Discover quintessential California in this often-overlooked region of sand and snow, deserts and mountains plus abundant vineyards and casino action
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.
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 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.
City & Town
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.
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, 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.
OLD TOWN TEMECULA, left; a hot air balloon floats over the Temecula vineyards, below.