Riverside, California, was established in 1870 and named for its proximity to the San Ana River. Riverside County is east of Los Angeles County and Orange County. It often doesn’t get the same press as those other famous Southern California locations.
However, the City of Riverside and its surrounding county boast more than a hundred historical sites, parks, and museums. You’ll also find fun water and amusement parks, unique theaters, delicious restaurants, and historic hotels.
Although Orange County might sound like the place where the Southern California citrus industry got its start, that title actually belongs to Riverside, which built an entire city from the economic prosperity of the citrus industry.
If you want to know what is Riverside, California, known for, all you have to do is think of an orange!
The County of Riverside is the fourth-largest county in the state. Visiting the City of Riverside means access to endless acres of nature areas, parks, hiking opportunities, and all sorts of outdoor venues. You’ll also find some venues with incredible architecture.
Visit the Fox Performing Arts Center, a Spanish Colonial Revival style building, or the famous Mission Inn Hotel & Spa, the largest Mission Revival building in the country. Whether inside a beautiful building or outside under the glorious California sun, Riverside offers a lifetime’s worth of adventures.
- Most significant landmark – California Citrus State Park
- Best park – Whitewater Preserve
- Best free activity – Lake Hemet
- Best activity for kids – The Cove Waterpark
- Best activity for adults – UCR Botanic Gardens
- Best food – Anchos Southwest Grill & Bar
- Best nightlife – Downtown Experiment
- Best all-around accommodation – Mission Inn
15 Best & Fun Things to do in Riverside, California
1. Visit the Mission Inn Museum
Address: 3696 Main St, Riverside, CA 92501
Is Riverside, California, worth visiting? Well, yes, it is – even if the only place you go is the Mission Inn.
The Mission Inn Museum is an incredible property and national historic landmark that offers guided interpretive tours, educational programs, and free museum exhibits.
Expect to spend about two to three hours at the museum to see everything. If you’re good on your feet, consider this 75-minute walking tour as one of the best things to do in Riverside, California.
Even the locals will remark that they learned something they didn’t know when they take a tour of the inn and museum.
Riverside is an area rich with history, but it’s often forgotten in the hustle and bustle of Southern California. Everything in the region seems to move at a ridiculous pace, and you’ll enjoy the momentary lull of walking throughout the Mission Inn Museum.
The docents have an excellent reputation as knowledgeable, generous, and enthusiastic guides, so if you’re interested in getting the most out of your visit, consider a guided tour.
The walking tour is easily understood by young visitors, too, so if you have kids in the six to seven-year-old range, definitely book a tour.
If you want to stay in the most beautiful hotel in Riverside, you can also stay at the Mission Inn Hotel. You’ll love the style and elegance of the historic hotel and the luxurious feel of the rooms, as well as the fine dining options!
For a side quest, take a Riverside Scavenger Hunt.
See Related: Most Famous Landmarks in California to Visit
2. Visit Mount Rubidoux Park
Address: 4706 Mount Rubidoux Dr, Riverside, CA 92501
Mount Rubidoux is a mountain that rises to the west of downtown Riverside. The area exists not only as a city park but also as a landmark for the region. During the Fourth of July celebrations, fireworks are launched from a hillside at Mount Rubidoux Park.
Visitors looking for things to do in Riverside, California, will see several markers and small memorials throughout the park, with the most prominent a cross dedicated to the priest who brought Catholicism to California, Father Junipero Serra.
In keeping with its Catholic roots, the community holds a (now non-denominational) Easter sunrise service each year and has for more than a century.
The city maintains the park, but the Friends of Mount Rubidoux, a non-profit organization of citizen volunteers, also works to preserve and beautify the area.
The park covers a total of 161 acres and has around 3.5 miles of paved roads running through it. Hiking Mt. Rubidoux takes about 45 to 60 minutes. Running the mountain takes about 20 to 30 minutes.
To visit the park, head to Ryan Bonaminio Park, which is just next door to Mount Rubidoux Park. The park closes at sunset, and the gate to the paths is locked, so be sure to arrive with enough time for your activities.
3. Visit the March Field Air Museum
Address: 22550 Van Buren Boulevard, Riverside, CA 92518
The March Field Air Museum is near the similarly named March Air Reserve Base and opened in 1979. If you have anyone traveling in your party who loves aircraft or flight, this museum is definitely worth a trip.
Not only is this top California museum filled with incredible, rare aircraft, but the guides and employees at the museum are quite knowledgeable about the planes and their history, which makes it one of the best Riverside, California, tourist attractions.
The museum sits right next to the airstrip, so sometimes, you’ll get to see F-35 Lightning II fighter jets flying in the vicinity!
The museum isn’t huge, so it doesn’t take particularly long to tour, but it does have a healthy amount of information inside it, so it’s an excellent history lesson for military buffs and anyone who wants to know more about the history of aircraft in the United States.
More than 80 aircraft are on display outside the museum and include an Aero Commander U-9A, a Boeing B-29A Superfortress, and a Lockheed SR-71A Blackbird.
Inside the museum, visitors can see a replica of the Wright Flyer and a section from a Boeing B-47 cockpit, which was part of the set for the 1955 Jimmy Stewart Film “Strategic Air Command.”
The museum sometimes offers free admission to veterans, so check out the museum’s schedule if you’re a veteran or you’re traveling with a veteran who might enjoy visiting the museum.
Looking for a side trip?
See Related: Best Things to Do in Santa Rosa, California
4. Take a Walk Around Lake Hemet
Address: Mountain Center, Riverside County, California
Lake Hemet sits within the San Jacinto Mountains and is in the community of Idyllwild.
The lake is popular with locals for its camping and fishing opportunities, as for the swimming and boating in the summer. Riverside and the surrounding region get quite hot in the summer, so cooling off in the water is a treat.
A local company called White Duck Outdoors recently built some “glamping” tents at the lake, so now it’s possible to camp out at Lake Hemet with just a few extra luxuries you probably wouldn’t find in a regular tent.
Just about all you need is a barbecue and your cooler to make the most of your glamping adventure at Lake Hemet.
Tents feature two queen-size beds, blankets for all, chairs, lanterns, a picnic table, and a personal fire pit. Of course, visitors are also welcome to camp at Lake Hemet in less luxurious accommodations with their own basic tent and supplies.
Supplies are easy to get at the nearby Lake Hemet Market, which sits at the entrance to the camping area.
If you’re confident on the water and you’re trying to figure out what to do in Riverside, California, consider renting a pontoon boat, kayak, or fishing boat. You can rent these boats in half or full-day increments, and you can even bring your dog on the rentals, too.
5. Explore the Jurupa Mountains Discovery Center
Address: 7621 Granite Hill Dr, Riverside, CA 92509
If you’re visiting Riverside with kids, you’ll want to take a few hours or an afternoon to visit the Jurupa Mountains Discovery Center. The center offers learning expeditions for kids and families, and you can also celebrate a birthday at the center.
The Jurupa Mountains Discovery Center is a beloved location by locals for its giant steel dinosaur statues and the live animals that live at the center, and there is always a need for volunteers to help at the park. If you’re in the area for an extended vacation, you might consider volunteering at the center.
One of the easiest activities for small children is the rock collecting activity in the dinosaur area. Children will receive valuable lessons on rock collecting, minerals, and fossils as they learn fun facts about geology.
Older kids can participate in the California rockhound adventure at the park with discussions on magma, wind erosion, and geologic pressure.
The discovery center isn’t just for very young children, either.
If you’re searching for an outdoor activity that you can do with kids, the discovery center is the perfect place to blend fun and learning. Kids won’t even realize they’re getting an education about the local geology and the city’s history
See Related: Best Things to Do in California
6. See the Beauty of the University of California Riverside Botanic Gardens
Address: 1 Botanic Gardens Dr, Riverside, CA 92507
The UC Riverside Botanic Gardens sit on the east side of the University of California, Riverside campus and are the perfect place to get away from the traffic and hustle of Southern California. Riverside has some peaceful and tranquil areas, and the university’s botanic gardens are some of the best.
The UC Riverside Botanic Gardens cover 40 acres of rolling hills, and visitors can wander along four miles of trails or simply relax on one of the benches situated near the beautiful plant life.
The university calls its gardens a “living plant museum,” which boasts more than 3,500 species of plants and thousands of specimens from locales with Mediterranean climates, as well as California.
The UCR Botanic Gardens are comprised of several themed gardens like the Butterfly Garden with its many flowering shrubs, the South African Garden with native African bulbs and wildflowers, and the Herb Garden with its amazing variety of aromatic, medicinal, and culinary plants.
Visitors can also wander through the Iris Garden with its 150 different types of bearded irises and Lilac Lane, which is within the Chancellor’s Canyon and features blooms in the winter.
During the summer, the gardens open their doors at 8:00 am and close at 2:00 pm, but make sure to reach the gardens by 1:00 pm before they close the doors to new visitors.
7. Get Wet at The Cove Waterpark
Address: 4310 Camino Real, Riverside, CA 92509
One of the best adventures in Riverside for the whole family is The Cove Waterpark, which features all sorts of fun water features, pools, and slides.
The waterpark is open throughout the summer and has sections for children to adults. The youngest kids will enjoy the Lil’ Mates’ Lagoon, which is a large aquatic play structure with a shallow pool, small waterslides, and spray features.
Slightly older kids (and adults too) will have fun on the Crow’s Nest Slides, which feature 180 feet of slippery slides that empty out into a lagoon.
The Ne’er Endin’ River is another fun installation, which allows kids to float on a lazy river around Shipwreck Island and by the other pools around the park.
Overall, the park is best for parents and their small children. Anyone 10 years old and under will probably enjoy all the fun and goofy pirate-themed water features at the park. Teenagers and adventurous adults might need a little more excitement than the park can provide.
The park tends to get crowded right when it opens, so you might want to wait a few hours before heading out. The lines start to get shorter later in the day, which is great when you’re visiting with small kids who don’t like waiting.
Either way, if you’re traveling with kids, don’t miss out on this family-friendly amusement park!
For more water-related activities in California, book a Monterey Bay Whale Watching Tour.
See Related: Free California Travel Guide: Printable Guide to Travel
8. Wander Through California Citrus State Historic Park
Address: 9400 Dufferin Ave, Riverside, CA 92503
Although you might assume Orange County has all the oranges in Southern California, it’s actually Riverside that lays claim to the biggest citrus industry in the state.
However, Riverside has experienced immense change and growth over the past half-century, which has led to a reduction of the citrus trees and groves that helped build Riverside so many decades ago.
The California Citrus State Historic Park is an important reminder of Riverside’s roots, and its 300 acres help tell the story of the citrus industry and how it influenced the development of the region. You’ll want to set aside at least a few hours to explore this park and outdoor museum.
Entrance to this open-air museum and visitor center is free, and parking is an affordable $5 per car. You can join a guided tour of the park, where you’ll learn about the history of the citrus industry and learn about horticulture and citrus groves.
If you already have an interest in horticulture and plants, you won’t want to miss visiting the California Citrus State Historic Park because it features several rare varieties of trees, like finger limes. If you’re interested in touring the park, buy an advance ticket before you arrive so you guarantee yourself a spot.
9. Explore the Phenix Technology, Inc. Firefighter History Museum
Address: 3453 Durahart St, Riverside, CA 92507
Do you have a firefighter in the family?
Are you interested in seeing the equipment and history of firefighting? You might put the Firefighter History Museum on your list, which is housed within the manufacturing headquarters of Phenix Technology.
The museum is home to a huge permanent collection of firefighting memorabilia.
When you visit the museum, make sure to have a conversation with the owner or one of the employees, who are incredibly knowledgeable about virtually every piece of memorabilia in the museum, from the helmets to the photographs.
The museum isn’t large, but it’s an excellent place to learn something unique.
Even though the museum is housed in the manufacturing headquarters of a private company, it’s in no way an advertisement for Phenix. Rather, the museum is a labor of love by the museum’s employees, who clearly enjoy sharing information about the history of firefighting.
Some of the most interesting pieces of memorabilia in the museum are the 18th Century helmets used by European firefighters.
Be sure to look closely at all the shelves and displays, too. The museum is filled with an incredible amount of history, as well as valuable placards and information about all the pieces of old firefighting equipment.
Want to access more museums in California?
Get a GoCity ALL-Inclusive Pass.
See Related: Best & Fun Things to Do in San Diego, California
10. Pay Respects at the Riverside National Cemetery
Address: 22495 Van Buren Boulevard, Riverside, CA 92518
Riverside National Cemetery is a somber and important way to remember those who have served their country. The cemetery covers 1,250 acres and has more than a quarter of a million graves. The cemetery was established in the mid-1970s and first opened for burials on Veteran’s Day, 1978.
The first person buried at the cemetery was Medal of Honor recipient Staff Sergeant Ysmael Villegas, a US Army soldier killed in action during the last months of World War II. Since that time, the cemetery has served as a place of peace for visitors honoring their relatives or seeking a quiet place for reflection.
In addition to the graves, the cemetery has a handful of memorials, including the Prisoner of War & Missing in Action Memorial and the Medal of Honor Memorial.
The grounds at the Riverside National Cemetery are beautifully kept, and it’s a valuable and rewarding place to visit whether you know someone who was laid to rest at the cemetery or you’re just seeking to honor the fallen.
If you visit Riverside in the summer, keep an eye out for the concerts given on the property. Bands play songs that honor each branch of the military. The events also offer excellent assistance to visitors with disabilities. Admission to the cemetery is free, and it’s one of the best free things to do in Riverside.
11. Visit the Van Buren Drive-In Theatre
Address: 3035 Van Buren Boulevard, Riverside, CA 92503
When you’ve had your fill of hiking, boating, and outdoor adventures, consider a relaxing evening in your car at the Van Buren Drive-In Theatre.
The theater routinely welcomes new blockbusters to its screen, which means one of the best times to visit is in the summer when production companies release all the big-budget films.
Adults are $10, kids are one dollar, and admission fees pay for two movies which means it’s one of the most inexpensive things to do in Riverside, California, with kids.
The audio for the movies is broadcast on an FM radio, which means you’ll tune your car to the appropriate station to hear the audio from the film. It helps to have a car with a good sound system.
If your car doesn’t have an FM receiver, you can also bring a battery-operated radio to hear the movie. It might not sound as impressive, but you’ll still enjoy the experience. The theater has a snack bar with all the expected movie treats like popcorn, candy, and nachos.
One of the unique features of the theater is that they allow people to bring their own snacks, which are usually off-limits when it comes to traditional theaters. The theater is open, rain or shine, and won’t usually close unless there’s a serious downpour!
See Related: Fun & Best Things to Do in Oakhurst
12. Stroll Through Fairmount Park
Address: 2601 Fairmount Blvd, Riverside, CA 92501
Much like Riverside National Cemetery, Fairmount Park and its lovely rose garden is another one of the region’s most wonderful places to visit in Riverside, California, when you want some peace and quiet.
The rose garden is a popular venue for weddings and is in a convenient location near the 91 and 60 freeways. Although you can stroll through the park’s venues in just a few hours, it’s easy to spend an entire afternoon exploring the grounds.
You’ll find a playground for the kids, tennis courts, benches, shelters for hanging out, and a pond with geese and small wildlife.
The park is next door to a country club and golf course and is quite pastoral and open. On a hot day, you’ll find shade trees that are perfect for taking some time to rest during a day spent sightseeing.
You’ll find trails that wind their way throughout the park, as well as splash pads, lawn bowling, basketball courts, and various athletic fields.
The Universal Playground at Fairmount Park is a must-see if you have kids and it’s a hot day. The splash pad is a delight in the summer, and you’ll also find sensory features for visually impaired visitors.
13. Visit the Fox Performing Arts Center
Address: 3801 Mission Inn Avenue, Riverside, CA 92501
Like the Mission Inn, the Fox Performing Arts Center is a small theater that’s worth visiting because of its beautiful architecture and preservation.
The theater has an old-school charm to it, and just about every seat in the house has a great view. Don’t pay for the VIP tickets unless you really want to; you’ll have a great view even in the “cheap” seats.
The theater first opened in 1929 and was eventually designated a historic landmark by the City of Riverside. The theater was closed for many years after it shut its doors in the late 1990s but would reopen in the 2010s to welcome new music, performance, and comedy acts.
If you’re not interested in seeing a show, driving by the theater for a look at the façade is a worthwhile investment of time.
The theater is photogenic, and it’s a beautiful representation of Spanish Colonial Revival Architecture. If you decide to see a show at the theater, you’ll find that the venue books all sorts of performances.
Popular genres include Latin music, stand-up comedy, rock performances, and dance music performances. Technically, you can buy your tickets at the door, but you might find it more convenient to buy tickets online before you arrive. You never know when the theater will sell out before opening night.
See Related: Best Road Trips in the USA
14. Hike Through Sycamore Canyon Wilderness Park
Address: 400 Central Ave, Riverside, CA 92507
Sycamore Canyon Wilderness Park is a large and expansive area with ample opportunities for trail riding, so if you’re keen on mountain biking, you’ll want to put Sycamore Canyon Wilderness Park on your list.
However, you don’t absolutely need a bicycle to enjoy the park. You’ll find the hills an excellent place for getting a serious workout on foot, too.
Staff from the property’s Nature Center lead-free hikes every first Saturday of the month, so show up at 9:00 am if you’d like to join.
The Ameal Moore Nature Center offers free family-friendly events on every second Saturday of the month, which usually features arts & crafts and hikes. Park staff holds its Citizen Science Initiatives every third Saturday of the month, which offers excellent learning experiences for kids.
The area around the park can get quite hot, so make sure to bring some water, sunglasses, sunscreen, and other protective gear as needed.
The park is very much connected to the wilderness, so you may encounter coyotes and rattlesnakes, too. Always be aware of your surroundings when visiting this wild park!
15. Explore the Whitewater Preserve
Address: 9160 Whitewater Canyon Rd, Whitewater, CA 92282
Looking for day trips from Riverside?
Whitewater Preserve covers an amazing 2,851 acres and is nestled within the San Gorgonio Wilderness. The road to the preserve is long and winding, but the destination is well worth the time it takes to reach the park.
The park is privately owned and funded, but the surrounding wilderness is managed by the Bureau of Land Management.
Within the preserve, the Whitewater River flows year-round, and the area is home to endangered species and migrating birds. Birdwatching is popular with visitors, and opportunities exist for wildlife and wildflower viewing.
The area also offers opportunities for hiking, as well as dedicated areas for picnicking. Dogs are welcome at the Whitewater Preserve but must remain on a leash.
Admission is free to the preserve, and parking is free, too. The park is actually closer to Palm Springs than it is to the City of Riverside, so some travelers will pair their visit to Whitewater Preserve with a drive or ride through Palm Springs, too.
There are five trails to enjoy in the park, and the 3.5-mile loop trail is easily conquered by older children and dogs. Just make sure to look carefully while hiking, as the trails aren’t always easy to discern within the bush.
See Related: Best Things to Do in Malibu, California
Getting around Riverside, California
The only way to conveniently travel around Riverside, California, is by car. Like most of Southern California, the public transportation system in Riverside isn’t particularly convenient for travelers.
Getting around Riverside is possible with a bicycle or on the bus, but it’s simply easier to find a rental car when traveling from outside the region.
Some neighborhoods and Downtown Riverside are walkable, technically, but travelers will benefit from having access to a car when traveling any further than a quick walk from the hotel to a nearby restaurant.
Seeing all Riverside has to offer means getting around by car. If you don’t have a car, at least you can participate in a bar crawl on foot.
For travelers particularly set on using alternative means of transportation, rideshare companies like Lyft and Uber operate locally, and the city is also home to taxicab companies.
Amtrak also operates train routes that run through Riverside, and the Metrolink system of trains is also available for travelers.
What are some fun things to do in Riverside, California?
Bring your hiking shoes, mountain bikes, or running attire when you visit Riverside. Many of the best attractions are the parks and nature areas like Mount Rubidoux Park and the Whitewater Preserve.
A stroll around Downtown Riverside is another way to enjoy the outdoors if you’re not too keen on the wilderness.
What are the best tourist attractions in Riverside, California?
The Mission Inn Museum and the Mission Inn Hotel & Spa stand out as Riverside’s most beautiful attractions. Filled with local history and elegance, take the opportunity to visit and stay at this remarkable property.
You can launch a fun and entertaining Riverside vacation when you stay at the Mission Inn.
What are some things to do in Riverside, California, when it’s raining?
Many of Riverside’s best activities are outdoors because Southern California doesn’t get a lot of rain. However, there are a few showers every so often, particularly in the late winter and early spring.
The best places to visit when it’s raining in Riverside are the museums, as well as some of the city’s best eateries.
What is the best thing to do with kids in Riverside, California?
Small kids will adore The Cove Waterpark, and it’s a wonderful way to enjoy the summertime in Riverside.
If you’re spending the summer in the city, definitely pick up a summer pass. The Jurupa Mountains Discovery Center is another excellent place to take children for learning and fun.
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