Things to do in Riverside, CA

An aerial view of downtown Riverside CA

Known for Mission Revival style buildings and a history tied to the California citrus industry, Riverside offers outdoor adventures and much more

By Liz Gallagher

Riverside is a destination for travelers, and everything that makes it appealing to visit also makes it a great place to live. When you explore Riverside, you’ll find that it’s a wonderland for open spaces that doesn’t take you too far from the modern conveniences of urban life. While there’s plenty of culture to discover, Riverside more relaxed than some cities of its size. Downtown feels like a small town more than a city. 

Before searching for homes for sale in Riverside, learn more about the area and explore what your life will be like if you live there. 

Facts about Riverside

  • The largest city in California’s Inland Empire, Riverside sits 60 miles east of Los Angeles 
  • The Inland Empire refers to the metro area of Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario
  • Riverside is situated alongside the Santa Ana River, which is how it got its name
  • The city of Riverside is in Riverside County, which is also home to Palm Springs, Palm Desert, Moreno Valley, Coachella, and more cities
  • The population of Riverside County is almost 2.5 million as of 2019. Riverside itself is home to just over 330,000 people.
  • Riverside is made up of 28 neighborhoods
  • While Riverside homes are more expensive than homes in much of the country, they’re affordable relative to homes in other areas of Southern California
  • Riverside is a college town (University of California Riverside) within a vibrant city with access to wide open nature
  • Citrus fruits are a ripe part of Riverside’s history

Things to do in Riverside

Get outside

California Citrus State Historic Park 

Do you know why California has so much citrus fruit? You will after you visit this 377-acre park! The park celebrates the zesty relationship between California and citrus. The Visitor Center is a replica of a fruit packinghouse. 

Riverside has a starring role in the history of the California citrus industry. In 1873, the US Department of Agriculture sent two navel orange trees to Eliza Tibbets, who lived in Riverside. When the trees produced exceptional fruit, an industry was born. 

In the onsite museum, you’ll explore the history of citrus groves in Southern California. You’ll learn how they came to be concentrated in the area during California’s “second Gold Rush” in the early 1900s. 

The park is also simply a beautiful place with gorgeous views where you can wander and picnic. Trails invite you to hike, mountain bike, or bird watch. 

University of California Riverside Botanic Gardens

Stop and literally smell the roses.

Located on the east side of the University of California Riverside Campus, the 40-acre gardens can be enjoyed at your own pace or as part of a more structured tour. Occasionally, bird walks and twilight tours are offered.

The gardens feature more than 3,500 plant species. About a third of the space is unplanted and shows off native plants including coastal sage scrub and annual grassland. What’s in bloom changes throughout the year, from aloes and sages in January to cacti and California buckeye in May; and honeysuckle and fuchsia in October.

The gardens consist of separate areas: woodland, open, desert, and thematic areas. Wander through the butterfly garden, rose gardens, herb garden, iris garden, lilac garden, children’s garden, Native American garden, subtropical fruit orchard, and more.

You’ll find paved areas and flat surfaces in addition to sloping hills and steep terrain. Whatever your comfort level, there’s beauty to see.

Whitewater Preserve

Immerse yourself in nature.

Whitewater Preserve is 2,851 acres of wilderness that’s surrounded by the San Gorgonio Wilderness. It’s only a short day trip from Riverside and it makes you feel as if you’re a million miles away. You can also camp overnight for a longer stay.

The preserve is a vast canyon where bighorn sheep, deer, and bears thrive, and birdwatching is rewarding. 

A wildlife corridor between the San Bernardino and San Jacinto Mountains, the preserve protects the land along the river and the endangered southwestern willow flycatcher among other species. 

Plan a day of hiking, picnicking, viewing wildlife, and camping with reservations.

Fairmount Park

A walkway in Fairmount Park, Riverside CA

Feel like a walk in the park?

Designed by landscape architecture giant Frederick Law Olmsted, Fairmount Park officially opened as Riverside’s largest park on Arbor Day, 1898.

The 190-acre park is home to several lakes, a boathouse with pedal boat rentals, fishing, a historic bandshell, two tennis courts, a playground, rose gardens, a golf course, a lawn bowling green, and picnic facilities with barbecue grills. 

The park is close to downtown, providing a mini-getaway anytime you want it. Whether you want to stroll, play a game, enjoy a bite to eat, or simply sit and take in your surroundings, Fairmount Park is a place you can visit over and over. 

Mount Rubidoux Park

An aerial view of a bridge in Riverside CA, Mount Rubidoux Park

Let your mind and body wander.

A true city park, Mount Rubidoux Park is a Riverside landmark with paved roads and dirt hiking trails. With 161 acres to explore, it’s a destination for walking, jogging, hiking, and bicycling. 

You’ll find historic markers and memorials along the mountain, including the iconic cross at the summit, which is dedicated to Father Junipero Serra.

Throughout the year, the park is in the spotlight for occasions including a non-denominational Easter Sunrise service and a Fourth of July fireworks display.

Lake Hemet

Lake Hemet Riverside CA with wildflowers

Get away from it all, quickly.

Another day or overnight trip option from Riverside, Lake Hemet is a popular camping and fishing destination surrounded by the San Jacinto Mountains. You’re likely to spot eagles, hawks, and more birds and wildlife during your visit. 

Find your favorite way to get out on the water in this gorgeous location. Rent a motorboat, pontoon boat, fishing boat, or kayak for the day to explore the reservoir. The lake is open for fishing bass, blue gill, catfish, and trout. 

Feel like a longer stay? Glamping is an option alongside tent and RV camping, and lake view cabins. You don’t even have to cook out if you’re not in the mood. Soaring Pines Cafe serves yummy meals and Lake Hemet Market is stocked with sandwiches and other grab-and-go options. 

The Splashing Eagle Swim Zone, situated on a wide-open beach, is free for overnight camping guests and $5 for day guests (no day use on Friday or Saturday). 

Sycamore Canyon Wilderness Park

Visit the wild side.

Sycamore Canyon Wilderness Park is a 1,500-acre park with a robust visitor center that offers nature walks, exhibits, hand-on learning, and additional events.

The trail system is ready for you to hike, bike, or stroll while enjoying a vast natural environment right in Riverside. You’ll enjoy views of the city alongside native plants and wildlife. 

In addition to hundreds of other rare plant and animal species, the park is one of eight protected core reserves for the endangered Stephens’ Kangaroo Rat.

Box Springs Mountain Reserve

Rise above it all.

Overlooking Riverside and Moreno Valley with elevations rising to over 3,000 feet, Box Springs Mountain Reserve is situated on 3,400 acres of land. The Reserve is run by Riverside County and located adjacent to the  University of California Riverside campus.

Wildfires burned much of the dense Coastal Sage Scrub that once covered the area, and now non-native grasses thrive. While exploring, you may come across one of nineteen local species of reptiles, sixteen species of mammals, and many raptors. A steep and rugged slope with an intermittent stream, trails here vary in difficulty to traverse.

If you’re not in the mood for a hike, have a picnic while you enjoy the natural surroundings. 

Jurupa Mountains Discovery Center

Calling all explorers! Popular with dinosaur lovers, Jarupa Mountains Discovery Center is less than a 15 minute drive from the heart of Riverside. Discover the wonders of geology and fossils in the 9 acres of developed gardens, where you’ll happen upon dinosaur sculptures, Turtle Pond, Tortoise Paddock, and more. 

Paid expeditions including Rock Collecting at the Dinosaurs, Dinosaur Dig, and Geology of California create a deeper experience. 

While much of the activity here is centered around budding young paleontologists, nature-loving adults will enjoy a visit, too. The onsite Granite Hill Nursery is a fantastic place to shop for succulent plants.

Explore a museum

Mission Inn Museum

Riverside is known for Mission Revival style buildings, and the Mission Inn Museum is the place to learn about the architectural movement and more. Located within the Mission Inn Hotel, a Riverside institution with a rich story, the museum features exhibitions about the hotel’s history and role in Riverside. 

Frank Miller, the original owner and developer of the Inn, played a vital role in Riverside’s development, along with his family. The museum’s collection tells the tale of the museum from its 1876 beginnings as an adobe boarding house to the present.  

Thanks to Miller’s varied interests, the collection also explores aviation, the romance of California Missions, additional architectural styles represented in the building, citrus culture, and more.

Riverside Metropolitan Museum

Riverside Metropolitan Museum, also known as The Museum of Riverside, exhibits more than 200,000 artifacts as a member of the Smithsonian Affiliates program. Artifacts span the areas of history, anthropology, and natural science. The museum is home to a prized collection of Native American artifacts donated by Cornelius Rumsey, a NABISCO magnate.

Explore local environmental history, natural hazards, and conservation issues in the natural history collection. The geological offerings showcase rock collections from Crestmore Quarry and fossils including specimens of giant prehistoric California sharks. If Life Sciences are where your interests lie, you’ll enjoy seeing over 450 zoology specimens depicting Riverside wildlife, as well as 2,000 insect specimens. The Clark Herbarium is a library of local plant diversity with 10,000 specimens. 

Heritage House

Owned by the Museum of Riverside, Heritage House welcomes you into Victorian Riverside with a depiction of local life in 1891. That is, it explores the life of affluent citizens and their homes that once stood on Magnolia Avenue. In 1895, the Bradstreet Index named Riverside the area with the highest per capita income in the United States, largely thanks to the citrus boom. 

The home originally belonged to James and Catharine Bettner, citrus magnates who settled in Riverside within the city’s first ten years. Heritage House is a meticulously researched and maintained example of historic tastes, values, and lifestyle. Wander through the rooms, immersing yourself in the rich furnishings and you’ll leave feeling as if you’ve stepped back in time.

California Museum of Photography 

A facility of the University of California Riverside Arts, the California Museum of Photography explores the history of photography and showcases current practice. Featuring more than 20,000 images created by more than 1,000 photographers, the collection includes fine art photographs, research collections and archives, and photographic technology. 

Special exhibitions complement the permanent collection, exploring topics and artists in depth. 

The museum is located in downtown Riverside.

Riverside Art Museum

Housed in an architecturally significant 1929 building in the Mission Inn district, Riverside Art Museum offers inspiring galleries showing a mix of solo, group, and permanent collection exhibits spanning traditional and contemporary art. 

You’ll find works by Robert Williams, Takashi Murakami, Shag, Kathe Kollwitz, James Gurney, Marc Chagall, Millard Sheets, Shepard Fairey, Corita Kent, and Don O’Neill, as well as pieces from talented local artists. 

In addition to exploring the displays, both kids and adults can take classes at the museum. There are plenty of events happening throughout the year, so be sure to check the calendar.

Center for Social Justice & Civil Liberties

The Center for Social Justice & Civil Liberties offers a research museum and art gallery that highlights the events that shaped the history of the Riverside area and the nation. The two-story, 10,000-square-foot building  went up in 1926 as The Citrus Belt Savings and Loan. 

Take a self-guided tour to reflect on the themes of civil rights and social justice. In addition to permanent and temporary exhibitions, you can explore a digital collection of video, film, photographs, and personal documents. 

The second floor houses the Miné Okubo Collection with more than 8,000 pieces of art, professional papers, and personal memorabilia from Okubo. The heart of the exhibition is the work Okubo created in response to the World War II internment of Japanese Americans.

March Field Air Museum

See more than 80 aircraft and 30,000 artifacts at March Field Air Museum, which is dedicated to exploring humanity’s reach for the skies. 

A visit will be sure you understand the role of Riverside’s March Field in the development of flight. You’ll also see flight gear, simulators, uniforms, and more, including the personal letters of aviation pioneers at March Field throughout the past century. 

Aircraft on display include attack aircraft, bombers, cargo planes, fighters, helicopters, spy planes, and more.

Riverside Live Steamers

Have you ever actually experienced the sight, sound, and scent of a steam locomotive? This is the place to do it! 

Riverside Live Steamers is a non-profit organization that gives steam-powered train rides to the public on the second and fourth Sunday of every month. The railroad is built on 40 acres and covers 4,300 feet. 

The organization was founded in the 1950s when Riverside industrialist Joe Hunter realized that steam trains were disappearing. He wanted to avoid future generations never knowing the excitement of steam locomotives, so he decided to duplicate one in miniature. 

Now, various trains run on the track, mostly at 1/8th the size of their prototype, and it’s the only “setam only” train club in the country. 

Entomology Research Museum

If you’re at all curious about insects, The University of California Riverside’s Entomology Research Museum is someplace you need to visit. Featuring over 4 million specimens dating back to 1807, this library is huge. 

You’ll find dried pinned specimens, slide mounted specimens, and specimens preserved in alcohol and other fluids. The collection is known for its holdings of native bees and parasitic Hymenoptera. 

Special sub-collections include insects that aren’t native to the US, an arthropod inventory from a decade-long survey of The Boyd Desert Research Center at Deep Canyon, and a collection of insects preserved in their immature stages.

See a show 

Fox Performing Arts Center

Opened in 1929 as a cinema and vaudeville theater house, Fox’s Riverside Theater was a popular location for years and the site of the first public screening of Gone With the Wind. Now, Fox Performing Arts center is the reinvented state-of-the-art theater in the same Spanish Colonial Revival building. 

The historic site features a 1,600-seat theater that maintains its original grandeur with new amenities. Events include concerts, comedy shows, musicals, and more.

California Riverside Ballet

Founded in 1969, California Riverside Ballet is a non-profit organization that presents classic and contemporary ballet to the community. 

In addition to three major in-house productions per year, CRB provides the community with outreach programs and hosts many community events. Check their website for current productions.

Van Buren Drive-In Theatre

Van Buren Drive-In Theater opened in 1964 on the site of a former orange ranch in Riverside’s historic Arlington district. Now playing first-run contemporary films, the retro atmosphere is fun to experience.  

A $10 adult ticket and $1 kids’ ticket (ages 5-9) gives you admission to two movies playing on the same screen. Audio plays through FM radio, so be sure your car is set up with a radio or bring a battery-powered one. Bring your own snacks or enjoy a visit to the concession stand. 

The theater also hosts a swap meet with more than 300 vendors every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday.

The Gourmet Detective

Can’t choose between dinner and a show? Get both, at once! 

The Gourmet Detective offers a murder mystery that plays out between courses of a three-course dinner. Professional actors transport you into the story while you enjoy the unfolding drama and might even get involved in the mystery. 

The company runs events in several cities. The Riverside venue is a vintage gen, the Flabob Airport, which dates to 1925.

Ride and play

Castle Park

A Riverside icon for funtimes, Castle Park features roller coasters and other thrill rides, water rides in Buccaneer Cover, a tamer Kiddieland, a magic show, miniature golf, and an arcade. 

When you get hungry, take a seat in The Big Top Cafe or opt to eat outside in the Plaza Cafe. You can also pick up fair food from Duke’s Frying Factory or grab something from the snack bar.

The Cove Waterpark

The Cove Waterpark is open from the end of May through early September. It offers attractions including the Lil’ Mates’ Lagoon aquatic play structure, giant slides in the Crow’s Nest, the Ne’er Endin’ River lazy river, a surfing ride, and a competition pool. 

Reserve a cabana if you want a relaxing, shady spot to take a break from all the action and enjoy a snack.

Hangar Trampoline Parks

Jumpers of all ages enjoy bouncing at Hangar Trampoline Parks. With Riverside County’s longest trampoline runway, a state-of-the-art ball pit, slam-dunk hoops, and a wall-to-wall trampoline area, this is the place to get out some energy. 

For those who want a bit of competition, the WarZone is a foam-filled adventure room where teams go against each other with foam balls similar to a paintball or laser tag setup.

FAQ about Riverside, CA 

How far is Riverside from Los Angeles? 

Riverside is about 60 miles east of Los Angeles. It takes about an hour to drive between Riverside and LA via CA-60 W and I-10 W. 

How far is Riverside from Anaheim? 

Riverside is about 36 miles northeast of Anaheim. It takes about 40 minutes to drive between Riverside and Anaheim via CA-91 W. 

What cities are in Riverside County? 

Riverside County is the fourth largest county in California. 

Its cities are:

  • Banning
  • Beaumont
  • Blythe
  • Calimesa
  • Canyon Lake
  • Cathedral City
  • Coachella
  • Corona
  • Desert Hot Springs
  • Eastvale
  • Hemet
  • Indian Wells
  • Indio
  • Jurupa Valley
  • Lake Elsinore
  • La Quinta 
  • Menifee
  • Moreno Valley
  • Murrieta
  • Norco
  • Palm Desert
  • Palm Springs
  • Perris
  • Rancho Mirage 
  • Riverside
  • San Jacinto
  • Temecula
  • Wildomar

Is Palm Springs in Riverside County? 

Yes, Palm Springs is one of the cities in Riverside County. 

About the author: Liz Gallagher is the Editorial Director at Flyhomes, publishing articles to give people the education and insights they need to be confident decision makers as homebuyers, sellers, and owners. 

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