I have meant to post this tale of a day-trip adventure to the agricenter of our state when I lived in West Hollywood… It was a fun day.
As we headed up the 5 [why are all our highways “the” something. Is it because their lore and traffic is so legendary that it has to be THE 405 – not just 405? Anyway – another topic for another day] – my friend Kristen repeated the question – Bakersfield? Really? The little gems that we kept uncovering in this San Joaquin Valley metro of nearly 840,000 people were as fun as they were surprising. Here – for your enjoyment are the highlights…
-The Bakersfield Sign – An iconic arch that’s part of the city’s fabric
-Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace – Yep. His music hall and they serve Dwight Yoakam’s Baby Back Ribs. That's disturbing.
-Meadows Field – Those of you who know me – know that I’m obsessed with airports and how they’re part of a community and how they represent the community. I have to say Bakersfield’s Meadows Field is spiffy, has a great aeronautical art collection – and for a small metro between two large metros (SFO/LAX), has decent non-stop destinations.
-Bakersfield Museum of Art – Cool architecture, a serious collection and curated exhibits. My guess is that this is a hidden gem.
-Central Park at Mill Creek and the Walk – Part of the effort to revive downtown Bakersfield includes a pretty, pleasant 1.5 mile walking park along the city’s Mill Creek that culminates in Central Park – including a covered bridge, WiFi and a large collection of Kern River river boulders.
-Mid-Century – Apparently – there’s a neighborhood full of mid-century gems. I haven’t found it yet. Will check on my next visit!
-Hotel Padre – historic, stylish and probably the cornerstone of the downtown renaissance – this swanky boutique hotel has several food and cocktail options and pretty rooms. It’s a great home base if you’re making your day trip and overnighter to allow for cocktailing!
-Muertos – Popcorn Pork and margaritas – um – OK… Cool lofty space on Wall Street.
-Smith’s Bakery – Local favorite. Vintage. Yummy treats.
-Dagny’s Coffee Co. – local fave. Local java spot. Nice.
-Belvedere Room – really stylish dining room at the Padre. A great menu and lots of peacock velvet button-tufting to boot!
-19th Street Antique Shops – a whole slew of shops between Eye Street and Mill Creek.
-Look for the Woolworth’s on 19th Street and check it out – it’s an antique mall with an intact, operating LUNCHEONETTE! So neat and, well, tasty!
-The roof bar at the Hotel Padre [noted above] is a nifty, stylish spot for a sip and chat – Prairie Fire has cabanas and fire pits and is a comfy spot under the sun and stars.
-On historic Wall Street – a hidden alley full of surprises - is a superb art deco bar called Guthrie’s Alley Cat.
This hip, rough and tumble tavern is home to an amazing celebrity caricature mural created by the legendary Al Hirschfeld. Well-priced cocktails and a chill vibe make it a great spot to hang (and play pool).
-The Mint is one of Bakersfield’s true alternative spots – in the middle of the 19th Street Antique shops. Cool bartenders, a patio and reasonable sips – make it a comfortable, welcoming spot.
It’s not Big Sur or Barcelona and a little more conservative than I’d like – but, at the end of the day, it was a surprise just how much there was to see and do. And – we didn’t even delve into the areas rich agricultural activity – with chances for both shopping and touring. The Bakersfield area is home to great natural beauty along the Kern River and abundant produce, including: grapes, citrus, almonds, carrots, alfalfa, cotton, and roses. Next time? A trip to Dewar’s Soda Fountain and Fine Candies and a meal at one of the city’s famous Basque restaurants…
So – while flying over or whizzing by on the freeway [on the way to/from New York, LA or SF] it’s good to remember that there are lively, intriguing little cities that very often fly way under the radar. Bakersfield is one of them.