Downtown Riverside is blossoming, right outside your hotel

Many people heading to Riverside make a beeline for the Mission Inn and spend the weekend at its spa, restaurants and pool. They barely venture outside, and that's a shame because, as my husband and I discovered, downtown Riverside has blossomed into a fine arts and culture district. There are many examples of classic California architecture and more than a dozen sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The tab: We spent about $200, including $105 for one night at the Hyatt Place and $95 on food and museum admissions.

The bed


Just off the Main Street pedestrian mall and its shops, restaurants and museums, the new Hyatt Place (3500 Market St.; [951] 321-3500) is easier on the wallet than the nearby Mission Inn. There's a small lobby and the "Guest Kitchen," where you can grab a snack 24/7. If you don't like crowds, bring your shin guards: On Saturday night, the public area was jammed with young soccer players eating pizza. The guest rooms are bright and functional; our room had a partition separating the sleeping area, a sectional sofa-sleeper and work space. Breakfast is included.

The meal

The best place for lunch on an art-filled weekend is Tio's Tacos (3948 Mission Inn Ave.; [951] 788-0230), a treasure-trove of found and recycled objects that is a feast for the eyes: Think Watts Towers meet Antoni Gaudí in a fantastical sculpture garden. Sip aguas frescas on the patio while eating traditional Mexican fare. The Salted Pig (3700 12th St.; [951] 848-4020), a new gastro pub, was jammed on Saturday night. We had brews and bacon fat popcorn to start. Our pig-out meal, a pork belly sandwich and a juicy burger on a house-made brioche bun with jalapeño cream cheese, was great; dessert was a Pig Sammy, candied bacon ice cream between maple cookies.

The find

The bustling downtown arts scene. Small galleries have popped up alongside such established venues as the Riverside Art Museum, housed in a former YWCA designed by Julia Morgan. The UC Riverside ARTSblock was a standout with three dynamic spaces for the UCR/California Museum of Photography, the Sweeney Art Gallery and the Culver Center of the Arts. A pair of exhibits (now closed), "Free Enterprise" and "Astronauts, Rockets & Robots," with an outer space theme, were a delight. Among the small galleries, we liked Christian Tedeschi's "Throwing a Blanket Over the Invisible Man" exhibit at the tiny Californa Baptist University's College of Architecture, Visual Arts and Design space. (Museum/galleries details)

The lesson learned

Time your trip to coincide with a performance at downtown's Fox Performing Arts Center (3801 Mission Inn Ave.; [951] 779-9800), a recently renovated 1929 Spanish Colonial Revival gem. Take your pick: There are rock stars, classical musicians, dance troupes, Broadway shows.