The Getaway
California’s Inland Empire is Seriously Underrated

SoCal's Inland Empire, or IE as locals know it, spans an area larger than some states. The borders are hazy, but knowing where Riverside and San Bernardino are should help you hone in on the region. Miles away from the Pacific Ocean, the focus is less on the Golden State's beaches and more on its lakes, woods, and mountains. Picture alpine vistas, cozy cabins, stress-melting hot springs, and miles and miles of desert for unplugging, and see if you're not itching to travel ASAP.


01 Vibe at the Coachella Music and Arts Festival

Coachella Valley is known for its world-famous music and arts festival that attracts hundreds of thousands of attendees. Big-name acts from various genres descend on Coachella to give one of the most-spotlighted live performances of the year. It's a joyous occasion, bolstered by colorful spring, sunny weather, and fabulous festival fashion. Coachella is arguably the jewel in the Inland Empire's crown. Pack your camping gear and get ready for an epic weekend.

02 Grab a seat at the Indian Wells Open

Every March, tennis fans flock to Indian Wells for what's referred to as the "Fifth Grand Slam." The Indian Wells Masters tournament features in Netflix's Break Point" documentary series and is a mandatory stop on every top player's schedule. The main stadium here is larger than at every grand slam except for the U.S. Open. If you can get your hands on coveted tickets, you'll be treated to an exciting ambiance and the highest quality the sport can offer.

03 Enjoy the sights at the Auto Club Speedway

This superspeedway near Fontana has been a NASCAR racing venue since 1997. The grandstand can accommodate 68,000 fans, and the total capacity is an impressive 122,000. Auto Club Speedway's track has been featured in several movies, including Ford v Ferrari, Herbie: Fully Loaded, Charlie's Angels, and The Bucket List. Fulfill your need for speed with tickets to the NASCAR weekend before going on a gorgeous Inland Empire road trip along the so-called Rim of the World Scenic Byway.

04 Check out the Southern California Railway Museum

The SoCal Train Museum is a worthy inclusion in your itinerary, especially if you're traveling with kids and the weather works in your favor. Entry is free, but you have to pay for the conductor-led train rides. You'll see many different types of trains, learn how to drive a streetcar if you so desire, and discover how important the railways were to America's growth. There's a Thomas the Tank Engine event and a seasonal Polar Express ride, so look out for those. Pack a picnic to spread out on the grass, and do the Locomotion for the giggles.

05 Fly high at the March Field Air Museum

With something for train aficionados on the list, we couldn't leave out March Field Air Museum. Plane enthusiasts can get their fix in Moreno Valley. Aviation artifacts abound here, and every wall of the hangar has educational displays with audio and video elements. Young and old will enjoy the scavenger hunt, the scale of these machines, pilot tales, and NASA-related exhibits. From helicopters and bombers to cargo planes and the legendary SR-71, you're bound to let out a wow or three.

06 Grab some popcorn at the Fox Performing Arts Theater

The Riverside Fox Theater is pretty close to the Air Museum. Round out a memorable day with a fun show at the venue that was the first to screen Gone With the Wind in 1939. Hollywood used this theater to screen previews and test whether a film would work in small-town America. You can look forward to great lighting and acoustics and accessible parking. The Spanish Colonial Revival style architecture invites a lot of camera clicks too.

07 Relax at Big Bear Lake

Big Bear Lake should be right at the top of any IE trip plans. Whether you're in the mood for a romantic getaway like the couples by the fireside in your favorite daytime soapie, or you want to take your fam somewhere outdoorsy and refreshing, you'll have an excellent time in this mountainous city. The clean, impossibly blue lake is full of fish, and if you want to move rather than wait for trout to take the bait, you can swim, kayak, ride horses, hike, or mountain bike. In winter, skiing and snowboarding dominate the agenda at Bear Mountain and Snow Summit ski resorts, but you can chill with a mug of hot cocoa, a book, and amazing views if you prefer.

08 Commune with nature at Joshua Tree National Park

This national park is vaster than Rhode Island and is a slice of desert wilderness with almost surreal aesthetics. The Joshua Tree, nicknamed the Jesus Tree, may cease to exist here in a century if temperatures continue to climb, so savor the sight of them. There are Native American petroglyphs near Barker Dam for those interested in history. You can marvel at the Giant Marbles, one of the unique rock formations within the park, and scramble over the many hills. The climbing routes are suitable for all skill levels. For a more sedate activity, go birdwatching or stargazing—Joshua Tree is a designated Dark Sky Park with a notably bejeweled night sky. A spring wildflower bloom also makes quite the natural spectacle.

09 Do everything in Palm Springs

The fact that Kris Jenner recently bought a house in Palm Springs may sway you to visit, but don't let it do the opposite and put you off a trip to this delightful city. There's more to Palm Springs than glamor, fancy golf courses, and nudist resorts. For starters, it has natural hot springs like Agua Caliente. It's also home to canyons, waterfalls, and a family-friendly Aerial Tramway. Get behind the wheel at the BMW Performance Center, ponder the art at Desert X, or grin from ear to ear at the tiki lounge drag shows.

10 Soak in goodness in Temecula Valley

Temecula Valley is all about vineyards and wine tastings. But if you're a teetotaler, the area's got you covered with bike trails, spas, wellness classes, farmers' markets, once-in-a-lifetime hot air ballooning, and the right conditions to unwind. Grab a meal at Old Town Temecula or Pechanga Resort Casino before watching the sunset at the end of a well-spent day. In spring, the flowers come out to play at various wineries and at Rose Haven Heritage Garden.

11 Go shipping outside at the Lake Elsinore Outlets

Just half an hour away from Temecula, the Outlets at Elsinore could be a fantastic detour or a dud depending on your luck. The center used to have more shops, but you can still pick up some sweet bargains at the remaining stores. There's plenty of parking, and you can charge your car before fueling up on something sweet or savory and going to see the orange poppies in spring. Gap, Bath and Body Works, Guess, Levi's, Puma, and Vans are available, for now, at least.

12 Or enjoy indoor shopping at Ontario Mills

When you're done at Auto Club Speedway, pop right over to Ontario Mills. This indoor outlet shopping destination is what Lake Elsinore Outlets wishes it could be and will likely give you a sales-related dopamine rush. Every year, 28 million people drop in to see what they can find at a discount. You can watch movies, visit the comedy club nearby, and boost your energy levels at the food court before going for round two of retail therapy. Skechers, Nike, Forever 21, Uniqlo, and ULTA Beauty are just some of the brands here, and various designer labels have outlet stores at Ontario Mills too.

13 Chill out by Lake Arrowhead

Lake Arrowhead in the San Bernardino National Forest styles itself as the "Alps of Southern California." It is one of IE's top places for rest and recreation but is a more understated destination than Big Bear. Water skiing, powerboating, and backpacking skim the surface of what you can do in this charming and peaceful SoCal mountain town. Most of all, you can kick back and do downtime things like observing the wildlife at Wildhaven Ranch.

14 Test your limits on Mount Rubidoux

Nature lovers, you'll want to bookmark this. The Mount Rubidoux trail is ideal for running and mountain biking. So if you're searching for somewhere new to lace up your trainers or hop on a saddle, look no further. Head for Downtown Riverside to begin the 3.2-mile circular route with or without your canine bestie. You'll end up at the summit with incredible views.

15 Learn a thing or two at the Mission Inn Museum

The Mission Inn is a National Historic Landmark. Tours here take just over an hour, and you'll learn which presidents have visited this charming hotel over the years, along with other tidbits about the original owner's art collection, for example. There's a no-picture rule, but you'll soon get over it.

16 Work remotely in Idyllwild

Hike San Jacinto Peak or laze around at one of the many cafes in picturesque Idyllwild. If you're too busy for a holiday, Idyllwild has remote work potential. This town near Banning may be the reset you need to do your job better. Book an Airbnb and see what the fresh mountain air does for your problem-solving abilities.

17 Enjoy time at Silverwood Lake

Silverwood Lake is half an hour away from Rancho Cucamonga. It's the stuff wholesome memories are made of. Sunbathe on a pontoon, sup, jet ski, walk the Miller Trail, or try catching striped bass. The clean bathrooms are welcome too.

18 Relive your childhood at Castle Park

We're keen beans for cotton candy and an amusement park, so it's hard for a place like Castle Park not to get a thumbs up. While you're in Riverside, make a point to experience some of the rides, play a round of mini golf, and let your hair down at the water park. This attraction is reasonably priced, and funnel cake and corn dogs have timeless appeal.

19 Take in the history at California Citrus State Historic Park

Ever wonder how the humble yet zesty orange shaped Californian history? Either way, you'll find out at California Citrus State Historic Park's open-air museum. Do the grove walking tour, and you can sample the goods. The palm trees are a happy bonus.

20 Go apple picking

Apple picking is another delicious fall activity. The orchards in Yucaipa are an awesome place to go for wagon and tractor rides in between scrumping. Sip hot cider and munch on a crisp and juicy organic apple straight from the tree.


Scroll Down

for the Next Article

The Getaway Badge
Sign up to receive insider info and deals that will help you travel smarter.