Blake Walsh

15 Best Things to Do in Kern County, CA

  • Published 2023/05/13

Established in 1866, Kern County in California got its name from the wild and scenic Kern River that flows through it.

Located just north of Los Angeles, the county has a rich historical and cultural heritage that visitors can explore through historic sites and museums.

Likewise, this vast county is notable for its gold, oil, and agricultural production and unique geographic positioning.

It spreads across several regions in the state, including Sierra Nevada, San Joaquin Valley, and the Mojave Desert.

Because of that, it doesn’t run out of breathtaking landscapes and outdoor adventures.

With so much to see and do, Kern County is a perfect destination for anyone searching for one of the best travel experiences.

Here are some best things to do in Kern County, California:

Go Hiking at Red Rock Canyon State Park

Red rock cliffs at Red Rock Canyon State Park

David E. Gordon /

The expansive Red Rock Canyon State Park is a 27,000-acre rugged state park and desert gem in Cantil, California.

Visitors can enjoy outdoor recreational activities such as picnicking, hiking, camping, biking, and horseback riding.

Nestled where the El Paso converges with the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the state park boasts dramatic and striking sceneries made by its geological features.

This attraction showcases dazzling scenic cliffs, buttes, and unique, colorful rock formations that make your adventure more incredible.

Landscape of Red Rock Canyon State Park

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Besides the natural landscape, it is also home to desert flora & fauna, such as wildflowers, squirrels, hawks, and mice.

It has been a treasure trove for paleontologists for many years and has offered a stunning backdrop for many films.

Historically, Red Rock Canyon State Park used to be a Native American route over a thousand years ago.

Rock formations at Red Rock Canyon State Park

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Get Up Close and Personal with Wildlife at the California Living Museum

Also known as CALM, the California Living Museum is a zoo that opened in 1983 in Bakersfield and is one of the top spots among families.

Its 14-acre land is home to a diverse array of plants and animals native to Kern County.

Over 400 animal species injured and cannot survive in the wild on their own are in this zoo for rehabilitation and shelter.

See animal exhibits like an open black bear exhibit, an indoor reptile house, a waterfowl pond and shorebird exhibit, a bird of prey exhibit, and a children’s petting zoo.

Other attractions include train rides, a ropes course, a climbing tower, a gift shop, picnic areas, a coast room with sea creatures, a holiday light show, and more.

With a plethora of fun and educational activities to offer, you’ll have a blast with your family, especially kids who’ll love the California Living Museum.

Watch the Trains at Tehachapi Loop

A train at Tehachapi Loop

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Railway buffs must not miss this world-famous loop, a California Historical Landmark and National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.

Completed in 1876 by the Southern Pacific Railroad, the Tehachapi Loop is a roughly 3,800-long spiral railroad passing through the Tehachapi Pass.

Owned by the Union Pacific Railroad since 1996, the line connects Bakersfield and the San Joaquin Valley to the Mojave Desert and back to Los Angeles.

Trains at Tehachapi Loop

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It is also the busiest single-track line in America, with an average of almost 40 freight trains passing through the loop daily.

Because of its scenic setting and frequent trains, the loop draws a crowd of railfans who enjoy watching trains around the loop from a safe overlook viewing platform.

Visit this attraction in Tehachapi, and you might find a train at least as long as the loop passes over itself as it rises or drops more than 70 feet in a short distance.

Aerial view of Tehachapi Loop

Wirestock Creators /

Watch a Movie at Maya Cinemas

Head on over to Maya Cinemas in Delano to take your moviegoing experience to another level, between luxury and comfort.

This movie theater features state-of-the-art technology with its MPX screen, laser projection, Dolby Atmos sound, and RealD 3D, immersing you fully into the film you’re watching.

Sit back, relax, and enjoy watching first-run Hollywood movies in their comfortable deluxe reclining seats with some snacks and refreshments.

The concessions serve delicious theater favorites, including popcorn, hot dogs, pizza, soda, Coca-Cola Freestyle, and more.

Moreover, there’s a gaming center where you can play various arcade and video games before or after the movie.

Visit Maya Cinemas for a first-rate entertainment experience with your date, family, or friends.

Tour the Maturango Museum

Exterior of the Maturango Museum

Qfl247, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Founded in 1962, the Maturango Museum in Ridgecrest preserves and shares the natural and cultural history of the Mojave Desert.

This museum is an information center for the Mojave Desert, Death Valley, and the Highway 178 and 395 corridors.

It features displays and exhibits of Native American artifacts, contemporary arts and crafts, the Joshua Tree habitat, flora and fauna, rocks, fossils, minerals, and maps.

Besides viewing exhibits, visitors can attend lectures and programs, walk through the garden, listen to concerts, and take guided tours.

This museum is best known for its spring and fall guided tours of the world-renowned petroglyphs in the Coso Rock Art District on the China Lake Naval Weapons Station.

Also, visit the gift shop and check out other annual events hosted at the Maturango Museum, like the Ridgecrest Desert Wildflower Festival and the Wildflower Exhibit.

Soar High in the Sky with Skydive Taft

For adrenaline junkies unafraid of heights, take your next thrilling adventure up in the sky with Skydive Taft in Taft.

It has been Los Angeles’ leading skydiving facility for decades and one of the best dropzones in the United States.

It offers skydiving lessons for beginners and experienced jumpers and has highly-trained professional skydivers, cutting-edge gear, and excellent facilities.

For first-time jumpers, you can have their tandem skydive, where you’ll be harnessed securely to one of their instructors during the jump.

They also offer photo and video packages if you want your memorable moments captured while plunging into the sky.

While flying, you’ll enjoy the breathtaking views of the California landscape, the San Andreas Fault, the San Joaquin Valley, and the Pacific Ocean.

Tick off skydiving on your bucket list, experience how birds see the world, and jump off an airplane from thousands of feet above the ground with Skydive Taft!

Discover the County’s Past at the Kern County Museum

Exterior of the Kern County Museum

Richard Thornton /

When traveling to Kern County, add the Kern County Museum to your list of places to visit.

Founded in 1941, it is the best place to learn more about the county’s rich history and culture through entertaining and educational exhibits, programs, and events.

You’ll see fascinating things, such as a general store, an early 20th-century Lopez Hill House, a collection of restored neon signs, and one describing the county’s oil industry.

Signage of the Kern County Museum

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Take a self-guided tour of Pioneer Village, one of the museum highlights, set within 16 acres and featuring over 50 historic buildings.

Shop for vintage goods, antiques, art, food, drink, and more during the Village Flea and attend some of the many events held at the museum every season.

Bring your kids and discover the treasures at the Kern County Museum in Bakersfield.

Facade of the Kern County Museum

Richard Thornton /

Enjoy Rafting or Kayaking with Sierra South Mountain Sports

Book a tour with Sierra South Mountain Sports, the leading whitewater rafting and adventure outfitter in Central and Southern California that has been around for almost 40 years.

Located in Kernville, the company offers several outdoor activities that you can choose from, including paddle boarding, rock climbing, and tubing.

Some of the most popular attractions you must not miss are white water rafting and kayaking on the wild and scenic Kern River, a rafting spot unlike any other.

This iconic river cascades from the Sierra Nevada and runs through the town of Kernville, providing miles of whitewater rapids for fantastic adventures and trips.

If you’re a beginner or intermediate rafter who wants to enhance your skill, you can avail of lessons and guided trips on the river with Sierra South Mountain Sports’ best guides.

These lessons and trips can last from one and a half hours to four hours, while others may take up to five days.

Pick Your Own Fruit at Murray Family Farms

Signage of Murray Family Farms

Philip Bird LRPS CPAGB /

You can’t miss the famous Murray Family Farms, especially if you’re traveling with family and kids who’ll love this fantastic attraction.

This organic family farm grows various vegetables and fruits, including apples, strawberries, blueberries, peaches, asparagus, artichokes, pumpkins, and tomatoes.

Shop the market for fresh produce or enjoy picking in-season fruits and vegetables.

Kids will also have fun with petting zoo animals, wagon-drawn tractor rides, mazes, and other attractions.

Murray Family Farms is a must-visit destination located east of Bakersfield.

Travel Back to the Past at Silver City Ghost Town

Silver City Ghost Town is home to a fascinating collection of over 20 historic buildings dating back to the 1850s.

The Mills family relocated these old structures to this site in the late 1960s and early 1970s from the mining camps of different places, including Keyesville, Claraville, Whiskey Flats, Miracle, and other Kern Valley frontier settlements.

These represent the culture and history of the Gold Rush period in the Kern Valley.

This modernized ghost town in Bodfish isn’t only an open-air museum but also a popular film location.

You’ll find a saloon, a church, antique shops, artifacts, unique items, even a jail, and more when visiting there.

Visitors can access this place year-round and go on a self-guided tour with the helpful information posted on the old buildings or arrange a guided tour.

If you’re looking for a charming jaunt in Kern County, Silver City Ghost Town is a well-kept piece of history that’s well worth stopping by.

Enjoy the Great Outdoors at the Wind Wolves Preserve

Entrance arch of Wind Wolves Preserve

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Outdoor enthusiasts should visit the massive Wind Wolves Preserve, owned and managed by The Wildlands Conservancy.

It sprawls over 93,000 acres and is an ecologically unique area where the Sierra Nevada, San Joaquin Valley, western Mojave Desert, Coast Ranges, and Transverse Ranges meet.

A vast array of flora and fauna flourish in various landforms and habitats due to its elevation ranging from 640 to 6,005 feet.

A bird at Wind Wolves Preserve

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Common yet fun activities here include picnicking, hiking, mountain biking, camping, birdwatching, wildlife viewing, and seasonal wildflower viewing.

You’ll also be amazed by the beautiful scenery once you visit the Wind Wolves Preserve, 15 miles east of Maricopa.

A trail at Wind Wolves Preserve

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Watch Nature and Wildlife at the Desert Tortoise Research Natural Area

Established in 1980, the Desert Tortoise Research Natural Area is a nature preserve and oasis for threatened desert tortoises.

Besides the tortoises, you may also spot other animals that thrive here, such as jackrabbits, ground squirrels, coyotes, and various species of lizards and birds.

Likewise, over 160 kinds of plants include Mohave asters, creosote bushes, blazing stars, wildflowers, desert candles, and more.

Visit the interpretive center with an information kiosk, parking lot, and restroom because it’s the trailhead for the self-guided trails you can hike and explore.

In addition to rich flora and fauna, this natural area offers a spectacular landscape of desert terrain.

You can find the Desert Tortoise Research Natural Area northeast of California City in the northwestern Mojave Desert.

And the most recommended time to visit this place is the spring season when the temperature is milder and a naturalist is present for site interpretation and protection.

Attend the Kern County Fair

People at Kern County Fair

Richard Thornton /

Participate in the Kern County Fair, the largest annual event in Kern County, held at the Kern County Fairgrounds in Bakersfield.

This 12-day event in September must not be missed when visiting the county since it offers a bevy of fun and exciting attractions for everyone.

There are many things to enjoy, including exhibits, livestock shows, carnival rides, food, live music, games, contests, vendors, live entertainment, and many more!

Flock to the Kern County Fair with your family, kids, and friends and have a blast with everything it offers visitors.

Night scene at Kern County Fair

Robert Bejil from Bakersfield, Ca, USA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Witness Speeding Cars at Buttonwillow Raceway Park

Opened in 1995, the popular Buttonwillow Raceway Park is one of the United States’ leading road racing and testing facilities.

Located nearly 10 miles north of Buttonwillow, the motorsports park boasts over 40 configurations on the main road course and the kart track.

The facility offers track rental, driving clinics, a full-service tire center, a fuel center, and a 43-space RV park with water and electricity hookups.

There is also a race shop, gift shop, and concessions with a full menu of burgers, sandwiches, salads, and more.

Of course, you should check out their calendar for many thrilling racing events hosted here throughout the year, such as the famous Super Lap Battle.

If you’re a racing enthusiast, seeing racing action at Buttonwillow Raceway Park is a fun thing you don’t want to miss.

Try Windsurfing at Lake Isabella

The waters of Lake Isabella

Deimante Vaicekauskaite /

Lake Isabella is a man-made reservoir that covers over 11,000 acres, making it one of the largest in California.

It was created in the year 1953 when the Kern River was dammed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

This beautiful lake is a popular destination for many activities, such as hiking, fishing, camping, and water sports like boating, water skiing, and windsurfing.

Ducks on Lake Isabella

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You can even just have a picnic and relax while soaking up the scenic sights since the area is at Sierra Nevada’s southern end.

Make your way to Lake Isabella to keep cool in the summer and enjoy outdoor activities with family and friends.

The lake is located at the northeastern edge of the community of Lake Isabella and south of Wofford Heights.

Daytime view of Lake Isabella

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Final Thoughts

Kern County has some of the best attractions in California that you will want to experience.

Whether you’re into history, nature, animals, food, or entertainment, this great county is always worth exploring.

Create new, memorable, exciting adventures with the best things to do with your loved ones in Kern County, California!

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