Inland Empire:
This off-the-tourist-map region of high desert, soaring mountain peaks and rich vineyards showcases California’s extremes

By Lenore Greiner

Photo: Chip Morton/Temecula Valley CVB

The Inland Empire’s quintessentially Californian landscape closely reflects the state’s past, from the Golden Age of traveling Route 66 to the old days of stagecoaches and local Indian culture. Rimmed by the San Bernardino Mountains to the north and the San Jacinto range to the east, the region’s snow-capped granite peaks quickly descend into high desert canyons and, finally, a thriving wine country.

In this region you can explore Spanish and Native American history, savor scenic beauty along hiking paths or ski runs or partake in typically Californian diversions, escaping to a quiet golf resort, taking a wine-tasting tour or soaking in relaxing hot springs. And, with fewer crowds and lower prices than Lake Tahoe and Napa Valley, the Inland Empire offers vacation destinations high on charm and thrills and low on attitude.

The Great Outdoors

In the fresh alpine air of the San Bernardino Mountains, vacationers head to two popular lakes. At Big Bear Lake, outdoor enthusiasts enjoy year-round recreation, from watersports in the summer to winter’s alpine sports at Big Bear Mountain and Snow Summit, where the skiing and snowboarding are excellent. In summer, watersports lovers will find abundant fishing, boating, kayaking and even parasailing on Big Bear Lake. Lake Arrowhead offers hiking, horseback riding, biking and stream fishing. Or take in the natural beauty and wander the Swiss Chalet-style alpine village of peaceful Lake Arrowhead with its charming shops and year-round ice-skating rink. Or simply spend time stargazing, watching the leaves turn in autumn or the snowflakes flutter in winter.

City & Town

Food and wine fans can stroll through Old Town Temecula’s historic district of 1890s buildings while wine tasting and sampling local fare in a friendly, Old West ambiance. Or visit Redlands, the “City of Beautiful Homes,” and its opulent Victorians and Arts and Crafts style homes of yesteryear.

Just north of Temecula, play in the mud or soak in the soothing mineral waters of the 150-year-old Glen Ivy Hot Springs, an escape dating from early stagecoach days. For more excitement, soar in a hot air balloon over Temecula Valley’s 35,000-acre wine country, dotted with wineries, B&Bs and luxury resorts amid endless vineyards. Afterwards, relax with a glass of local wine on a portico in Temecula’s Old Town or play golf in this quiet oasis of the California good life.

Heritage & Culture

Head into Riverside to discover a wealth of California history. Here, the state’s first and oldest orange tree, planted in 1873, still stands on Magnolia Avenue where California’s multi-million-dollar citrus industry began. Since 1880, the 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.

In Temecula, exhibits at the Temecula Valley Museum explore the region’s key stories, including Luiseno Indian culture during the Mission San Luis Rey period, establishment of the Spanish ranchos, the impact of stagecoaches and the railroad, and the area’s history as a major citrus industry capital. Exhibits tell these stories through handcrafted artifacts, documents, ranch equipment, photographs and other objects.

Family Fun

The fun begins with silly science at Pennypickle’s Workshop in the Children’s Museum. Tom’s Farms offers kids an 1800’s steam train, a real gem mine and pony rides. Explore local citrus history in the California Citrus State Historical Park’s working orchards and then hike on the scenic trails surrounding the groves.

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