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16 Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in Riverside, CA

Written by Brad Lane
Updated Mar 22, 2022

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Riverside is one of the largest cities in the Inland Empire east of Los Angeles. Palm trees line the sidewalks of this city of 300,000 people, and stunning Southern California architecture defines the sprawling downtown streets. The historic Mission Inn, at the heart of the downtown district, sets the tone for the rest of the city, with impressive Spanish-Revival architecture that encompasses an entire city block.

This lively downtown historic district is just the tip of things to do in Riverside, and the beautiful weather throughout the year lends to plenty of warm-weather activities. From drive-in theaters in the dead of winter to botanic gardens always in bloom, Riverside encapsulates the many reasons why people move to Southern California.

Other Riverside attractions include historic parks, art centers, and metropolitan museums. And whatever the activity, enjoy views of the Box Spring Mountains jutting on the horizon. These scrambly peaks are enjoyed upon closer inspection at places like UC Riverside Botanic Gardens and Box Spring Mountain Preserve.

Plan your trip with our list of the top things to do in Riverside, CA.

1. Mission Inn

Mission Inn
Mission Inn | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The historic Mission Inn is an aesthetic piece of Spanish Mission architecture that sets the tone for the rest of the downtown district. It occupies an entire block with a castle-like presence. And while this historic hotel has a long legacy in the city, it offers modern comfort and luxury at the heart of downtown.

From a boarding house to bankruptcy and more than one renovation, the hotel's history spans over a century and is felt within the walls and stylish decor. And as one of the best hotels in Riverside, The Mission Inn Hotel & Spa allows guests to continue the legacy of overnight visits.

Guests at the hotel stay in uniquely decorated rooms that have been preserved to keep their historic character. Overnight visits also include admission to other parts of the Mission Inn not seen on public tours. For the public, the Mission Inn Museum offers 75-minute, docent-led tours of the mansion throughout the week, and anyone is welcome to experience the elegant lobby on their own.

The Mission Inn is also home to numerous award-winning restaurants including Duane's Prime Steaks and Seafood. Reservations are recommended at this popular surf and turf restaurant.

Mission Inn
Mission Inn | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

For holiday cheer, the Mission Inn hosts a Festival of Lights for six weeks at the end of every year. Commencing with an eye-catching "Switch-On" ceremony, over five million holiday lights illuminate the hotel in an instant, followed by a high-flying fireworks show. Alongside the lights, tourists encounter animatronic displays, horse-drawn carriages, and even some freshly falling snow.

Address: 3649 Mission Inn Avenue, Riverside, California

Official site: https://missioninnmuseum.org/

2. Mount Rubidoux Park

Peace Tower,  Mount Rubidoux
Peace Tower, Mount Rubidoux | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Mount Rubidoux is a landmark of the city and home to one of the most popular hikes for residents and tourists. Various paved routes take visitors to the top of the mountain, taking anywhere between one and three miles from any starting trailhead to reach the summit. Cacti and wildflowers line the route, as well as many historical markers that represent the city's past.

A symbolic peace tower spans the trail at the top of Rubidoux, and a large American flag waves proudly in the air. A massive cross also overlooks the city and stone-carved steps are available for sitting. This cross is the site of the oldest outdoor Easter sunset service in the country, a treasured tradition in Riverside since 1909.

The entire Inland Empire is also on display atop Rubidoux with a 360-degree perspective, providing a great place to pack a lunch and enjoy the view. Depending on the route, the trip up and down generally takes between two and three hours, also depending on how much time is spent admiring the panoramic landscape.

Mount Rubidoux
Mount Rubidoux | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Expect to meet other people along the wide trail to the top, especially on the weekends. Visitors will also want to bring their own water along for the hike. It's a dog-friendly trail with leashes required throughout.

Address: 4706 Mount Rubidoux Drive, Riverside, California

3. California Citrus State Historic Park

Palm trees at the California Citrus State Historic Park
Palm trees at the California Citrus State Historic Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

This 250-acre state park is southwest of the downtown district and is dedicated to the citrus legacy of the state, also known as the second Gold Rush of California. Colorful citrus groves encompass half of this historic park, demonstrating the significant landscape in California history. And the visitor center tells the story of the citrus industry with interpretive displays and exhibits.

An old-fashioned fruit stand shaped like a giant orange greets visitors at the entrance of the State Citrus Historic Park, as well as tall palm trees. A fully accessible paved trail connects the visitor and Sunkist Center, meandering through the sagebrush and citrus grove environment.

The park offers guided tours of the grove on the weekends, as well as fresh citrus sampling on the back porch of the Sunkist Center. A beautiful gazebo outside the Sunkist Center makes for a great place to enjoy a picnic or fresh piece of fruit.

Address: 9400 Dufferin Ave, Riverside, California

Official site: http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=649

4. UC Riverside Botanic Gardens

UC Riverside Botanic Gardens
UC Riverside Botanic Gardens | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

These botanic gardens welcome visitors into a lush environment on the University of California, Riverside campus, in the foothills of Box Springs Mountain. Four miles of trails explore the garden's 40 acres, with well-placed benches and interpretive information along the way.

The core of the botanic gardens features a paved accessible path. This wide trail passes by several gardens and areas, spanning from a North American Desert section to a South African Garden and Lilac Lane. Also on the route is an expansive rose garden and butterfly garden.

For more information on the types of plants at the UCR Botanic Gardens, as well as their history of use within the region, docent-led tours are available for school groups and members of the public.

Address: 1 Botanic Gardens Drive, Riverside, California

Official site: https://gardens.ucr.edu/

5. Van Buren Drive-In Theater

Van Buren Drive-In Theater
Van Buren Drive-In Theater | Photo Copyright: Van Buren Drive-In Theater

The Van Buren Drive-In Theater is a favorite for families and cinephiles alike. It's in the historic Arlington district of Riverside, near the California State Citrus Historic Park, and it's one of few thriving drive-in theaters remaining in the nation.

The Van Buren Drive-In Theater retains its novelty while showcasing the latest in blockbuster entertainment. Movies play seven nights a week, with admission prices that easily undercut big movie theater chains. Concessions include a multitude of candy, hot dogs, and other classic movie-going fare.

The Van Buren Drive-In Theater is also home to a popular Swap Meet with over 300 vendors. This shopping market takes place every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday from the early morning to late afternoon.

Address: 3035 Van Buren Boulevard, Riverside, California

Official site: https://vanburendriveintheatre.com/

6. March Field Air Museum

March Field Air Museum
March Field Air Museum | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The March Field Air Museum features over 70 aircraft and thousands of artifacts on display, spanning an aviation timeline of over 100 years. These generations of aircraft are displayed both inside and outside the museum, with several of the bigger planes parked near the hangar.

Spy planes, bombers, helicopters, and unmanned aircraft span the grounds where visitors can inspect these aircraft up close. More aircraft are seen within the interior of the museum, alongside numerous interpretive exhibits and historical artifacts. Forty-five-minute tram tours are also available throughout the day, led by a knowledgeable guide.

Address: 22550 Van Buren Boulevard, Riverside, California

Official site: https://www.marchfield.org/

7. Main Street Mall

Main Street Mall
Main Street Mall | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Main Street Mall is the main downtown pedestrian corridor, connecting small shops, historic sites, and the local flavors of the vibrant community. It's landscaped with gardens, fountains, and an abundance of shade-producing trees, offering many opportunities to take a seat and enjoy the day.

Historical and cultural attractions also line Main Street Mall, including the Mission Inn, as well as the California Museum of Photography. Patio seating is available at many of the local eateries in this part of town, ranging from casual bites to upscale Italian fare.

Address: Main Street, Riverside, California

8. Riverside Art Museum

Riverside Art Museum
Riverside Art Museum | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The Riverside Art Museum displays rotating exhibits supplemented with a permanent collection of over 1,500 artworks. It's less than two blocks from the historic Mission Inn and always with something new on display. Several mediums are also on display, ranging from lithographs to posters and watercolor paintings.

Every first Thursday of the month, the Riverside Art Museum participates in the city-wide Arts Walk, with free admission and cultural entertainment. The museum is closed on Mondays. And Members of the military and their families always receive free admission to this Blue Star Museum.

Address: 3425 Mission Inn Avenue, Riverside, California

Official site: http://www.riversideartmuseum.org/

9. Santa Ana River Trail

Santa Ana River Trail in Martha McLean-Anza Narrows Park
Santa Ana River Trail in Martha McLean-Anza Narrows Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

When completed, the Santa Ana River Trail will run 110 miles between San Bernardino National Forest and the ocean at Huntington Beach. The trail is approximately 60 percent complete currently and follows its namesake river the entire way. The portion that weaves along the northwest side of Riverside is fully intact, and it connects several of the city's most sterling outdoor spaces.

Notable stops along the Santa Ana River Trail in Riverside include Fairmount Park and Mount Rubidoux. Farther south, the trail also passes through Martha McLean-Anza Narrows Park, a popular disc golf destination in Riverside. And farther south still, the trail navigates through the Santa Ana River Wildlife Area, which offers a true escape from the city streets.

The trail is paved with compact gravel on either side. It's popular with bicyclists, walkers, runners, and sometimes horseback riders. Water facilities are available at the different parks along the trail, but users should pack in some of their own, especially during the summer.

10. Riverside Metropolitan Museum

Riverside Metropolitan Museum
Riverside Metropolitan Museum | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

This downtown museum dates back to the 1920s, when it first opened as the Riverside Municipal Museum. Since then, the museum's collection has grown to encompass a wide variety of artifacts from across the region. And the name change in 1991 to the Riverside Metropolitan Museum reflects that broader focus.

Today, the three prongs of the museum's collection are history, natural sciences, and anthropology. Visitors learn about subjects like native rocks and minerals and the vast citrus industry behind the city's early growth. The entire collection is displayed with eye-catching displays, including 3D dioramas and several photographs.

The Riverside Metropolitan Museum also oversees the Heritage House south of downtown. This restored Victorian estate features authentic turn-of-the-century furnishings and decor, giving a glimpse into an affluent lifestyle of the 1800s. Guided tours are available between approximately September and June.

Note: Due to renovation work, check the museum's website before visiting to make sure it is open.

Official site: https://www.riversideca.gov/museum/

11. Fairmount Park

Fairmount Park Rose Garden
Fairmount Park Rose Garden | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Fairmount Park provides an abundance of open space to explore next to Mount Rubidoux Park. A scenic bike trail circles Lake Evans, the park's defining water feature, and connects other park amenities like a bandshell, playgrounds, tennis courts, and a historic boathouse where pedal boats are available to rent.

A decorative wrought-iron fence encloses one of the most eye-catching features at Fairmount Park–a large rose garden on the south side of Lake Evans. Roses are typically in full bloom by May. This is a pleasant place to stroll, photograph, or host a special occasion.

Address: 2601 Fairmount Blvd, Riverside, California

12. Sycamore Canyon Wilderness Park

Sycamore Canyon Wilderness Park
Sycamore Canyon Wilderness Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Encompassing 1,500 acres near downtown, Sycamore Canyon Wilderness Park is home to wildlife, open space, and a sprawling network of trails. Hiking, running, and mountain biking are popular ways to explore the park. These activities are best done in the early morning or late evening during the summer.

An abundance of wildlife is sighted within Sycamore Canyon, including rattlesnakes, and this wilderness area is also filled with rare and native plants like scarlet monkeyflower and Fremont cottonwood. The Ameal Moore Nature Center at the main entrance to the park provides habitat information and hands-on educational opportunities for kids.

Address: 400 Central Ave, Riverside, California

Official site: https://mysycamorecanyon.com/

13. Fox Performing Arts Center

Fox Performing Arts Center
Fox Performing Arts Center | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The Fox Performing Arts Center is a celebrated entertainment venue in Riverside and the main stage for live music, comedy, and festivals in the city. It was built in a Spanish Colonial Revival style in 1929 and first opened as a vaudeville and cinema theater house. A 2007 renovation transformed this historic theater into the modern centerpiece of entertainment it is today.

The neighboring Riverside Municipal Auditorium, operated by the same production company, features a similar lineup of live music and performances.

Address: 3801 Mission Inn Avenue, Riverside, California

Official site: http://www.riversidelive.com/

14. Box Springs Mountain Preserve

"M" Trail at Box Springs Mountain Preserve
"M" Trail at Box Springs Mountain Preserve | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Adjacent to the University of California, Riverside campus, Box Springs Mountain Preserve allows visitors to walk right into nature the moment they step out of the car. It's a welcome escape, easily accessible from downtown, and the steady stream of traffic nearby dissipates the farther you head up one of the trails to the top of this 3,000-foot mountain.

A recommended but rugged route to the top, the "M" Trail tests the legs and delivers on a 360-degree view encompassing Riverside and Moreno Valley.

Address: Hidden Springs Drive, Moreno Valley, California

Official site: https://www.rivcoparks.org/box-springs-mountain-reserve/

15. Castle Park

Miniature golf at Castle Park
Miniature golf at Castle Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Castle Park is a popular amusement park on the south side of the city, less than three miles from California Citrus State Historic Park. It features several attractions that appeal to children and adults alike, including mini-golf, a water park, and carnival rides. Other notable amusements include an arcade, live performances, and seasonal festivals.

The Ride Park is perhaps the most popular place at Castle Park. This jam-packed area has over 20 rides, ranging from spinning flying saucers to the Riverside Express train ride. This area of the park has a varying schedule throughout the year. Check the official website for current operating hours.

The mini-golf at Castle Park is also particularly fun and available year-round. It features four highly themed 18-hole courses with several constructed features like windmills and pagodas. Visitors can opt for a single 18 or buy a pass to play all four courses.

Official site: https://www.castlepark.com/

16. Riverside National Cemetery

Veteran's Day at the Riverside National Cemetery
Veteran's Day at the Riverside National Cemetery

The Riverside National Cemetery is on the other side of I-215 from the March Field Air Museum. It features solemn grounds and available space for veterans to rest in peace. This is the third-largest cemetery operated by the National Cemetery Administration, and any member of the armed forces who have met a minimum active-duty requirement is eligible for burial on the grounds. Recreational activities like walking, jogging, bicycling, and photographing are not allowed at the cemetery.

Where to Stay in Riverside, California for Sightseeing

Luxury Hotels:

  • For one of Riverside's most authentic and luxurious stays, check out The Mission Inn Hotel and Spa. This historic place to stay features a distinct Mission-Revival architecture, alongside an elegant tone with several authentic furnishings and decor. The hotel offers 238 guest rooms, including 27 suites, all uniquely decorated for a new experience with each stay. Celebrities, world leaders, and thousands of tourists have enjoyed the escapism offered by the hotel over the years. Other resort amenities include fine dining, a beautiful outdoor pool, and professional services at Kelly's Spa.

Mid-Range Hotels:

  • With an excellent location downtown, the Marriott Riverside at the Convention Center is one of the city's most popular hotels. It attracts all types of visitors, but it is particularly well used by visiting professionals. The hotel makes it easy to stay connected with free, fast Wi-Fi; a dedicated business center; and proximity to many professional establishments, including the Convention Center. And for after work, the upscale accommodations and amenities, like an outdoor pool and on-site dining, make it easy to relax.
  • The newly built Hyatt Place Riverside Downtown features 125 guest rooms spread between five floors. The hotel has a modern appeal, with stylish common areas and comfortable decor. This sense of style extends into the overnight accommodations, which include spacious guest rooms and one-bedroom suites. Alongside signature Hyatt Grand Beds, each room features dedicated work areas, coffee makers, and free internet access. Select rooms at the hotel are pet-friendly.
  • On the southwest side of town, Hampton Inn & Suites Riverside/Corona East provides a quiet place to rest between exploring the city. This reputable hotel has over 130 guest rooms, all non-smoking, with modern and comfortable decor. Spacious suites are also available, featuring an extra sitting room. Every overnight accommodation comes with a coffee maker, high definition TV, and complimentary internet access. Other convenient amenities include complimentary breakfast, an outdoor pool, and a business center.
  • For a more centrally located hotel, the Hampton Inn Riverside Downtown is a prime spot for exploring the city. Just a few blocks from top attractions like the Fox Performing Arts Center and the Mission Inn Museum, the hotel is popular for a car-free vacation. Several other downtown amenities, including an abundance of restaurants, are also nearby. And the hotel's 140 well-appointed rooms make relaxing and getting a good night's sleep easy to do at the end of the day.

Budget Hotels:

  • For budget-conscious travelers, Americas Best Value Inn Riverside provides one of the best deals in town. The hotel has an excellent reputation for clean and tidy facilities, as well as outstanding customer service at the 24/7 front desk. It's a popular hotel for family travel, in part because of the low overnight rates. The hotel's also in a prime location, steps away from downtown Riverside. The hotel is also a quick 40-mile drive to Disneyland Park in Anaheim.
  • On the other side of Highway 91 from downtown, Thunderbird Lodge offers another dependable stay with budget-friendly prices. The hotel provides a blast from the past in a historic property with modern renovations. Overnight accommodations include standard rooms and suites equipped with extra sitting space. Every room features personal air-conditioners, complimentary Wi-Fi, and blackout shades. Some rooms are pet-friendly. Complimentary parking is also available.

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