Here's our growing guide to essential California adventures, easy to edgy. We'll be adding to it daily all year. And we won't suggest an adventure unless one of the Travel section's staffers and contributors have tried it.
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Why: You'll sit down at a long, loud table with dozens of strangers, eat whatever the chef is cooking, drink from unlabeled wine bottles (and maybe pour a little red into your vanilla ice cream dessert, as is the house custom). By meal's end, you'll be surrounded by new friends. Your belly with be very, very full. And you might know a little more about Basques and the West.
What: There are several Basque restaurants along the train tracks in eastern Bakersfield, a legacy of the years when Basques owned and worked sheep ranches in California, Nevada and Idaho , clinging to their memories and native cuisine from the Pyrenees mountains along the border of France and Spain.
Noriega Hotel Restaurant — Noriega's, the locals say — goes back to 1893, and still has a boarding house next door. (On my last visit in January, there was a B from the Kern County Public Health Services displayed in a barred window.) The kitchen serves three meals a day, and dinner, at 7 p.m. sharp, is the big attraction. You take a seat at a long table, greet your new neighbors and prepare for an onslaught of plates.
On Thursdays, you get garlic fried chicken and spare ribs. On Fridays, an omelette or beef stew and leg of lamb. On Saturdays, oxtail stew and fried chicken. Every night but Monday (when they close), the side dishes include pickled tongue, cottage cheese, a little spaghetti and blue cheese. Good food. Great quantities. Reservations recommended.
Where: 525 Sumner St., Bakersfield, 114 miles north of downtown L.A.
How much: Adult dinner, $24. Lunch, $18.
Info: Noriega Hotel Restaurant