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

Written by Brad Lane
Jun 6, 2019

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Sixty miles east of Los Angeles, Riverside is the largest city of the Inland Empire and a great example of what this region can provide. Palm trees line the sidewalks of this city of 300,000 people, and stunning Southern California architecture can be found on every block. One of the top places to visit in Riverside, the historic Mission Inn, also sets the tone for the rest of the downtown district with impressive Spanish-Revival architecture that encompasses an entire city block.

From the Mission Inn rooftop, which can be accessed via a 75-minute tour hosted by the Mission Inn Museum, tourists can catch a glimpse of another defining attraction of Riverside. Besides an impressive backdrop, the towering Mount Rubidoux also provides a sprawling recreation space and place to visit within the city. Every paved trail at Mount Rubidoux Park leads to the top, with spectacular 360-degree views unfolding every step of the way.

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

The rest of the Riverside downtown district is filled with culture and entertainment, including the Riverside Art Museum and Main Street Mall, where acclaimed art and local eateries invite indoor entertainment. For nightlife activities in Riverside, many venues come alive after dark, including the Spanish-Colonial-inspired Fox Performing Arts Center. Romantic options also abound, and restaurants like Duane's Prime Steaks and Seafood cater to intimate experiences.

For more outdoor attractions easily accessible from downtown, Box Springs Mountain Preserve has plenty of steep hiking trails and great views from the top. The University of California Riverside Botanical Garden also appeals to students and community members alike. South of the city, the California Citrus State Historic Park preserves part of the city's agricultural heritage with interpretive information and rows and rows of citrus groves. Plan your trip with our list of the top things to do in Riverside, CA.

Note: Some businesses may be temporarily closed due to recent global health and safety issues.

1. Mount Rubidoux Park

Mount Rubidoux
Mount Rubidoux | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

A landmark of the city, Mount Rubidoux is home to one of the most popular hikes for residents and tourists. Various paved routes take visitors to the top of the mountain, and it's between three and four miles from any starting trailhead to reach the summit. The route is lined with cacti and wildflowers, as well as many historical markers that represent the city's past.

At the top of Rubidoux, a symbolic peace tower spans the trail, and a large American flag waves proudly in the air. Also atop Rubidoux, a massive cross 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.

Address: 4706 Mount Rubidoux Drive, Riverside, California

2. Mission Inn

Mission Inn
Mission Inn | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

An aesthetic piece of Spanish Mission architecture that sets the tone for the rest of the downtown district, the historic Mission Inn takes up an entire block with a castle-like presence. From a boarding house to bankruptcy and more than one renovation, the history of this unique hotel spans over a century and can be felt within the walls and stylish decor. The Mission Inn Museum offers 75-minute, docent-led tours of this Mission Revival mansion throughout the week, and the public is welcome to experience the elegant lobby on their own.

As one of the best hotels in Riverside, The Mission Inn Hotel & Spa allows guests to continue the legacy of overnight visits. Alongside admission to other parts of the Mission Inn not seen on public tours, guests stay in uniquely decorated rooms that have been preserved to keep their historic character. The Mission Inn is also home to numerous award-winning restaurants including Duane's Prime Steaks and Seafood.

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, the Mission Inn is illuminated with over five million holiday lights 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/

3. March Field Air Museum

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

Spanning an aviation timeline of over 100 years, the March Field Air Museum features over 70 aircraft and thousands of artifacts on display, with historic March Field park next to the humongous aircraft outside the museum. Spy planes, bombers, helicopters, and unmanned aircraft can all be toured much closer with the price of admission. Even more aircraft can be seen within the interior of the museum, alongside numerous interpretive exhibits and historical artifacts.

On land donated by the March Field Air Base, on the other side of I-215, the Riverside National Cemetery 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 has 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.

Address: 22550 Van Buren Boulevard, Riverside, California

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

4. California State Citrus Historic Park

Palm trees at the California State Citrus Historic Park
Palm trees at the California State Citrus Historic Park

Southwest of the downtown district, this 250-acre state park 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 a landscape significant in California history, and the visitor center tells the story of the citrus industry in California with interpretive displays and exhibits. 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.

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. Connecting the visitor and Sunkist Center, a fully accessible paved trail meanders through the sagebrush and citrus grove environment. 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

5. Van Buren Drive-In Theater

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

In the historic Arlington district of Riverside, near the California State Citrus Historic Park, the Van Buren Drive-In Theater is a favorite for families and cinephiles alike. 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 Thursday through Monday, with admission prices that easily undercut big movie theater chains.

Throughout the week, the Van Buren Drive-In Theater is also home to a popular Swap Meet.

Address: 3035 Van Buren Boulevard, Riverside, California

Official site: https://vanburendriveintheatre.com/

6. UC Riverside Botanic Gardens

UC Riverside Botanic Gardens
UC Riverside Botanic Gardens

On the University of California, Riverside campus, in the foothills of Box Springs Mountain, these botanic gardens welcome visitors into a lush environment. Four miles of trails explore the forty acres encompassed by the gardens, with well-placed benches and interpretive information along the way. 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/

7. Fox Performing Arts Center

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

A celebrated entertainment venue in Riverside, the Fox Performing Arts Center is the main stage for live music, comedy, and festivals in the city. Built in a Spanish Colonial Revival style in 1929, the Fox Performing Arts Center 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/

8. Fairmount Park

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

Adjacent to Mount Rubidoux Park, Fairmount Park provides an abundance of open space to explore. 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

9. Main Street Mall

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

The main downtown pedestrian corridor, Main Street Mall connects small shops, historic sites, and the local flavors of downtown Riverside. Landscaped with gardens, fountains, and an abundance of shade-producing trees, Main Street Mall offers many opportunities to take a seat and enjoy the day.

Main Street Mall is also lined with historical and cultural attractions, including the Mission Inn, as well as the California Museum of Photography. Patio seating is available at many of the local eateries along Main Street Mall, ranging from casual bites to upscale Italian fare.

Address: Main Street, Riverside, California

10. 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. An abundance of wildlife can be sighted within Sycamore Canyon, including rattlesnakes, and this wilderness area is 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 hands-on educational opportunities for kids.

Address: 400 Central Ave, Riverside, California

Official site: https://mysycamorecanyon.com/

11. Riverside Art Museum

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

Less than two blocks from the historic Mission Inn, the Riverside Art Museum displays rotating exhibits supplemented with a permanent collection of over 1,500 artworks. Stretching across many genres and mediums, something new is always on display at the Riverside Art Museum. Members of the military and their families receive free admission to this Blue Star Museum.

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

Address: 3425 Mission Inn Avenue, Riverside, California

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

12. 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. This is a welcome escape, easily accessible from downtown, and the steady stream of traffic nearby dissipates the further you head up one of the trails that lead 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/

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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