25 Best Things to Do in Riverside (CA)

Source: Wikimedia / Qwerty510 | Public Domain

Riverside may only be the 12th largest city in California, but its role in the state’s economic boom is something that cannot be ignored. Located 50 miles (80 km) east of Downtown Los Angeles within the Inland Empire region, it’s a destination that many Los Angeles residents seek out for a pleasant day trip to escape the chaos and bustle of La-la land. Boasting a population of just over 300,000 people, Riverside was founded in the early 1870s and is best known for California’s Second Gold Rush – not the precious metal, but of the Californian Citrus Industry.

Being home to the first-ever Navel Orange tree and sporting iconic architecture of the Mission Revival style, Riverside is an amateur photographer’s dream destination. With a location next to the Santa Ana River and boasting views along the San Bernardino mountain ranges, Riverside’s native flora and fauna are truly unmatched compared to the other built-up areas of California. Here we feature the sights of Riverside that are as revered as the juicy flesh of its native Navel Oranges.

Interactive Map of 25 Things to Do in Riverside (CA)

Source: Map data @2022 Google

1. Fairmount Park

Fairmount Park
Source: Flickr / Daniel Orth | CC BY-ND 2.0

This heritage-listed park boasts 250 acres (100 ha) of Riverside’s most picturesque scenery. Officially opened in 1898 as the city’s largest park, the site is absolutely brimming with activity year-round, the focus of which is the 40-acre Lake Evans. Visitors can enjoy running or hiking along the Santa Ana River Trail, whilst water lovers will want to take advantage of the lake areas with sailing, fishing and paddle boating. Also available are a golf course, tennis courts, lawn bowling and public use barbeques.

One sight you don’t want to miss is the 1920’s Mission-style bandshell that, after a renovation, is now a frequent site of open-air concerts. The rose garden and gazebo are also popular with visitors and locals alike and a popular choice for Inland Empire residents to get married. Finally, the unofficial mascot of Fairmount Park, known as Water Buffalo cannot be missed – installed on a ramp entering Lake Evans, this amphibious war tank has its final resting place here to commemorate Riverside’s role in its manufacture during WWII.

2601 Fairmount Boulevard

2. Van Buren Drive-In

Van Buren Drive-In
Source: Wikimedia / Mehr News Agency | CC BY 4.0

There’s nothing quite like a Drive-In movie theater that cements a feeling of American nostalgia. Constructed in 1964 and located in the Arlington district, the Van Buren Drive-in features 3 screens, one of which features an art mural depicting 1930’s era Riverside. Having gone through a remodeling back in 2007, visitors can now enjoy modern features such as digital camera projection and FM radio micro-broadcasting whilst appreciating the ‘Old California Orange Ranch‘ theme of the venue.

A great venue for people watching, during the daytime hours the drive-in is converted into an open-air swap meet and flea market – a great place to grab a bargain or a unique souvenir of Riverside.

3035 Van Buren Boulevard

3. Castle Park

Castle Park
Source: Unsplash / Erika Fletcher

The medieval-themed Castle Park has entertained residents of the Inland Empire since 1976 and features 25 acres of family fun. Having recently opened the water play area known as Buccaneer Cove, visitors can bask in 20,000 square feet of splashing space featuring bridges and slides spanning four stories – the perfect respite on a hot Californian day.

Adrenaline junkies will not want to miss out on the vertical drop ride Dragon’s Tower, nor the rollercoasters of Merlin’s Revenge and Screamin’ Demon. There’s also a Dragon Flyer, Tilt-a-Whirl, Dentzel carousel and Flying Saucer. Once visitors have been on the 27 amusement rides peppered throughout the park, you’ll want to stay for Anthony Hernandez’s Anthony the Magic show – featuring doves, fire, and illusions; this is one show that’ll certainly leave viewers mesmerized. Additionally, the park features an arcade, bumper cars and a miniature golf course.

3500 Polk Street

4. Mt Rubidoux

Mt Rubidoux
Source: Flickr / Daniel Orth | CC BY-ND 2.0

Spanning an area of 161 acres and an elevation of 1331ft (406m), Mount Rubidoux is certainly one of Riverside’s unmissable landmarks. Featuring an enormous cross at the summit that in 1907 was dedicated to Father Junipero Serra, the park holds the distinction of being the oldest outdoor non-denominational Easter sunrise service in the US, of which the first one was held back in 1909.

Named after Louis Rubidoux, the mountain has been involved in a fascinating legal dispute in recent years when the City of Riverside was challenged in 2012 about the cross’s location on state land. The site also features the Peace Tower and Bridge and 3.5 miles of both paved and dirt walking trails – a casual walker should easily the summit in an hour and be treated to the Inland Empire’s best views.

5. Fox Performing Arts Center

Fox Performing Arts Center
Source: Wikimedia / Ken Lund | CC BY-SA 2.0

Built in 1929 and designed in the Spanish Colonial Revival style that has become synonymous with Riverside, the Fox Performing Arts Center has been a stalwart within the entertainment industry and has played a huge part in the success of many films from the studio era to today. The center’s location in Downtown Riverside and rich history with golden cinema made it the venue of choice for iconic artists such as Bing Crosby, Judy Garland and Jimmy Stewart. It was also transformed into a makeshift dormitory for soldiers to rest in during World War II.

The most successful film in history accounting for inflation, Gone With The Wind, had it’s 1939 world premiere at the Fox Theatre, whilst in 1942 it was converted into the Lido – a small viewing area where studios could gage audience reactions of target demographics before the final edit was to commence. Film lovers passing through Riverside must not miss out on a pilgrimage to a place so steeped in Hollywood history.

3801 Mission Inn Avenue

6. Riverside Metropolitan Museum

Riverside Metropolitan Museum
Source: Flickr / Daniel Orth | CC BY-ND 2.0

Located in the Mission Inn area, the Riverside Metropolitan Museum strives to educate visitors on the culture and history of the area, with a particular focus on the natural history, indigenous culture and the impact of immigrant communities on the shaping of Riverside. First opening in 1924 in the basement of City Hall, the museum has since expanded to incorporating the former Post office and Federal Building whilst boasting an inventory of over 200,000 artifacts and specimens.

Of particular note is the Museum’s operation of Harada House – the site of a Civil Rights property ownership dispute in 1916. Californian Alien Land Law 1913 prevented Jukichi and Ken Harada from purchasing land in Riverside due to their Japanese Citizenship. They were forced to purchase the property in the names of their 3 minor children who were born on American soil. State authorities tried to subsequently seize the house whilst neighboring property owners tried to drive the Harada family out of the area, until a constitutional hearing California vs. Harada decided in September 1918 that the Harada children were permitted to retain the house. With the house now declared a National Historical Landmark, the RMM oversees the maintenance and restoration of the property – a museum in its own right displaying the Japanese American family’s living conditions during the World War periods.

3580 Mission Inn Avenue

7. Fiesta Village Family Park

Fiesta Village Family Park
Source: Flickr / Jack Miller | CC BY-SA 2.0

First opened in 1972, Fiesta Village Family Fun Park holds the distinction of hosting the first-ever waterslides built in California – quite remarkable, taking into account the arid climate of The Golden State. Located close to Riverside in nearby Colton, Fiesta Village provides a wide variety of attractions, including laser tag, go-carts, mini-golf, a roller-skating rink, batting cages and an arcade.

Amusement rides include Bogey’s Bounce House, Dizzy Bears, Dragon Rollercoaster, Slugger’s Superslide, Tilt-a-Whirl and The Scrambler. Lacking the huge queues and costs compared to other amusement parks in SoCal, Fiesta Village is a hugely popular place for birthday parties and events, corporate functions, fundraisers and seasonal summer camps. With a mixed ticketing system that can accommodate discerning young tastes, Fiesta Village is a highlight for every family who visited Riverside.

1405 East Washington Street

8. Hunter Hobby Park

Hunter Hobby Park
Source: Flickr / Daniel Orth | CC BY-ND 2.0

Located in the Hunter Industrial area of Riverside, this 32-acre park is a great area for kids to let off some steam. In addition to hosting baseball fields, picnic and barbecue facilities, the biggest draw is the 10,000 feet of track laid down and the regular mini steam train rides.

Back in the 1950s, industrialist Joe Hunter was starting to lament the gradual disappearance of steam locomotives from Riverside’s railroad network. He decided the best way for future generations to appreciate the steam locomotive’s legacy was to establish a miniature showcase of the train. Today, these mini steam train rides are maintained by a group of enthusiasts known as the Riverside Live Steamers (RLS) on a volunteer basis, and the rides see around 20,000 visitors enjoy the journey annually.

1401 Iowa Avenue

9. March Field Air Museum

March Field Air Museum
Source: Flickr / Alan Wilson | CC BY-SA 2.0

Established in 1979, the March Field Air Museum hosts one of the country’s largest military aircraft collections. Located on the March Air Reserve Base, the base was opened in 1917 has is one of the oldest airfields operated by the US Military. Housing 80 aircraft and almost 30,000 artifacts, visitors will enjoy chatting with the volunteer guides, many of whom are retired military personnel and aviators who are willing to provide a unique insight into the backstory of the base and the aircraft it houses.

Aircraft on display include the SR-71 Blackbird, the B-52 Stratofortress, a B-29A Three Feathers, a B-17G Starduster and a replica of the 1903 Wright Flyer built by the Wright brothers – the world’s first successful powered aircraft. The museum also plans to be one of the few in the US which in the future will dedicate permanent exhibition space to the 21st century Iraq and Afghanistan operations Operation Iraq Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.

22550 Van Buren Boulevard

10. UC Riverdale Botanical Gardens

UC Riverdale Botanical Gardens
Source: Flickr / Owen Allen | CC BY 2.0

Established in 1963 in the foothills of the Box Springs Mountains, the 40 acre (16.2ha) grounds of the UCR Botanical Gardens is the shining gem of the UC Riverside campus. Boasting over 3500 different plant species and 4 miles of trails, the gardens consider themselves Riverside’s Nature Oasis. Keen to showcase the unique flora offerings, the botanical gardens take pride in hosting events such as Bird Watching breakfasts, Art in the Gardens and Primavera Food and Wine tasting.

With a particular focus on species found in both the Mediterranean climate and also the native arid Californian climate, the unique topography of the grounds allows UCR to take advantage of the microclimates that have formed on the grounds, which enables them to showcase a greater variety of species than would be expected, with special sections dedicated to flora not only from Southern California but also Australia and South Africa. Visitors will also love the dedicated Butterfly Garden, Rose Garden, Herb Garden, Iris, Lilac and Rose Garden, and the secluded Turtle Pond.

1 Botanic Gardens Drive

11. Whitewater Preserve

Whitewater Preserve
Source: Flickr / Bureau of Land Management California | Public Domain

Located about an hour’s drive outside of Riverside is the gorgeous 2851-acre area of Whitewater Preserve. Surrounded by San Gorgonio and on the banks of the Whitewater River, the activities available to nature lovers are numerous – Fishing and Boating in particular offer up some of the Inland Empire’s best views, whilst those who wish to set up camp underneath the vertical cliffs might be lucky enough to have bighorn sheep keeping them company.

The Wildlands Conservancy offers visitors to Whitewater Preserve several checklists for nature lovers; there’s a birdwatching checklist, so be on the lookout for kingfishers, hummingbirds, vultures, hawks, eagles, kingfishers, woodpeckers and mockingbirds. Additionally, those who prefer the more cold-blooded reptiles and amphibians will also get a kick out of a dedicated checklist featuring toads, frogs, geckos, iguanas, and snakes, pythons and boas. The Conservancy holds regular guided hikes, and stargazers will want to listen out for the Star Parties held by the San Bernandino Valley Amateur Astronomers – the wide-open space and lack of light pollution make this location one of the best to use a telescope.

9160 Whitewater Canyon Road, Whitewater

12. Mission Inn Museum

Mission Inn Museum
Source: Flickr / Daniel Orth | CC BY-ND 2.0

Starting as an adobe brick boarding house in 1876 as “The Glenwood Cottage,” and having gone through an aggressive construction phase between 1902-1932, the once-modest cottage later morphed into the Mission Inn Hotel. Built by the Miller family in the Mission Spanish Revival Style, the hotel resort and spa has since been the accommodation of choice for celebrities and the country’s leading political figures, including Harry Houdini, William Randolph Hearst, Albert Einstein, Hellen Keller, Clark Gable, Cary Grant, Barbara Streisand and Arnold Schwarzenegger; US Presidents that have stayed include Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and George W. Bush.

With over 20000 guests a year participating in the Mission Inn’s guided tours, it’s worth taking part to view the jaw-dropping courtyard, the fine art collection and the specialty photography and architecture briefings. With the permanent exhibition featuring the history of the Miller Family, the Inn’s construction and also of the Inland Empire, this is one place you need to have your camera handy.

3696 Main Street

13. Doty Trust Park

Doty Trust Park
Source: Flickr / Bureau of Land Management California | Public Domain

This 21-acre park located at the base of the La Sierra Hills was named after Dennis Doty and Philip Trust, two police officers who were killed whilst on duty in Riverside in 1982. Opened 30 years after their death in June 2012, the park is a lovely tribute to the officers. It has a plethora of activities the local community can enjoy depending on the season.

There is a steep dirt track used for mountain biking and hiking which leads up to a large boulder-strewn hill, where those to reach the crest are rewarded with 360-degree views of Riverside, Jurupa Valley and the Lake Matthews area. For those who would rather stay in the open grassland and avoid possibly interacting with coyotes and rattlesnakes, the park offers facilities for basketball, soccer and a fitness machine station, three barbeque stations and kids can enjoy the playground and splash park – a great relief on hot days.

5410 Golden Avenue

14. Jurupa Mountains Discovery Center

Jurupa Mountains Discovery Center
Source: Unsplash / Adam Ford

Known by locals as “The Best Field Trip Ever,” the Jurupa Mountains Discovery Center is a dinosaur lover’s dream! Featuring fossils from the Preabonian Eocene Period such as the Small Grouse, Saber Tooth Cat and Garfish, the Discovery Center’s biggest attractions mainly include extinct species from the Late Cretaceous period, including Ammonites, the Colombian Woolly Mammoth, a Theriinosaurus, both a Velociraptor and a Conchoraptor seemingly mid-fight, a Tarbosaurus bataar and the notorious Triceratops and Tyrannosaurus Rex.

In addition to the museum, which includes dinosaur eggs and Native Indian artifacts, the center also features an on-site nursery, a Critter Corner for younger explorers and their famed Discovery Camp. Kids can learn more hands-on skills such as archery, adobe brick making, a mock dinosaur fossil dig, archeological dig and artifact extraction as well as gold panning – whatever gold you find whilst panning you can take home.

7621 Granite Hill Drive, Jurupa Valley

15. California Citrus State Historic Park

California Citrus State Historic Park
Source: Flickr / daveynin | CC BY 2.0

Ever since Eliza Tibbets started growing the Washington Navel Orange Tree in 1873, Riverside has been responsible for what can also be called California’s second gold rush – Navel Oranges. The Parent Navel Orange Tree can be found on the corner of Magnolia and Arlington; however, the increasing attack by fruit flies has now warranted the city to tent the original tree in the shade, in a devastating blow for visitors to Riverside.

However, less than 10 minutes by car is a place dedicated to all things orange. The California Citrus State Historic Park highlights the importance of the citrus industry in California and why Riverside’s Navel Oranges in particular had such a positive impact on the state economy before the industries of technologies, entertainment and wine became what The Golden State is renowned for today.

9400 Dufferin Avenue

16. Martha McLean-anza Narrows Park

Martha McLean-anza Narrows Park
Source: Flickr / nccmrm97 | CC BY-SA 2.0

A 40-acre park located along the Santa Ana River, the Martha McLean-Anza Narrows Park is a popular destination for locals who wish to make use of the numerous hiking, biking and equestrian trails in addition to the picnic and golf facilities. The park is part of the Juan Bautista de Anza Historic Trail, a 1210 mile (1950km) long trail that commemorates the 1775 land route Spanish explorer Juan Bautista de Anza took traversing through southern California.

Named after Martha McLean, an activist who fought against the channelization of the Santa Ana River in the 1960s, the main trail has an elevation of 60m and is 5 miles (8.04km) in length – Great for beginners or those who are exhausted from exploring Riverside and simply want an easy hike to get some exercise.

5759 Jurupa Avenue

17. Entomology Museum

Entomology Museum
Source: Wikimedia / Daderot | Public Domain

Located within UC Riverside, the Entomology Research Museum houses a total of over 4 million insect species. Launched in 1962, the museum has specimens dating back as early as 1923 and has one of the top 20 largest collections of insects within the United States. Mounted on slides, pinned or encased in ethanol, this is a great opportunity to ask experts how to tell the Apoidea from the Asiloidea and the Meloidae versus the Miridae.

The collection features specimens from both within the United States and internationally, with the majority having originated from southern California, Arizona and the Baja Peninsula. Of particular focus for the museum is their collection of native bees, which has been of particular concern to researchers in recent times due to the genuine possibility of their endangerment and distinction and that of local flora that relies on them for survival.

Within UC Riverside, Corner of Picnic Hill Road & South Campus Drive

18. Sycamore Canyon Wilderness Park

Sycamore Canyon Wilderness Park
Source: Flickr / Matthew Mendoza | CC BY-SA 2.0

The 1424-acre Sycamore Canyon Wilderness Park, nestled between the cities of Riverside and Moreno Valley, is the largest open space reserve in Riverside. Visitors can experience over 25 miles of walking, cycling, and hiking trails and learn more about the various flora and fauna within the grounds by visiting the Ameal Moore Nature Center located at the park’s north end.

The center encourages visitors to download the Riverside Nature Spotter app which acts as a sort of bingo card of must-see animals such as coyotes, hawks, foxes, squirrels and skunks. Birdwatchers will love spotting hummingbirds, doves, woodpeckers, owls, hawks and roadrunners. Reptiles such as lizards, skinks, frogs and turtles also call Sycamore Canyon home; however you’d best keep your distance from the Red Diamond Rattlesnake.

400 Central Avenue

19. UCR Arts

UCR Arts
Source: Flickr / CHASS Marketing & Communications | CC BY 2.0

An art, photography and research facility opened in 2010, UCR Arts is only 3 miles away from the main UC Riverside campus and is actually an amalgamation of 3 prominent creative centers. The Californian Museum of Photography was founded in 1973, and along with the Jack and Marilyn Sweeney Art Gallery (1963) and the Barbara and Art Culver Center of the Arts (2010), UCR Arts defined itself as the premier museum for art lovers in the Inland Empire.

Featuring works by Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns, the subject matter ranges from war, social justice reform and nature. Worth keeping an eye out for is the Downtown Riverside Art Walk and their monthly Family Days which grant free entry into the museums during dedicated hours.

3824 Main Street

20. White Park

White Park-1
Source: Flickr / Daniel Orth | CC BY-ND 2.0

If you head to Downtown Riverside you’re bound to walk past White Park. Located opposite the Center for Social Justice and Civil Liberties and just a stroll away from UCR Arts and Riverside City Hall, White Park was established in 1889 and named after Albert W. White, a city trustee.

Featuring a 1920’s Mission-style raised gazebo, botanical gardens, cascading fountains, a hummingbird garden and a rose garden, it’s no wonder why White Park is so popular with locals. The grounds often host events and festivals such as the annual Dia de Los Muertos festival, Art Bark in the Park, Mariachi Festival and food festivals such as the IE Taco Fest, Tamale Fest, Beer Fest and Salsa Fest. Outside of event times, White Park finds itself accommodating the small group of city workers enjoying their lunch break or a book who wish for a bit of tranquillity in their day.

3936 Chestnut Street

21. Tio’s Tacos

Tios Tacos
Source: Flickr / INGAx666 | CC BY 2.0

The Sanchez Alvarado family started Tio’s Tacos in 1990 with a vision of marrying authentic Mexican cuisine with their love of folk art. What started as a family hobby later emerged as a testament to their recycling and conservation efforts and turned the standard dinner spot into an unforgettable visual experience for their patrons. Look out for the skeleton couple on horseback, a glass bottle church and the man in a handstand pose made out of plastic milk jugs.

We think their Tostada ceviche, Chilaquiles Rojos, Micheladas and their seasonally limited Horchata are top-notch; however it’s their art that makes Tio’s a vital stop for anyone in Riverside. Grab an outdoor table and an Agua Fresca – the view is worth it.

3948 Mission Inn Avenue

22. Riverside Art Museum

Riverside Art Museum
Source: Flickr / Feels Weird | CC BY-SA 2.0

Launched in 1967 in a former YWCA building from the 1920s, the Riverside Art Museum prides itself on presenting exhibits and art classes that harbor a love for the arts within visitors. Housing pieces from renowned artists such as Takashi Murakami, Toulouse Lautrec, Karl Benjamin, Raymond Pettibon, Pedro Friedeberg, Shag and Gronk, the collection truly spans the range between classic and modern.

With over 1500 objects in their permanent collection alone plus frequently rotating photography, sculpture and textile exhibits that showcase the Riverside community’s emerging talent, be sure to dedicate several hours to enjoy the museum. From the outside, flanked by sculptures by Louie Tozser and Paulden Evans, the building may look small; however the art collection truly is mighty.

3425 Mission Inn Avenue

23. World’s Largest Paper Cup

Worlds Largest Paper Cup
Source: Flickr / glorietta13 | CC BY-SA 2.0

A bit of an inside joke amongst the Riverside community, this ‘paper cup’ has been around since the 1970s. Originally a concrete sculpture to greet visitors to Lily-Tulip Paper and Plastics, every time the design of the paper cup logo was changed, the paintwork on the massive monument was also altered. Standing at 68.1 feet (20.8 meters) tall, the manufacturing plant later changed hands to the Sweetheart Cup Company. The cup design switched to a modest red, white and blue striped design, which remained until Solo Cup’s acquisition of Sweetheart.

If your time in Riverside is limited this won’t take too long to visit. No parking, gift shop, toilets or museum means a quick stop and photoshoot can be done in just 15 minutes. But should you ask a local whether the World’s Largest Paper Cup is worth a visit, you’ll be met with comments about it being “Life-Changing” and “Enlightening” whilst your journey to the concrete cup won’t be known as a simple drive but an epic ‘pilgrimage’. Like the Hollywood Walk of Fame and Disneyland, it will be something future generations of Californians hope will make it into every tourist’s itinerary, if only for the amusement of Riverside residents.

800 Iowa Avenue and E Citrus Street

24. Pumpkin Rock

Pumpkin Rock
Source: Unsplash / Christpher Le

Situated in Norco about a 20-minute drive from downtown Riverside, Pumpkin Rock is one of those tourist attractions that raises more questions than it answers. Who first painted the rock? Why a pumpkin? How could they get high enough to paint the top of the pumpkin? The trail distance is 1.2 miles (1.0km) and has an elevation of 1155 ft (352m). It’s a great way to get young kids interested in hiking too – aside from the walk taking an hour at most, who could resist telling them about the bright orange Jack-o-lantern at the top?

It’s quite an interesting hike, and you’re bound to have a small chuckle when the eyes of a massive pumpkin painted in the style of Jack Skellington have a sneaky peek as you crest the hill. Having previously been painted a Christmas ornament and a constant target for graffiti, Pumpkin Rock has been around since the 1990s and is maintained by locals and hikers who often carry orange and black paint for touch-ups as needed.

Corner of Vandermolen Drive and Crestview Drive.

25. Anchos Southwest Grill & Bar

Anchos Southwest Grill and Bar
Source: Unsplash / Tai’s Captures

Opened in 1989 by Dean Bergstrom, Anchos is a family-owned and operated business that has served Riverside’s best Tex-Mex cuisine for close to three decades. From homemade tamales and mesquite-smoked meats, Anchos does fresh, fast, friendly service better than anyone in the region. Choice menu options include the Naked Chiles Rellenos, Diablo Shrimp (Camarones) and the Beef Steak Tacos al Carbon.

The true star of Anchos however are their tortillas. Freshly pressed and fired in-house, many Riverside residents feel that the bottomless tortillas are worth the trip alone and often talk about how even when served plain with butter they’re still absolutely drool-worthy.

10773 Hole Avenue