15 Top-Rated Things to Do in Bakersfield, CA
Bakersfield is located in Kern County at the southern end of California's Central Valley. It's a city built upon a rich history of oil, agriculture, and country music. Much of this history combines with modern attractions today, including an emerging art and culture scene fueled by a creative community. This and a rich cultural history make Bakersfield The Country Music Capital of the West Coast.
The soundtrack for visiting 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. Visitors today experience the Bakersfield Sound at places like Buck Owens' Crystal Palace and the Kern County Museum, where visitors walk through Merle Haggard's childhood home.
Bakersfield is also a gateway to the great outdoors. The mighty Kern River passes right through the city, paralleled by the pedestrian-only Kern River Parkway Trail. This paved path connects other scenic open spaces in the city, offering outdoor enjoyment for the typically sunny forecast of the region.
For more ideas on the best places to visit, read our list of the top things to do in Bakersfield.
1. Hart Memorial Park
Hart Memorial Park is the crown-jewel open space of Bakersfield. It's nestled along the banks of the Kern River in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, approximately a 20-minute drive northeast of town. And among its 370 acres are several ways to spend the day.
Picnic tables, playgrounds, and paved walking trails punctuate the entire park. It's also home to two fishing lakes stocked with rainbow trout, bluegill, and bass. And the entire park is dotted with shade thanks to numerous mature trees throughout. For these reasons, the park is often brimming with hikers, family picnickers, and anglers looking to land something.
Hart Memorial Park is also popular for disc golf players. The park has two disc-golf courses winding throughout different terrain. A relatively flat 18-hole course navigates the landscaped lawns near the river. The other course, known as Shark Tooth Mountain Disc Golf Course, is a challenging 18 holes navigating the mountainsides.
Hart Memorial Park is part of the much larger Kern River County Park. This massive county park also includes area attractions like the nearby California Area Living Museum (CALM) and Lake Ming. It's also home to a larger regional soccer complex.
Read More: Best Parks in Bakersfield
2. Buck Owens' Crystal Palace
Buck Owens' Crystal Palace is a music venue, restaurant, and museum all in one. It's one of the city's most popular tourist attractions and is dedicated to keeping the Bakersfield Sound alive and well.
The Crystal Palace is perhaps best known for its contemporary and classic country western concerts and dancing. The lineup usually includes multiple performers each week. Bring some western wear to these popular weekly events. For dinner and a show, the Crystal Palace menu ranges from appetizer opening acts to main stage entrees.
The on-site Buck Owens' Museum is also a stand-alone reason to visit. It 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. 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
The Kern County Museum is a family favorite educational experience just north of downtown. It immerses visitors into the storied history of Kern County with costumed characters and well-preserved artifacts and buildings.
Over 60 historic structures comprise the museum's outdoor Pioneer Village, a living-history museum spanning over 16 acres. These buildings range from railcar jail cells to homesteading cabins and general stores. Many of these buildings are only observed from the outside, while others feature plexiglass windows to peer inside.
Within the village, an indoor interactive exhibit provides insight into the city's oil history, showcasing how black gold spurred development in Kern County. Also on-site is the Lori Brock Children's Discovery Center, blending science education with hands-on learning.
Buck Owens is on full display at the museum and the "Bakersfield Sound" exhibit highlights many of the influential musicians who developed their voice in Bakersfield. Visitors can learn more about the 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. Downtown Bakersfield
Head to downtown for the densest taste of Bakersfield culture. This large downtown district lines Chester Avenue, and spans east and west several city blocks. Here, dozens of restaurants beckon with local menus and hip storefronts. This is also the place to visit in Bakersfield for shopping, whether for the latest fashion trends or rare antiques.
A few notable downtown foodie spots include The 18hundred and Locale Farm to Table Eatery. Other local favorites include the Woolworth Diner and the Padre Hotel. And for a classy date night or celebration dinner, head to the Horse in the Alley vintage steakhouse, housed in one of the oldest downtown buildings, dating to the 1890s.
Shopping can easily take up the entire day in downtown. The district is home to local boutiques with modern styles, but the area is perhaps best known for its antiques district. Several of these antique purveyors are between 19th and 20th streets off Chester Avenue. Here, places like 19th Street Antique Mall and Merry Go Round Antique Mall house rare treasures waiting to be found.
5. Fox Theater
Opened on Christmas day in 1930, the Fox Theater is a historical venue in Bakersfield known for its ornate interior and excellent acoustics. It was originally a silent-movie house and eventually showcased some of the first "talkies" to hit the screen. Today, live music performances take over the stage at the Fox Theater, adding a great soundtrack to enjoy the decorative interior.
This architectural treasure narrowly avoided the wrecking ball throughout the 1980s. It was saved by community efforts, and the Fox Theater Foundation formed and re-invented the venue in 1994.
Address: 2001 H Street, Bakersfield, California
Official site: http://thebakersfieldfox.com/
6. The Park at Riverwalk
The Kern River Parkway Trail connects with The Park at Riverwalk, southwest of downtown. This charming city park features two duck-laden lakes connected by a scenic cobblestone creek that circulates the water. The stream connecting the lakes meanders throughout the rest of the 32-acre park, with scenic footbridge crossings throughout.
The two connected lakes are popular for fishing, with bass, carp, and crappie caught year-round. The park is also a popular spot for family picnics and leisurely strolls, and the space tends to really glows come sunset.
Within the park, the Dignity Health Amphitheatre is one of the largest outdoor venues in the county, hosting live music festivals and events throughout the year. This awesome outdoor venue routinely puts on shows with thousands in attendance.
Address: 11298 Stockdale Highway, Bakersfield, California
7. Kern River Parkway Trail
The Kern River Parkway Trail is a non-motorized pedestrian route that follows the banks of the scenic Kern River throughout the entire city. It's a free and fun way to spend the day and connects many natural spaces and outdoor attractions. A few parks along the route include Panorama Park, Beach Park, and The Park at Riverwalk.
This scenic corridor is popular for strollers, runners, and cyclists. The Kern River itself is a runoff from the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Often, it's completely dry by the time it reaches the city. Still, this arid habitat offers vegetation near the trail and a beautiful route to follow.
8. California Living Museum (CALM)
The California Living Museum (CALM) is part of the larger Kern River County Park northeast of downtown, near Hart Memorial Park. It provides a home for injured and non-releasable California native animals and is 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.
Also within Kern River County Park and a short drive from CALM, Lake Ming offers more scenic appeal and a campground to spend the night. Picnic tables and shade spots line this man-made recreational lake, perfect for fishing or eating a picnic near the shore. The Kern River Campground is on the lake road and 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/
9. Bakersfield Museum of Art
The Bakersfield Museum of Art (BMoA) was established in 1956 and has provided a window into the creative Kern County community for nearly 60 years. The museum's permanent collection comprises 20th-century California artists. BMoA regularly rotates this collection in and out of display and features touring national exhibits, ensuring something new to see with each visit.
The best-represented mediums at BMoA include paintings, sculptures, and photography. Approximately three galleries contain the mainstay of work on display, as well as a beautifully lit lobby. The museum also features the outdoor Tejon Ranch Sculpture Park, where it's pleasant to enjoy the art in sunny weather.
The museum fills its event calendar throughout the year. A few popular activities include Yoga at the Museum and First Fridays Free Admission. Educational programs for children and adults also occur throughout the week.
Adjacent to the Bakersfield Museum of Art, the aesthetically pleasing Mill Creek Park and pathway offers a great place to take a break in the day. It features 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.
Address: 1930 R Street, Bakersfield, California
Official site: https://www.bmoa.org/
10. Panorama Park
Panoramic Park is on the north side of the city, atop a bluff overlooking the Kern River. It's a beautiful spot to spend any portion of the day, particularly sunset. It's primarily a linear park with a paved hiking trail connecting two parks and parking lots on both ends. Visitors can make a full loop at the park with a two-mile hike.
Ample parking is available along Panoramic Drive next to the park. Bring some binoculars or a zoom lens to focus on the ample scenery at the canyon's edge. Alongside the riparian corridor following the Kern River, visitors can also see the vast oil fields that Bakersfield is built upon.
Below Panoramic Park and on the other side of the Kern River, the rest of Panorama Vista Preserve offers more trails to explore. Thanks to community efforts and massive replanting endeavors, this natural space is growing back into the lush forested landscape it once was. It's 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
11. 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.
This outstanding national 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
12. Buena Vista Museum of Natural History & Science
The Buena Vista Museum of Natural History & Science is a few blocks from the Fox Theater in downtown Bakersfield. It displays artifacts and fossils from throughout Kern County and beyond, with a large collection of oceanic fossils gathered from the nearby Sharktooth Hill.
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. The museum also hosts paleo digs at Shark Tooth Hill.
Address: 2018 Chester Avenue, Bakersfield, California
Official site: http://www.sharktoothhill.org
13. Rabobank Arena, Theater & Convention Center
The Rabobank Arena is the top spot for big concerts and shows in Bakersfield. It's the city's largest venue for events and special performances. This multi-purpose space also features concerts, Broadway performances, and other sporting events including monster truck rallies and Disney on Ice.
The arena is also home to the Bakersfield Condors of the American Hockey League. These exciting hockey games take place throughout the winter and always draw a crowd.
The well-decorated outdoor plaza of Rabobank Arena hints at the grandeur within this modern arena. Many hotels are near the facility, providing easy accommodations for those visiting for an event.
Address: 1001 Truxtun Avenue, Bakersfield, California
Official site: http://www.rabobankarena.com/
14. Central Park at Mill Creek
Central Park at Mill Creek is the only park within walking distance of downtown. It features primarily a linear design, following what used to be an irrigation canal between 24th Street and Truxton Avenue. Revitalizations have transformed this once industrious corridor into a beautiful walking path lined with landscaping and benches.
Green space branches from the walkway near the north end of the park. Here, the scenic Mill Creek Bridge poses for pictures alongside water fountains and a raft of ducks enjoying the aquatic environment. This park area has playground equipment, restrooms, and plenty of shade trees.
The Bakersfield Museum of Art is also at the park's north end. Strolling Mill Creek and visiting the museum is a fun combo for a day's adventure. Other local businesses along Mill Creek include antique stores and restaurants.
15. Murray Family Farms
For a vast selection of family attractions, head to the Big Red Barn at Murray Family Farms. This visitor-friendly, fully functioning farm is a 20-minute drive from town on State Route 58. It offers farm activities like u-pick harvesting and meet-and-greets with resident animals.
Murray Family Farms is also home to several fun events. The year generally kicks off with a special citrus U-pick Event in January, and Christmas on the Farm caps things off in December. In the months between, an Easter on the Farm and October Fun Fest also draw a crowd, as well as Cherryfest in May.
Official site: https://www.murrayfamilyfarms.org/
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