Kern County is in San Joaquin Valley, California. This huge county extends across a number of geographic regions in California: The majority western portion is in the San Joaquin Valley, the northeastern portion is in the Sierra Nevada mountains, and the southeastern part is in the Desert and the southwest inti the Antelope Valley.
San Joaquin Valley
Kern Country cities within the San Joaquin Valley include:
- 1 Bakersfield - Nicknamed "the country music capital of the West Coast", Bakersfield is the largest city in the southern San Joaquin Valley and is thus the best option for those seeking lodging, transportation, or other services.
- 2 Buttonwillow - This town offers lodging options and services and is home to the Buttonwillow Tree, a state landmark that gave the town its name.
- 3 Delano - Delano was a major center in the push for farmworker's rights, and includes a federally-landmarked complex that was the first headquarters for Cesar Chavez's United Farm Workers organization.
- 4 Keene - Keene is home to the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument, which contains the headquarters and grave site of the famous labor leader. Another attraction is the Tehachapi Loop, which is located just outside of town and is a favorite of railroad fans around the world since the engineering wonder is one of the few places where a train can be seen passing over itself.
- 5 Lost Hills - This town will be of most interest to travelers on I-5 who need fuel, food or other services.
- 6 Maricopa - This oil & agriculture town was the site of one of the largest oil spills in history when the Lakeview Gusher unleashed nine million barrels of oil onto the surrounding countryside.
- 7 McFarland - McFarland is a small farming community that may be best known for the high school cross-country team that inspired the 2015 movie McFarland, USA.
- 8 McKittrick - An oil & gas town located on Highway 33 that is home to the McKittrick Brea Pit, a tar pit that was the site of a huge cache of prehistoric fossils.
- 9 Taft - An oil town that offers food, gas, and lodging services. Taft is also home to the West Kern Oil Museum and a replica of Sutter's fort that was built in 1940 as a Depression-era project.
- 10 Tehachapi - Tehachapi is home to a massive wind farm.
- 11 The Grapevine - The Grapevine is a corridor along I-5 that is home to the outlets at Tejon and a slew of traveler-focused restaurants and hotels for the thousands of cars traveling on I-5.
- 12 Wasco - Wasco is known as the city of roses, with 55% of all roses grown in the USA grown in and around Wasco. Its annual spring Rose Festival attracts visitors from all over southern California.
Kern County cities within the Sierra Nevada include:
Kern County cities within the Desert include:
- 14 Inyokern
- 15 Mojave - Mojave is a hotbed of aerospace activity, with the Mojave Spaceport the headquarters of Scaled Composites, the first private company to launch a human into space. Edwards Air Force base, a landing site for the space shuttle and a center for the development of experimental aircraft, is located adjacent to the town.
- 16 Ridgecrest - Ridgecrest is a desert town that is adjacent to China Lake Naval Weapons Station. Many visitors pass through this area on the way to Death Valley or sites further north along the Eastern Sierra.
- 17 Rosamond - Rosamond is primarily a bedroom community in the desert of the Antelope Valley, although it does have food and lodging options for tourists, and is home to a non-profit center dedicated to feline protection where visitors can see cats ranging in size from the tiny fishing cat up to the Siberian tiger.
- 1 Kern National Wildlife Refuge (From Interstate 5, take exit 288 / Twisselman Road, and travel seven miles east). Between October and March the 1,249-acre Kern National Wildlife refuge is home to thousands of herons, cranes, hawks, ducks, and many, many other species of birds. A six mile long auto tour route provides access to the wetlands from sunrise to sunset, although during hunting season (October to January) the road is closed on Wednesdays and Saturdays to anyone not in possession of a hunting permit.
- 2 Tule Elk State Natural Reserve, Station Rd between Morris Rd and Tupman Rd. (E on CA-58, right on Wasco Rd, left on Stockdale Hwg, right on Morris Rd, left on Station Rd), ☏ . F-Su 8AM-sunset. Located off of Interstate 5, this 953 acre preserve provides a home for around forty Tule elk, a species native to California that was nearly wiped out in the 19th century. The area is entirely fenced and access is limited to a viewing platform and visitor center, but even if the elk are far away they can generally be spotted with binoculars.
When it was established in the 1850s, Kern County's economy was primarily based on mining, with the flatlands that are today used for agriculture considered inhospitable swamps. As settlers began draining the wetlands, farming became the predominant source of income. In 1899 oil was discovered and the Kern River Oil Field was established; to date it has produced over two billion barrels of oil, making it the fifth-largest oil field in the United States.
While agriculture and petroleum extraction are the main economic drivers in the county, aerospace is also a key employer, with Edwards Air Force Base, the China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station, and the Mojave Air and Space Port all important research centers. In addition, the area surrounding Tehachapi is home to two of America's largest wind farms, and huge solar farms are also being built in the county.
The primary north-south route through the county is Interstate 5, which travels up the western side of the Central Valley between Los Angeles and Sacramento. California State Route 99 is the other major north-south route, traversing the eastern side of the Central Valley from just north of the Grapevine up to Sacramento before ending in the northern part of the state near Red Bluff.
- 1 Kings County - Located northwest of Kern County, rural Kings County is responsible for billions of dollars of annual agricultural production, much of it from the dairy industry. Travelers passing through on Interstate 5 may find the area lacking in attractions, although there are a few hotels and other amenities in the county's small towns.
- 2 Tulare County - Neighboring Kern County to the north, Tulare County has two distinct personalities. The western half of the county lies within the agricultural Central Valley, offering rural landscapes as well as plenty of hotels and other amenities for travelers. The eastern portion of the county features the wilderness and high elevation of the Sierra Nevada range, including the largest trees on earth in Sequoia National Park, and the western slopes of Mount Whitney, the tallest mountain in the lower-48 states.
- 3 Inyo County - Kern County's northeastern neighbor is a land of extremes, covering a massive 10,000 square mile expanse of the Eastern Sierra and California Desert. Inyo County is home to Mount Whitney, the highest mountain in the lower-48 states, as well as Death Valley National Park, the largest national park in the lower-48 states and host to earth's hottest temperatures and the continent's lowest elevation. In addition, ancient bristlecone pine trees can be found within the White Mountains, the oldest of which is estimated to be around 5,000 years old.
- 4 San Bernardino County - Kern County's eastern neighbor, massive San Bernardino County covers 20,000 miles of the California Desert, an area larger than nine of the US states. The Mojave National Preserve is a centerpiece of the region, spanning portions of the Mojave, Great Basin, and Sonoran deserts. Fans of Americana will enjoy cruising historic Route 66, which bisects the county across its southern half and includes the ghost town of Amboy. The western side of the county spans both the outskirts of Los Angeles and the San Bernardino mountains, including popular destinations such as Big Bear and Lake Arrowhead.
- 5 Los Angeles County
- 6 Ventura County - While to some extent it is an extension of the Los Angeles metropolitan area, Kern County's neighbor to the west is home to rural getaways like the town of Ojai that share more with the remote Central Coast region than they do with the massive cities to the south. While the county is heavily populated (with services to match), the Los Padres National Forest dominates the northern part of this county and provides recreational opportunities for those who want to spend time outdoors.
- 7 Santa Barbara County - Kern County's southwestern neighbor is most famous for the town of Santa Barbara and is sometimes considered the northern boundary of Southern California. While mountains run through the region, the county is well served by a network of highways, making road trips to the many beautiful wineries a popular activity. The Danish town of Solvang is a popular destination, and rocket launches can sometimes be viewed near Vandenberg Air Force base, America's west coast spaceport.
- 8 San Luis Obispo County - San Luis Obispo County is located to the west of Kern County, and it marks a noticeable shift in landscape from areas to the south, with a dramatic and remote coastline that draws nature lovers. Hearst Castle is located here, the massive and historic former home of the newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst. The town of San Luis Obispo is a college town that is the last large city for over 100 miles for those traveling north along the coast.
- 9 Monterey County - Located northwest of Kern County, Monterey County is what many people think of when they think of the Central Coast - the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the beautiful 17-Mile Drive, Cannery Row, Pebble Beach golf course, and the rugged beauty of Big Sur. The northern part of the county contains every manner of amenity for travelers, ranging from chain motels to five star resorts, while the southern portion of the county is remote and accessible mainly by the Pacific Coast Highway or on foot by hikers.