum of Art

Tejon Ranch Sculpture Garden at Bakersfield Museum of Art | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Established in 1956, the Bakersfield Museum of Art (BMoA) has provided a window into the creative Kern County community for nearly 60 years. BMoA features regularly touring exhibits and a permanent collection comprised of 20th-century California artists. The best represented mediums at BMoA include paintings, sculptures, and photography. The museum fills their event calendar with activities such as Yoga at the Museum and First Fridays Free Admission, as well as education programs for children and adults.

Adjacent to the Bakersfield Museum of Art, and easily accessed from the museum's Tejon Ranch Sculpture Park, the aesthetically pleasing Mill Creek Park and pathway offers a great place to take a break in the day. Featuring a signature covered bridge and ample green space, this linear park is also home to playgrounds, park benches, and a scenic path that follows a former irrigation canal. Central to the Bakersfield urban revitalization plan, Mill Creek Park connects downtown with other city attractions.

Address: 1930 R Street, Bakersfield, California

Official site: https://www.bmoa.org/

9. Rabobank Arena, Theater & Convention Center

Sculptures outside Rabobank Arena, Theater & Convention Center | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The top spot for live entertainment in Bakersfield, the Rabobank Arena is the city's largest venue for events and special performances. Home to the Bakersfield Condors of the American Hockey League, this multi-purpose space also features concerts, Broadway performances, and other sporting events including monster truck rallies and Disney on Ice.

The well-decorated outdoor plaza of Rabobank Arena hints at the grandeur within this modern arena, and many hotels are located near the facility, providing easy accommodations for those visiting for an event.

Address: 1001 Truxtun Avenue, Bakersfield, California

Official site: http://www.rabobankarena.com/

10. Sequoia National Forest

Sequoia National Forest

Bakersfield is blessed with world-class scenic environments close to the city. The Kern River Canyon starts just northeast of the downtown district and leads deep into the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains, including the enchanting world of Sequoia National Forest. The park encompasses wild and scenic rivers, glacier-carved canyons, and at least 30 groves of towering sequoia trees. Popular ways to explore the forest include backpacking and hiking, whitewater rafting and kayaking, and spending the night at one of the many campgrounds throughout.

The country-spanning Pacific Crest Trail meanders through the national forest on its way north to Sequoia National Park, alongside the thousands of other miles of hiking trails, maintained roads, and gravel paths that line this lush natural space. The forest is home to parts of six different designated wilderness areas, including the 95,000-acre Domeland Wilderness. With elevations as high as 12,000 feet, Sequoia National Forest also delivers on wintertime activities throughout half of the year.

Official site: https://www.fs.usda.gov/main/sequoia/home

11. Panorama Vista Preserve

Panorama Vista Preserve

Encompassing over 900 acres on both sides of the Kern River northeast of downtown, Panorama Vista Preserve is a hidden gem of natural space right in the city's backyard. Once a thriving riparian corridor, overdevelopment nearly wiped the scenery clean from this river passage. Thanks to community efforts and massive replanting endeavors, Panorama Vista Preserve is growing back into the lush forested landscape it once was and is now popular for low-impact trail activities like hiking, biking, and horse riding.

Address: 901 E Roberts Lane, Bakersfield, California

Official site: http://panoramavista.org

12. Buena Vista Museum of Natural History & Science

Buena Vista Museum of Natural History & Science | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

A few blocks from the Fox Theater in downtown Bakersfield, the Buena Vista Museum of Natural History & Science displays artifacts and fossils from throughout Kern County and beyond. Skeletal remains, taxidermic wildlife, and numerous interpretive exhibits are found within this downtown museum, as well as a variety of information regarding multiple scientific disciplines. Archaeology is on full display at the museum, with a large collection of oceanic fossils gathered from the nearby Sharktooth Hill.

Address: 2018 Chester Avenue, Bakersfield, California

Official site: http://www.sharktoothhill.org

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Exploring the Sierra Nevada Mountains: Bakersfield makes for a great basecamp for visiting the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The big trees and vibrant atmosphere of Sequoia National Forest is a short drive from Bakersfield, including all the best campgrounds of Sequoia National Park. One of the most popular spots in the Sierra Nevada's, Yosemite National Park is also easily accessible from Bakersfield, and the best hiking trails in Yosemite National Park can help you see it all.

Nearby California Coastal Cities: The stunning sunsets and ocean spray of San Luis Obispo County is a short drive from Bakersfield. Alongside the central city of San Luis Obispo, the coastal community of Morro Bay is a great place to beat the heat and enjoy the natural surroundings. Farther south on the coast, the charming town of Pismo Beach offers interesting attractions and everything needed for a relaxing ocean getaway.

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