빠르게 성장하고 있는 캘리포니아 남부의 센트럴 밸리 도시 베이커스필드는 즐거움으로 가득한 곳입니다. 한때는 석유와 농업으로만 유명했지만, 베이커스필드(현지인들은 "배코(Bako)"라는 애칭으로 부릅니다)는 과거의 풍부한 역사를 그대로 보존하면서 새로운 문화 예술 중심지로 자리잡고 있습니다. 125년 전통의 노리에가 호텔(Noriega Hotel)을 포함한 미국에서 가장 많은 바스크식 레스토랑이 모여 있는 곳으로, 소꼬리 수프와 다양한 사이드 요리들로 이루어진 하숙집 스타일 식사를 통해 이 지역의 바스크 전통을 보존하고 있습니다(1800년대 후반 스페인과 프랑스 피레네 지역에서 온 이민자들이 이곳에서 양을 키우고 과수원을 운영했습니다).
현재 베이커스필드의 도시적 명소는 갤러리들로 가득하고 팝 음악부터 필름 느와르까지 다양한 공연이 펼쳐지며 1930년대 폭스 씨어터(Fox Theater)가 있는 아츠 디스트릭트(Arts District), 투박한 스타일의 컨트리 뮤직 베이커스필드 사운드(Bakersfield Sound)를 들을 수 있는 벅 오웬스의 크리스털 팰리스(Buck Owens' Crystal Palace)가 있습니다. 56개의 유서 깊은 건물들이 넓은 잔디밭에 퍼져 있는 컨 카운티 뮤지엄(Kern County Museum)을 방문해 오웬스, 멀 해거드(Ownes and Merle Haggard) 등 초기에 힘들게 살았던 음악 개척자들의 삶에 대해 알아보세요. 캘리포니아 주의 석유 산업에 대해서도 배워 볼 수 있습니다. 컨 카운티의 유정은 캘리포니아 주에서 나온 "검은 황금" 석유의 70%가 시추된 곳입니다. 그런 다음, 베이커스필드의 앤틱 로우(Antique Row)에서 빈티지 쇼핑을 하고, 호화로운 파드레 호텔(Padre Hotel)에 들러 옥상 라운지에서 칵테일을 한 잔 하세요.
베이커스필드 주변에는 자연을 즐길만한 곳도 많습니다. 봄철에는 이곳 초원과 테하차피 산맥(Tehachapi Range) 부근은 야생화들로 뒤덮입니다. 3, 4월에 93,000 에이커 규모로 서부 해안 지역 최대의 비영리 자연 보존 구역인 윈드 울브즈 프리저브(Wind Wolves Preserve)를 찾아 야생화를 구경하세요. 이 방대한 초원은 연중 내내 야생 동물들의 피난처 같은 곳이자, 하이킹, 산악 자전거 등의 활동을 즐기기에 좋은 곳입니다.
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.
Maybe it’s because Central Valley summers are hot, or maybe it’s because its natives are proud of their heritage, but Bakersfield museum hoppers can find a wealth of brain-fueling exhibits to expand their minds.
Start by strolling through the Kern County Museum, where 56 historic buildings are spread out over 16 beautifully landscaped acres. One popular stop here is country singer Merle Haggard’s childhood home, an old rail boxcar that his parents bought in 1935 for $500. Find it amid an array of older structures—including an 1860 general store where travelers could purchase a 25-cent bath, a one-room schoolhouse, and an 1882 doctor’s office—plus an antique Southern Pacific engine and a Santa Fe caboose.
Inside the museum’s main gallery, at the “Bakersfield Sound” exhibit, learn more about Haggard and the gritty country-and-western genre that he and others pioneered—a backlash against the slicker, more polished music coming out of Nashville. Then move on to the “black gold” exhibit, where you’ll learn how oil (a key part of Kern County’s economy since 1895) is extracted from the earth, with gear such as rotary drills and bobbing pump jacks.
Move from human history to natural history with a visit to CALM, the California Area Living Museum. Walk the zoo’s 14 park-like acres and get schooled on the Golden State’s native fauna. See more than 200 animals that have been injured or cannot survive in the wild, from bobcats and mountain lions to bighorn sheep and cottontail rabbits. At the raptor exhibit, look deep into the eyes of a bald eagle or long-eared owl. While you’re here, get in an upper-body workout at the Condor Challenge ropes course and 32-foot climbing wall.
Then travel way back in geologic time at the downtown Buena Vista Museum of Natural History & Science. An offspring of CALM, the museum houses a huge array of fossils from the Miocene period, 14 to 15 million years ago. Ancient remains of sea lions and sharks, excavated from Sharktooth Hill, northeast of Bakersfield, prove that the Central Valley once sat at the edge of the Pacific Ocean.
Another interesting historic spot is Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park, 45 miles north of town. This site of an early 1900s settlement—an attempt by a group of African Americans to create a utopian society—offers a remarkable look at an unusual event in California history. Visit a reconstructed schoolhouse, church, and other structures.
The 1893 Noriega Hotel is the oldest and most famous of the Central Valley’s Basque eateries, but it has plenty of friendly competition in Bakersfield’s Old Town Kern neighborhood—also known as the Basque Block. Here in the largest concentration of Basque restaurants in the United States, each dining hall has its specialties, but one fact unites them: Basque food is served in hearty, prodigious quantities.
Anywhere you go, you’ll be served a similar “setup,” as it’s called—sourdough bread, cabbage soup, beans, salsa, boiled vegetables, pickled tongue, and spaghetti. It all needs to be consumed before the main course, which might be roasted lamb leg, beef or oxtail stew, or fried chicken. It’s a monumental task for even the biggest eaters, but Central Valley Basque food has been served this way since the mid-1800s, when many Basque traveled from their homeland between Spain and France to seek their fortunes in California’s Gold Rush.
If you’re not that hungry, just sit at the bar and order a Picon Punch—the customary Basque brandy-and-grenadine highball, usually mixed with a bitter orange liqueur or sometimes maraschino cherry juice, and typically garnished with a lemon peel. The cocktail miraculously straddles the narrow line between tart and sweet.
Start your exploration of Basque food culture at the Wool Growers Restaurant on 19th Street, clearly marked by a neon sheep sign. The no-frills 1950s dinner house is one of Bakersfield’s most popular eateries, serving specialties like oxtail soup and perfectly crispy French fries. The bright-lit dining room with long trestle tables is boisterous and friendly, a contrast to the film-noir vibe at the Pyrenees Café on Sumner Street, two blocks away. The Pyrenees’ dark wood bar, vinyl booths, throbbing jukebox, and neon Budweiser sign attract motorcycle clubs, indie bands, and Basque old-timers alike. Its dining room walls are lined with black-and-white photos of Basque pioneers. The Pyrenees’ breakfast menu offers pleasant surprises: Nab a seat at one of the outdoor patio tables and order the bacon-stuffed pancakes.
Right next to the 99 freeway, and surrounded by graceful queen palms, the Chalet Basque Restaurant has small tables and booths in lieu of family-style trestle tables—more appropriate for date night—but everything else is traditional Basque. In addition to the multi-course setup, the Chalet serves a garlicky escargot you won’t find elsewhere. And far across town at Benji’s French-Basque Restaurant, patrons try to manage their calorie intake during the setup so they save room for dessert. Benji’s is more French than Spanish (frog’s legs are popular), but the big ticket is a dessert soufflé—chocolate, lemon, Grand Marnier, or raspberry. Order one when you choose your entrée so the wait staff can time its delivery. Due to its delicate architecture, your soufflé must be served at the precise moment it comes out of the oven.
Since Bakersfield doesn’t have alpine lakes or redwood forests, you might not see it as a place for hiking and nature study—until you pull into the parking lot at Wind Wolves Preserve. Here, at the largest nonprofit nature preserve on the West Coast, you can walk (or mountain bike) for miles amid waving golden grasslands, grazing tule elk, and colorful carpets of wildflowers.
The reserve—which is funded entirely by private donations through the nonprofit Wildlands Conservancy—encompasses 93,000 acres near Highway 166 south of Bakersfield, beyond the orchards and the oil fields that were once used for cattle ranching. The tract holds a surprising amount of water—creeks, marshes, wetlands, and even a 15-foot limestone waterfall—plus groves of cottonwoods and other broad-leaved trees. Kit foxes, bobcats, coyotes, deer, and even occasional black bears are at home here, but you won’t find wolves at Wind Wolves. The name refers to the tall grasses that sway in unison with the wind, making it appear as if animals are wandering through the prairies.
Springtime is the most dramatic season to visit, when Wind Wolves’ slopes explode in a firework display of colorful mule-ears, poppies, lupine, goldfields, and blue-eyed grass. To see them, walk the short Wildflower Loop Trail near the entrance kiosk. At any time of year, hikers can start at The Crossing picnic area and follow the Tule Elk Trail for about a mile to glimpse the preserve’s herd of more than 200 elk. More ambitious hikers can continue for three more miles to connect to the Reflection Pond Trail, where a historic cattle pond provides a watering hole for wildlife. From high points along this hike, you’ll survey an immense sea of grasslands—green in spring and gold the rest of the year. Complete a 7-mile loop by returning on the San Emigdio Canyon Trail. As you wander, keep your eyes peeled for the endangered San Joaquin kit fox, a cute, cat-size creature with long ears and a pointy nose.
Hardy hikers who want to head deeper into the Wind Wolves wilderness can ride the weekend shuttle bus to the El Camino Viejo trailhead, five miles south of the main parking lot. From here, you can walk for miles along the historic wagon route used by early travelers between El Pueblo de Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Mountain bikers are welcome too. The preserve’s most popular biking route is the El Camino Viejo Trail, which parallels San Emigdio Creek. If you want to spend the night, tent camping at the preserve’s San Emigdio Campground is available by advance reservation.
Real cowboys around Bakersfield don’t shop at the mall—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 knows their way around the pointed-toe versus square-toe issue. In the market for a cowboy hat? Choose one from the 2,000-plus inventory, then have the store manager steam it until the brim curls just the way you like it.
But maybe western duds aren’t your thing. If you’re in the market for something retro-glam—like a 1950s poodle skirt or a 1920s feather headband—go to Bakersfield’s Antique Row (19th Street between H and R Streets), where antique “malls” or multi-dealer shops house dozens of vendors and consignment stores. 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 estate-sale furniture, artwork, and home accents 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 nosh on a grilled 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 chili cheese fries, amidst black-and-white checkerboard tile flooring, steel barstools with red vinyl seats, and Streamline Moderne stairways.
No trip to Bakersfield is complete without a visit to Dewar’s Candy Shop—the original on Eye Street (look for the pink neon ice-cream cone). This throwback ice-cream parlor can rightfully brag that its frozen confection was served at Disneyland Resort—and it’s made with the same small-batch recipe 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 taffy chews. These soft, pillowy treats make a perfect gift—if they make it home.
Bakersfield’s most iconic building, the Spanish Colonial Revival Padre Hotel, stands sentinel on the corner of 18th and H Streets, and is home to Bakersfield’s only four-diamond lodging. The 1928 building’s chic lodgings and public spaces offer a gussied-up 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. Colorful farm animals embellish the breakfast cafe’s ceiling. 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 eateries, like the stately steak-and-lobster Belvedere Room, the grab-and-go breakfast spot Farmacy Cafe, or the rooftop Prairie Fire lounge, with fire pits for chilly winter evenings and cool misters for hot summer nights. For another evening stop, go to the speakeasy-style Brimstone Bar and Grill—with dark teak paneling, a stamped 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 tub.
The Padre Hotel has had its fair share of intriguing history too. Ghost hunters swear the building is haunted, particularly 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).
When Spaniards began descending on Bakersfield in the 1800s, searching for gold and herding sheep, they brought with them an appetite for roast lamb, oxtail stew, and baguette upon baguette of French bread. While the shepherds have (mostly) come and gone, the tradition of Basque cuisine remains in Bakersfield. Few places stick as closely to the script as the Noriega Hotel, a former boarding house founded by Basque expats in 1893, still bustling near the town’s train tracks.
Known locally as Noriega’s, the restaurant picks up action before the meal at the bar, where patrons listen to music, chat, and sip Picon Punch (a Basque cocktail). Then it’s time to grab a seat at the long communal tables, where each meal begins with appetizers both common—salad and rolls—and not—cottage cheese cut with mayonnaise and pickled tongue. After that come platters of Basque classics like paella, lamb stew, bacalao (a salted cod dish that hails from the Basque region), and fried chicken with freshly chopped garlic. Loaves of French bread and hunks of blue cheese fill the spaces in between. Meals are all-you-can-eat fare and all-you-can-drink red table wine—or coffee, tea, or milk for non-tipplers.
In 2011, Noriega’s caught the attention of the James Beard Foundation, which named the institution—run by the same family since 1931—an American classic. “We were very surprised by that,” says Linda Elizalde-McCoy, who owns Noriega’s with her sister, Rochelle Ladd. “They determined that yeah, it was something different.” The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and L.A. Weekly have also heralded the restaurant, which keeps the 120-person dining room humming. (Ms. McCoy notes that summers bring more tourists, while locals pack the place year round.) Though Noriega’s harks back to a time before gluten-free regimens became a thing, most dietary restrictions can be accommodated: Vegetarians who eat eggs are offered omelettes, and those who can’t consume flour can opt for baked chicken instead of fried.
Lunch runs $17 a person, dinner $22; children are charged a dollar per year of age, up to 8 for lunch and 12 for dinner. Reservations are recommended.
For music enthusiasts, Bakersfield is much more than an agricultural hub. The Central Valley city—and in particular, Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace—is the mothership for a whole music genre. It began in the 1930s, when the Dust Bowl drove farmers from Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, and other states to California, and they brought with them their own country-based music aesthetic. Honky-tonk bars started springing up around Bakersfield, and in the late 1950s and ’60s a few local musicians—namely Texas-born Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, whose parents had come from Oklahoma—popularized a more rocking, less-produced style of country music that became widely known as The Bakersfield Sound.
Buck Owens didn’t just shape the sound that has influenced generations of country and rock musicians, from Creedence Clearwater Revival to Dwight Yoakam—he also created a vibrant musical monument to preserve it. In 1996, Owens opened the Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace, a 550-seat music hall, bar, restaurant, and museum. Located just off U.S. Highway 99 in the heart of Bakersfield, the Palace transports visitors to a movie-set version of the Old West (think archetypal Western storefronts with swinging saloon doors, a sheriff’s office, and even a jailhouse) but offers a full calendar of raw-country musical acts.
Some of the biggest names in country, from Willie Nelson to Brad Paisley, have given impromptu performances at the Palace, and any night of the week you’ll find patrons two-stepping or line-dancing the night away, dining on downhome cuisine like chicken fried steak and mesquite-smoked rib eye, and perusing the immense collection of music memorabilia. (The real showpiece hangs above the bar: Owens’ 1972 Pontiac convertible with steer horns mounted on the hood.) You can also rub elbows with Owens’ greatest musical influencers—including Elvis, Johnny Cash, and Hank Williams—who are immortalized as life-size bronze statues.