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Kern County, California
County of Kern
Fort Tejon Barracks from CO Qtrs.JPG
F-35 at Edwards.jpg
Images, from top down, left to right: Downtown Bakersfield, Cesar E. Chavez National Monument, Fort Tejon barracks, an F-35 landing at Edwards Air Force Base, the Midway-Sunset Oil Field
Seal of Kern County, California.png
Location in the state of California
Location in the state of California
Country United States
State California
Incorporated April 2, 1866; 158 years ago (1866-04-02)
Named for Kern River and Edward Kern
County seat (and largest city) Bakersfield
 • Total 8,163 sq mi (21,140 km2)
 • Land 8,132 sq mi (21,060 km2)
 • Water 31 sq mi (80 km2)
Highest elevation
8,755 ft (2,669 m)
Lowest elevation
206 ft (63 m)
 • Total 909,235
 • Density 111.385/sq mi (43.0060/km2)
Time zone UTC−8 (Pacific Time Zone)
 • Summer (DST) UTC−7 (Pacific Daylight Time)
Area code 661, 760
FIPS code 06-029
GNIS feature ID 2054176

Kern County is located in the U.S. state of California. As of the 2020 census, the population was 909,235. Its county seat is Bakersfield.

Kern County comprises the Bakersfield, California, Metropolitan statistical area. The county spans the southern end of the Central Valley. Covering 8,161.42 square miles (21,138.0 km2), it ranges west to the southern slope of the Coast Ranges, and east beyond the southern slope of the eastern Sierra Nevada into the Mojave Desert, at the city of Ridgecrest. Its northernmost city is Delano, and its southern reach extends just beyond Lebec to Grapevine, and the northern extremity of the parallel Antelope Valley.

The county's economy is heavily linked to agriculture and to petroleum extraction. There is also a strong aviation, space, and military presence, such as Edwards Air Force Base, the China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station, and the Mojave Air and Space Port.

With a population that is 54.9% Hispanic as of 2020, Kern is California's third-most populous majority-Hispanic county and the sixth-largest nationwide.


Spanish era

The area was claimed by the Spanish in 1769, and in 1772 Commander Don Pedro Fages became the first European to enter it, from the south by way of the Grapevine Canyon.

Kern County was the site of the Battle of San Emigdio, in March 1824, between the Chumash Indians of the Santa Barbara Mission who rebelled against the Mexican government's taking over mission property and ejecting the natives. This battle with Mexican forces from Monterey under the command of Carlos Carrillo took place at the canyon where San Emigdio Creek flows down San Emigdio Mountain and the Blue Ridge south of Bakersfield near today's Highway 166. It was a low-casualty encounter, with only four Indians killed, and no Mexicans; the surviving Indians were pacified and brought back to Santa Barbara in June 1824 after a pursuit and negotiation in which many were allowed to keep their arms for the return march over the mountains.

American era

Havilah CA Courthouse Museum
The Havilah Court building was restored in the 1970s and now serves as a museum. Photo circa 2007.

In the beginning, the area that became Kern County was dominated by mining in the mountains and in the desert. In 1855 an attempt to form a county in the area was made when the California legislature took the southeastern territory of Tulare County on the west of the Sierra Nevada Mountains for Buena Vista County, but it was never officially organized prior to 1859, when the time of the enabling legislation ran out. The south of Tulare County was later organized as Kern County in 1866, with additions from Los Angeles and San Bernardino Counties. Its first county seat was in the mining town of Havilah, in the mountains between Bakersfield and Tehachapi.

The flatlands were considered inhospitable and impassable at the time due to swamps, lakes, tule reeds and diseases such as malaria. This changed when settlers started draining lands for farming and constructing canals, most dug by hand by hired Chinese laborers. Within 10 years the valley surpassed the mining areas as the economic center of the county, and the county seat was moved as a result from Havilah to Bakersfield in 1874.

The discovery well of the Kern River Oil Field was dug by hand in 1899. Soon the towns of Oil City, Oil Center and Oildale came into existence.


The county derives its name from the Kern River, which was named for Edward Kern, cartographer for General John C. Frémont's 1845 expedition, which crossed Walker Pass. The Kern River was originally named Rio Bravo de San Felipe by Father Francisco Garces when he explored the area in 1776.


Severe earthquakes have struck Kern County within historical times, including the 1857 Fort Tejon earthquake.

On July 21, 1952, an earthquake occurred with the epicenter about 23 miles (37 km) south of Bakersfield. It measured 7.3 on the moment magnitude scale and killed 12 people. In addition to the deaths, it was responsible for hundreds of injuries and more than $60 million in property damage. The main shock was felt over much of California and as far away as Phoenix, Arizona and Reno, Nevada. The earthquake occurred on the White Wolf Fault and was the strongest to occur in California since the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Tehachapi suffered the greatest damage and loss of life from the earthquake, though its effects were widely felt throughout central and southern California. The event had a significant aftershock sequence that persisted into July and August with the strongest coming on August 22, an M5.8 event with a maximum perceived intensity of VIII (Severe) and resulted in two additional deaths and an additional $10 million in property damage. Repercussions of the sequence of earthquakes were still being felt in the heavily damaged downtown area of Bakersfield well into the 1990s as city leaders attempted to improve safety of the surviving non-reinforced masonry buildings.

Following the event, a field survey was conducted along the fault zone with the goal of estimating the peak ground acceleration of the shock based on visually evaluating precarious rock formations and other indicators. Ground disturbances that were created by the earthquakes were also surveyed, both in the valley and in the foothills, with both vertical and horizontal displacements present in the epicenter area. The strong motion records that were acquired from the event were significant, and a reconnaissance report was recognized for its coverage of the event, and how it set a standard for those types of engineering or scientific papers.

Music and Film

Kern county is considered to be a hotbed of country music, specifically the Bakersfield sound. The Buck Owens Crystal Palace is located in Bakersfield.

The 2015 Disney film McFarland, USA, starring Kevin Costner, is based on the cross-country team in the town of McFarland, California, which is located in northern Kern County.


According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 8,163 square miles (21,140 km2), of which 8,132 square miles (21,060 km2) is land and 31 square miles (80 km2) (0.4%) is water. It is the third-largest county by area in California. Its area is nearly the size of the state of New Hampshire; it extends:


Chaparral comprises a considerable portion of the natural area within Kern County; the species diversity within these chaparral habitats, however, is considerably less than in many other regions of California. Whitethorn, California is a prominent example of chaparral species on the rocky slopes of the Sierra Nevada as well as the Inner Coastal Ranges. California Buckeye is a notable tree found in both chaparral and forests and whose southern range terminates in Kern County.

National protected areas


Historical population
Census Pop.
1870 2,925
1880 5,601 91.5%
1890 9,808 75.1%
1900 16,480 68.0%
1910 37,715 128.9%
1920 54,843 45.4%
1930 82,570 50.6%
1940 135,124 63.6%
1950 228,309 69.0%
1960 291,984 27.9%
1970 329,162 12.7%
1980 403,089 22.5%
1990 543,477 34.8%
2000 661,645 21.7%
2010 839,631 26.9%
2020 909,235 8.3%
U.S. Decennial Census
1790–1960 1900–1990
1990–2000 2010 2020

According to the 2020 United States Census, Kern County's population was 909,235. It was the eleventh-largest county by population in California. The center of population of California is located in Kern County, in the town of Buttonwillow [1].

2020 census

Kern County, California - Demographic Profile
(NH = Non-Hispanic)
Race / Ethnicity Pop 2010 Pop 2020 % 2010 % 2020
White alone (NH) 323,794 279,600 38.56% 30.75%
Black or African American alone (NH) 45,377 46,776 5.40% 5.14%
Native American or Alaska Native alone (NH) 5,893 5,197 0.70% 0.57%
Asian alone (NH) 33,100 44,257 3.94% 4.87%
Pacific Islander alone (NH) 995 1,127 0.12% 0.12%
Some Other Race alone (NH) 1,472 4,557 0.18% 0.50%
Mixed Race/Multi-Racial (NH) 15,967 28,563 1.90% 3.14%
Hispanic or Latino (any race) 413,033 499,158 49.19% 54.90%
Total 839,631 909,235 100.00% 100.00%

Note: the US Census treats Hispanic/Latino as an ethnic category. This table excludes Latinos from the racial categories and assigns them to a separate category. Hispanics/Latinos can be of any race.

According to the 2020 United States Census:

  • Hispanic (54.9%)
  • White Non-Hispanic (30.8%)
  • Black (5.5%)
  • Asian (5.1%)
  • Two or more races (16.1%)
  • Indigenous (2.0%)
  • Some other race (30.2%)

(Total can be greater than 100% because Hispanics may be counted in any race.)


Places by population, race, and income


The 2010 United States Census reported that Kern County had a population of 839,631. The racial makeup of Kern County was 499,766 (59.5%) White, 48,921 (5.8%) African American, 12,676 (1.5%) Native American, 34,846 (4.2%) Asian, 1,252 (0.1%) Pacific Islander, 204,314 (24.3%) from other races, and 37,856 (4.5%) from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 413,033 persons (49.2%); 43.4% of Kern County residents are of Mexican heritage, 1.0% Salvadoran, 0.5% Colombian, and 0.4% Guatemalan.


According to the 2000 United States Census of 2000, there were 661,645 people, 208,652 households, and 156,489 families residing in the county. The population density was 81 people per square mile (31/km2). There were 231,564 housing units at an average density of 28 per square mile (11/km2). The racial makeup of the county was 61.6% White, 6.0% Black or African American, 3.4% Asian, 1.5% Native American, 0.2% Pacific Islander, 23.2% from other races, and 4.1% from two or more races. 38.4% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race. 8.4% were of German, 7.2% American and 5.7% Irish ancestry, according to the census. 66.8% spoke English, 29.1% Spanish and 1.0% Tagalog as their first language.

There were 208,652 households, out of which 42.2% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 54.6% were married couples living together, 14.5% had a female householder with no husband present, and 25.0% were non-families. 20.3% of all households were made up of individuals, and 7.8% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 3.03 and the average family size was 3.50.

In the county, the age distribution of the population shows 31.9% under the age of 18, 10.2% from 18 to 24, 29.8% from 25 to 44, 18.7% from 45 to 64, and 9.4% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 31 years. For every 100 females there were 105.3 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 105.3 males.

The median income for a household in the county was $35,446, and the median income for a family was $39,403. Males had a median income of $38,097 versus $25,876 for females. The per capita income for the county was $15,760. About 16.8% of families and 20.8% of the population were below the poverty line, including 27.8% of those under age 18 and 10.5% of those age 65 or over.

Metropolitan statistical area

The United States Office of Management and Budget has designated Kern County as the Bakersfield, CA Metropolitan Statistical Area. The United States Census Bureau ranked the Bakersfield, CA Metropolitan Statistical Area as the 63rd most populous metropolitan statistical area and the 68th most populous primary statistical area of the United States as of July 1, 2012.


Major highways

  • I-5 (CA).svg Interstate 5
  • US 395 (1961 cutout).svg U.S. Route 395
  • California 14.svg State Route 14
  • California 33.svg State Route 33
  • California 41.svg State Route 41
  • California 43.svg State Route 43
  • California 46.svg State Route 46
  • California 58.svg State Route 58
  • California 65.svg State Route 65
  • California 99.svg State Route 99
  • California 119.svg State Route 119
  • California 155.svg State Route 155
  • California 166.svg State Route 166
  • California 178.svg State Route 178
  • California 184.svg State Route 184
  • California 202.svg State Route 202
  • California 204.svg State Route 204
  • California 223.svg State Route 223

Public transportation

  • Arvin Transit is the local municipal bus operator in and around Arvin.
  • Delano Area Rapid Transit is the local municipal bus operator in Delano.
  • Golden Empire Transit is the local bus operator in and near Bakersfield.
  • Kern Regional Transit provides countywide intercity bus service.
  • Taft Area Transit is the local municipal bus operator in and around Taft.
  • Kern County is also served by Greyhound and Orange Belt Stages buses and Amtrak trains.


  • California City Municipal Airport, California City. (FAA: L71)
  • Delano Municipal Airport, Delano. (IATA: DLO)
  • Inyokern Airport, Inyokern. (IATA: IYK)
  • Kern Valley Airport, Kernville. (FAA: L05)
  • Lost Hills Airport, Lost Hills. (FAA: L84)
  • Meadows Field, Bakersfield, an international and general aviation airport. (IATA: BFL)
  • Mojave Airport, Mojave. (IATA: MHV)
  • Shafter Airport (Minter Field), Shafter. (IATA: MIT)
  • Taft Airport, Taft. (FAA: L17)
  • Tehachapi Municipal Airport, Tehachapi. (IATA: TSP)
  • Wasco Airport, Wasco. (FAA: L19)


Among the outdoor recreational activities are horseback riding, water skiing (Lake Buena Vista, Lake Ming, and private ski ranches), off-road biking and dune buggies (Jawbone Canyon, California City and Randsburg), auto racing (Willow Springs, Buttonwillow, Bakersfield Speedway, Famoso, and an unnamed half-mile speedway under construction), hunting, paint-ball courses, white-water rafting, kayaking, snow skiing (Shirley Meadows and Mount Pinos), shooting ranges (5 Dogs Range), hiking, biking (trails, paths, and roads), camping and fishing.



Census-designated places

Unincorporated communities

Former places

  • Adobe Station
  • Mesa Marin Raceway

Population ranking

The population ranking of the following table is based on the 2010 census of Kern County.

county seat

Rank City/Town/etc. Municipal type Population (2010 Census)
1 Bakersfield City 347,483
2 Delano City 53,041
3 Oildale CDP 32,684
4 Ridgecrest City 27,616
5 Wasco City 25,545
6 Arvin City 19,304
7 Rosamond CDP 18,150
8 Shafter City 16,988
9 Lamont CDP 15,120
10 Tehachapi City 14,414
11 California City City 14,120
12 Rosedale CDP 14,058
13 McFarland City 12,707
14 Taft City 9,327
15 Golden Hills CDP 8,656
16 Greenacres CDP 5,566
17 Bear Valley Springs CDP 5,172
18 Ford City CDP 4,278
19 Mojave CDP 4,238
20 Greenfield CDP 3,991
21 Lake Isabella CDP 3,466
22 Frazier Park CDP 2,691
23 Weedpatch CDP 2,658
24 Weldon CDP 2,642
25 Stallion Springs CDP 2,488
26 Lost Hills CDP 2,412
27 Pine Mountain Club CDP 2,315
28 Boron CDP 2,253
29 Wofford Heights CDP 2,200
30 South Taft CDP 2,169
31 Edwards AFB CDP 2,063
32 Bodfish CDP 1,956
33 Taft Heights CDP 1,949
34 China Lake Acres CDP 1,876
35 Buttonwillow CDP 1,508
36 Lebec CDP 1,468
37 Kernville CDP 1,395
38 Maricopa City 1,154
39 Inyokern CDP 1,099
40 North Edwards CDP 1,058
41 Fuller Acres CDP 991
42 Lake of the Woods CDP 917
43 Mountain Mesa CDP 777
44 Dustin Acres CDP 652
45 Squirrel Mountain Valley CDP 547
46 Valley Acres CDP 527
47 Smith Corner CDP 524
48 Onyx CDP 475
49 Keene CDP 431
50 Derby Acres CDP 322
51 Mexican Colony CDP 281
52 Edmundson Acres CDP 279
53 Cherokee Strip CDP 227
54 Johannesburg CDP 172
55 Tupman CDP 161
56 Mettler CDP 136
57 McKittrick CDP 115
58 Fellows CDP 106
59 Randsburg CDP 69


The county has a large agricultural base and is a significant producer of oil, natural gas, hydro-electric power, solar power, and wind power. Kern is noted for minerals, including gold, borate, and kernite. The largest open pit mine in California, which mines borax, is at Boron. As of October 1, 2016, Kern County contains nearly 25% of California's in-state renewable energy production, including 1,785 MW of solar power and 3,310 MW of wind power. Kern County is home to the Tehachapi Energy Storage Project, which was commissioned in 2014.

Aerospace and military

Department of Defense facilities include Edwards Air Force Base and China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station. As home to Edwards Air Force Base the Air Force's main flight test facility, Kern has been the site of many milestones, including the first supersonic flight and the first landing of the Space Shuttle. The base has brought prosperity to the railroad towns of Mojave and Rosamond. Kern County is also the home of the first inland spaceport in the United States, the Mojave Spaceport.


Major producer of almonds with production greater than 100 million pounds annually.


As of 2015, Kern is California's top oil-producing county, with 78% of the state's 56,653 active oil wells and 71% of oil production. The county produced 144.5 million barrels of oil in 2015, accounting for about 4% of overall U.S. oil production.

Discovery and development

Oil development began with the 1894 discovery of the Midway-Sunset Oil Field, now the third-largest in the United States, in the southwestern portion of Kern County near Maricopa. The 1899 discovery along the Kern River was a breakthrough in oil production. Oil was refined here even before the establishment of the county. The Buena Vista Petroleum Company was organized and incorporated in 1864. Soon thereafter a refinery was built that operated until April 1867 when work ceased because of high freight charges.

The 1910 Lakeview Gusher was the largest recorded oil strike in U.S. history. The well spewed approximately nine million barrels for 18 months before workers finally were able to cap it.

Other big oil fields in southwestern Kern County discovered early in the 20th century include the Buena Vista, the South Belridge and the Cymric fields. The latter is the fastest-growing field in California in terms of barrels produced per year. Later large fields include the Kern River Oil Field, the fifth-largest in the U.S., the adjacent Kern Front Oil Field, the Mount Poso Oil Field in the lower foothills of the Sierra north-northeast of Bakersfield and the Fruitvale Oil Field, which underlies much of the city of Bakersfield, along and north of the Kern River.

On July 22, 2009, Occidental Petroleum announced it had discovered the equivalent of 150 million to 250 million barrels of oil in Kern County, which the company called the largest oil discovery in California in 35 years. The find added about 10 percent to California's known reserves. Occidental's Ray Irani said it is likely that more oil would be found in the areas outside the initial six wells that tapped the discovery. Occidental has not revealed the exact location of the find, two-thirds of which is natural gas. BNET, an industry web publication, said the find would add to the company's 708 million barrels of proven reserves in California.

Petroleum today

The county today contributes more than three-quarters of all the oil produced onshore in California. Some of the large oil fields in Kern County which are still active include:

  • Buena Vista Oil Field
  • Cymric Oil Field
  • Edison Oil Field
  • Elk Hills Oil Field
  • Fruitvale Oil Field
  • Kern Front Oil Field
  • Kern River Oil Field
  • Lost Hills Oil Field
  • McKittrick Oil Field
  • Midway-Sunset Oil Field
  • Mountain View Oil Field
  • Mount Poso Oil Field
  • North Belridge Oil Field
  • Round Mountain Oil Field
  • South Belridge Oil Field

Images for kids

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Condado de Kern para niños

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