The Californian is a direct descendant of the first paper published in the region, The Daily Courier, which was first published in the mining town of Havilah in 1866. It eventually became a weekly newspaper. It moved to Bakersfield, 50 miles southwest, in 1872 and changed the name to The Kern County Weekly Courier. In 1876, the Courier merged with The Southern Californian, another local newspaper, and became The Kern County Californian. The newspaper's name was changed to The Daily Californian in 1891. The Kern County superintendent of schools, Alfred Harrell, purchased the newspaper in 1897, and renamed it The Bakersfield Californian in 1907. For almost 120 years, the newspaper has been in the hands of the Harrell-Fritts family and is currently run by Virginia F. "Ginger" Moorhouse, who is the great-granddaughter of Alfred Harrell.
On August 17, 2009, the weekday editions of the Californian switched to a tabloid format.
The Californian runs several other publications in Kern County including the Tehachapi News, Mas, The Northwest Voice, and The Southwest Voice. Mas was a free, weekly magazine aimed at Bakersfield's large Hispanic population. The Northwest Voice was a prototype for many hyper local news efforts and combines print with online publications, with an emphasis on traditional journalistic reporting. The staff of the Voice newspapers consists of only a few editors to look through all of the online submissions and decide which are to be printed.
In 2004, the paper received the Payne Award for Ethics in Journalism for its coverage of the stabbing death of an assistant district attorney. In 2008, the paper received an $837,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to develop Printcasting, a technology for democratized magazine publishing.
Bakersfield Californian prices are: $1 daily and $2 Sundays, every fourth Saturday (when Bakersfield Life magazine is included) and Thanksgiving Day. Sales tax is included at newsracks; price is higher in designated state areas.