Weekend Getaway: Bakersfield, California

Yes… you absolutely read that correctly. We (on purpose) spent 2 days & 3 nights in California’s Central Valley for the sole purpose of escaping the hub-bub of home and exploring Bakersfield, California. As many of us on the Coast are, I’m a transplant from the Valley. I’ve been lucky enough to be a Morro Bay resident for 7 years now… but still have roots in Bako and thought it would be fun to travel back East and play tourist in the Country Capital of the West Coast.

Before I wax-poetic on the adventure which was Downtown Bakersfield… I really feel it’s important to say this. My wife and I were truly and pleasantly surprised by our surroundings during our stay. For this trip, we chose to spend our time exclusively in Downtown Bakersfield amid, what seems to be, an exciting food revolution. Once upon a time, B-town was almost exclusively known for their “meat-and-potato” fare and amazing Mexican Food… but things have definitely changed. Read more about it through our Restaurant choices below.

For Starters… let’s talk about our Home Base during this trip:
Steeped in a fascinating history going all the way back to 1928, this historic hotel has all of the fun stories that come with an old property… but without any of it’s dreary old-building trappings.

(Well, except for the ghost stories, but we didn’t experience any of those shenanigans.)

In fact, if you didn’t know about the Padre’s historic significance, you would likely think it was only about a decade old (if that). The decor is incredibly fresh and modern, with a fun twist of old-school charm. It’s sort of like the love child of the Standard in Downtown LA and the Westin St. Francis in San Fran… with a little old-school Las Vegas vibe tossed in for good measure.

I definitely have to say, my first impression of the Padre was pretty fantastic. The Valet guy was quite nice and a doorman handled our entrance with a smile (BTW you pretty much NEED to valet your car. You can opt for street parking, but they valet in a secure parking structure across the street and it’s very much worth the $10/night fee). Here are few images of the lobby as we arrived (still decorated for Christmas):

Next is the Room. For this trip we stayed in the “Corner Pocket Suite“… and it was swanky! You can tell this is a popular Bachelor party style party room. There’s defintely a “some sh!t went down in here” vibes. (the sex toy instructions found under a couch cushion may have been a slight giveway too). Ultimately, to say this room was comfortable would be an understatement. I could honestly have just stayed here for 3 days and been perfectly happy. Big pillowy comforter, cush desk chair, stylishly soft couch, it had everything I needed to be a happy traveler. Check out a few of the photos from our room below.

We could go on-and-on about this room in more details, but we have 3 days to talk about.

For our in-depth review of The Padre Hotel – CLICK HERE

For the rest of our 1st evening, we drew the curtains, jumped into our “cozy clothes” opened a bottle of wine we brought, kicked back and enjoyed this very comfortable room and chill ambiance.

First Full Day

For our first full day in Bakersfield, we kicked it off with an hour in the hotel gym (modest, but worthy), then popped into the Farmacy Cafe, the Padre’s lobby-level coffee shop. Not sure if it was the bright decor, or giant animals painted watchingly on the ceiling, but it was the perfect setting to shake off our morning fog and get ourselves ready for the day ahead.

Sidenote: They have a number of items on the menu we will definitely need to revisit later in the day (Mexican coffee w/ tequilla, Irish coffee w/ Jameson, B52, etc.).

After kicking back with the local newspaper (which was surprisinlgy NOT uber-conservative), and a few coffees, we thought it was time to take a little walk and check out this funky Central Valley community.

One of the cool things you can see in Bakersfield’s downtown district is a vibrant new restaurant & the arts scene… but without forgetting the old-school traditions, like the Fox Theatre & Original Newspaper Building (pictured)

Just steps from our hotel is a stretch of road (19th Street) with a series of restaurants featuring everything from Sushi to Steak & Pasta… and a brand new live performance theatre (The Ovation Theatre). We checked their calendar, but were sadly visiting in-between productions.

As fun and exciting as this new energy is, it’s important to say there is also a VERY fine line between the burgeoning new downtown, and the grimy (and still a little scary) side. Strolling slightly too far, we crossed paths with several transiets who strongly resemble those you see on the streets of LA or SF. During the day they mostly just huddled in abondoned doorways or kept moving. Later in the afternoon they became a litle more brazen and started asking for money, but nothing too intense. There is a greyhound station and a local bus hub nearby, which explains most of the foot-traffic. 

Day 1 – Lunch

Our first real meal since “Destination Bakersfield” began was at a small cafe across the street from the Padre called Locale Farm to Table Eatery… and IT. WAS. FABULOUS!!!

We had the pleasure of chatting with Locale’s owner, Heather Laganelli, about her reason for launching this particular style of eatery.

It’s a neat story of an East Coast girl with Italian & French heritage, taking a leap of faith on a deli business looking for new ownership, and adding her passion for non-processed foods and fresh produce into the menu of her new business venture. She quickly realized that she had a tremendous treasure-trove of fresh produce at her disposal through the local Farmer’s Market & surrounding growers… and she simply needed to incorporate it into her offerings in fun and deliscious ways. Once people started getting wind of her great tasting & healthy food options, it became a matter of keeping up with demand! She has a few “staple” ingredients she has access to year-round, but the menu does change with the seasons and what is fresh.

If you’re in Downtown Bakersfield, make sure to add this unique and completely fresh eatery to your itinerary. Here’s a breakdown of what we ate: 

Baked Potato Soup

Cowboy Tacos (BBQ Pulled Pork)

Fig Tartine

Stone Fruit & Field Greens Salad

Candace’s Sweet Potatos & Bruzzel Sprouts

With a full belly and after a little more exploring, drinks were in order! 

The Padre’s very own Brimstone (sports bar) was going off the night before when we checked in, but after the drive we were more in a “wine & chill” mood. But now… we were ready to have a few spirits. We connected with some friends we hadn’t seen in a while… and Brimstone was the perfect place to catch up. 

Drinks were ordered, a little food for our friends (flatbread pizzas), and the next 4 hours were spent in what I would call one of the perfect hang-out bars in downtown Bako. The large open windows and high ceilings brought in plenty of natural light, the music was pumping (but not too loud), and there were plenty of TVs on-hand to check on Football, the NBA, College updates & the NHL in a single glance.

We started with a few branded drinks off their menu (the Bee’s Knees & a swanky Whiskey Martini), but ultimately asked their quasi-hipster bartender for our “go-to” libations.

I was a bit dissapointed when I ordered a “Hendricks & Soda” and they brought me a Hennesy & coke, but the guy seemed a little green so I enjoyed what the universe provided and the conversation continued.

Our final official stop for day 1 was an event I’ve been looking forward to for weeks… a night on the ice at a Bakersfield Condors hockey game! Live sports on the Central Coast is, unfortunalty, something we are seriously lacking. 

Here’s the “everybody on your feet” energtic game opener:

After a quick 2 minute car ride back to the Padre, there were a few more drinks at Brimstone, then up to the room for a great night’s sleep.

Day 2…

… we started off this beautiful sunny day with breakfast and coffee at what has undoubtedly become my new favorite coffee shop/cafe in Bakersfield. Maybe anywhere (sorry Scout). A great place with a seriously badass vibe called Cafe Smitten.

While we did brave the (by Central Coast standards) short 0.5 mile, 12min walk from the Padre to Cafe Smitten, we were clearly the ONLY ONES! If you do visit, just know that nobody walks in Bakersfield. NOBODY!

I digress… back to the cafe. Smitten has absolutely everything you could possibly want in your classic-yet-stylish coffee house located in the latest up-and-coming part of town. If you could somehow design the ultimate San Luis Obispo hipster/not-hipster/extremely good quality/friendly coffee shop, Cafe Smitten would be it… but instead, the building has been magically transported to California’s dust-bowl.

We ordered a few drinks (chosing carefully as not to aggrivate the heinous hangovers we brought with us), and found a comfy table on their back patio (which resembled a hodgepodge of Arizona flare, with California charm, and a hint of something I can’t put my finger on as I sit here writing this). Thankfully we arrived when we did! By the time our food was ready the place was packed. The word is out… Cafe Smitten is (to borrow a phrase from my child-hood) Bomb-Diggity! Here are a few images from our morning:

For my meal, I ordered the Gluten Free “Greek Eggs”: 2 eggs, halumi cheese, heirloom tomatoes & oregano. Served with tomato/cucumber salad, green olives, pickles & tahini bread. 

Pairing their Maple Spice Latte, it was a blissful combination of sweet, savory & all around amazing!

My lovely traveling companion (a vegetarian) ordered their Vegan Burrito, Garbanzo beans, spinish, avocado, olives, mushrooms & tahini. Paired it with a standard Latte. 

I’m not going to lie, I snagged a bite and it was delish! Both were just the perfect amount of food for kicking off a busy day.

After our breakfast we had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Shai Bitton, owner of Cafe Smitten (along with his Wife Stasie), and had a wonderful time discussing the food revolution going on in Bakersfield, the growing success of non-chain restaurants, and his history as an Israeli immigrant who fell in love with a girl in New York and moved to Bakersfield for her family. They brought their love for worldly cuisine to town, and use it to transport people from the Central Valley to regions all over the planet through their tastebuds. Lucky we found it, and can’t wait to see what they do next.
From there we decided to enjoy the wonderful weather, & full tummies, and took a leisurely stroll back to the Padre. Passing old building that have clearly withstood decades of brutal Summer heat & cold Valley winters, it was fun to see modern architecture intermixed with multi-storied structures that survived city-leveling earthquakes from the 50’s. Bakersfield has some interesting history without-a-doubt. You can almost smell it in the speakeasy style basement staircases tucked along side these historic monuments. We meandered our way back to the room after quite some time and found ourselves in a perfectly lazy mood. We are on vacation… even if you are coming along for the ride. 😉
Next thing we knew, it was 5pm… and nearlt time to meet up with more friends for drinks nearby. After a little yelping, we discovered a joint just a short block away called the Crash Lounge.

If you’re in a mood for the perfect hipster-style bar where the bartender kind-of ignores you a little, but still makes pretty damn good drinks… this is the place for you. I ordered a couple of Henddricks Martinis with blue-cheese olives, and they were perfection. All around it was pretty standard stuff (margaritas, beer, etc.) and all were happy. I get the feeling this is a 10:30p and later kind of  bar to hang, so we had the place all to ourselves. And it was great!

Our final meal of the trip was at a (if not THE) Classic downtown Bakersfield restaurant, Uricchio’s Trattoria. I’m not sure if this is the oldest restaurant in the downtown area, but there is absolutely no doubt why Uricchio’s has the reputation it has as a premiere dining location. It has lasted (successfully) for as long as it has because quite frankly, it is Damn Good!
I’ll be honest, figuring out where to start with this review is difficult. To talk about dining at Uricchio’s isn’t as easy as “the atmphsphere is blah blah blah” or “The food is blah blah blah”. From the moment you walk up to the front door you are transported to somewhere else completely.

You’re not in Bakersfield, you’re not even in California… you’re at Uricchio’s. There is quite simply nothing “new world” about being here. It feels like everything you imagine eating at a completely authentic Italian restaurant SHOULD feel like. 

I picture old Italian guys sitting in the back, sipping vino and arguing about something completely hilarious to argue about while making every ounce of pasta from scratch, perfectly.

The laughter and non-discript conversation happening across the room pulls you into a type of euphria that’s both romantic and friendly at the same time. I couldn’t help but hold my wife’s hand and stare lovingly into her eyes. Then…. there’s the food. Oh man… THE FOOD!

Talking with Claire Uricchio before our meal was a real treat. Watching her talk about her Dad and the legacy he left her was beautiful. You can tell she’s passionate about what she does. Hell, you can taste it! Sidenote: It was very cool to see her pull one of the cooks and hostess aside later in the evening and have a meal with them. We asked our server (who has worked there for almost 20 years) about it and she informed us Claire loves to eat with different employees. Their topic is rarely ever work related, “just conversation, like you would have with your family”. 

For our dinner, they brought us a wide varitey of truly remarkable choices ranging from stuffed mushrooms & calamari to sausages & ravioli. Thank god we were hungry… because we got the full Italian treatment! I’m posting some photos here, but am super bummed they are all a little out of focus. The wonderful ambiance isn’t a great setting for iPhone photos. 🙁

Paired with a glass of Wild Horse Cab, I was in heaven. Take all of the food away… the calamari, sausage, mushrooms, etc., and I could have enjoyed the entire evening with only a spoon an that marinara. Oh damn… the Marinara was insanely good! I don’t know if they sell it in town, but they should. Or ship it. To Morro Bay!

For dinner (yes, we also ordered dinner), I had what may have been the best Swordfish I’ve ever eaten. I’m not sure if it was the excited buzz and happy energy around me that made it taste so good… but let me say it this way. I was completely STUFFED, and still ate every bite. It was truly that good. With my meal I ordered the green beans and potatoes on the side for my wife beacause… did I mentioned how much food we already ate??? Finally… dear god, yes there way more. Dessert.

Do they make EVERYTHING from scratch? 

Creme Brulee Cheesecake and Tiramisu

The food comma was setting in, and functioning as a regular human being was fading fast. We found food bliss and jumped into the deep-end face first. Now we had to figure a way out. 

We rolled away from the table and happily ambled down the sidewalk.

On the short walk back to our hotel we stopped by a Bakersfield legend, Guthrie’s Alley Cat Bar. One quick drink (Jameson), a glance around at drunken history, and we were D-O-N-E. 

Our heads hit the pillow and that was all she wrote.

After 2 days of surprisingly great food, delicious drinks, hockey and entertainment… our cozy little sea-side town (and our own bed) was calling our name. We packed up our clothes, called downstairs to have them bring our car around, and hit the road. 

Bottom line, Bakersfield was a wonderful and totally unexpected treat. They have a great concert venue at the Rabobank Arena, and I can honestly see taking the 2.5hr drive over for a good show in the future.

If you do find yourself cruising over, stay at the Padre Hotel… then follow our road-map of happiness. Guaranteed good times in the Valley!

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