No joke: Bakersfield is country’s 8th-best vacation bargain, study claims

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BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) – Which of these cities is not like the others? Miami, San Francisco, Boston, Las Vegas, San Antonio, Bakersfield … Well, it’s a trick question. They all belong to the same list – tourism destinations with value.

You heard right. Bakersfield ranks 8th in the nation, right behind San Antonio, home of the Alamo and the original Riverwalk, on a list of best domestic destinations for your money, and ahead of hotspots like Nashville and Austin, Texas.

Hey, we didn’t make this list. This is according to the travel blog Bounce, which rates everything from airlines to wine, from hotels to places you can store your luggage for the day while you sightsee in the city of your choice.

How can this be, you ask? Well, it’s all in the judging criteria. 

Bounce evaluated the per-square-mile density of restaurants, assorted attractions and relaxation space, as well as distance from the main airport, public transit costs and average hotel room price. That last measuring stick is where Bakersfield shone – at an average of $100 a night, we were third cheapest among the 50 ranked cities.

But David Lyman, head of the city’s Visit Bakersfield travel bureau, says there’s much more here than cheap hotels. Starting with local cuisine.

“Why are we surprised that Bakersfield rates so highly as a value tourist destination?” he said. “You look at the number of restaurants – and we’re right here at Basque central. People come to Bakersfield to eat.”

Almost nobody in New York or Chicago is going to say, “Hey, this summer let’s go to Bakersfield.” And that’s OK.

“We’re not always their point of destination,” Lyman said. “We’re a point of passage. They’re on their way to someplace else. National parks are usually the big ones, especially now. We’re not doing airplanes, we’re doing road trips. Those visitors are coming to Sequoia, Kings Canyon, Yosemite, Death Valley, and they pass through Bakersfield – and of course if we’re lucky, we get them to stop and spend their money.”

Luigi’s, Woolgrowers, Nuestro Mexico – the list  of locally owned restaurants is long. Then there’s antique browsing, the local brew-pub trail, museums – like CALM, the Buena Vista, the Kern County Museum and the Bakersfield Museum of Art – plus the Kern River Canyon and the temporarily semi-dormant Bakersfield Sound.

Lyman says Bakersfield tourism is back almost to pre-pandemic levels. Throw out 2020. Through three quarters of 2021, the city is 1% – one – behind where it was in 2019. Hotel occupancy nationwide, by comparison, according to Lyman, is down 20%.

Satisfying vacations aren’t just about glitz and glamour. Sometimes vacations are about leaving feeling like you got your money’s worth — and having a little money left in your wallet.

So when family or friends come to visit and they want to know what there is to do in this part of California, tell them, stay right here. Bakersfield has it all – or, enough.

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