By Lenore Greiner

The vast 5,000 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. Here, the scenic landscape and historic sites 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.


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 watersports lovers abundant fishing, boating, kayaking and even parasailing. Lake Arrowhead offers hiking, horseback riding, biking and ice-skating. Or 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.


Food and wine fans can stroll through Old Town Temecula’s historic district of 1880s 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 155-year-old Glen Ivy Hot Springs, dating from early stagecoach days. Get in on the action 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 vines and citrus groves. Afterwards, relax with a glass of local wine on a winery portico or play golf in this quiet oasis of the California good life.


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, as a church bell tolls on the hour.

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.


The fun begins with rides on the trains and trolleys of the Orange Empire Railway Museum in Perris. At Tom’s Farm in Corona, kids can pan for gold, mount a pony, board the 1800s steam train, or explore a real gem mine. In the summertime heat, take cool water rides on the Alpine Slide’s twisting curves at the Magic Mountain Recreation Area at Big Bear Lake.


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.

Sand to Snow National Monument
In 2016, President Obama designated our newest national monument, 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 biologically diverse monument encompasses wildlife corridors, sacred Serrano and Cahuilla tribal sites and 30 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail.

University of California Riverside’s ARTSBlock
A cultural anchor in downtown Riverside, three miles from UCR’s main campus, ARTSblock occupies adjacent historical 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.Ê

March Field Air Museum
Cruise the hangers and airfield amid 70 vintage aircraft, including the world’s fastest airplane, the SR-71 Blackbird. From World War I until the era of space exploration, more than 30,000 artifacts convey our proud U.S. aviation history.

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’s authentic, never touristy and worth a visit. Sip a drink in the Spanish Patio under colonnades draped with red bougainvillea.

Pismo Beach
Ventura County
Del Norte