California

Inland Empire

A short drive from the beaches of Southern California emerges a different landscape: the mountains, lakes, and deserts of the Inland Empire. You don’t normally think of wilderness when you think of Southern California, but there’s plenty of outdoor serenity to be found in the Inland Empire

From lively cities to outdoor adventures, the Inland Empire has a vast diversity in what it offers the adventurer. Elevations range from 11,499 feet at the top of the San Gorgonio Mountain to −220 feet at the Salton Sea. Plus this southern California region experiences all four seasons so there’s never a chance of being bored. You can hike, bike, canoe, ski, and zipline around the San Gabriel and San Bernadino Mountains for starters. Then descend down to discover the Inland Empire’s agricultural roots in Temecula Valley where you’ll find wineries, small farm operations, farmer’s markets, and the restaurants that utilize all of these rich resources.

Main Image © Kirsten Alana

Adventure Highlights

Take a sunrise hot air balloon ride over Temecula Valley wineries and get a feel for the terrain of the Inland Empire.

Zipline high above the trees in a Canopy Tour offering heights of up to 300 feet off the forest floor, lengths of over 1,500 feet, and reach speeds of 55 mph.

Throw out a line at Big Bear Lake! The lake is stuffed to the gill with trout, bass and catfish waiting to be found.

Take a scenic road trip on the Rim of the World Scenic Byway, nicknamed for its stunning views along the cliffs of the San Bernardino Mountains.

Hike a stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail from a number of different entry points from the little mountain town of Wrightwood.

Do an off road 4x4 adventure through historic twisting wagon routes into Bear Valley.

Photo © Kirsten Alana
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Destination Facts

  • San Manuel Amphitheater is the largest outdoor music venue in the United States holding 65,000 people.
  • Temecula Valley is known for its variety, growing and producing over 50 different varietals of wine; from Cabernet Sauvignon to Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot to Mourvedre, Viognier to Chardonnay.
  • San Bernardino National Forest is the largest urban forest in the United States.
  • You’ll find plenty of snow in southern California at Inland Empire’s mountain resorts: Mountain High in Wrightwood, Big Bear, and Lake Arrowhead.
  • The Inland Empire boasts more golf courses than anywhere else in the country. There are more than 130 golf courses listed in just Riverside County alone.
  • Riverside is home to the world’s largest paper cup at 68.1 feet high.
  • The annual Temecula Valley Balloon and Wine festival is the largest balloon event in California.
  • The Mission Inn houses the oldest bell in Christendom, dating back to 1247.

Road-Trip Itinerary

Only 90 minutes from LA, you’ll be in the rolling hills and lakes of the Inland Empire ready to explore its diversity of landscapes, resorts, history, and culture.

Day 1

From LA drive out and spend your afternoon in the Temecula Valley becoming familiar with the Inland Empire’s rich agricultural history. Do a wine tour via Jeep, cable car, or limo to visit an array of vineyards, meet the growers, and do tastings with the winemakers. Photo © Kirsten Alana

Day 2

Get an early start and soar above Temecula Valley in a hot air balloon. You likely won’t be alone as each morning numerous balloons lift off adding to the adventure. This unique perspective of the wineries is a great introduction to the region’s wines. Head into Old Town Temecula and treat yourself to brunch at EAT restaurant where you’ll get hyper fresh and nutrient dense dishes. Chef Leah is implementing inventive ideas on how to do farm to table and support the local farmers. After brunch and some incredible coffee, head out to explore the Old Town area shops. On Saturdays enjoy the bustling farmer’s market and meet and talk to local farmers. Head up into the hills for a farm tour in the afternoon; you’ll feel like you’ve been transported to Italy as grape vines and fruit trees cover the rolling landscapes. Photo © Kirsten Alana

Day 3

Brush up on the Inland Empire history and stop at the California Citrus State Historic Park in Riverside to learn how citrus became king. The ranger-led walks include tastings as you walk through crops of oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruit that grow on the property. Visit Riverside’s historic Mission Inn, incorporating Tuscan, Spanish, and Mediterranean style architectural features. Take a docent led tour of the Mission Inn to learn about the architecture and history of this Inland Empire icon. Treat yourself to a spectacular dinner in the courtyard of the Inn. Photo © Kirsten Alana

Day 4

Breathe in the ponderosa pine scent as you head to Big Bear Lake where there are alpine adventures year around; a ski resort in the winter and an outdoor playground in the summer. Rent equipment and enjoy the lake on a paddleboard, kayak, or boat. Or head upwards on the Snow Summit’s Scenic Sky Chair for a mile-long ride to 8,200-foot panoramic views and trails for mountain bikers and hikers. Photo © Kirsten Alana

Day 5

For more isolated rural serenity and adventure, head to the little mountain town of Wrightwood, nestled in the San Gabriel Mountains. Soar above the trees on a zipline adventure. But it’s not just ziplining, you also rappel from two 90 feet high big pines, cross two wobbly sky-bridges up to 200 ft. long, and climb suspended sky-stairs high into the trees. You’re adrenaline will be pumping with this highflying experience and unique view of the forest below. After a morning of adventure, grab lunch and spend some time enjoying the delights of small rural town living. Stop in at the Wrightwood Historical Society Museum (open Saturdays 10-4), grab a beer at the local brewery. and talk to locals. Keep the Southern California adventure going by leaving the lush Inland Empire and head to the Desert Region for a completely different landscape and climate. Photo © Kirsten Alana