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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WWithin 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 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.

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. 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 San Bernardino Mountains’ fresh alpine air, 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 winter snowflakes fall.

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, spend an evening at the gaming tables at the Pechanga 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 endless vineyards. Afterwards, relax with a glass of local wine on a winery portico 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.

The San Bernardino Museum explores local history by exhibiting a covered wagon that crossed the Mojave Desert from Salt Lake City and a Wells Fargo stagecoach. The Hall of Anthropology showcases local native cultures, the Mojave, Serrano and Gabrielino. Within the citrus groves surrounding the museum, the Zimmerman Citrus Kiosk explores the area’s citrus heritage.

Family Fun

The fun begins with rides on the trains and trolleys of the Orange Empire Railway Museum. Tom’s Farms offers kids an 1800s steam train, a carousel, a real gem mine and pony rides. Take a fast, cool water ride on the twisting curves of the Alpine Slide in the Magic Mountain Recreation Area.

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