15 Free Things to Do in Bakersfield, CA

Free Things to Do in Bakersfield, CA
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Bakersfield, about 112 miles north of Los Angeles and 16 miles west of the Sequoia National Forest, is home to several historic sites and the popular Kern River.

It’s the biggest city and county seat of Kern County, situated in the San Joaquin Valley in Central California, named after former colonel and lawyer Thomas Baker, who arrived in the region in 1863.

Known as “Nashville West,” Bakersfield is well-known for its great contribution to country music, including the birth of the music genre Bakersfield sound and being the home of several recording artists like Buck Owens and Merle Haggard.

No matter the season, Bakersfield is a terrific city to visit all year, from sweltering hot summers to chilly, moderate winters.

If you’re searching for free attractions in Bakersfield, the Kern River County Park has plenty of outdoor offerings, with its 1,012 acres of space encompassing smaller parks, amenities, and other attractions.

Read on for free things to do in Bakersfield, California.

Spend Time Outdoors at Hart Memorial Park

Lake fountain at Hart Memorial Park
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Hart Memorial Park, also known as Hart Park, is a huge public park located in the northeast region of Bakersfield.

Built from 1921 to 1936, it’s the oldest portion of the Kern River County Park and was named after the project's driving force, County Supervisor John Hart.

Green spaces, two lakes, three canals, several basketball and lawn sports fields, an equestrian trail, two disc golf courses, and more make up the park’s 370 acres.

A peacock at Hart Memorial Park
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Beginning on the east side, a bike route winds through the Kern River County Park and ends at the Kern River Golf Course.

One large picnic space ideal for events is available for reservation with a bandstand, two grills, seven propane burners, two deep-pit barbecues, tables, and two booths.

Hart Memorial Park’s historic Peacock House, built in 1939, was at risk of being demolished but was saved and turned into a visitor center in 2020.

A trail at Hart Memorial Park
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Catch Fish at Lake Ming

Calm waters of Lake Ming
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Lake Ming is a lovely and scenic artificial lake created in 1959 nearby Hart Memorial Park, originally built for boating and water skiing.

A long beach filled with trees for shelter and other amenities surrounds the lake, with about a 104-acre surface area and 18-foot maximum depth.

The lake is in a hillside location, providing the ideal setting for those who wish to relax and take in the view by the water or at one of the picnic spots.

The lake is home to bluegill, large-mouth bass, catfish, and other fish species and is stocked with trout during the colder months.

Lake Ming, a part of the Kern River County Park, is open all year long with no additional fees for fishing; however, it is occasionally closed for boat races on the weekends.

See Public Art at the Downtown Arts District

Roam around Bakersfield's Downtown Arts District to discover more about the city's flourishing art scene!

The Downtown Arts District is a significant center for Bakersfield’s performing and visual arts.

The district is home to several art galleries, most of which are near the junction of Eye and 19th Street.

There is a ton of free public art to see, such as murals, apart from galleries where you might need to pay an admission fee.

Although Downtown is also home to many theaters, including the popular Fox Theater, it's difficult to miss the district’s beautiful murals.

Make sure to drop by the Visitors Information Center beside the Kern Veterans Memorial and get a map of the Arts & Culture District to make the most of your self-guided tour.

Snap a Photo of the Bakersfield Sign

Close view of the Bakersfield Sign
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The iconic Bakersfield Sign is a popular landmark in the city with its yellow arch, blue letters, and two supporting towers with a design influenced by the Beale Memorial Clock Tower.

It has been featured in advertisements on local TV and newspapers, on commercial and governmental websites, and on some book covers, and it was also utilized in paintings and other works of art by local artists.

The Bakersfield Sign is located on Sillect Avenue and is visible from the Golden State Freeway (State Route 99).

Daytime view of the Bakersfield Sign
nickchapman, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The sign was built in 1949 and was originally located on Union Avenue but fell into disrepair in the late 1990s.

Renovations came about in 1999, marking its 50th anniversary using what original parts could still be used.

On July 4th, in front of a big crowd, the arched sign was placed on its current location adjacent to Buck Owens Crystal Palace.

Hike a Trail at Panorama Vista Preserve

Scenic views from Panorama Vista Preserve
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The Panorama Vista Preserve is a nature and wildlife sanctuary that offers recreation space.

Located beneath Bakersfield’s Panorama Bluffs, the Panorama Vista Preserve spans over 930 acres of open vistas.

The Kern River Corridor Endowment & Holding Co. Inc. owns and operates it; it's a 1998-founded nonprofit entity with a mission to protect, preserve, and enhance the cultural, educational, environmental, historic, and scientific values of the preserve for the next generations to come.

Trails at Panorama Vista Preserve
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Apart from protecting wildlife habitats, riparian forests, and grasslands, the Panorama Vista Preserve provides research opportunities and low-impact activities such as biking, running, walking, and horseback riding.

Camping with campfires and the use of motorcycles are not allowed.

Tall trees at Panorama Vista Preserve
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Play Sports at Jastro Park

Jastro Park is a public park built in 1917 on two square blocks granted by the Kern County Land Company.

The majority of the beautification was originally contributed in 1925 by Henry A. Jastro, to whom the park was named.

The amphitheater in Jastro Park is one of Bakersfield’s three open amphitheaters and the only one without dedicated seating for the audience.

Jastro Park has one of the best amenities featuring illuminated sports facilities, a playground, restrooms, and a spray park.

It has two picnic areas for reservation; one holds 128 people and the other for 80 people, and both are furnished with lighting, two barbecue grills, and an open-air service table.

There are additional separate picnic spots, each with a single barbecue grill and seating for up to 16 people.

There are also six tennis courts, one basketball court, two horseshoe pits, a pair of poles for volleyball, and open grass for other lawn sports.

Visit Mill Creek Park

A short covered bridge at Mill Creek Park
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Mill Creek Park, one of the best-kept secrets in Bakersfield, is a linear park that stretches along the Kern Island Canal between downtown California Avenue and Golden State Avenue.

Mill Creek Park is about 1.5 miles in length (gap segments included) and connects downtown with a multi-functional waterfront route.

Initially constructed in 1921 as Central Park, it underwent redevelopment years later to construct a linear park that would run parallel to the Kern Island Canal.

The waters of Mill Creek Park
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Central Park reopened in 2009, while most of the linear park was completed and opened to the public in 2010.

Central Park remains the only park downtown and is the center of Mill Creek Park, which today features meandering paths, a lake, spray fountains, and the iconic “Mill Creek” bridge.

Mill Creek Park is also home to the Bakersfield Community House and the Bakersfield Museum of Art.

A trail at Mill Creek Park
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See Wildlife at Wind Wolves Preserve

Entryway of Wind Wolves Preserve
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The Wind Wolves Preserve, spanning 93,000 acres, is one among 20 or more preserves owned and managed by The Wildlands Conservancy, the biggest non-profit network of nature preserves in California.

The preserve is in an ecologically distinct area where the Coast Ranges, San Joaquin Valley, Sierra Nevada, Transverse Ranges, and west Mojave Desert intersect.

Wind Wolves Preserve features an outstanding variety of habitats and landforms due to elevation ranging from 640 to 6,005 feet.

Sheep herd at Wind Wolves Preserve
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A wide array of fauna and flora can be found in the grasslands and wetlands of the preserve, including several endangered species like the blunt-nosed leopard lizard, the San Joaquin kit fox, the Bakersfield cactus, and the Buena Vista Lake ornate shrew.

Fun and exciting things to do include hiking, biking, bird watching, camping, wildlife viewing, and seasonal wildflower viewing.

A small bird at Wind Wolves Preserve
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Get a Glimpse of the ​​Weedpatch Camp

Weedpatch Camp, formally known as the Arvin Federal Government Camp, was constructed by the Farm Security Administration in 1936 to provide housing for migrant laborers during the Great Depression.

This migrant worker camp was featured in The Grapes of Wrath, a novel by John Steinbeck, with several scenes filmed here for the book’s film adaptation in 1940.

Weedpatch Camp's history dates back to the mid-1930s when many people from Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas were relocated due to the Dust Bowl, a period of intense dust storms.

The camp’s housing structures originally consisted of canvas tents on wooden frames with several permanent buildings but were ultimately replaced by permanent wood-framed shacks.

The camp had a community hall, a post office, a library, a community barbershop, and a playground.

Some of the camp’s buildings were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1996.

Today, Weedpatch Camp is fenced and is still being used to house migrant workers, but a glimpse from the outside gives a sense of understanding of the living situation and the community the migrant workers have established, creating a cultural and historical significance in the State of California.

Go Biking at the Kern River Parkway Trail

Riverside trail of Kern River Parkway Trail
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The Kern River Parkway Trail is a 30-mile trail that passes through protected riparian habitats where wildlife such as bobcats, rabbits, and roadrunners are protected from encroachment.

The Kern River Parkway Trail runs east to west of the city along the Kern River, a channel that flows through the Sierra Nevada mountains but usually dries up when it reaches Bakersfield.

Along the way, you’ll glimpse Lake Ming and the Sierra Nevada at the far-eastern end, passing through the Panorama Vista Preserve, with the dramatic Panorama Bluffs on the left and the Kern River on the right.

Kern River Parkway Trail lined with trees
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Cyclists and runners can hop on the trail at any point; among the popular starting points include Panorama Park, The Park at RiverWalk, and Yokuts Park, and ends at Enos Lane (SR 43).

Bakersfield is ideal for bike adventures, with more than 170 miles of bike routes, lanes, and paths!

Unwind at the Park at River Walk

Waters at the Park at River Walk
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The Park at River Walk, also called the River Walk Park, is a 32-acre public park with two lakes linked by a stream and four bridges over it.

It has covered picnic areas, tables, barbecue grills, a gazebo, and a playground.

Donated to the City in 1995, this peculiar L-shaped piece of land between Stockdale Highway and the Kern River was sought after as the ideal location for a public park with expansive front access to the river.

In cooperation with the City of Bakersfield and the developer, the area was turned into a park and was finished and opened to the public in 2006.

Duck family at the Park at River Walk
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The park’s focal point is the Bright House Amphitheater featuring a stage designed to resemble an island with the lake in the back and the stream in front.

The park is close to the Kern River Bike Trail, which makes a good starting point for those who wish to hop on the trail.

Bridge trail at the Park at River Walk
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See the Bloom Mural

The Bloom Mural is a “3D” mural art piece that covers the entire Beale Avenue overpass between Jackson and Kentucky streets.

This overpass in eastern Bakersfield has become a symbol of empowerment for girls and young women.

The mural, which features vibrant flowers and images of local girls pursuing their passions, is intended to convey to young women that they have the ability to become anything they set their minds to.

The mural is one of the biggest in Bakersfield, standing many floors tall and covering numerous walls and columns.

The Bloom Mural is sponsored by the non-profit organization The Hub of Bakersfield, which is dedicated to reimagining and energizing the city's urban core.

Witness Artists Paint at the Via Arte’s Annual Italian Street Painting Festival

Patricipants at the Via Arte’s Annual Italian Street Painting Festival
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The annual Via Arté Italian Street Painting Festival, hosted by the Bakersfield Museum of Art, has brought the visual arts and the local community together since 1998.

The Marketplace parking lot is transformed into a gallery of spectacular chalk artworks as visitors watch professional and amateur painters unleash their imaginations by utilizing the asphalt as their canvas.

If you’re a visitor who wishes to participate in the street painting tradition, Bakersfield Museum of Art offers the chance to showcase their talent in their Via Bambino area!

Artists painting at the Via Arte’s Annual Italian Street Painting Festival
Richard Thornton / Shutterstock.com

This, however, comes with a fee that covers the art materials to be used; all funds raised go to the museum.

If you’re merely a spectator, entry is free, and this yearly event takes place for two days every October.

A participant at the Via Arte’s Annual Italian Street Painting Festival
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Window Shop at Valley Plaza Mall

Exterior of Valley Plaza Mall
LittleT889, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

For a family-friendly shopping (or window shopping) destination, Valley Plaza Mall provides you with fashion, food, and fun in Central California!

Valley Plaza Mall is the biggest retail store in the San Joaquin Valley, located close to State Route 99 (Bakersfield’s primary north and south freeway), with anchor stores Macy’s, JCPenney, Forever 21, and Target.

With 900,000 square feet of space when it first opened in 1967, the interior of Valley Plaza Mall is considered to have a modern Spanish influence.

The mall started growing in 1986 when "wings" were added on the eastern and western portions, giving it its current size of more than a million square feet.

You’ll find over 140 specialized shops, a movie theater, food options, and more!

You'll enjoy Valley Plaza Mall even without spending a dime!

Skate at Beach Park

Beach Park is one of the more noticeable parks in the city, situated at the major intersection of Oak and 24th Streets.

It’s located next to the Kern River Parkway and is a starting point for the numerous parkway trails.

One of the main elements is the skate park located at the southwestern portion of the park, with obstacles and light fixtures installed.

Other facilities include a lighted baseball field with bleachers, 26 fenced horseshoe pits utilized for horseshoe tournaments, and a football/soccer field.

Additionally, playgrounds, a few separate picnic sites, and a small picnic area are available for reservation.

Final Thoughts

Bakersfield is an expanding city with many pleasant surprises!

It has evolved into a center for the arts and culture while preserving the historical riches of the area.

Nature abounds in and around Bakersfield as well, with the number of parks and nature preserves providing a sanctuary for wildlife and the entire family to enjoy any time of the year.

As more people are looking for vacations that combine outdoor excursions with a small-town atmosphere, these free things to do in Bakersfield, California, make it a fascinating and noteworthy location.

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