Inland Empire:
This often-overlooked region offers the best of California, from high deserts to soaring mountain ranges and abundant vineyards and orchards

By Lenore Greiner

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Within the Inland Empire’s vast 5,000 square miles, the scenery and historic sites deftly capture quintessential California, from Spanish and Native American history to the era of stagecoaches and silver strikes to the Golden Age of traveling Route 66. The diverse landscape reflects 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.

There’s tranquil, scenic beauty to savor along the 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. And with fewer crowds and lower prices than Lake Tahoe and Napa Valley, the Inland Empire offers the same thrills and diversions with less fuss.

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 summer watersports to winter’s alpine sports at Big Bear Mountain and Snow Summit for excellent skiing and snowboarding. Summertime 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 wander in the natural beauty of the Swiss Chalet-style alpine village of Lake Arrowhead with charming shops and year-round ice skating. Or simply stargaze, watch the autumn leaves turn or the falling snowflakes 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 ambience. Or visit Redlands, the “City of Beautiful Homes,” and its opulent Victorians and Arts and Crafts style homes of yesteryear.

North of Temecula, play in the mud or soak in the soothing mineral waters of the 150-year-old Glen Ivy Hot Springs, dating from early stagecoach days. For 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, the Temecula Valley Museum explores local history, including Luiseno Indian culture during the Mission San Luis Rey period, the Spanish ranchos era, the impact of stagecoaches and the railroad, and the area’s growth 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 1800s 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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