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The Padre Hotel
Courtesy of The Padre Hotel

Padre Hotel

California's Central Valley
Padre Hotel
Bakersfield’s revamped boutique hotel offers cowboy-chic decor and maybe even a ghost

Bakersfield’s most iconic building, the Spanish Colonial Revival Padre Hotel, stands like a sentinel on the corner of 18th and H Streets, and is home to Bakersfield’s only four-diamond-certified accommodation. The 1928 building’s chic rooms and public spaces offer a fancy tribute to Bakersfield’s past, starting with the lobby's 15-foot-high mural of a well-coiffed cowgirl glancing over her shoulder. Creative ornamentation pops up everywhere: gargoyles protrude from the building’s exterior, a glowing neon sign crowns the roof and colourful farm animals embellish the breakfast cafe’s ceiling. Finally, the wallpaper is adorned with cowboy hats, farm implements and oil derricks.

See it all with or without a room reservation. The Padre offers a handful of public restaurants, including the stately steak-and-lobster Belvedere Room, the grab-and-go breakfast venue Farmacy Cafe and the rooftop Prairie Fire lounge, with fire pits for chilly winter evenings and cool misters for hot summer nights. For another evening stop, visit the speakeasy-style Brimstone Bar and Grill—with dark teak panelling, a pressed tin ceiling and billiard tables—and imagine the velvet rafter swing that once hung from the ceiling, ridden by a swimsuit-clad beauty.

All of the 112 guest rooms are aptly swanky—thanks to an $18 million renovation in 2010 that restored the hotel to its rightful glory—decked out with chic furniture, leather-headboard beds with memory-foam mattresses and sleek, glassed-in showers. If you’re staying for more than one night, splurge on one of the Padre’s posh suites, each with a separate living room, a couple of monumental flat-screen televisions and a waterfall Jacuzzi bath.

The Padre Hotel has had its fair share of intriguing history too. Ghost hunters swear the building is haunted, particularly on the seventh floor where workers regularly report hearing children’s laughter when no one is present. Some attribute the hauntings to the Padre’s previous owner, the irascible Milton 'Spartacus' Miller, who bought the hotel in 1954. When city building inspectors told him that he had to bring the hotel up to fire code standards, Miller got so riled up that he hung protest signs from the Padre’s exterior and positioned a mock missile on the roof, pointed at City Hall (the missile is now at Bakersfield’s Kern County Museum). 

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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.