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San Bernardino

San Bernardino

Drive along a stretch of Route 66, explore nearby mountains, and discover the history of this Inland Empire city

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The second-largest city in the Inland Empire and home to a stretch of the legendary Route 66San Bernardino has long been the gateway to Southern California.

Traveling in covered wagons, Mormon pioneers descended through Cajon Pass in 1851 and settled at the base of the mountains before San Bernardino grew into a railroad town with the 1875 arrival of the Southern Pacific and later, the Santa Fe Railway. Today, the restored 1918 Santa Fe Depot, a Mission Revival national historic landmark notable for its domes and towers, is home to the San Bernardino History and Railroad Museum, which tells the story of both the railroad and city. More than 100 freight trains still pass by the museum each day, and its artifacts include a velocipede, a three-wheeled vehicle used for track inspections, and a re-creation of a 1910 railway office.

Starting in the 1920s, San Bernardino served as an oasis for travelers after their arduous journey across the Mojave Desert along Route 66, the 2,448-mile highway that connected Chicago and Santa Monica. Route 66 is such a big part of San Bernardino’s identity that the city’s California League baseball team is named the Inland Empire 66ers.

Since 1937, the family-owned Mitla Café has been the go-to spot on Route 66 for Mexican food: Ask the regulars and they’ll tell you to order the café’s #6 combination, which includes a classic chile relleno. Just off Route 66, there’s more dining history at the site where the first McDonald’s opened in 1948. An unofficial McDonald’s museum founded by Albert Okura, owner of the Juan Pollo rotisserie chicken chain, preserves a huge collection of early memorabilia.

San Bernardino is also home to an iconic Route 66 landmark: the Wigwam Motel, where you can sleep in a 32-foot-tall concrete teepee. Among the most photographed of all Route 66’s roadside attractions, San Bernardino’s Wigwam was built in 1949 and is one of only two of these “Wigwam Villages” that survive from the highway’s heyday.

San Bernardino was also a major center for Southern California citrus farming. Since 1911, the city has celebrated its agricultural heritage during the National Orange Show, a festival with carnival rides, citrus-themed exhibits, and live entertainment. The event takes place at the National Orange Show Events Center, which also hosts a weekly swap meet that showcases more than 200 vendors.

In downtown San Bernardino, the California Theatre of the Performing Arts is in a onetime Fox Theater built in 1928 and now hosts touring Broadway musicals and concerts by the San Bernardino Symphony. Art lovers will want to visit the campus of California State University, San Bernardino, where the Robert and Frances Fullerton Museum of Art displays everything from contemporary California photography to Southern California’s largest permanent collection of Egyptian antiquities.

Not only is San Bernardino the gateway to Southern California, but it’s also the gateway to the towering San Bernardino Mountains. Drive up the Rim of the World Scenic Byway and you’ll quickly leave the city behind for the range’s high peaks and pine forests. A short distance from San Bernardino and just off the highway, hike to spectacular views from 4,000-foot Marshall Peak before heading deeper into the mountains for such four-season resort destinations as Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear Lake.

Another popular escape from San Bernardino is Glen Helen Regional Park, where you can fish for trout on two lakes and hike trails that cover 1,340 acres in the foothills. The park’s Glen Helen Amphitheater is considered the country’s largest outdoor venue, and the unique setting has drawn the likes of performers such as Garth Brooks and Luke Bryan.

Insider tip: Though it is 75 miles away, off-road racing fans take note: San Bernardino is the closest city to Johnson Valley, the public lands that are home to the annual King of the Hammers event. Known as the toughest week of one-day, off-road races in the world, the annual January event draws more than 80,000 fans who come to watch more than 530 teams compete.

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