Travel Guide to California

Inland Empire

Discover this often-overlooked region of deserts, soaring mountain ranges and abundant vineyards and orchards

by lenore greiner

The vast 27,000 square miles of the Inland Empire deftly capture California’s Spanish and Native American origins, the stagecoach era and the Golden Age of traveling Route 66. The perennially sunny, scenic landscape and historic sites here reflect Golden State extremes: snow-capped granite peaks of the San Bernardino Mountains to the north and the San Jacinto range to the east fast descend into arid high deserts and, finally, to verdant vineyards and groves.

In the birthplace of California’s citrus industry, discover tranquil, scenic beauty among vineyards, hiking paths or ski runs. Or partake in distinctly Californian pursuits: wine tasting, escaping to a quiet golf resort, or soaking in steamy hot springs. The crowds are fewer and the prices are lower than Lake Tahoe and Napa Valley, yet you’ll find the same thrills and diversions in the Inland Empire.

The Great Outdoors

For year-round recreation, travelers can head into the San Bernardino Mountains, to two popular alpine lakes. At Big Bear Lake, outdoor enthusiasts find winter alpine sports at Big Bear Mountain and Snow Summit for excellent skiing and snowboarding. Come summertime, the lake offers watersport lovers abundant fishing, boating, kayaking and even parasailing. Lake Arrowhead offers hiking, lake tours on the Lake Arrowhead Queen, biking and ice-skating. Wander in the natural beauty and charming shops of the Swiss chalet-style alpine village of Lake Arrowhead. Or simply stargaze, watch the autumn leaves turn or the winter snowflakes fall.

insider's tip

Settled in the 1840s, Louis Robidoux’s Jurupa Rancho property eventually became a city park, the MT. RUBIDOUX TRAIL AND MEMORIAL PARK. West of downtown Riverside, this local favorite is some 3.5 miles of paved trail ascending the 1,332-foot-high mountain amid historical plaques. The climb, lined with spring wildflowers or views of the snow-dusted San Bernardino Mountains in winter, rewards hikers with expansive Riverside valley views. riversideca.gov/park_rec/facilities-parks/mt-rubidoux

City & Town

Foodies and oenophiles should explore Old Town Temecula’s historic district of 1880s buildings for wine tasting and sampling local fare in a friendly, Old West ambience. Or visit Redlands, the “City of Beautiful Homes,” and its opulent Victor-ians and Arts and Crafts-style homes of yesteryear.

North of Temecula, play in the mud or soak in the soothing mineral waters of the 160-year-old Glen Ivy Hot Springs, dating from early stagecoach days. Get in on the action of the gaming tables at the Pechanga Resort Casino. Or soar in a hot air balloon over Temecula Valley’s 35,000-acre wine country, dotted with B&Bs and luxury resorts amid vines and citrus groves. Afterwards, relax with a glass of local wine on a winery portico or play golf in this quiet oasis.

Heritage & Culture

Riverside harbors a wealth of California history. On Magnolia Avenue, the state’s first and oldest navel orange tree, planted in 1873, stands on the spot where California’s multi-million-dollar citrus industry began. Since 1880, the iconic Mission Inn has hosted U.S. presidents and delighted travelers with a Hearst Castle-like eclectic mix of Spanish and Moorish architecture, adorned with priceless Italian and Spanish treasures.

The San Bernardino County Museum in the Hall of History explores local history by exhibiting a covered wagon that crossed the Mojave Desert from Salt Lake City. Other halls include biodiversity, earth sciences as well as desert gardens and native plant gardens.

Family Fun

The fun begins with rides on the locomotives and trolleys of the Southern California Railway Museum in Perris. At Tom’s Farms in Corona, kids can mine for emeralds and rubies, ride a pony, or board the 1800s steam train. In the summertime heat, take cool water rides on the Alpine Slide’s twisting curves at the Magic Mountain Recreation Area in Big Bear Lake.

5 Must See, Do

SADDLE UP WINE TOURS This equine and wine tour winds through Temecula’s vineyards and winery estates until you say “Whoa” at up to three wineries for tastings. saddleupwinetours.com

SAND TO SNOW NATIONAL MONUMENT This national monument is comprised of 154,000 acres of San Bernardino National Forest and BLM land jutting skyward from the Sonoran desert floor to the 11,502-foot peak of Mount San Gorgonio. This rich biologically-diverse monument encompasses wildlife corridors, sacred Serrano and Cahuilla tribal sites and 30 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. It is a four-season recreational wonderland. fs.usda.gov/visit/sand-to-snow-national-monument

UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA RIVERSIDE’S ARTS A cultural anchor in downtown Riverside, three miles from UCR’s main campus, ARTSblock occupies adjacent historic buildings and former department stores. The California Museum of Photography exhibits contemporary photography and has a comprehensive collection of early cameras. The Sweeney Art Gallery acts as a laboratory of experimental art. The Culver Center of the Arts hosts films, lectures and theatrical programs. artsblock.ucr.edu

BALLOONING OVER TEMECULA Drift serenely in a hot-air balloon over the vineyards, citrus groves and horse ranches of Temecula’s wine country, tinged by the rising sun’s golden light. Sunrise Balloons first pioneered these flights in 1975; their capable, licensed pilots ensure a safe float that includes champagne and bottled water served aloft. sunriseballoons.com

MISSION INN HOTEL & SPA This 1902 National Historic Landmark has hosted presidents and movie stars in this ramble of Mission Revival, Moorish and Oriental architecture, and Louis Comfort Tiffany mosaics. It evokes the enchantment of a European castle. Sip a drink in the Spanish Patio under colonnades draped with red bougainvillea. missioninn.com



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