PopulationMetro: 893,119
An essential country music pilgrimage spot for any serious fan, Bakersfield is investing in a walkable city center and telling its story far and wide.

Once known only for agriculture and oil, which was discovered in the Kern River region almost two centuries ago, Bakersfield has a few surprises up its short sleeve. Slowly, the city has become a hub for arts, music and culture.

Bako, as locals affectionately call it, is probably the best place in the nation (outside of Nashville and Austin) to hear live country music. In 1996, Buck Owens, the city’s favorite son, opened Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace—a country music version of Hard Rock Cafe, with a bandstand and a dance floor. The venue is also home to a museum filled with music memorabilia, much of it from the 1960s when Owens put his stamp on the music scene. Before he passed in 2006, the Country Music Hall of Famer performed almost every weekend. He was not the only famous regular. Merle Haggard, who was born and raised in nearby Oildale, and Dwight Yoakam, who had a No. 1 hit a decade back with a song called “A Town South of Bakersfield” also made regular appearances on stage.

Place 41
Product 17
Programming 23
People 53
Prosperity 42
Promotion 41

Bakersfield’s art and nightlife scene is heating up, too. The city’s gallery-filled Arts District, home to the 1930 Fox Theater that has hosted performances ranging from pop music to film noir. The city’s Antique Row, a place for vintage finds and Instagram bounty. Nearby is the swanky Padre Hotel, with a rooftop lounge that’s become a popular spot for sunset cocktails.

For a city with a population of just over a quarter million, Bakersfield does a commendable job telling its story (and helping visitors do the same) online and through social channels. We rank a city’s Promotion performance against its quantity of stories, references and recommendations shared online, including the sub-categories of Google Search Results, Google trends, Facebook Check-ins, and TripAdvisor Reviews.

A quick search on Instagram reveals almost a million #bakersfield tagged posts, more than 30,000 places reviewed on TripAdvisor, and even more Facebook check-ins, proving that while the city’s appeal maybe not be readily apparent, for those willing to dig deep the rewards are plenty.