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Bakersfield’s Arts District

Explore art galleries, live music, and the grande-dame Fox Theater

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The three-story Fox Theater, with its Art Deco tower, has reigned as Bakersfield’s glitziest landmark since its terrazzo was first polished for opening day in 1930. Today it’s the centerpiece of Bakersfield’s gallery-and-theater-filled Downtown Arts District, clustered around 19th and H Streets.

Thanks to its 1990s refurbishments, the interior of the Fox gleams with gilded ceilings and gold-leaf walls, which can steal your attention away from the stage where big-name live bands perform. Come on Friday nights to watch foreign flicks or cult films like Rocky Horror Picture Show on the 80-foot silver screen.

Day or evening, wander the galleries in the blocks surrounding the Fox. Start at Metro Galleries on 19th Street, where you can ponder over abstract and contemporary realist works by more than two dozen California painters, sculptors, and mixed-media artists. At the Art Center Gallery on Eye Street, gaze at local artists’ creations, or make your own in weekly art classes for kids or adults. Or drop into the “underground” Bellmoore Gallery on Chester Avenue, cloistered in the basement of a century-old building that was once a bakery. White-washed brick walls showcase up-and-coming artists’ work, and the space also hosts musicians, performance artists, and fashion shows. 

To see the latest creations of local playwrights, wander into the budget-friendly Spotlight Theatre on 19th Street, where you might catch a hot-off-the-press slapstick comedy or tear-jerking drama. For a special night out, go 2,500 miles off-Broadway to Stars Bakersfield Music Theatre on Chester Avenue, where you can dine on prime rib while watching a classic musical like Funny Girl or Guys and Dolls.

Theater performances without the slightest speck of pretense (remember to dress down, not up) happen at the Gaslight Melodrama, located in a big red barn on the outskirts of town (and one of only four professional melodrama theaters in California). The Gaslight attracts a fun-loving crowd that is instructed not to shush: Drink a beer and munch on pulled pork sandwiches while you boo the villain, cheer the hero, and aww the love interest on stage. 

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