Sixty miles east of Los Angeles, Riverside boasts a number of firsts, including Southern California’s first polo field and golf course. The city also gave birth to the California citrus industry, an entire empire built around the sweet and zesty navel orange. Two dozen nationally registered historic sites and more than 100 city landmarks commemorate this city’s flavorful history, which you can get a taste of on the downtown walking tour, downloadable here or available at the Mission Inn Museum, Riverside Metropolitan Museum, and Riverside City Hall.
Stop in at California Citrus State Historic Park to learn how citrus became king in Southern California. On a ranger-led tour, taste oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruit that grow on the property. Look for more of the city’s citrus past in the Marketplace District’s packing houses and the manicured orange trees lining its downtown streets.
As Riverside flourished, a local family opened the Glenwood Cottages guest house, which later grew into the world-famous Mission Inn Hotel & Spa, the largest Mission Revival–style building in the United States. The inn’s guest list has included presidents Nixon and Reagan, film stars, and royalty. The unmissable block-long inn is adorned with flying buttresses, archways, courtyards, stained-glass windows, a bell tower, a circular wrought-iron staircase, a chapel with a gold altar, and more than $7 million worth of antiques. Spend a night here—or two—or take the 75-minute tour, offered daily. From the inn’s rooftop, the 360-degree view includes nearby Mount Rubidoux, once owned by the inn’s founder. Year-round, the mountain beckons visitors to climb to its white-cross-topped summit. A paved, one-mile trail leads to the top.
Riverside celebrates the new along with the old. More than 20,000 students at the University of California Riverside bring a youthful vibe to the city. Visit the campus to walk through the UCR Botanic Gardens, which comprise 39 acres of gardens, woodlands, and horticultural wonders. For an arts-oriented trip, visit the gallery, exhibition space, and film screening room at the Culver Center of the Arts, set in a renovated 1895 department store, and the neighboring UCR California Museum of Photography, one of the West’s best photographic museums. Also worth a trip is the Riverside Art Museum, designed by architect Julia Morgan of Hearst Castle fame.
When night falls, check out who’s performing at the elegant Fox Performing Arts Center, a 1929 Spanish Colonial Revival theater that held the first public screening of Gone With the Wind. Before the show, grab a few eclectic starters (like Kung Pao Cracker Jack, a combo of fried peanuts, popcorn, and spicy garlic) and a pint of craft beer at popular gastropub The Salted Pig. Or go afterward to take advantage of the restaurant’s creative cocktails and late-night ramen special, served 10 p.m.–1 a.m.
With its inviting destinations and uncrowded wilderness, this region feels like an insider’s secret amid the bustling excitement of Southern California.
Mount San Gorgonio—nicknamed “Old Grayback”—is the tallest peak in Southern California, at 11,502 feet/3,506 meters.
Surprising alpine scenery around Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear beckons, with pine-scented trails in summer and winter sports when the snow flies. If you’re into action, get the adrenaline rush of seeing the world’s best NASCAR racers compete at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana. For a dreamier escape, float in a hot-air balloon above rolling Temecula Valley wine country.
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