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15 Best Things to Do in Riverside, California

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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 over 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 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 Riverside, California, is known for, think of an orange!

Aerial View of the Los Angeles Suburb of Riverside, California
Jacob/ Adobe Stock

Riverside County 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 various outdoor venues, some of which have 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. Riverside offers a lifetime of adventures, whether inside a beautiful building or outside under the glorious California sun.


  • Most significant landmark – California Citrus State Park
  • Park to visit – Whitewater Preserve
  • Free activity – Lake Hemet
  • Activity for kids – The Cove Waterpark
  • Activity for adults – UCR Botanic Gardens
  • Place to eat – Anchos Southwest Grill & Bar
  • Nightlife – Downtown Experiment
  • Place to stayMission Inn

Things to do in Riverside, California

1. Visit the Mission Inn Museum

Mission Inn Museum Aerial View
image by Aaron Guzman  is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Address: 3696 Main St, Riverside, CA 92501, United States

Is Riverside, California, worth visiting? Yes, it is – even if you only go to 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 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 toured 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 historic hotel’s style and elegance, the luxurious feel of the rooms, and 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

View of the summit of Mount Rubidoux in Riverside, California
jonbilous/ Adobe Stock

Address: 4706 Mount Rubidoux Dr, Riverside, CA 92501, United States

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. The most prominent is a cross dedicated to Father Junipero Serra, the priest who brought Catholicism to California.

In keeping with its Catholic roots, the community has held a (now non-denominational) Easter sunrise service each year for over 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 161 acres and has around 3.5 miles of paved roads. Hiking Mt. Rubidoux takes about 45 to 60 minutes, and running the mountain takes about 20 to 30 minutes.

To visit the park, head to Ryan Bonaminio Park, 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.

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3. Visit the March Field Air Museum

March Field Air Museum Exhibit
image by HawkeyeUK is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Address: 22550 Van Buren Boulevard, Riverside, CA 92518, United States

The March Field Air Museum, opened in 1979, is near the similarly named March Air Reserve Base. If you have anyone traveling with 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 is next to the airstrip, so sometimes, you’ll see F-35 Lightning II fighter jets flying nearby! The museum isn’t huge, so it doesn’t take long to tour.

Still, it contains a healthy amount of information, making it an excellent history lesson for military buffs and anyone who wants to learn more about the history of aircraft in the United States.

More than 80 aircraft are displayed outside the museum, including 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 of 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 traveling with a veteran who might enjoy visiting the museum.

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4. Take a Walk Around Lake Hemet

Diamond Valley Lake in Hemet California
Marcus Jones/ Adobe Stock

Address: Lake Hemet, California 92561, USA

Lake Hemet is in the San Jacinto Mountains and the Idyllwild community. Locals are popular with the lake for its camping and fishing opportunities, as well as for 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.

You will probably only need a barbecue and a 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 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 trying to figure out what to do in Riverside, California, consider renting a pontoon, kayak, or fishing boat. You can rent these boats in half or full-day increments and even bring your dog on the rentals.

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5. Explore the Jurupa Mountains Discovery Center

Jurupa Mountains Discovery Center
image by Robby G C/TripAdvisor

Address: 7621 Granite Hill Dr, Riverside, CA 92509, United States

If you’re visiting Riverside with kids, you’ll want to visit the Jurupa Mountains Discovery Center for a few hours or an afternoon. 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 for locals because of its giant steel dinosaur statues and the live animals there. Volunteers are always needed to help at the park, so 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, which includes 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: Things to Do in California

6. See the Beauty of the University of California Riverside Botanic Gardens

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. They are the perfect place to escape 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. Visitors can wander along four miles of trails or relax on one of the benches near the beautiful plant life.

The university calls its gardens a “living plant museum,” boasting more than 3,500 species of plants and thousands of specimens from locales with Mediterranean climates, including California.

The UCR Botanic Gardens are comprised of several themed gardens, such as 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, which has 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 at 8:00 a.m. and close at 2:00 p.m., but new visitors should make sure to reach the gardens by 1:00 p.m. before they close the doors.

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7. Get Wet at The Cove Waterpark

The Cove Waterpark
image by Ajsh0328/TripAdvisor

Address: 4310 Camino Real, Riverside, CA 92509, United States

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 and adults. The youngest kids will enjoy the Lil’ Mates’ Lagoon, a large aquatic play structure with a shallow pool, small waterslides, and spray features.

Slightly older kids (and adults) will have fun on the Crow’s Nest Slides, which feature 180 feet of slippery slides that empty into a lagoon. The Ne’er Endin’ River is another fun installation that allows kids to float on a lazy river around Shipwreck Island and 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. Teenagers and adventurous adults might need a little more excitement than the park can provide.

The park gets 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.

If you’re traveling with kids, don’t miss out on this family-friendly amusement park!

See Related: Free California Travel Guide: Printable Guide to Travel

8. Wander Through California Citrus State Historic Park

Gazebo in California Citrus State Historic Park
ssmalomuzh/ Adobe Stock

Address: 9400 Dufferin Ave, Riverside, CA 92503, United States

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. Its 300 acres help tell the story of the citrus industry and how it influenced the region’s development. 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 can guarantee yourself a spot.

See Related: Things to Do in Calabasas

9. Explore the Phenix Technology, Inc. Firefighter History Museum

Phenix Technology, Inc. Firefighter History Museum Exhibit
Management / TripAdvisor

Address: 12391 Sampson St, Suite H, Riverside, CA 92503-4828 United States

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, talk with the owner or one of the employees, who are incredibly knowledgeable about virtually every piece of memorabilia, from the helmets to the photographs.

The museum isn’t large, but it is an excellent place to learn something unique. Although it 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 enjoy sharing information about the history of firefighting. Some of the museum’s most interesting pieces of memorabilia 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, 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.

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10. Pay Respects at the Riverside National Cemetery

Riverside National Cemetery
image by Sigris Lopez is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Address: 22495 Van Buren Boulevard, Riverside, CA 92518, United States

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 over a quarter million graves. The cemetery was established in the mid-1970s and 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 then, the cemetery has served as a place of peace for visitors honoring their relatives or seeking a quiet place for reflection.

The cemetery has a handful of memorials in addition to the graves, including the Prisoner of War & Missing in Action Memorial and the Medal of Honor Memorial.

The grounds at 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 there or you’re just seeking to honor the fallen.

If you visit Riverside in the summer, watch for the concerts 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, making it one of the best free things to do in Riverside.

11. Visit the Van Buren Drive-In Theatre

Van Buren Drive-In Theatre
Management / TripAdvisor

Address: 3035 Van Buren Boulevard, Riverside, CA 92503, United States

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 with kids in Riverside, California.

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 theater’s unique features is that it allows people to bring snacks, usually off-limits in traditional theaters. The theater is open, rain or shine, and won’t usually close unless there’s a serious downpour!

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12. Stroll Through Fairmount Park

Fairmount Park Riverside California
Marcus Jones/ Adobe Stock

Address: 2601 Fairmount Blvd, Riverside, CA 92501, United States

Like Riverside National Cemetery, Fairmount Park and its lovely rose garden are other regions’ most wonderful places to visit in Riverside, California, when you want peace.

The Rose Garden is a popular wedding venue conveniently located near the 91 and 60 freeways. Although you can stroll through the park’s venues in just a few hours, spending an entire afternoon exploring the grounds is easy.

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 open and pastoral, next to a country club and golf course. On a hot day, shade trees are perfect for resting after sightseeing.

You’ll find trails that wind their way throughout the park, 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 there are sensory features for visually impaired visitors.

13. Visit the Fox Performing Arts Center

Fox Performing Arts Center
image by Bahugala is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Address: 3801 Mission Inn Avenue, Riverside, CA 92501, United States

Like the Mission Inn, the Fox Performing Arts Center is a small theater worth visiting because of its beautiful architecture and preservation.

The theater has an old-school charm, and almost every seat has a great view. Don’t pay for the VIP tickets unless you want to; you’ll have a great view even in the “cheap” seats.

The theater 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 to look at the façade is a worthwhile investment of time.

The theater is photogenic and a beautiful representation of Spanish Colonial Revival Architecture. If you decide to see a show there, you’ll find that the venue books various 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: Road Trip Ideas in the US

14. Hike Through Sycamore Canyon Wilderness Park

Sycamore Canyon Wilderness Park Scenery
Management / TripAdvisor

Address: 400 Central Ave, Riverside, CA 92507, United States

Sycamore Canyon Wilderness Park is a large and expansive area with ample opportunities for trail riding. If you’re keen on mountain biking, you’ll want to put Sycamore Canyon Wilderness Park on your list.

However, you don’t need a bicycle to enjoy the park. The hills are also an excellent place for getting a serious workout on foot. Staff from the property’s Nature Center lead free hikes every first Saturday of the month, so show up at 9:00 a.m. if you’d like to join.

The Ameal Moore Nature Center offers free family-friendly events every second Saturday of the month, which usually feature 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 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!

See Related: Fun Things to Do in Los Angeles

15. Explore the Whitewater Preserve

Super clear water at Whitewater Preserve
Kit Leong/ Adobe Stock

Address: 9160 Whitewater Canyon Rd, Whitewater, CA 92282, United States

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 Bureau of Land Management manages the surrounding wilderness.

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 wildlife and wildflower viewing opportunities exist.

The area also offers hiking opportunities and 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 closer to Palm Springs than the City of Riverside, so some travelers will pair their visit to Whitewater Preserve with a drive or ride through Palm Springs, too.

The park has five trails to enjoy, and older children and dogs easily conquer the 3.5-mile loop trail. Just look carefully while hiking, as the trails aren’t always easy to discern within the bush.

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Places to Stay in Riverside

1. The Mission Inn Hotel and Spa Top Recommendation

The Mission Inn Hotel and Spa at Riverside is a AAA Four-Diamond Historic hotel located in the heart of California's Inland Empire, 27 kilometers from Ontario International Airport. Situated in the beautiful city of Riverside, The Mission Inn Hotel and Spa boasts an award-winning spa, designed to offer relaxation and rejuvenation for all guests.

2. Hampton Inn Riverside Downtown

Situated in Riverside, 24 km from Auto Club Speedway, Hampton Inn Riverside Downtown features accommodation with an outdoor swimming pool, private parking, a shared lounge and barbecue facilities. With free WiFi, this 2-star hotel offers a 24-hour front desk and a business centre. Guests can have a drink at the snack bar. At the hotel, rooms include a desk, a flat-screen TV, a private bathroom, bed linen and towels. The rooms at Hampton Inn Riverside Downtown have air conditioning and a wardrobe. The accommodation offers a buffet or American breakfast.

3. Hampton Inn & Suites Riverside/Corona East

Hampton Inn & Suites Riverside/Corona East is located in the center of Corona and offers easy access to area attractions. It features an on-site convenience store, a 24-hour business center and free WiFi access throughout the hotel. The hotel's rooms are equipped with 32-inch flat screen TVs, coffee makers, ironing boards and irons. Guests have access to a fitness center, an outdoor pool and hot tub.

Getting around Riverside, California

The only convenient way to travel around Riverside, California, is by car. Like most of Southern California, Riverside’s public transportation system isn’t particularly convenient. Getting around Riverside is possible by bicycle or bus, but it’s easier to find a rental car when traveling outside the region.

Some neighborhoods and Downtown Riverside are technically walkable. Still, travelers will benefit from having access to a car when traveling beyond 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, you can at least participate in a bar crawl on foot.

For travelers who are 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 train system is also available for travelers.

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