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The 20 Best Things to do in Bakersfield, CA for First Timers

If you experience even a moment of boredom in Bakersfield, CA, you’re simply not trying hard enough. The oil capital of California is a thriving city packed to the brim with things to see, do, and experience. Regardless of whether you’re traveling alone, with the family, or with friends, you’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to keeping yourself well and truly entertained. From trawling the museums to picnicking in the parks, from hiking the hills to fishing the lakes, there’s a little something for everyone in this prime California vacation destination. If you’re heading there for the first time, don’t miss adding a few from our roundup of the ‘20 Best Things to do in Bakersfield, CA’ to your itinerary.

Wool Growers Restaurant

20. Wool Growers Restaurant

Bakersfield is renowned for its Basque cuisine. If you want to sample it for yourself, you’ll find few better places to do it than at Wool Growers Restaurant. A local favorite thanks to its homey, slightly retro décor and outstandingly great food (don’t miss the spicy Basque tomato sauce, pickled tongue, and stewed beans) it’s also attracted its fair share of celebs and VIPs over the years – according to accounts, Ronald Reagan was quite the fan. Before you head out, pack your camera – the vintage neon graphics are what Instagram was made for.

Rabobank Arena

19. Rabobank Arena

If you’re struggling to think of a way to fill your evenings, why not take in a show at Rabobank Arena? Tickets can generally be had for a song, while the line-up of big-name artists it attracts is guaranteed to please.

Lake Ming

18. Lake Ming

Drive just 10 miles northeast of Bakersfield, and you’ll find a place that’s about as far removed from the hustle and bustle of the city as it’s possible to be. What are we talking about? Lake Ming, of course, a gorgeous stretch of lakeside that offers the perfect reprieve from the rat race. As well as being a popular place for watersports, it’s also a great spot to simply kick back with friends and enjoy the peaceful surroundings. If you fancy some grub while you’re there, you’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to picnicking spots and barbecue grills.

Park at River Walk

17. The Park at River Walk

The Park at River Walk ranks as one of the best places to visit in Bakersfield according to Trip Advisor. Looking at some of the reviews, we can’t say we’re surprised. “This is one of the nicer parks in Bakersfield. There is lots of parking, trees for shade, lots of picnic tables scattered around, water features (although when I was there, the little creek was dry and there was lots of litter in it), and more. I went solo, did a bit of exploring, and just had a much-needed respite from the noise of everyday life. I was there on a weekday morning so it was not crowded but I'm sure it gets a lot of use on the weekends,” says one visitor, while another one comments, “I can always enjoy a beautiful afternoon when I spend the day at the park. I love the access to the bike path and use it often. There are lots of places to picnic and enjoy a lovely day.”

Weedpatch Camp

16. Weedpatch Camp

In the 1930s, Weedpatch Camp was established as a rescue center for impoverished migrant workers fleeing the Oklahoma Dust Bowl. It’s still in operation today, but in addition to welcoming migrant workers in need, it also offers tours to those interested in learning more about the history of the Great Depression. It’s an evocative, fascinating experience, but be sure to call in advance if you want a tour.

24th Street Cafe

15. 24th Street Cafe

If Vacation Idea ranks a diner as one of the best things to do in Bakersfield, who are we to disagree, particularly when the diner in question is the fabulous 24th Street Café? The Café first opened its doors under the name of Cy’s Coffee Shop in 1950, but it got a re-branding in 1987 when Mark Huggs took over the operation. Since then, it’s become something of a local institution, loved for its classic, 1950 style diner décor (check out those original coca-cola signs on the walls), it’s friendly service, and, of course, the best biscuits and gravy you’ll get anywhere in Bakersfield.

Rockwell Opry at Trout's

14. Rockwell Opry at Trout's

If you’re in the mood for a night of good old country and western, don’t miss a visit to Rockwell Opry at Trout's, Bakersfield’s last real, honest-to-goodness honky-tonk bar. The venue puts on shows from up-and-coming country artists 7 nights a week – if you want to hear that legendary "Bakersfield Sound” for yourself, this is where to do it.

Camelot Park

13. Camelot Park

If you’re looking for the ideal place to take the kids, Camelot Park could be just the ticket. This fun-packed, family-friendly venue offers a smorgasbord of rides, activities, and attractions, all designed to keep everyone from the youngest to the oldest member of the party happy. Whether you try the minigolf, the bumper boats, the arcade games, the go-karts, the batting cages, or any of the many other activities on offer, you’re guaranteed a whole heap of fun.

Gaslight Melodrama Theatre & Music Hall

12. The Gaslight Melodrama Theatre & Music Hall

Theaters aren’t always the most kid-friendly of places, but the Gaslight Melodrama Theatre & Music Hall is an exception. This family-friendly venue hosts a range of programs designed to appeal to all age-groups, from spoofs to melodramas, comedies to fantasies. Time your visit right, and you might even be lucky enough to grab a puppet or magic show. Regardless of the main performance, the highlight of the night is always the Vaudeville Review - performed at the end of each show, it’s a riot of comedy sketches, gags, and song and dance routines.

Buena Vista Museum of Natural History

11. Buena Vista Museum of Natural History

If you’re fascinated by fossils, you won’t want to miss a visit to the Buena Vista Museum of Natural History. The museum is home to the largest fossil collection in the area, most of which have been gathered from the surrounding area. Once you’re done admiring the fossils, don’t forget to check out the other exhibits, highlights of which include a stunning model of Yosemite Valley and a first-class replica of a Yokuts Indian village.

Fox Theater

10. Fox Theater

If you’re a culture vulture, don’t miss a visit to the Fox Theater while you’re in town. The historic building is a masterclass of the Art Moderne style, while the range of performances on offer (which on any one night can vary from a pop concert to a ballet) is without equal in Bakersfield.

Sam Lynn Ballpark

9. Sam Lynn Ballpark

No visit to Bakersfield is complete without a trip to Sam Lynn Ballpark – at least if you’re any kind of sports fan, in any case. As home to the minor league team the Bakersfield Blaze (not to mention the oldest park in the Class-A Advanced California League), it’s a great place to catch a game. Tickets are affordable, and a fun-packed evening is guaranteed for all.

Kern National Wildlife Refuge

8. Kern National Wildlife Refuge

Take a short drive north of Bakersfield and you’ll stumble on The Kern National Wildlife Refuge, an excellent place to soak up some nature and learn more about the various flora and fauna that call Kern County home. A tour through its pristine marshes and grasslands is well worth the experience – just be sure to keep your eyes peeled for the legions of migratory waterfowl, wading birds, and even the occasional blunt-nosed leopard lizard that roam the terrain.

Kern River Parkway Trail

7. Kern River Parkway Trail

If the thrills and spills of the city are starting to wear you down, revive your flagging spirits with a few hours in nature. Kern River Parkway Trail is a fabulous place to do just that. Spread over 6,000 acres of stunning Kern County countryside, its got enough trails, bike paths, lakes and parks to keep you going for days. Strap on your comfiest hiking shoes and prepare for a few hours of rejuvenating outdoor adventure – you might come home with a blister or two, but it’s more than worth it.

Kern County Raceway Park

6. Kern County Raceway Park

If you’re a speed freak, be sure to include a visit to Kern County Raceway Park on your itinerary. The 0.5-mile oval speedway hosts no end of events throughout the year, including NASCAR’s Whelen All-American Series and the K&N Pro Series West.

Crystal Palace

5. Crystal Palace

Nashville may be the capital of country music, but Bakersfield isn't exactly doing too badly on the music front, either. While you’ll find no shortage of music venues scattered around the city, true fans shouldn’t miss a visit to Crystal Palace. As Trip Savvy notes, the venue was built in the late 1950s by legendary country and western singer Buck Owens as an alternative to the dingy, smoke-filled honky-tonk bars that had started to flood the city. Today, it’s a great place to enjoy some fine food and some even finer music. Check the official website for upcoming performances, and whatever you do, don’t miss checking out the vast collection of C&W memorabilia while you’re there.

California Area Living Museum

4. California Area Living Museum

Family vacations aren’t complete without at least one zoo visit, and you’ll find few zoos quite so entertaining as the California Area Living Museum. Spread over 14 acres of parkland and boasting more species of animals than most of us will come across in a lifetime, it’s an excellent place to while away an afternoon. If the kids are keen to drain every last drop of excitement from the visit, you’ll find no shortage of experiences for them to enjoy, including the Central California Children’s Railway (a steal at just $1 per ride), the California Coast Room (a 10-foot aquatic touch tank that’s home to a legion of fascinating sea creatures), the Reptile House (an intriguing collection of snakes, lizards, frogs, and invertebrates), and the fun-packed Children’s Park.

Kern County Museum

3. Kern County Museum

If you want to learn more about the history of Kern County, you’ll find few better places to do it than at the fascinating Kern County Museum. Although all its exhibits are noteworthy in their own right, the chief highlight has to be Pioneer Village. Strung over 16 acres, the ‘village’ consists of over 50 19th century buildings that offer visitors the rare chance to experience what life was like for the inhabitants of Kern County back in the dim and distant past. Other features worth a look include the Lori Brock Children's Discovery Center (perfect for curious little minds) and the highly evocative Historical Photo Collection.

Murray Family Farms

2. Murray Family Farms

The Culture Trip has some great suggestions on how to get the most of your trip to Bakersfield, a visit to Murray Family Farms being one of them. The “Big Red Farm”, as it’s known, welcomes visitors to come and experience a day on the life of a real, working farm. Jump on board the giant tractor to take a whistle-stop tour of the 43 acres of crops before spending a few happy hours playing with the cute and cuddly creatures in the interactive animal zone. Before you leave, don’t miss filling your belly with some homemade delights at the rustic farmer’s kitchen.

Bakersfield Museum of Art

1. Bakersfield Museum of Art

If you’ve even the slightest interest in art, be sure to plan at least one visit to the exceptional Bakersfield Museum of Art. The museum was founded in 1956 by the Walter Osborn family in memory of their daughter, Marion Osborn Cunningham. Since then, it’s grown into one of the most-visited museums in Bakersfield. Over its vast 17,400 square feet of gallery and exhibition space, visitors have a multitude of opportunities to view and experience what’s unquestionably one of the best art collections in California. The center regularly plays host to special events throughout the year, so be sure to visit its website before your trip so you can check what’s on.

Liz Flynn

Written by Liz Flynn

Liz Flynn has worked as a full-time writer since 2010 after leaving a career in education. She finds almost all topics she writes about interesting, but her favorite subjects are travel and food. Liz loves the process of researching information, learning new things, and putting into words what others who share her interests might like to read. Although she spends most of her time writing, she also enjoys spending time with her husband and four children, watching films, cooking, dining out, reading, motorsports, gaming, and walking along the beach next to her house with her dog.

Read more posts by Liz Flynn

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