Wealthy residents are fleeing LA, San Francisco and Orange County to little-known city dubbed the ‘armpit’ of California – but some locals are FURIOUS about invasion

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Written By Maya Cantina
  • Bakersfield’s a far cry from its brethren in the Bay Area and Southern California
  • It features cows and open farmland – and recently, a wave of coastal Californians
  • They’re fleeing inland to find affordable housing, and some locals aren’t happy

Affordable real estate in Cali city hotspots is hard to come by – so much so that wealthy citizens are increasingly fleeing inland to a city dubbed ‘the armpit’ of the golden state.  

Enter Bakersfield – a locale that’s a far cry from its Bay Area brethren – and better known for its heat and pollution. 

It’s comprised mostly of cows and open farmland – and now, real estate data shows, thousands of coastal Californians. 

Local influencers have also hopped on the trend, though some aren’t as thrilled about the new phenomenon, fearing gentrification could push up house prices. 

But as costly cities like LA and San Francisco are ravaged by crime, homelessness and drug crises, there is no stopping the influx of newcomers looking to escape the ‘rat race’.  

Affordable real estate in Cali city hotspots is hard to come by – so much so that wealthy citizens are increasingly fleeing inland to a city dubbed ‘the armpit’ of the golden state 

TikToker @mbtrama (at right) recently shared a video chronicling her life in the rural getaway, showing how she and her fiancée (at left) moved there after leaving LA in 2022

TikToker @mbtrama (at right) recently shared a video chronicling her life in the rural getaway, showing how she and her fiancée (at left) moved there after leaving LA in 2022

Enter not-so-scenic Bakersfield - a locale that's a far cry from its Bay Area brethren, located in California's sprawling Central Valley

Enter not-so-scenic Bakersfield – a locale that’s a far cry from its Bay Area brethren, located in California’s sprawling Central Valley

Newcomer Alvarado Vazquez, a SoCal mortgage analyst, left LA satellite Tustin for the town this past year and says he and his wife have yet to look back, citing the small city’s ‘slower pace of life’. 

‘People need to understand that living in Orange County is just a rat race,’ he told SFGate of his past life in the notoriously expensive LA metro area, where his mortgage was $2,600 more than it is now.

 ‘It’s paycheck by paycheck.’  

He said he with wife Elizabeth Vasquez plan on using the extra cash to travel, after selling their four-bed, 1,8000 square foot for $1.1million.

They now own a home with a pool purchased for the fraction of the cost – $459,000 to be exact, he said.

‘It may be hotter,’ he said of the city’s infamous heat, ‘but now, I’ve got a swimming pool.’

Statistics and posts on social media show how the couple are not alone, following a trend of fed-up Californians fleeing the coast to smaller, cheaper towns following the pandemic.

Often emboldened by jobs that allow for remote work, many have moved to the Central Valley – the broad, elongated expanse of land that dominates the interior of the state.

Within that valley sits cities like Stockton and Fresno, both of which are urban and known for abnormally high crime rates.

However, more eagle-eyed homebuyers may also stumble upon relatively rural Bakersfield, which, with its rolling countryside and mountains, boasts a decidedly different feel.

Located only a two hours’ drive from LA, some have dubbed it the ‘Texas of California.’

Influencers (pictured) have also hopped on the trend, as some aren't as thrilled about the  phenomenon

Influencers (pictured) have also hopped on the trend, as some aren’t as thrilled about the  phenomenon

The small city is surrounded by rolling countryside, including the scenic Lake Isabella (seen here) and Sequoia Mountains (in the background)

The small city is surrounded by rolling countryside, including the scenic Lake Isabella (seen here) and Sequoia Mountains (in the background)

It's comprised mostly of cows and open farmland - and now, real estate data shows, thousands of coastal Californians

It’s comprised mostly of cows and open farmland – and now, real estate data shows, thousands of coastal Californians

Over the past four years, eagle-eyed homebuyers have continued to stumble upon the relatively rural paradise, which, aside from its rolling plains and mountains, is located less than 100 miles from SoCal

Over the past four years, eagle-eyed homebuyers have continued to stumble upon the relatively rural paradise, which, aside from its rolling plains and mountains, is located less than 100 miles from SoCal

It sports several oil refineries and no shortage of cattle, as well as a massive Amazon fulfillment center that opened just months after the first Covid case was detected in the US.

There, workers, by and large, are paid $15-an-hour – compensation that would not get one far in the competitive housing markets seen in California’s coastal cities.

But in Bakersfield, rents for a one bed could be as low as $800 and as a result it recently ranked among the places with 100 percent-plus increases in the number of people looking to move there following the pandemic.

The top origins of homebuyers moving into the agricultural and energy hotspot from out of town were Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay area and Tampa, Florida, a 2021 report by Redfin.com found.

More recent data recorded from January to March of 2024, meanwhile, showed how thousands of LA residents searched for homes in Bakersfield during those months – drawing more interest than any other city on the platform.

In second place was none other than San Francisco, which typically ranks among the top three most expensive cities in the country, several studies have shown.

Like Alvarado – and others who spoke to The New York Times about the relatively new phenomenon – they’ve been captivated not only by the city’s abundance of parks and trails, but its cost of living.

‘It’s like the American dream,’ said Edlin Gonzales, then 33, after leaving her studio apartment near LA’s bustling Miracle Mile in January 2021. She has lived in Bakersfield – in a spacious three-bedroom – ever since, she told the paper.

‘My parents were immigrants, so that’s the idea of success,’ she said of her now home that came complete with hardwood floors, a yard, and a pool – all for just $342,000.

Remembering how a friend from New York was impressed during a visit, Gonzales recalled: ‘She was like, “I love this. I want to move to a place like this.'” 

Like other transplants, Gonzales works remotely – as was the case with Autumn Paine, a 45-year-old lawyer who gave up on her old home the Bay Area in 2020. 

Evening view of the Fox Theater along H street in Bakersfield's Downtown District, where many of the newcomers have moved

Evening view of the Fox Theater along H street in Bakersfield’s Downtown District, where many of the newcomers have moved

Newcomers are undeterred by the pump jacks scattered across the vast, surrounding countryside of Kern County, which endlessly pump petroleum and send fumes into the skies overhead. Pictured: Landscape of the Kern River Oil Field, where oil pump jacks work endlessly

Newcomers are undeterred by the pump jacks scattered across the vast, surrounding countryside of Kern County, which endlessly pump petroleum and send fumes into the skies overhead. Pictured: Landscape of the Kern River Oil Field, where oil pump jacks work endlessly

Data recorded by Redfin from January to March of 2024, meanwhile, showed how thousands of LA residents searched for homes in Bakersfield during those months - drawing more interest than any other city on the platform

Data recorded by Redfin from January to March of 2024, meanwhile, showed how thousands of LA residents searched for homes in Bakersfield during those months – drawing more interest than any other city on the platform

The smell of petroleum throughout the city's streets has not stopped influencers for hopping on the transplant train, taking to their respective platforms to talk up the town and its affordability

The smell of petroleum throughout the city’s streets has not stopped influencers for hopping on the transplant train, taking to their respective platforms to talk up the town and its affordability

They are seen marveling at the concept of monthly rents less than $1,000, as the city's population increased by just under 40,000 over the past four years

They are seen marveling at the concept of monthly rents less than $1,000, as the city’s population increased by just under 40,000 over the past four years

She told the paper how she and her husband, fed up with the hustle and bustle, wanted a home in place where they could forgo their cars and the infamous Bay Area traffic

During a visit to Kern County in the spring of 2020, they stumbled upon Bakersfield, and were almost-immediately sold.

‘We were like, ‘Should we do this?’ she recalled of the conservative California hotspot also known for its walkability, at a bar steps away from her front door.

‘Like, who moves to Bakersfield?’

After the move Paine could walk a block to work everyday to an office near the city’s courthouse, in a neighborhood rife with museums and restaurants.

Gonzales, meanwhile, said she also enjoys being closer to her parents, who live in fellow farm town Delano, while also being just 100 miles from her old home along the coast.

Her Doberman pinscher, she added, appreciates the big yard, while she’s just thankful the city’s cost of living has enabled her to become a homeowner while still in her 30s.

Thousands of others whom have followed suit since are likely similarly inclined, descending on the town in search of square footage as housing markets tighten around them.

They’ve been undeterred by the pump jacks scattered across the vast, surrounding countryside of Kern County, which endlessly pump petroleum and send fumes into the skies overhead.

Temperatures that typically top the triple digits – sometimes for two months at a time – have also failed to scare away transplants, likely motivated by the prospect of a backyard, extra bedroom or commute measured in minutes.

In 2020, when state demographers recorded California’s first-ever population decrease, Bakersfield saw its population jump to 400,000, up from about 380,000 the year before.

Today, it boasts around 416,100 citizens, growing at a rate of 0.66 percent annually, per the US Census. 

This makes it fastest-growing city in the entire state, while being poorest in terms of air quality in the country. 

The smell of petroleum, moreover, is often detectable around the city, but this has not stopped influencers for hopping on the transplant train.

In 2020, when state demographers recorded California's first-ever population decrease, Bakersfield saw its population jump to 400,000, up from about 380,000 the year before

In 2020, when state demographers recorded California’s first-ever population decrease, Bakersfield saw its population jump to 400,000, up from about 380,000 the year before

Today, it boasts around 416,100 citizens, growing at a rate of 0.66 percent annually, per the US Census

Today, it boasts around 416,100 citizens, growing at a rate of 0.66 percent annually, per the US Census

'Why Bakersfield is the best city to move to in California,' outlined TikTok Realtor Charles Peyton in a 2023 post published just weeks before. 'It's centrally located,' he continued, explaining how residents are 'only an hour-and-half hours from the coast'

‘Why Bakersfield is the best city to move to in California,’ outlined TikTok Realtor Charles Peyton in a 2023 post published just weeks before. ‘It’s centrally located,’ he continued, explaining how residents are ‘only an hour-and-half hours from the coast’

On TikTok and Instagram, realtors and homebuyers alike relish in the reality of West Coast life that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.  

‘I recently left my life in the LA area and moved to Bakersfield to live with my fiancé,’ TikToker @mbtrama recently said in November video that chronicled her new life in Bakersfield after leaving LA. 

‘It’s been one amazing & crazy year!’ she said, over a video that showed her and her partner exploring the surrounding landscape.

‘My fiancé has been a competitive athlete most of his life,’ she added.

‘We are both in our late 50’s and love to be active. He is a runner and we both like to hike. 

‘Come follow us on our new life together,’ she concluded, as others urged onlookers to capitalize on the Bakersfield buying craze.  

‘Why Bakersfield is the best city to move to in California,’ outlined TikTok Realtor Charles Peyton in a 2023 post published just weeks before. 

‘It’s centrally located,’ he continued, explaining how residents are ‘only an hour-and-half hours from the coast.’

Not only that, he said, ‘you’re one-and-a-half hours from skiing and snowboarding’ further inland at the ski resort Alta Sierra – Shirley Meadows, which features a mile and a half of the state’s best slopes. 

You’re also an hour-and-a-half hours from the scenic Sequoia Mountains, he said – citing the majestic views  the mountains off of the county’s characteristic countryside.

What’s more, ‘the home you can get in LA for $2million, you can get in Bakersfield for around $500,000 to $550,000’, he added.

‘A lot of people are moving to Bakersfield,’ he continued, pointing to publicly available statistics.

‘If you’re looking to start a new life, [in] a place that is exciting with a lot of growth, Bakersfield is the place to be,’ he said. ‘It’s also a great place to start a family.’

Others expressed more of the same, marveling at the concept of monthly rents lower than $1,000.

But there have also been naysayers – some of whom have been put off by the city’s new crowd, and the rising price-tags that come with it. 

'A lot of people are moving to Bakersfield,' one influencer said, pointing to publicly available statistics. 'If you're looking to start a new life, [in] a place that is exciting with a lot of growth, Bakersfield is the place to be,' he went on. 'It's also a great place to start a family'

‘A lot of people are moving to Bakersfield,’ one influencer said, pointing to publicly available statistics. ‘If you’re looking to start a new life, [in] a place that is exciting with a lot of growth, Bakersfield is the place to be,’ he went on. ‘It’s also a great place to start a family’

But there have also been naysayers - some of whom have been put off by the city's new crowd, and the rising price-tags that come with it. Pictured: Doc's Bikes shop Barber shop in Bakersfield on June 21, 2004

But there have also been naysayers – some of whom have been put off by the city’s new crowd, and the rising price-tags that come with it. Pictured: Doc’s Bikes shop Barber shop in Bakersfield on June 21, 2004

'Gentrification is the wolf that lurks on my shoulder all the time,' Lorelei Oviatt, Kern County¿s planning director, said in 2021, as the trend started to take hold. 'How do you lift the quality of the community while preserving the culture?'

‘Gentrification is the wolf that lurks on my shoulder all the time,’ Lorelei Oviatt, Kern County’s planning director, said in 2021, as the trend started to take hold. ‘How do you lift the quality of the community while preserving the culture?’

They are skeptical that Bakersfield – once a refuge for Oklahomans fleeing the Dust Bowl – will eventually suffer the same fate as other white-collar California exurbs, as new residents continue to commute to places like LA for work.

‘Gentrification is the wolf that lurks on my shoulder all the time,’ Lorelei Oviatt, Kern County’s planning director, said in 2021, as the trend started to take hold.

‘How do you lift the quality of the community while preserving the culture?’

She and others also claim that wealthier newcomers like Alvarado, Gonzales, and Paine could widen the already present gaps seen in the community, where most  work in farming, fishing and forestry and earn a median wage of $16 per hour, data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics shows.

By contrast, many of the new homeowners migrating from coastal cities have flexible jobs in tech, sales and management, local realtors said – adding that these customers often buy properties in cash. 

This new demand continues to raise the price of previously affordable homes.

In 2021, the median price of a house in Kern County, the mostly rural expanse that includes Bakersfield, was $340,000, less than half of that of the state. 

As of February 2024, the median sale price of a single-family home was nearly 60 percent higher than in 2019, at around $400,000.

Back in 2021, The median price of a house in Kern County, the mostly rural expanse that includes Bakersfield, was $340,000, less than half of that of the state

Back in 2021, The median price of a house in Kern County, the mostly rural expanse that includes Bakersfield, was $340,000, less than half of that of the state

That's still $400,000 cheaper than the average from the rest of the state, with access to much better views - not to mention less crime

That’s still $400,000 cheaper than the average from the rest of the state, with access to much better views – not to mention less crime

Meanwhile, debate as to whether to change the kinds of jobs available - and to market the city less as an outer borough of LA and more as a gateway to California's central farmland - continues, as an 'incredible amount of people' continue to move there from LA, San Francisco and Orange County,

Meanwhile, debate as to whether to change the kinds of jobs available – and to market the city less as an outer borough of LA and more as a gateway to California’s central farmland – continues, as an ‘incredible amount of people’ continue to move there from LA, San Francisco and Orange County,

Still, that’s some $400,000 cheaper than the average for the rest of the state, with a great deal less crime.

Apartment vacancies being at historic lows has also sparked fears transplants will push out residents, with single-family homes currently spending just a median of 31 days on the market, data on Redfin shows.

That’s a nine-day decrease year over year from last year, which itself was down from previous, pre-pandemic years.  

That said, while home values have increased, experts also say there have yet to be any real signs the market is spiraling out of reach, with homes in Bakersfield still a great deal cheaper than somewhere like LA, where a single family home regularly fetches $1.2million.

Speaking to the Times, Jenny Schuetz, an urban economist with the Brookings Institution, said of this relative affordability: ‘It’s still a bargain, price-wise, compared to most places in California.’

Debate as to whether to change the kinds of jobs available to residents – and to market the city less as an outer borough of Los Angeles and more as a southern hotspot for California’s landlocked farmland – continues.

Meanwhile, an ‘incredible amount of people’ continue to move to Bakersfield from Los Angeles, San Francisco and Orange County, Redfin real estate agent Tenia Williams said.

Citing ‘a slower pace of life, she told SFGate: ‘I think that’s what people like. Especially when they’re coming from a place like LA.’ 

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