Guests walk along the entryway at the historic Mission Inn, which is extravagantly decorated with holiday lights
The historic Mission Inn Hotel & Spa pulls out all the stops with its holiday decorations.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

SoCal’s most overlooked holiday escape is a place you’ve probably driven past

Standing at the corner of Mission Inn Avenue and Market Street in downtown Riverside on a sunny afternoon, the realization was so abrupt that I couldn’t help asking the question out loud: “Wait ... is my hometown low-key charming?”

Growing up, I’d always resented Riverside — often for qualities that might appeal to prospective residents. The community is tight-knit. My maternal grandparents and many of their siblings moved there from Mississippi in the 1950s and ’60s, which means that to this day I can hardly go anywhere without running into a relative or someone I went to high school with. (Once, I forgot my wallet in the Galleria at Tyler mall and by the time I got home, it was found by one of my grandmother’s friends who recognized my school picture tucked inside it.) Riverside is also quiet — I’ve commiserated more than once with UCR alumni about the city’s perceived lack of after-dark options. One of my main gripes there was, as I’d often bemoan to my mother, there’s nothing to do.

Still, it’s hard not to look back at those memories through rose-colored glasses and appreciate how, even when I wasn’t paying attention, Riverside always had my back. In grade school, I’d run through my neighbors’ yards with as much abandon as my own, tumbling through sprinklers and swaying on the tire swings they’d hung years ago for their children, who’d since grown. I think back to dusky evenings when we’d walk our dog through orange groves. Somehow, the picture doesn’t feel so distant from the way East Coast friends describe their own idyllic woodsy childhoods.

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Founded by New York abolitionist John W. North in the early 1870s, Riverside was progressive from the start. In 1873, it birthed the California citrus industry when it became home to the first navel orange tree planted in the United States. Designated a California Historic Landmark in 1932, the tree still stands today.


By the turn of the 20th century, Riverside had emerged as a luxury winter destination, thanks in large part to the historic Mission Inn Hotel & Spa, the largest Mission Revival-style building in the country. Son of the hotel’s original owner and chief developer Frank Miller spent decades traveling the world collecting treasures to display around the property, including more than 800 bells, a symbol that has come to represent the city.

In its heyday, the hotel was a popular stop for politicians and celebrities, including President Ronald Reagan, who honeymooned there, and actor Bette Davis, who married her third husband, William Grant Sherry, at the inn. Now in its 31st year, the hotel’s annual festival of lights attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each holiday season.

Today, to my surprise, Riverside — the largest city in the Inland Empire, with over 320,000 residents — proves more alluring than ever. The revived downtown area hums with new nightlife and dining destinations, and monthly art walks demonstrate a thriving scene. Restaurant options are as plentiful and exciting as in Los Angeles or San Diego — often with a reduced price tag. I try to visit at least one weekend each month and every time, I know that at least one dinner will be dedicated to Tony’s, a fast-casual Mexican spot housed in a Chicago Avenue strip mall, and that I’ll be stopping by Baker’s Drive-Thru on my way in or out of the city for a bean and cheese burrito and “frynormous” bag of fries. During the winter, the downtown farmers market is a gold mine for stocking up on rare citrus varieties.

Time and time again, the city has proved its worthiness as an intentional pit stop, flaunting landmarks such as a Chicano-centered art collection from comedian Cheech Marin, a long-standing LGBTQ+ bar and a state park brimming with citrus trees. This hometown of mine is charming — and it’s heartening to see more people discovering its delights.

Looking to explore Riverside? Here’s everything you need to eat, drink, see and do during an extended stay.

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An array of pastries from Arcade Coffee Roasters
(Danielle Dorsey / Los Angeles Times)

Rise early for coffee and fresh pastries from Arcade Coffee Roasters

Coffeehouse Bakery Breakfast/Lunch $
Named after the old-school video arcade that houses its original location on Chicago Avenue, Arcade Coffee Roasters — opened in 2017 — has expanded with a cafe-bakery in Canyon Crest and a downtown location with a larger food menu. The owners also recently took over Backstreet, a quaint and long-beloved lunch bistro in downtown Riverside. My favorite location is the Chicago Avenue headquarters (marked on this map), where all of the coffee is roasted and the entire block is perfumed with a nutty, smoky aroma.

The usual coffee drinks are offered, all featuring in-house roasted beans with optional house-made syrup combinations like agave cardamom and honey cinnamon, plus seasonal flavors like gingerbread caramel, vanilla pine and house hot chocolate. In the pastry case sit flaky, tightly wrapped croissants, muffins with crumbly crowns and palm-sized scones studded with jammy fresh fruit that are dropped off fresh every morning from the bakery. Earn a $1 early-bird discount by pairing a pastry with your coffee order before 9 am. With picnic tables spread across the patio, an open-format interior and just a short distance from both John W. North High School (hi, alma mater!) and UCR, it’s a popular study spot. You can take home single-origin beans that are roasted on-site as well as single-serving instant coffee.

The Chicago roasting location is hosting a holiday market on Nov. 25 from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., with live music and screen printing, vintage sellers, ceramics, art, pet adoptions and natural wine in addition to the regular menu.
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Two plates with bacon, potatoes, scrambled eggs and house-made chicken apple sausage
(Danielle Dorsey / Los Angeles Times)

Grab a fresh loaf of sourdough at Simple Simon's Bakery & Cafe

Bakery $$
As a kid, after running errands with my grandmother, she would take me to Simple Simon’s as a treat. When I recently revisited the restaurant, I worried that it wouldn’t hold up to my memories, but I found myself sentimental — and now I have an adult understanding of why Grandma has long loved this cafe.

Tucked off a pedestrian block, this bistro is, as the name alludes, simple and homey, with exposed brick walls and polished wooden booths that match the counter. It gets busy with downtown workers and families who snatch up fresh-baked croissants and bagels for breakfast and salads, soups and sandwiches on house sourdough for lunch. Peer into the pastry case where pecan sticky buns, lemon cheesecake squares and chocolate chip cookies all vie for attention. Simple Simon’s is the kind of place where baristas will eventually memorize your order and, when you ask for additional fried potatoes in place of bread, the chef will jovially call over his shoulder, “No problem!”
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A plastic lidded cup of orange liquid sits on a wood table, sunlight streaming in from the nearby window
(Danielle Dorsey / Los Angeles Times)

Join a chess tournament at Back to the Grind

Coffeehouse $
The spacious coffeehouse with coffered ceilings, exposed brick walls and a welcoming, worn-in feel has been a downtown hub since 1996. Brimming with books, local art and mismatched furniture, Back to the Grind is perfect for a day of studying, or you can stop by in the evenings for open mics and chess tournaments. The menu’s got something for everybody, including coffee drinks, teas, smoothies, breakfast items, sandwiches, pastries, vegan pizza and ice cream. Owner Darren Conkerite can often be found behind the counter and is always happy to tender a recommendation if you’re overwhelmed by the lengthy menu or to muse about the art gracing the walls.
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A pile of beignets with two plastic containers of fruity toppings
(Danielle Dorsey / Los Angeles Times )

Start your day with a New Orleans-influenced breakfast at the Beignet Spot

Breakfast Fried Chicken Desserts $
One example of how Riverside’s newest food institutions are highlighting an even wider range of cuisines is this New Orleans-influenced breakfast spot from co-owners Angela and Carlo Alce (who also run Dhat Island, a long-standing Caribbean-Creole spot in Redlands). Plush and pillowy beignets generously powdered with confectioner’s sugar are a must-try and can be loaded with toppings such as house-made peach cobbler and bananas Foster. Jerk fried chicken, breakfast sandwiches and combos with grits, andouille sausage and scrambled eggs round out the menu. The chicory coffee shake is sweet, smoky and nutty, and a perfect way to jump-start your day.
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Orange roses bloom on bushes in a botanic garden
(Jodie S. Holt)

Watch butterflies break out of their cocoons at UCR Botanic Gardens

Botanic Garden
Escape the increasingly congested city with a peaceful stroll through UCR Botanic Gardens. Tucked at the foot of Box Springs Mountain, the gardens encompass four miles and include a greenhouse, butterfly sanctuary, herb and flower gardens, Native American plants and a forest with oak woodlands. Just one month before Pasadena’s Huntington Garden’s 8-foot-tall corpse flower drew crowds for its putrid bloom, UCR Botanic Gardens watched one blossom in late July, though it only stood about 40 inches in height. The gardens host events including art classes and workshops, such as a rose-pruning demonstration coming in January.
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A beige two-story house surrounded by chain-link fence
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Honor Riverside history at the Harada House

Historical Landmark
In December 1915, Jukichi Harada and his wife, Ken, purchased a home in downtown Riverside. To avoid violating the California Alien Land Law of 1913 that, as Japanese immigrants ineligible for citizenship, prevented them from purchasing property, the couple listed their three young children, Miné, Sumi and Yoshizo — all of whom were natural-born citizens — as the owners. Following the purchase, neighbors pressured the Haradas to move out, eventually enlisting the state, which filed suit in order to transfer ownership back to itself.

The State of California vs. Jukichi Harada case began a year later in December 1916 and after almost two years of hearings, a judge granted the children the right to maintain ownership of the home, although the case also upheld the discriminatory legislation that prevented foreign-born immigrants from land ownership, which was amended in 1920 to close loopholes. Sadly, during World War II, the Harada family was forcibly detained and separated; both Jukichi and Ken died in a Utah incarceration camp.

In the late 1970s, Sumi submitted family records to the city and, with the help of UCR graduate student Mark Rawitsch, the home was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1991. Donated to the Museum of Riverside in 2004, the home has been under active restoration since 2016, with plans to eventually open it as a cultural and educational site. For now, you can take in the exterior of the two-level home on Lemon Street. A plaque offering a brief description of its history sits in front.

Earlier this year, nearby Highland Elementary School was renamed Harada Elementary to recognize the family and their significance to the city. This was also the final year of my mother’s tenure as the principal of that primary school, where she also was a teacher for many years. It’s because of her that I learned this little-known history.
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A colorful skeleton mariachi band made of recycled tin cans outdoors at a restaurant.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Marvel at the recycled art oasis that is Tio's Tacos

Mexican $
The vibrant human-sized butterfly that stands outside the entrance of Tio’s Tacos is just a hint of what you’ll find across the interior and patio, both decorated with recycled art that owner-artist Martin Sanchez has been repurposing since opening the restaurant in 1990. Essentially an outdoor sculpture garden, Tio’s winding alfresco area features life-size “Star Wars” robots made from aluminum cans and machine parts, a chapel assembled from thousands of beer bottles and an alleyway that’s shaded by a swarm of tin monarch butterflies. The setting is reason alone for a visit, but the food holds up too. Classic Mexican specialties are offered, including chile relleno, menudo, ceviche, aguachile, enchiladas, burritos and tacos, plus house-made aguas frescas in 18 flavors, micheladas, margaritas and beer.
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A cactus-like art piece at the Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art and Culture in downtown Riverside.
(Danielle Dorsey / Los Angeles Times)

Take in Chicano art and culture at the Cheech Marin Center

The building that once housed the Riverside Public Library reopened in 2022, in a partnership between the Riverside Art Museum (RAM), the city of Riverside and comedian Cheech Marin. Now called the Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art & Culture, the museum showcases the actor’s personal art collection featuring an array of Southern California-based Chicano artists, including luminaries such as Judith Baca and Harry Gamboa Jr.

Set aside a couple of hours to thoroughly explore the two-story space with ongoing exhibitions such as “Indigenous Futurism,” featuring works by 18 femme artists, all conceived through an Indigenous lens, and “Xican-a.o.x Body,” which examines pieces from the 1960s through the present day that position the brown body as a site of exploration and expansion. The museum extends its hours to 9 p.m. on the first Thursday of every month for Riverside Artswalk and is free during the art walk as well as on the first Sunday of every month. Tickets also grant you entry into RAM, which is just a couple of doors down.
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Children sit on the floor while adults read to them and a dog looks on in a bookstore.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Join the 'So Emotional' Book Club or many other groups at Cellar Door Books

Book Store
I first became familiar with this independent bookstore when it was at its original location in the Canyon Crest Towne Centre that’s close to where my mother lives. After 11 years, the shopping center declined to renew the bookshop’s month-to-month lease — a move that many saw as a response to the bookstore’s recent drag show story time events — and owner Linda Sherman-Nurick was forced to relocate Cellar Door to its current spot in Mission Village.

The store has since settled into its new home and has released a packed slate of programming, including book clubs focused on history, Black and LGBTQ+ literature, self-care, mystery, philosophy, sci-fi and fantasy, and kids, plus author signings, open mics and other events. The book selection is varied and extensive and booksellers are always happy to offer a recommendation when asked. Nya, an Australian shepherd mix and the bookstore’s unofficial mascot, will often sidle up for a pat on the head.
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The vintage neon sign of George's Drive In
(Danielle Dorsey / Los Angeles Times)

Pull into George's Drive In for burgers and a milkshake

American $
Pulling into George’s after catching a movie at the nearby Van Buren drive-in feels like stepping into a ’60s sitcom. Maybe it’s the wraparound parking lot that plays host to gleaming classic cars or the vintage neon sign promising “Burgers Fries Shakes.” It could be the menu, offering everything from tacos, breakfast burritos, burgers and sandwiches to milkshakes and banana splits, with most items under $10. Founded by George and Zaharoula Alexiou in 1974, the family-owned spot is a longtime favorite for fast, affordable and consistent comfort foods, including standouts such as a 6-ounce rib-eye sandwich on a grilled French roll and fried zucchini bites.
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A hand holds a card that says "Where do you find yourself in the groves?" in the California Citrus Historic State Park.
(James Kei)

Explore the groves at California Citrus Historic State Park

State Park
You only have to drive through Riverside to see how citrus overflows throughout the city, but it’s at this historic state park where you can learn the deeper history behind the citrus industry, including how the trees made their way to California, the Indigenous groups who lived in the area long before it was settled and the citrus pickers who often go unrecognized. Wander through acres of citrus groves, where you’ll spy unique hybrid variations that rarely hit grocery store shelves, and unpack a picnic in the open grassy fields or in the gazebo. Admission is $7 per vehicle and tours are offered at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Friday through Sunday. Make sure you stop by the old-school fruit stand at the entrance and pick up a big bag of Valencia oranges to juice at home.
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Chicken tikka masala fries in a container
(Paul Rodriguez / For The Times)

Order West Coast takes on classic Indian dishes at Cali Tardka

Indian $$
This Punjabi restaurant that’s operated out of a Woodcrest home represents the shifting culinary scene in Riverside. While traditional bricks-and-mortars continue to thrive, street food and other unconventional pop-ups have become more commonplace. Cali Tardka offers traditional items such as butter chicken and creamy channa masala, as well as California-inspired mashups like an Indian burrito (chicken tikka masala and rice in tightly wrapped naan bread with a side of chicken tikka masala gravy) and chicken tikka masala fries (which are stained red from the generous sweet and spicy sauce that’s poured on top). It’s run by mother and son Kulwant “Kimi” Sanghu and Manu Sanghu, who hope to open a takeout operation in 2025, but in the meantime, Instagram is the best way to stay updated on limited specials. Make sure to add an order of puffy, palm-sized samosas stuffed with masala potatoes and mango lassi that comes in a convenient Capri Sun-like pouch.
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Wooden shelves and trays full of vinyl records in a shop, one area labeled Daptone Family.
(Penrose Record Room)

Stock up on vinyl at Penrose Record Room

Record store
This brand-new record shop is from Riverside native Bosco Mann, co-founder of Daptone Records, and also serves as the headquarters for his new Penrose Records imprint. The basement-level shop oozes vintage charm with pine paneling, hand-built record bins and brown-and-white checkered floors. Fully stocked with soul, R&B, oldies, punk, reggae, metal and more, it’s a place where new and longtime vinyl collectors can sell old records and stumble upon hidden gems, including stripped-down performances by Penrose Records artists.
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An exhibit in a museum
(Danielle Dorsey / Los Angeles Times)

Learn from the past at the Center for Social Justice & Civil Liberties

Cultural Center
On Market Street in downtown Riverside, the Center for Social Justice & Civil Liberties is run by the Riverside Community College District, where late artist Miné Okubo, daughter of Jukichi and Ken Harada, was an alumnus. The second floor of the center houses a collection from Okubo, featuring more than 8,000 pieces spanning artwork, personal papers and memorabilia highlighting the history of Japanese Americans throughout the 20th century. Also on display is “Citizen 13660,” Okubo’s memoir and the first book to be written by a Japanese American imprisoned during World War II, with drawings that reveal what life was like in Bay Area and Utah detention centers. Find rotating exhibitions on the first floor. Admission is free and the center stays open until 8 p.m. on the first Thursday of the month.
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A Zoltar fortune-teller machine
(Danielle Dorsey / Los Angeles Times)

Hunt for vintage treasures at the Mission Galleria Antique Shoppe

Antique Store
Across the street from the Mission Inn, the Mission Galleria Antique Shoppe is a multilevel mall with vintage clothing, porcelain tea sets, collector-edition Barbies and other toys in their original packaging, well-preserved antique furniture, vinyl records and just about anything you can imagine. It’s a great place to pick up seasonal decorations at a bargain, and afterward you can get a cortadito from Molinos Coffee, a Cuban cafe that’s connected to the antique mall.
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Assorted barbecued meats in a rectangular foil tray.
(Danielle Dorsey / Los Angeles Times)

Fill up on smoked meats and Southern sides at Gram's BBQ

Barbecue Southern $$
The Southern-hued restaurant founded by South Carolina native Robert Bratton in 1987 was originally called Gram’s Mission BBQ, named for its position across the street from the Mission Inn. Since relocated to Main Street across the street from the convention center and next door to a flower shop, today Gram’s is run by Bratton’s daughter Benita, but the family recipes remain the same. Settle on the shaded patio or in the cozy dining room with floor-to-ceiling windows and dig into specialties such as beef brisket and pulled pork with sides like potato salad, collard greens and baked beans. Burgers, po’ boys, chicken and waffles and Friday fish specials balance out the menu. Wash it down with a sweet tea or Kool-Aid.
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Cars sitting in a drive-in parking lot at dusk, with a movie playing on the screen
(Ana Venegas / For The Times)

Kick it old-school at the Van Buren Drive-In Theatre and Swap Meet

Drive-In Theatre $
This ’60s-era drive-in theater offers movie screenings at prices that feel vintage — just $10 for adults and $1 per kid for a double feature. Two films are shown across three screens seven days a week and you’re welcome to stay for both movies at no extra charge, although sometimes studios buy out the screens for a single billing. Audio is transmitted by FM radio and it’s recommended you bring a portable radio if you’re worried about your car battery. A snack bar is stocked with classic movie snacks like popcorn and candy as well as carne asada nachos, or you can bring your own food. Doors open an hour before showtime on weekends and 30 minutes before shows on weekdays — arrive early to get the best viewing spot.

Visit during the day on weekends or Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday for a swap meet with vendors slinging everything from clothes and leather cowboy boots to household appliances, plants and more, including a pop-up mechanic.
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The Fox Theater, a Spanish Colonial Revival style building in the heart of downtown Riverside, at dusk.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

See a Broadway musical at Fox Performing Arts Center

Performing arts center
The Riverside Fox Theater was built in 1929 and features the same Mission Revival style that you’ll spy down the block at the Mission Inn. The performing arts center was designed by Clifford Balch and engineer Floyd E. Stanberry, the L.A.-based architects behind many of the theaters in the West Coast Theatres chain that later merged with Fox Theaters. The downtown landmark is known for being the first to screen the 1939 film “Gone With the Wind.”

In 2006, the theater was purchased by the city of Riverside and underwent a major renovation as part of the $1.68-billion “Riverside Renaissance” program. Operated by Live Nation for the last decade, the arts center hosts Broadway musicals, comedy shows and, for the holidays this year, a performance of “The Nutcracker” by Inland Pacific Ballet.
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A Monty's Good Burger neon sign above the stalls in the Riverside Food Lab
(Danielle Dorsey / Los Angeles Times)

Hit all 14 food and drink stalls at Riverside Food Lab

Global Brewery Bar/Nightclub $$
On the corner of Market and 6th Street, Riverside Food Lab is the Inland Empire’s first food hall. Fourteen vendors share the winding space, including L.A. import Monty’s Good Burger for plant-based burgers, Bricks & Birch for brick-oven pizza and Shrimp Shack for Cajun fusion, plus Beer Farm for craft brews and newly opened Brass Monkey Social Bar for creative cocktails. Open late on Friday and Saturday, the food hall features a lending library and photo booth and hosts regular events including painting nights, cornhole on the weekends, pet adoptions, toy drives and more. The Game Lab is situated next door, equipped with retro arcade and pinball games, air hockey, skee ball and more, with a full bar in the back. A sister food hall is set to open in Redlands next year.
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Photographs, including an oversize shot of a girl, her arm over her head, on display in a museum
(UCR California Museum of Photography)

Take a mental snapshot at the California Museum of Photography

This double-duty photography museum and contemporary art center is managed by UCR ARTS and you can find it on a pedestrian-only section of Main Street in downtown Riverside. The California Museum of Photography charts the history of photography with more than 500,000 pieces, while the Barbara & Art Culver Center of the Arts features a screening room and a gallery for exhibitions and performances.

At the photography museum, an exhibition celebrating artist David C. Driskell, who helmed the cutting-edge exhibition “Two Centuries of African American Art: 1750-1950,” is on view through mid-December; “Heresies: Still Ain’t Satisfied,” which chronicles the legendary feminist journal, runs through late January and “The Impact of Images: Mamie Till’s Courage From Tragedy” is on display through March. Independent, experimental and foreign films are shown regularly as part of the Culver Screening Series. The photography museum is free with registration and film tickets are $10, or $8 for weekend matinees.
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The exterior of Ooka, a sushi and hibachi restaurant at the Riverside Plaza.
(Danielle Dorsey / Los Angeles Times)

Go all out with a dramatic hibachi dinner at Ooka

Japanese $$
If you’re in the mood for a flashy dinner before or after a movie, look no further than Ooka, a hibachi and sushi bar with three additional locations in Pennsylvania. The sleek restaurant has been around since 1997 — no small feat considering how quickly businesses cycle in and out of the Riverside Plaza where it’s housed. Hibachi dinners come with clear soup, salad and steamed white rice, along with your choice of premium meats such as New York strip steak, lobster and scallops. The restaurant goes all in on stacked sushi rolls, including the 951 roll with spicy snow crab, avocado and almonds that’s topped with seared salmon, spicy garlic mayo, masago and a drizzle of basil olive oil. Appetizers span gyoza, calamari and a duck spring roll, and a handful of ramen dishes is available. Japanese beer, craft cocktails, wine — including plum — and an impressive list of hot and cold sake encompass the beverage menu.
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People dance on a colorfully lighted dance floor.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Leave it all on the dance floor at the Menagerie

Bar/Nightclub $
Celebrating its 40th anniversary is this LGBTQ+ bar in downtown Riverside that hosts drag brunch and almost nightly events, including karaoke, Wayback Wednesdays with ’80s and ’90s music played all night and Out & Proud Saturdays with no cover. Founded by activist Madeline Lee on Valentine’s Day 1983, the Menagerie supported the city’s queer community through the devastating AIDS crisis and campaigned against Proposition 8, in addition to other related causes. In 1999 Lee sold the bar to her good friend David St. Pierre, who outfitted it with a circular bar, modern dance floor and erotic paintings by local artist David Randers, solidifying it as one of the most popular gay bars in the Inland Empire. St. Pierre died last year, and now the Menagerie is in the hands of his family, who remain committed to uplifting and celebrating Southern California’s LGBTQ+ communities. Get $2 off your choice of drink during weekday happy hour from 4 to 7 p.m. or stop by for drag performances on Tuesday and Thursday nights.
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The entryway at the historic Mission Inn is decorated with poinsettias and holiday lights.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Admire the festival of lights at Mission Inn Hotel & Spa

Historic hotel $$$
Founded as a boarding house in 1867 before it was converted into a full-service hotel by Frank Miller in 1903, the sprawling Mission Inn Hotel & Spa is the anchor from which downtown Riverside grew. The Mission Inn was never a California mission, but it features Mission Revival architecture in its main Mission Wing, with red clay roof tiles, bell towers and deep door and window frames. Additional wings in architectural styles ranging from Spanish Gothic to Renaissance Revival were added as the hotel grew, including a chapel with stained glass and original mosaics by Louis Comfort Tiffany.

After changing hands several times after Miller’s death, the Mission Inn was rescued from the verge of demolition by Duane and Kelly Roberts, who invested in a $55-million renovation and reopened the hotel with a Tuscan-inspired spa in 1992. It’s worth taking a tour so you can sneak a peak at hidden spaces that are typically only accessible to those who work there or book the hotel for a wedding or event. Landmark walking tours are conducted by the Mission Inn Foundation throughout the day, seven days a week.

During the winter season, the Mission Inn is illuminated with the Festival of Lights, a tradition that began 31 years ago and today serves as one of the largest public light displays in the country. The event is so popular that the inn opted to run it for an extra week this year, scheduling a switch-on ceremony with Cheech Marin for Nov. 18. Festival of Lights runs through Jan. 7.
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The exterior of the Sirehas a painting of a jockey next to a giant horseshoe
(Danielle Dorsey / Los Angeles Times)

Order a steak and a beer at the Sire Bar & Grill

American $
A giant horseshoe marks the entrance of this long-standing dive that serves up daily dinner specials such as spatchcock chicken on Monday and $1.25 tacos on Wednesday. Stop by on the weekends for items like a breakfast burrito and an 8-ounce top sirloin served with eggs. Happy hour is similarly appealing, offering $2 off select appetizers, sides, beer and wine, plus $5 well cocktails from 2 to 6 p.m. daily. First opened in 1955, the Sire feels like stepping into a midcentury man cave with a fireplace, leather swivel chairs and wood paneling throughout. The only observable upgrade are the flatscreen TVs now mounted in opposite corners, and that’s the way longtime locals prefer this no-nonsense haunt off Magnolia Avenue.
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A hiking trail winds along a mountain side with a sunset and wide view of a city to the right.
(From Gerard Bergeron)

Behold the views at the top of Mt. Rubidoux Trail

Park Trail
3.2-mile loop
While Riversiders know Mt. Rubidoux as the annual site of Fourth of July fireworks (and often, ensuing fires), this park and landmark with a large white cross planted at its peak is also host to the oldest outdoor nondenominational Easter sunrise service in the country, running since 1909. Named after Louis Rubidoux and eventually sold to Frank Miller, then-owner of the Mission Inn, the trails also feature a peace tower and a friendship bridge that’s designed after the Alcántara Roman Bridge in Spain. The 161-acre park is a popular birding, biking and hiking site, offering summit views that span the city. On-leash dogs are welcome.
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