Are you visiting the San Joaquin Valley area or thinking about relocating to California’s Central Valley? Kern County is famous as the oil capital of the world and produces 10% of America’s oil supply. However, it has much more to offer.
Kern County, California is a region of extremes: the Mojave Desert with its desert tortoises, gorgeous sunsets, and stark beauty; the Tehachapi and Sierra Nevada mountain ranges with high-altitude communities, snowy winters, and grazing elk; the lush San Joaquin Valley with its agriculture fields; and the oil fields with more than 10,000 active wells.
Whether you’re looking for a Central Valley city with the quality of life and affordability you’re after or you’re just exploring the region, this list of cities in Kern County is a good place to start. We’ll cover demographics and attractions of the largest 10 of the county’s 11 cities. Note that this guide only covers cities, not census-designated places (CDPs) and unincorporated communities.
Here’s everything you want to know about the largest Kern County cities and the county itself.
About Kern County, California
Kern County is the 11th largest county in California by population, but third largest by land area. It’s also the third most populous majority-Hispanic county in California and 6th nationwide. Kern County is known for its gas and oil extraction and agriculture.
Where is Kern County, California? The county is one of 10 of the 58 state counties in Southern California. Kern County is at the southern end of the Central Valley in California and extends to the Coast Ranges in the west, the Sierra Nevada mountains and the Mojave Desert to the east, and the Antelope Valley to the north. It’s bordered by the following counties:
- Los Angeles County
- Ventura County
- San Bernardino County
- Inyo County
- Tulare County
- Kings County
- San Luis Obispo County
There are 11 cities in Kern County, CA, although the smallest, Maricopa, has just 1,100 residents. There are also 48 census-designated places (CDPs) like Pine Mountain Club and other Mountain Communities in the Tejon Pass plus 61 other unincorporated communities. Three CDPs are large enough to be among the top ten largest communities in the county: Oildale (36,000), Rosamond (21,000), and Rosedale (18,700).
The southeastern area of the county is part of California’s High Desert while the county seat, Bakersfield, is located in the San Joaquin Valley. The Tehachapi Mountain Range separates the High Desert (Mojave Desert) from the valley. Kern County, California has an elevation ranging from 206 feet to 8,755 feet. Arvin is the lowest city with an elevation of 449 feet. Bakersfield is at 860-foot elevation while the city of Tehachapi is the Kern County city at the highest elevation of 3,970 feet.
Kern County Demographics
- Kern County, CA population: 909,235
- Area: 8,132 square miles
- Population density: 110 people per square mile
- Median age: 31.9
- Kern County median household income: $53,067
- Kern County median home price: $329,000
- Educational attainment: 76% high school grad or higher; 17% bachelor’s degree or higher
- Bakersfield population: 403,455
- Population growth: +16.10% from 2010 to 2020
- Area: 149.8 square miles
- Population density: 2,565 people per square mile
- Median age: 31.4
- Bakersfield median household income: $62,402
- Bakersfield median home price: $345,000
- Educational attainment: 81% high school grad or higher; 22% bachelor’s degree or higher
- Bakersfield map
Bakersfield is the largest city in Kern County and the county seat. Nicknamed the “country music capital of the West Coast” and known for its distinctive “Bakersfield sound,” Bakersfield is also a hub for agriculture and energy.
Bakersfield is experiencing a dramatic population boom, beating out the state’s other large cities like San Francisco and Sacramento. Much of this growth is attributed to the low cost of living in Bakersfield. While most of California has become unaffordable for the typical family, Bakersfield was recently ranked the most affordable place to live in America. A study found a resident earning the $11 minimum wage only needs to work 20 hours a week to afford the $725 monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment and $208 in average utilities.
A growing number of millennials ready to buy a home and looking for an affordable market are turning to Bakersfield where $345,000 seems like a bargain in a state with a median home price of $745,000!
- Delano population: 51,428
- Population growth: -3.04% from 2010 to 2020
- Area: 14.3 square miles
- Population density: 3,702 people per square mile
- Median age: 30.4
- Delano median household income: $43,641
- Delano median home price: $294,000
- Educational attainment: 58% high school grad or higher; 8% bachelor’s degree or higher
- Delano, CA map
Even though it’s second on this list of Kern County cities by population, Delano’s population is only one-eighth that of Bakersfield. Best known for growing table grapes, Delano is also home to Kern Valley State Prison and North Kern State Prison. These state prisons account for a large share of the jobs in the city. About 20% of Delano’s population is incarcerated in these prisons.
While living in Delano, you can enjoy a great quality of life with plenty of nearby amenities. The Aviator Casino in the Delano Municipal Airport is a popular nightlife destination while Delano Heritage Park is one of the top attractions for families with a museum in a restored historic building.
- Ridgecrest population: 27,959
- Population growth: +1.24% from 2010 to 2020
- Area: 20.9 square miles
- Population density: 1,377 people per square mile
- Median age: 36
- Ridgecrest median household income: $69,577
- Ridgecrest median home price: $235,000
- Educational attainment: 90% high school grad or higher; 28% bachelor’s degree or higher
- Ridgecrest, CA map
Ridgecrest tops the list of cities in Kern County, California in terms of education and affluence. Most people moving to Ridgecrest, CA are doing so for Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, the primary job base in the area with almost 8,000 jobs.
Ridgecrest is one of the most isolated Kern County cities as it’s surrounded by four mountain ranges. The nearest major urban areas are Lancaster/Palmdale (82 miles), Bakersfield (110 miles), and San Bernardino (120 miles). However, it offers a strong sense of community, beautiful outdoors, and clear, star-filled skies. Ridgecrest has a great public school system, Cerro Coso Community College, and an excellent parks and rec department for sports and other activities. There are also great on-base amenities like China Lake Golf Course.
- Wasco population: 27,047
- Population growth: +5.88% from 2010 to 2020
- Area: 9.4 square mile
- Population density: 2,897 people per square mile
- Median age: 29.7
- Wasco median household income: $39,250
- Wasco median home price: $272,000
- Educational attainment: 57% high school grad or higher; 4% bachelor’s degree or higher
- Wasco, CA map
Wasco is one of the largest cities in Kern County by population and the headquarters of the Tejon Indian Tribe of California. Located in the San Joaquin Valley about 25 miles outside of Bakersfield, Wasco is known for its rose industry. 55% of all roses grown in America are grown here! Like many Kern County, CA cities, Wasco’s economy is focused on agriculture, oil, and gas extraction.
- Shafter population: 19,953
- Population growth: +17.45% from 2010 to 2020
- Area: 38.7 square miles
- Population density: 502 people per square mile
- Median age: 27.2
- Shafter median household income: $45,854
- Shafter median home price: $305,000
- Educational attainment: 56% high school grad or higher; 10% bachelor’s degree or higher
- Shafter, CA map
Shafter was the fastest growing of all cities in Kern County over the last decade, posting a growth rate of almost 18% in just ten years. It’s easy to see why Shafter’s population is growing while most Kern County cities are declining. Just 18 miles outside Bakersfield, Shafter was long an agriculture community, but its economy has diversified to include manufacturing, energy, and logistics and it’s the only city in California’s Central Valley with a fiber optic network.
The Paramount Logistics Park is a master-planned and rail-served industrial development in the city offering build-to-suit industrial facilities, rail access to ports in Los Angeles and Long Beach, direct highway access, and close proximity to shipping hubs and an airport. The logistics park alone is expected to contribute to continued growth, economic prosperity, and job opportunities in Shafter for years to come.
Shafter has plenty to offer professionals and families. The Richland School District offers an excellent education and participates in many academic competitions. Residents enjoy beautiful parks like Mannel Park with plenty of shade, a playground, and workout stations.
Find out if you’ll love living in Shafter, CA with our complete guide!
- Arvin population: 19,495
- Population growth: +0.99% from 2010 to 2020
- Area: 4.8 square miles
- Population density: 4,409 people per square mile
- Median age: 25.3
- Arvin median household income: $38,464
- Arvin median home price: $260,000
- Educational attainment: 37% high school grad or higher; 2% bachelor’s degree or higher
- Arvin, CA map
The small city of Arvin lies just 15 miles southeast of Bakersfield in the southern part of the San Joaquin Valley. The city is located directly over the Mountain View Oil Field which was discovered in 1933. Interestingly, the oil field is below the rich, agricultural bottomlands of the valley unlike most oil fields in Kern County in the hilly, arid region.
Oil wells can still be seen surrounding the town, including slant-drilled wells to access oil formations under the town itself and wells amid fields of crops and adjacent to homes. While the oil field is still active, Arvin is primarily an agricultural community.
#7. California City
- California City population: 14,973
- Population growth: +6.04% from 2010 to 2020
- Area: 203.6 square miles
- Population density: 68 people per square mile
- Median age: 34.9
- California City median household income: $49,022
- California City median home price: $257,000
- Educational attainment: 79% high school grad or higher; 11% bachelor’s degree or higher
- California City, CA map
California City is the largest of all cities in Kern County, California by area with more land than even Bakersfield! In fact, it’s the third largest city in California by land area. Of course, that also means it has a very low population density and a lot of open space to explore.
Most people living in California City are employees of the Edwards Air Force Base 18 miles out of town, the Mojave Air and Space Port which conducts test flight operations, the Hyundai/Kia Proving Grounds, or the California City Correctional Center.
Located in northern Antelope Valley about 67 miles southeast of Bakersfield and 110 miles north of Los Angeles, California City isn’t dependent on the oil fields like most Kern County cities. It offers some of the best attractions in the county including the picturesque Central Park with the municipal Tierra del Sol golf course and a community center. The nearby Desert Tortoise Research Natural Area is a great place for desert hiking and wildlife viewing, especially the desert tortoises which are most active during the early morning and evening.
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- McFarland population: 14,161
- Population growth: +11.44% from 2010 to 2020
- Area: 2.7 square miles
- Population density: 5,555 people per square mile
- Median age: 26.2
- McFarland median household income: $35,346
- McFarland median home price: $277,000
- Educational attainment: 52% high school grad or higher; 3% bachelor’s degree or higher
- McFarland, CA map
Just 6 miles south of Delano and 25 miles northwest of Bakersfield is the small city of McFarland. It’s the most densely populated of all Kern County cities with less than three square miles of area. It also has a notably young population and experienced double-digit population growth since the 2010 census. McFarland is one of the few cities in the county to experience significant population growth.
McFarland, California is in the heart of the farming region of the San Joaquin Valley. The community is still based on agriculture with roses, potatoes, cotton, and sugar beets representing some of the largest crops in addition to an almond hulling factory and citrus processing plant. McFarland is best known for the 2015 film McFarland USA starring Kevin Costner and portraying a true story about the high school’s cross country team.
- Tehachapi population: 12,939
- Population growth: -10.23% from 2010 to 2020
- Area: 10.2 square miles
- Population density: 1,249 people per square mile
- Median age: 37.4
- Tehachapi median household income: $54,083
- Tehachapi median home price: $357,000
- Educational attainment: 77% high school grad or higher; 13% bachelor’s degree or higher
- Tehachapi, CA map
Tehachapi is one of the smallest cities in Kern County, but it’s one of the most charming and scenic places to live. Located 20 miles west of Mojave in the Mojave Desert and 35 miles outside Bakersfield, Tehachapi sits high in the Tehachapi Mountains at an elevation of almost 4,000 feet. The region was once home to the Kawaiisu people and the city’s name is believed to come from a Kawaiisu word for “hard climb.”
Tehachapi is known for the large Tehachapi Pass Wind Farm, the Tehachapi Depot Museum, and the Tehachapi Loop, a large railway spiral well-known among rail buffs. Residents enjoy pristine nature, gorgeous mountain views, hiking, mountain biking, and perfect gliding conditions. While the San Joaquin Valley just 30 minutes away has a hot desert climate, Tehachapi has a subtropical Mediterranean climate with four seasons, about 20” of annual snowfall, and a large herd of elk.
Here’s everything you should know about living in Tehachapi, CA!
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- Taft population: 8,546
- Population growth: -8.37% from 2010 to 2020
- Area: 15.3 square miles
- Population density: 614 people per square mile
- Median age: 34.6
- Taft median household income: $45,197
- Taft median home price: $230,000
- Educational attainment: 73% high school grad or higher; 11% bachelor’s degree or higher
- Taft, CA map
Taft is last on this list of cities in Kern County by population, but it shouldn’t be overlooked! Founded as Siding Number Two, residents requested the Southern Pacific Railroad change the station name to Moro but, due to a similarity to the coastal community of Morro Bay, the station was instead named Moron. It was renamed for President Taft in 1909 after a fire destroyed most of the town.
Taft is located about 32 miles outside Bakersfield in the southwest corner of the San Joaquin Valley. Its location between two major oil fields is responsible for its growth and continued existence. It was once the operational headquarters for Standard Oil (now Chevron) with other major oil companies like Shell, Mobil, and ARCO all operating in the area.
The city has experienced some exciting new development in recent years including Black Gold Brewing Company and the reopening of the historic Taft Fox Theater. The city’s Taft-Kern County Airport is a popular destination for parachuting in Kern County and skydiving is offered through Skydive Taft.
Map of Cities in Kern County
List of Cities in Kern County, California
Kern County Cities FAQ
How many cities are in Kern County, California?
There are eleven Kern County, CA cities. The smallest has a population of fewer than 1,500. There are 48 CDPs, several with a population of 15,000+.
What is the most populous city in Kern County?
The largest city in Kern County is Bakersfield with a population of 403,000. That’s 44% of the county’s total population.
What is the population of Kern County, CA?
The total Kern County, CA population is 909,000. It’s the 11th largest California county by population.
Which of These Kern County Cities Is Right for You?
Are you ready to call the San Joaquin Valley or Mojave Desert home? If you have settled on moving to Kern County, Mentors Moving & Storage is standing by to make your relocation easy and hassle-free. Give us a call once you finalize your plans to request a free moving quote and discuss how we can help you!