Honky-tonk in California? Although mention of the Golden State may bring to mind the chic of Rodeo Drive and the sophistication of Nob Hill, Bakersfield is a country-music bastion. The city even has its own genre of music, known as the Bakersfield Sound. In the 1950s, Nashville produced mostly slick, “city-style” country music. The Bakersfield Sound, with its twangy guitars, fiddles, drums and steel guitars, was a reaction. It is a pure-country style.
Merle Haggard is perhaps the best-known Bakersfield musician. To hear the music, a visitor can simply ask locals, “Which way to the honky-tonk?” Residents will likely give directions to Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace. This 550-seat venue, located just off the 99, operates as an all-in-one restaurant, museum and music theater.
In addition to its musical heritage, the city has deep roots in Basque culture. In fact, Bakersfield has one of the largest populations of Basques outside of the Pyrenees Mountains in north-central Spain and southern France. No wonder the city boasts more Basque restaurants than any other city in the nation. Patrons at these ethnic eateries sit at long trestle tables, just as large families would. Some Bakersfield restaurants have only one serving time, so everyone sits down to dinner at once. Meals feature multiple courses of salads, beans, soups and pickled tongue. Entrées include large lamb, steak portions or seafood dishes, which pair well with a Picon punch of brandy, maraschino syrup and liqueurs.
Outside its music scene, Bakersfield shines. The city is growing rapidly; during the last 40 years, the population has more than quadrupled. The metropolitan area of Bakersfield now claims half a million inhabitants.
As a result, Bakersfield has lots of amenities for a medium-sized city. The 13-acre California Living Museum is a zoo that exhibits numerous California species, such as black bears, bobcats and birds of prey. For something more fast-paced, the Bakersfield Speedway is a family-friendly racetrack where sprint and stock cars compete. Although the speedway provides no hook-ups, it does allow camping. Downtown Bakersfield is full of cultural establishments, such as the Metro Art Gallery, which showcases the work of 25 emerging mid-career artists from the region.
Bakersfield produces more oil than any other city in the United States, and honors this accomplishment in a multi-million dollar petroleum exhibit with the Kern County Museum. The exhibit, one of the most popular things to do in Bakersfield, is called “Black Gold: The Oil Experience.” The science, technology and history exhibition educates audiences on the oil life cycle, from extraction to usage.
Averaging more than 250 sunny days per year, the city enjoys a warm, clear climate. For that reason, golf is one of the most popular things to do in the city. The Kern River Golf Course, a mere 15 minutes from downtown Bakersfield, lies against the foothills of the Greenhorn Mountain Range. With Lake Ming immediately to the west and the Kern River to the north and east, this course creates an unforgettable golf experience.