Real cowboys around Bakersfield don’t shop at the shopping centre—instead, they tie up their horses next to the tall red boot outside Emporium Western Store and load up their saddlebags with rugged jeans and shiny silver belt buckles. In business for more than a century, the Emporium stocks oodles of western apparel plus more than 2,500 pairs of boots, so the staff know their way around the pointed-toe versus square-toe issue. In the market for a cowboy hat? Choose one from the stock of 2,000 plus, and then get the store manager to steam it until the brim curls just the way you like it.
But maybe western clothes aren’t your thing. If you’re in the market for something retro-glam—like a 1950s' poodle skirt or a 1920s' feather headband—visit Bakersfield’s Antique Row (19th Street between H and R Streets), where antique centres house dozens of vendors and consignment shops. Three of the largest are the Mill Creek Antique Mall, Great American Antiques and Central Park Antique Mall, housing more than 60,000 square feet of nostalgic flotsam. Or browse previously owned designer fashions and vintage costumes at In Your Wildest Dreams on 18th Street, right next to the Padre Hotel. Dig through a gold mine of house-clearance furniture, artwork and home decor at Chester Avenue’s Timeless Furnishings & Antique Gallery.
For time-capsule-worthy shopping-plus-dining, head to the Five & Dime Antique Mall, in the old Woolworth building on 19th Street. Shop the three floors of antiques, then enjoy a toasted cheese sandwich at the 1950s throwback Woolworth’s counter. The iconic Woolworth’s department store closed in 1994, but new owners snapped up the Art Deco building and gave it new life. Waiters decked out in black bow ties scribble down orders for chilli cheese fries, amidst black-and-white checkerboard flooring, steel bar stools with red vinyl seats and Streamline Moderne staircases.
No trip to Bakersfield is complete without a visit to Dewar’s Candy Shop—the original is on Eye Street (look for the pink neon ice-cream cone). This retro ice-cream parlour can rightfully boast that its frozen creation was served at Disneyland Resort—and it’s made with the same small-batch recipe that the owners used nearly a century ago. Sadly, ice cream doesn’t travel well, so spoon down a sundae on location and then stock your suitcase with a bright red box of Dewar’s peanut-butter-filled chewy sweets. These soft, pillowy treats make a perfect gift—if they make it home.
The rapidly growing city of Bakersfield, in California’s southern Central Valley, is full of pleasant surprises. Once known only for oil and agriculture, Bakersfield—or Bako, as the locals affectionately call it—has become a Central Valley hub for arts and culture while still retaining the richness of the region’s past. The country’s largest concentration of Basque restaurants, including the 125-year-old Noriega Hotel, upholds the area’s Basque heritage with boarding-house-style meals of oxtail soup and a myriad side dishes (immigrants from the Spanish and French Pyrenees herded sheep and planted orchards here in the late 1800s).
Fast-forward to Bakersfield’s citified attractions, including the gallery-filled Arts District, home to the 1930 Fox Theater, where performances range from pop music to film noir, and Buck Owens' Crystal Palace, the place to hear the Bakersfield Sound, a gritty style of country western music. Find out more about hardscrabble musical pioneers like Owens and Merle Haggard with a visit to the Kern County Museum, a collection of 56 historic buildings spread out among grassy lawns. You’ll also get a lesson in California’s oil industry: Kern County’s wells pump 70 percent of the state’s “black gold.” Afterward, shop for vintage finds at Bakersfield’s Antique Row, then pop over to the swanky Padre Hotel for a cocktail on the rooftop lounge.
There’s plenty of nature to be had around Bakersfield, too. Wildflowers blanket the local grasslands and nearby Tehachapi Range in spring. See them in March and April at the 93,000-acre Wind Wolves Preserve, the West Coast’s largest nonprofit nature preserve. At any time of year, these vast grasslands are a haven for wildlife and an inspiring place to take a hike or pedal your mountain bike.