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Why: The Mission Inn, which dates to the 1870s, stands in the middle of Riverside the way Bruce Springsteen stands in the middle of the E Street band. It fills a city block. And since the early 1990s, the hotel has been putting together an ever-more-lavish Festival of Lights. At last count, about 5 million lights.
What: For six weeks at Christmastime, the landmark hotel switches on all those lights and invites visitors to stroll through the property, including a tunnel where faux snow falls. (This year’s festival runs Nov. 24 through Jan. 6.)
The line to walk the property can get very long — and the traffic and parking situation in the blocks around the hotel can seem downright devilish. But most folks are in a good mood, and the festival includes live music, horse-drawn carriages, funnel cakes, Santa Claus photo ops and more. To see more lights and skip the line, book a dinner reservation at the Mission Inn Restaurant (one of several on the property) and you may land at a courtyard table, surrounded by Spanish Revival architecture that’s more ornate (and with more Tuscan influence) than you’ll see at any of California’s 21 actual missions.
And yes, there’s a reason the decorations seem to be in motion: Besides lights, the halls and walls have also been festooned with about 200 angels, gnomes, polar bears, many of which move, in the same halting, semi-spooky way that Honest Abe moves in Disneyland’s “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln.” It’s a scene.
And speaking of presidents, be sure to peek at the hotel’s Presidential Lounge and its portrait of Richard Nixon, who was a 27-year-old attorney when he married Pat Ryan at the hotel in 1940. (There’s also a tower, a rotunda, spa, all sorts of artworks and artifacts and a museum next door that traces the inn’s history through expansion, bankruptcy, renovations and resurgence.)
Where: 3649 Mission Ave., Riverside, 55 miles east of downtown L.A.
How much: It’s free to walk the hotel property during the Festival of Lights. Dinner main dishes at the Mission Inn Restaurant run $15-$42. (I can recommend the Italian sausage pasta and the pan-seared salmon.) Rooms for two start as low as $199 in slow months (like January), $329 or more in December.
Info: Mission Inn