In 1929, a letter from the Bakersfield Lion’s Club was published in the local paper encouraging the citizens of Kern County to donate historical materials to the County Chamber of Commerce. The response was overwhelming. Family after family brought items and papers that documented the history of Kern County and the people who called it home. In 1941, by issuance of County Ordinance, the Kern County Museum was founded with its original mission to “collect, preserve, research, and present the history and culture of Kern County for the education and enjoyment of the public.” Excitement about the new Museum was high; but, due to the scarcity of resources during World War II, full operations did not begin in earnest until 1945, when the Museum officially opened in the Kern County Chamber of Commerce building in Bakersfield, California. 

Before long, the new Museum encompassed the entire Chamber of Commerce building. An outdoor exhibit—1868 Barnes family log house—was added on the former County fair grounds property adjacent to the Chamber of Commerce Building. By 1952, growth of the Museum as a tourist attraction, ancillary educational facility, and as a community cultural center, prompted the Chamber of Commerce to seek new quarters. In 1976, the Lori Brock Children’s Discovery Center was opened on the grounds of the Museum. Initially operated by a separate nonprofit with assistance from the Junior League of Bakersfield, the Discovery Center merged with the Museum in 1993 and has become an important element of Museum operations by providing exciting, educational hands-on experiences for visitors ages 8 and under. 

Like many county museums across the nation, the Kern County Museum in the early 1990s faced reductions in County funding. The formation of the not-for-profit Kern County Museum Foundation in 1991 to raise private-sector funding helped to fill in the gap. While the Foundation made steady progress, the County realized the Museum needed financing at a level it could no longer solely provide. To address this concern, the County entered into a Joint Powers Agreement (JPA) with the Kern County Superintendent of Schools. The JPA established the Kern County Museum Authority to oversee the operation and maintenance of the Museum and provide an additional source of funding.

In 2012, the Kern County Museum Authority was discontinued and the responsibility for the museum's operations and maintenance was turned over to the newly re-formed not-for-profit Kern County Museum Foundation.  Today, the Kern County Museum is administered by th 501c3 organization under an operating agreement with the County of Kern. 

The Aera Engery Gallery, housed in the historic Chamber of Commerce building, is home to the new History of the Golden Empire Exhibit which provides a detailed outline of Kern County's history and agricultural significance. The outdoor complex, Pioneer Village, contains more than 50 buildings, including historic structures that represent different aspects of the County’s history, and several facilities for administration, maintenance of the grounds, exhibits, and artifacts. The Museum supports the concept of lifelong learning, offering a variety of programs targeted to specific ages and interests, along with programs families can enjoy together.