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At the sunbaked southern edge of the Central Valley, Bakersfield sits at a crossroads on California’s historic Highway 99. Country-and-western cowboys, oil workers and vacationers traveling to and from Southern California’s deserts, the Sierra Nevada Mountains and even Las Vegas all pass through this truck-stop town.
Unless they’re here on business, most travelers to Bakersfield are just looking for a good night’s sleep, and maybe a square meal at a classic roadside diner. Yet this area has richer veins of culture and California history than many realize. Take, for example, the 120-year-old Noriega Hotel, which serves old-fashioned, communal-style Basque dinners so good that they earned a James Beard Award.
To catch an earful of the “Bakersfield Sound,” swing on in to Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace. Get ready to stomp your feet while live country-and-western bands play. If getting outdoors is your goal, drive about an hour outside Bakersfield to Lake Isabella and Kernville, a launching pad for rafting trips up the Kern River and its thrilling rapids.