15 Best Things to Do in Ridgecrest, CA

Ridgecrest, CA park sunse
NickFisher / shutterstock.com

Ridgecrest in the northeast nook of Kern County in California has all the markings of many great things to do during a visit.

In Ridgecrest, you will find yourself flanked by four mountain ranges: El Paso Mountains, the Sierra Nevada, the Cosos, and the Argus.

This city is also within easy reach, given its proximity to two major highway corridors—the 395 and 14.

The Inyokern Airport, 11 miles west of Ridgecrest, provides convenient in and out air travel for the city’s visitors.

There is also much to discover and appreciate how this city grew from the 1950s and the 1960s, with much of its dynamism revolving around activities of the US Navy.

With its growth, the city has impacted not only the lives of its residents but also thousands of others within the Indian Wells Valley.

That said, the following list of best things to do in Ridgecrest can most likely rival those that other major US cities have to offer.

Hike to the Big and Little Petroglyph Canyons

Petroglyph Canyons walking tour group
Thomas Barrat / shutterstock.com

This itinerary to view prehistoric rock etchings will also require a permit from Naval Air Weapons Station (NAWS) China Lake.

The Big and Little Petroglyph Canyons, where the ancient rock scribblings can be found, are located within the sprawling NAWS enclave.

To reach these canyons, you will have to hike for hours accompanied by Navy-approved guide-escorts.

Petroglyph Canyons
Thomas Barrat / shutterstock.com

The trek, however, would be worth the sweat, particularly to scholars of ancient history or archeology.

The Canyons hold more than 20,000 petroglyph images on basalt rocks undisturbed for thousands of years.

These impressions are said to be the work of Paleo-Indian hands that’d be interesting for you to decipher.

Petroglyph Canyons
Thomas Barrat / shutterstock.com

Play at the China Lake Golf Course

This golf course is part of the recreational facilities of the US Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake.

With a base pass or as a guest of somebody having base access, you can play in this 18-hole, par 72 courses.

This layout has a slope rating of 124 and a course rating of 72.6.

Being a military facility, this golf course, which runs 6,832 yards from its longest tees, is well-managed, well-kept, and not crowded.

After a round, you can relax at the course’s clubhouse, which serves food and has a pro-shop.

The rates at the China Golf Course are very affordable price to golf.

Relax at the Leroy Jackson Park Complex

The Leroy Jackson Park on French Street offers plenty of things to do for Ridgecrest visitors and locals alike.

The largest in Ridgecrest, this park also hosts the Maturango Museum, covering 56 acres.

The Leroy Jackson Park provides an off-leash dog area, lots of open spaces, and children’s playgrounds.

Kids can also have fun at Leroy Jackson Park’s skate facility.

One area in this park has picnic benches with an awning as shade and is available for gatherings like birthday parties.

It also features a sports complex with six tennis courts, three soccer fields, and two lighted softball fields, all open for reservations.

Dine Cafeteria-style at Bahay Kubo

Dining in Ridgecrest can turn out to be a memorable experience if you try the cafeteria-style Filipino restaurant, Bahay Kubo.

This eatery is located at 1315 Norma Street at the Sierra Vista Center, featuring several combinations of entrees with its white rice or fried rice servings.

These combo choices include chicken or pork “adobo” cooked in soy sauce-vinegar-lemon marinade.

Another entrée option is boneless chicken in sweet orange/pineapple sauce and garnished with bell peppers.

You can extend the Filipino taste sampling to Bahay Kubo’s drink menu featuring such delectable items as Ube Milk and Coffee Jelly with Ube Mousse.

Visit Petroglyph Park

This park is an extension of the LeRoy Jackson Park and is accessible via East Las Flores Avenue.

The Petroglyph Park would be a more convenient alternative to the Navy permit and hike involved to see the ancient Native American pictographs in the desert canyons of Mojave Desert.

The park’s displays faithfully re-create the awesome Paleo-Indian rock etchings that have captured the interest of many scholars, historians, and archaeologists.

This 12-acre park will let you imagine being transported thousands of years back and walking along prehistoric tribal grounds.

You’ll feel as if you were transported to the original tribal grounds as you wander through the 12-acre park.

Watch out too for the schedule of the Ridgecrest Petroglyph Festival for an event that you can enjoy in a visit to this city.

Earn a Visitor Badge for the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake

Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake
Angel DiBilio / Shutterstock.com

Be among those who’ve earned a visitor’s badge to the Naval Air Weapons Station (NAWS) China Lake in the Western Mojave Desert.

Passing the NAWS vetting process for this badge would be worth it, as you’ll gain entry to the largest single landholding of the US Navy at 1.1 million acres.

Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake
Angel DiBilio / Shutterstock.com

NAWS holds over 85 percent of the Navy’s space for R&D, evaluation and testing, weapons, and acquisitions in this Ridgecrest facility.

Your tour, though, would likely be limited to the NAWS museum.

Here, you’ll see old fighter planes, military equipment, and other artifacts gathered since NAWS opened in 1943.

Go for a Family Outing at Freedom Park

Besides the Leroy Jackson Park complex, Ridgecrest provides a couple of other family-oriented parks.

One is Freedom Park on 100 West California Avenue, which is home to the city’s Veteran's Memorial.

Aside from its patriotic theme, this park draws visitors because of its water splash pad and its grassy grounds.

To level up the action, proceed to the Ridgecrest Cycle Park, only about 1.5 miles east of Freedom Park.

Cycle Park, located on 520 South Richmond Road, provides practice tracks for ATV and moto, as well as a kids’ track.

Browse at Red Rock Books

Satisfy the bookworm in you with a visit to Red Rock Books at 206 West Ridgecrest Boulevard.

This bookstore not only has cornered a great location at the historic Old Town Ridgecrest area.

It also holds the distinction as the only brick-and-mortar bookstore in the entire city.

Red Rock Books is a family-owned shop, with its management changing from generation to generation.

This 7,000-square-foot bookstore sells new and used books, children’s books, magazines, as well as gift items, greeting cards, and incense to set your mood while reading.

Explore the Rademacher Hills

Experience Southern California’s outdoors with a hike at the Rademacher Hills off South China Boulevard on the south side of Ridgecrest.

Rademacher Hills features a 14-mile trail network across desert terrain ideal for hiking, horse riding, and mountain biking.

There are 11 trailheads at Rademacher Hills, with the difficulty level varying at each location.

The Brady Trailhead is the nearest to the South China Boulevard corridor.

Many of the trails are near the Cerro Coso Community College, which are closed to vehicles.

You can camp at the Rademacher Hills for a maximum of 14 days, after which a change in your campsite is in order.

Tour the Maturango Museum

Front View of Maturango Museum in Ridgecrest, California
Qfl247, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

You can find this museum at 100 East Las Flores Avenue at the Leroy Jackson Park.

The Maturango Museum is focused on chronicling facets of the Mojave Desert, especially its natural and cultural history.

The displays that will pique your interest in this museum include artifacts of the Native American Mojave tribe from which this desert was named.

You will also see in the museum exhibits of Native American contemporary arts and crafts.

The Maturango Museum likewise features the desert habitat of the Joshua tree, as well as exhibits of other desert plants, animals, fossils, rocks, and minerals.

Eye the Targets at Ridgecrest Gun Range

Hone your sharpshooting skills at the Ridgecrest Gun Range located on 5136 Wiknich Road.

Three separate ranges here are open to the public, one of which is a 100-yard pistol range.

The other two are comprised of rifle ranges for the 300- yard and 600-yard distance and another 300-yard range for rifle, pistol, and shotgun.

The firing lines of these ranges are covered for shade.

The firing lines are made of concrete slabs with holes to accommodate shooting benches.

The Sage Gun Range is also near this facility, and it readily accepts membership, so that in no time at all, you can be firing at its range or joining competitions as well.

Enjoy Steak and Seafood at Ale’s

Ridgecrest boasts several highly rated dining venues specializing in certain dishes.

One of the local favorites is Ale’s Steakhouse & Bar at 1030 Norma Street, specializing in tender, juicy steaks.

One combo worth trying here is jumbo beer-battered onion rings paired with all-steak burgers.

This restaurant also draws five-star ratings for its lemon-herb chicken, bacon avocado burger, and bacon-wrapped jalapenos.

For seafood delights, turn to Ale’s Crab House at 634 South China Street, where the ingredients are always fresh.

Its menu samplings include perfectly cooked fresh halibut fillet with lemon pepper or Cajun seasoning.

Or you can try its fried lobster tails prepared with Ale’s special seasoning and served with fries.

Have a Beer at Flight Line Tap Room

Beer lovers will have a great time at the Flight Line Tap Room on 259 North Balsam Street.

This is the Ridgecrest outlet offering an extensive menu list of craft beers on tap as well as beer in cans.

Flight Line brings delight to its patrons in the 16 different brews it regularly rotates.

Among the brews that this pub takes pride in serving is Lager of the Lakes.

This is a Czech pilsner from Bell’s Brewery in Michigan with a refreshing and crisp taste reminiscent of swimming in the Great Lakes.

To add fun to drinking sessions, this Tap Room special events like Trivia Nights pitting teams against one another.

Board games are also available for a truly entertaining experience at the Flight Line Tap Room.

Hunt for Gifts and Antiques at Balsam Street

If you’re looking for souvenirs or collectibles as mementos of your visit to Ridgecrest, head to North Balsam Street.

The one-stop shop here, particularly for visitors, is S&M Antiques on 214 North Balsam Street.

You not only can buy antiques and collectibles in S&M but also sell or trade collectible items like coins.

In this North Balsam corridor, you can also find Baxendale’s, where there is an amazing selection of fine gift items.

Located on the northwest corner of North Balsam and West French Avenue, Baxendale’s inventory include home décor, farmhouse chic, European country items, gourmet food, and even cute baby boutique picks.

Other Things to Do Nearby

Explore the Chimney Peak Wilderness

View of Chimney Peak Wilderness
Matthew Dillon from Hollywood, CA, USA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Chimney Peak Wilderness is a protected desert area in southeastern Tulare County, spanning 13,134 acres located 20 miles northwest of Ridgecrest.

It features a campground and hiking trails, but the easiest way to explore it is via the 40-mile Chimney Peak Byway.

This corridor is between Nine Mile Canyon Road and Highway 178 and offers a scintillating drive across one of the most scenic California landscapes.

On the most remote of the Byway’s stretches, you have high chances of encountering the wildlife of the Mojave Desert and the Sierra Nevada ecosystem.

You’ll pass through several public lands along the byway, offering opportunities to pause for such activities as hiking and camping.

Final Thoughts

Ridgecrest is amidst the desert country of Southern California, but its attractions are by no means dry and barren.

This city offers a vibrant lifestyle to visitors, thanks largely to its close affinity with the US Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake that spreads on the northern periphery of Ridgecrest.

This US Navy facility has brought an economic windfall for Ridgecrest, enabling the city to develop various facilities like parks with recreational facilities that serve as magnets for residents and tourists as well.

Private enterprises have also come in to further bolster the points of interest in Ridgecrest, as now seen in the city’s various shopping and dining districts.

Visitors thinking of the things to do in Ridgecrest will surely find a wellspring in this Mojave Desert city.

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