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17 Top-Rated Things to Do in San Bernardino, CA

Written by Brad Lane
Updated Mar 22, 2022

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San Bernardino is an inviting city within the Inland Empire of Southern California, east of Los Angeles. It offers numerous attractions and entertainment outlets alongside palm trees and omnipresent mountain peaks. This landscape coupled with a hot-summer Mediterranean climate gives the city a resort feel. And it's a geographic hot spot in general, with forest, desert, and ocean environments within a short drive.

Culture and history run deep through San Bernardino. It's one of the most populated cities in San Bernardino County, which is, in turn, the largest county in the country. This scale lends to plenty of in-town attractions in the form of restaurants and theaters, as well as access to broader county tourist attractions. It also lends to the city hosting big events, like the National Orange Show Fair.

Enjoying the nice weather is also a big draw in San Bernardino. This is especially true when exploring the big mountains at the city's backdoor, the San Bernardino Mountains, also known as the Alps of Southern California. San Bernardino National Forest is often the venue for these outdoor adventures, with several destinations dotting the Rim of the World Scenic Byway that navigates the mountain's crest.

Enjoy your time in Southern California with our list of the top attractions in San Bernardino.

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

1. Original McDonald's Site and Museum

Original McDonald's Site and Museum
Original McDonald's Site and Museum | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

This original McDonald's location is on historic Route 66 and is now a State Historic Site celebrating the fast-food chain's legacy. The large McDonald's sign outside the building is only the poppy seed of the Big Mac at this roadside museum, and thousands of pieces of McDonald's memorabilia are found within.

The site hosts one of the largest collections of historic McDonald's merchandise in the country. This collection includes vintage and collectible Happy Meal toys from all over the world. In fact, visitors can bring their own Happy Meal toys to the museum to have them added to the display.

Additional interpretive information outlines McDonald's restaurants prior to and post-Ray Kroc, including the eventual billions of burgers sold. Docents at the museum are also at the ready to share knowledge about the fast-food chain.

Admission is free to this interesting and entertaining museum. And don't be dissuaded if you're not a burger fan, as this roadside attraction is more accurately a display of American history and culture.

Address: 1398 N E Street, San Bernardino, California

2. Glen Helen Regional Park

Glen Helen Regional Park
Glen Helen Regional Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Glen Helen Regional Park is in the scenic foothills of Cajon Pass northwest of the city center. It offers an easy escape into nature with a 20-minute drive from downtown. Popular activities at the park include fishing, disc golf, and swimming at either one of its two lakes. Glen Helen also contains a swimming complex with a large pool and multiple waterslides.

The regional park is also home to the Glen Helen Amphitheater, a massive 65,000-person performance space featuring major headliners. As one of the largest outdoor stages in the country, many visitors flock to the amphitheater for multi-day festival events. The Glen Helen Raceway, too, brings in thousands of fans each year for professional and amateur motorsport races.

Address: 2555 Glen Helen Parkway, San Bernardino, California

Official site: http://cms.sbcounty.gov/parks/parks/glenhelenregionalpark.aspx

3. Rim of the World Scenic Byway

Rim of the World Scenic Byway
Rim of the World Scenic Byway | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The Rim of the World Scenic Byway is the city's gateway to the San Bernardino Mountains. This approximately 110-mile byway encompasses parts of Highways 138, 18, and 38 along the mountain's crest, navigating through San Bernardino National Forest.

The byway connects several popular forest attractions, including Big Bear Lake, Lake Arrowhead, and Silverwood Lake. Come winter, this is also the route to find local ski resorts, like Snow Valley Mountain Resort and Big Bear Mountain Resort. It's also home to other roadside stops like Heaps Peak Arboretum and several picnic grounds.

The scenic byway ascends out of the hot valley floor and into the cooler, higher elevations of the forest–adding a nice respite from both city traffic and summer heat. And the drive includes massive overlooks of the entire Inland Empire, with several pull-outs to enjoy stunning sunsets.

Official site: https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/sbnf/recarea/?recid=74122

4. San Bernardino County Museum

San Bernardino County Museum
San Bernardino County Museum | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The San Bernardino County Museum is in the neighboring city of Redlands, accessible with less than a 15-minute drive from downtown. It's a regional museum with an emphasis on natural and cultural history. The museum has over 2,000 objects on display, and even more in its permanent collection.

The museum comprises two floors of exhibits. The Main Level is home to the Hall of History and Hall of Earth Sciences, where displays like a covered wagon and a life-size mastodon catch the eye. Plan to spend at least a couple of hours touring all there is to see.

The San Bernardino County Museum is especially popular for families and visiting school groups. Several hands-on activities lend to an immersive education experience. The museum is also home to special programming and events.

Official site: http://www.sbcounty.gov/museum/

5. California State University, San Bernardino

California State University, San Bernardino
California State University, San Bernardino | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The California State University campus in San Bernardino is on the northside of the city, near the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains. It's a sprawling, beautiful 430-acre campus that soaks in the sunshine of the surrounding region. And while many of its facilities cater to its 17,000-plus undergraduate students, the scholarly environment also offers a few places of public interest.

The Robert and Frances Fullerton Museum of Art is one such place that welcomes the public. It's accredited by the American Alliance of Museums and regularly hosts rotating exhibits from around the world, as well as MFA exhibitions by students. However, the museum is perhaps best known for its vast collection of Egyptian antiquities. Admission is free to the museum with a suggested three-dollar donation.

The Murillo Family Observatory is another fun place to visit on campus. It's on the northside of campus near Badger Hill and features two towers containing high-powered telescopes. While generally the observatory is reserved for students and professional research, the facility hosts a public night once a month.

Official site: https://www.csusb.edu/

6. Big Bear Lake

Big Bear Lake
Big Bear Lake | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Big Bear Lake is a year-round mountain retreat, an hour's drive into the San Bernardino National Forest from the city. It's accessible via the Rim of the World Scenic Byway and offers much cooler temperatures than the valley floor. And no matter the season, it's a popular getaway from San Bernardino.

Come winter, skiing at Big Bear Mountain Resort is a refreshing Southern California activity, and the area is laced with snowshoe and fatbike trails to explore. Numerous cottages, cabins, and hotels line the south side of the lake, offering an array of accommodations for weekend visits.

Things to do in the warmer seasons at Big Bear Lake are nearly unlimited. Surrounded by thousands of acres of the San Bernardino National Forest, popular activities in the immediate area include mountain biking, trail running, and launching boats onto the water. The country-spanning Pacific Crest Trail also traverses near Big Bear Lake, bringing a lot of hikers and foot traffic into the town.

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

Read More: Top-Rated Things to Do in Big Bear, California

7. San Manuel Stadium

San Manuel Stadium
San Manuel Stadium | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

San Manuel Stadium is home to the Inland Empire 66ers Minor League baseball team and has hosted summer fun since 1996. The typical regular season for this local favorite baseball team spans from April through September. All 5,000 seats at the stadium face home plate, and the additional grass seating area can hold just as many fans.

Concessionaires at San Manuel purvey the classic stadium fares including hot dogs, popcorn, and tacos, with special promotions like "$2 Tuesday" offering budget-friendly deals. Special firework games also occur throughout the season, with one of the Inland Empire's largest fireworks displays.

Address: 280 S E Street, San Bernardino, California

Official site: https://www.milb.com/inland-empire

8. Santa Ana River Trail

Santa Ana River Trail
Santa Ana River Trail

The Santa Ana River Trail is a scenic pedestrian route still under construction. This paved biking trail follows the snaking Santa Ana River throughout the Inland Empire. Upon completion of the route, the Santa Ana River Trail will span 110 miles from the San Bernardino National Forest to the Pacific Ocean at Huntington Beach.

As of 2022, approximately 60 percent of the trail is complete. Including the portions navigating through San Bernardino and the neighboring city of Riverside. This scenic corridor provides trail users a gorgeous route to explore by bike or foot.

9. Lake Arrowhead

Lake Arrowhead Village
Lake Arrowhead Village | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Lake Arrowhead, a 40-minute drive from San Bernardino, is another worthwhile mountain destination close to the city. It's the lakeside place to be for cabins, cottages, and resort hotels. Head to the vibrant Lake Arrowhead Village upon arriving for the densest collection of restaurants and shopping. The village is also the place to hop on the Lake Arrowhead Queen Tour Boat, one of the most popular things to do here.

Near the Lake Arrowhead Village, and encompassing stunning views of the San Gabriel Mountains across the water, the Lake Arrowhead Resort and Spa indulges visitors with an extra layer of comfort. This luxurious place to stay is primed for a weekend getaway from the city.

10. San Bernardino History & Railroad Museum

1918 Santa Fe Depot
1918 Santa Fe Depot | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The San Bernardino History & Railroad Museum specializes in the long-standing western legacy of the city, with emphasis on locomotion in the Inland Empire. The museum is located within a restored 1918 Santa Fe Depot, standing as a visual testament to the city's transportation history. It also serves as a modern Amtrak and Metrolink depot.

A recreated 1910 railroad station is on display at the museum, as well as several large antique clocks and 19th-century horse-drawn buggies. The museum operates with limited hours throughout the week, and is typically only open on Saturdays.

Address: 1170 W 3rd Street, San Bernardino, California

Official site: http://sbdepotmuseum.squarespace.com

11. The National Orange Show Fair

On the landscaped grounds of the National Orange Show Event Center, the National Orange Show Fair has been celebrating the community to which it belongs for over 100 years. With over a century of experience, this five-day event takes place every year in May. It provides an abundance of cultural events and draws visitors from all over the Inland Empire and beyond.

Attractions at the National Orange Show Fair range include concerts, motorsports, and different contests like baking and photography. Carnival rides at the fair are popular for family members 36 inches and taller, including an iconic carousel that lends a view of the entire venue. And food is easy to find, with various vendors offering aromatic entrees and snacks on a stick.

The National Orange Show Event Center stays busy beyond the five days of the fair. Notably, it's home to the Orange Show Swap Meet every Sunday, featuring more than 200 vendors selling a variety of goods.

Address: 689 S E Street, San Bernardino, California

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

12. Perris Hill Park

Perris Hill Park
Perris Hill Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

This public space is named after a historical and influential member of the San Bernardino community and is one of the best parks in San Bernardino. It encompasses over 60 acres with several things to do, including a pleasant hike to the top of Perris hill, where a panoramic view of the city awaits.

The trailhead to hike to the top of Perris hill is across the park road from the tennis courts. It's less than a half-mile hike and pleasant the entire way. Miles-long views across the Inland Empire present themselves almost immediately, expanding with each step. This route also leads to excellent vistas of the nearby San Bernardino Mountains.

Outside the hill climb, the park also features baseball diamonds, different playground areas, and a swimming pool complete with a small water park. The park is also home to nearly 50 picnic tables spread throughout a large grassy space, interspersed with large shade-producing trees.

13. California Theatre of the Performing Arts

California Theatre of the Performing Arts
California Theatre of the Performing Arts | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

This historic venue has entertained the region since 1928, originally as a vaudeville movie palace. Today, it's a premier theater of the Inland Empire, hosting performances such as musicals, plays, concerts, and theater engagements.

Several national shows stop by the California Theatre each year, and it's home to the city's own San Bernardino Symphony. Unique to this Southern California performance space is the original Mighty Wurlitzer Organ, which is played on special occasions.

Address: 562 W 4th St, San Bernardino, California

Official site: http://www.californiatheatre.net/Home.html

14. Silverwood Lake State Recreation Area

Silverwood Lake
Silverwood Lake

Silverwood Lake is another scenic water spot in the San Bernardino National Forest within an hour's drive. The nearby Cedar Springs Dam formed this massive reservoir, transforming the scenic mountain environment into a watery landscape now popular with birds, boaters, and shoreline hikers

The State Recreation Area is also home to a popular campground. Tent campers and RV drivers alike find plenty of places to call home for a night, with over 130 sites available. RV sites have full hookups available, and all campers have access to flushing restrooms and coin-operated showers. It's a popular campground come summer, and reservations are highly recommended.

Official site: http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=650

15. Kimberly Crest House & Gardens

Kimberly Crest House
Kimberly Crest House | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Kimberly Crest House & Gardens is a historic mansion and outdoor space southeast of San Bernardino in the neighboring city of Redlands. It offers a lovely area to enjoy the sunny weather of the region, and a chance to tour a regal 1897 French chateau-style mansion.

Tours are typically available on Thursdays, Fridays, and weekends for a small price of admission. Reservations are recommended. The tour navigates a series of stairs that might not be accessible to all visitors.

Official site: http://kimberlycrest.org/

16. Angeles National Forest

View over Angeles National Forest
View over Angeles National Forest

For some San Gabriel Mountain attraction from San Bernardino, the Angeles National Forest is also an easy commute. From San Bernardino, tourists can head west through Rancho Cucamonga to make their way towards Mount San Antonio, better known throughout the region as Mount Baldy.

Throughout the winter, this is the main thoroughfare to reach Mt. Baldy Resort. Alternatively, tourists from San Bernardino can head north towards Wrightwood to access the Angeles Crest Highway, a scenic 66-mile automobile route that ends in Montrose.

Official site: https://www.fs.usda.gov/angeles/

17. Day Trip to Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The surreal desert scene of Joshua Tree National Park is one-and-a-half hours from San Bernardino. The closest entry point is Black Rock Canyon, featuring reservable campsites and scenic hiking trails like Panorama Loop. Further into the park, magnificent boulder piles and desert plants define the landscape, including teddy bear cholla and a Joshua tree forest.

Other notable campgrounds and attractions at Joshua Tree include Jumbo Rocks, Indian Cove, and Ryan Campground. Rock climbing is a popular activity, as is hiking and photographing the unique desert environment. Pets are not allowed on the trails at Joshua Tree National Park.

Several oases are also found within Joshua Tree National Park, providing palm tree shade and lush environments to escape the afternoon heat. A good place to visit first for an adventure at Joshua Tree is the Oasis Visitor Center in Twentynine Palms, complete with a short trail to an actual oasis.

Official site: https://www.nps.gov/jotr/index.htm

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