Riverside, California – Who Said You Can’t Come Home Again? – Riverside,California,United States

Riverside, California – Who Said You Can’t Come Home Again?
Riverside, California, United States

Riverside, California – now that’s a city that I thought I would never celebrate.

After my 1974 high school graduation in Riverside, followed by my military career, college, then many civilian years in San Diego, curiosity beckoned me back to Riverside.

“Just a short visit,” I told my friends who welcomed my call, and invited me to stop in.

As I drove the I-15 to the I-215, I questioned what I was seeing – development and greenery. “Well. There’s been a lot of rain lately,” my Riverside friends, Linda and Grover explained. But for me, there was so much more than Mother Nature’s liquid sunshine had altered our neighboring city to the north.

Riverside, the county and the city obviously were no longer what I once called, “Midwest moved west.”

“Could it have changed? Or, did I change that much? And would this be a great outing?” I asked myself.

Home and community, after all of these years, was something I measured according to the many choices in San Diego.

Surrendering myself to my curious nature, I left I-215 for a familiar main Riverside road — Van Buren Boulevard. What was once one continuous orange grove after another had now become a carefully crafted community that blended Riverside’s history with today’s demand for progress.

A few turns later, I discovered a beautiful place where vanishing citrus groves that during my childhood days were everywhere, were now being preserved, at the Citrus State Historic Park.

California Citrus State Historic Park
California Citrus State Historic Park
The design of the park has been described by Park Ranger McDonald, as being reminiscent of a 1900s city park, complete with an activity center, interpretive structure, amphitheater, picnic area, and demonstration groves.

Standing at the entrance of this massive state park is an opportunity to leave the pressures of modern life for your chance to connect with California’s history, and maybe your own more personal history.

To your right at the entrance is the Giant Orange Fruit Stand, symbolizing what was once the universal symbol of California’s role in agriculture – the citrus groves. On the opposite side, you enter the park where there is a pioneer house, known as the Grower’s House, which was built in 1888 to represent the home of the early citrus owner.

Near the Grower’s House is Sunkist Center. This pioneering styled building is now used by couples from all over the country, who come to this beautiful park to exchange their vows. Sunkist Center is also rented out for association meetings throughout the year. And the rose gardens that surround the Sunkist Center are beautiful.

Adjoining the Sunkist Center on the back side, there is a beautiful gazebo that reminded me of the scene in “The Sound of Music,” where Maria and Captain vonTrapp admitted their love for one another.

And just a short distance from this beautiful spot, after yet more citrus groves and ample open grass area, is the open air amphitheater where concert bands play every Friday evening during the summer months.

No matter what the occasion that brings someone to this beautiful park, it’s nice to experience the impact of how this 377 acre park preserves the quickly vanishing citrus industry. It also recaptures the time when citrus was considered as the other gold to rush to California for.

“Even though the natural ecosystem has been affected by the citrus industry,” explains Park Ranger McDonald during my tour, “there is a reservoir and a year-round irrigation water system that attract waterfowl and other species that would only be here seasonally.”

Other birds that are commonly seen at this park include: red tailed hawks, California quail, hummingbirds and roadrunners. Throughout this park you may also see: rabbits, California ground squirrels, bobcats, raccoons, striped skunks, kangaroo rats and an occasional coyote.

As time passed so quickly, I called my friends to explain what I had seen and that I would probably have to return another day, to devote time to them.

“Have you seen the mission? They’ve made some nice changes over the years. Check that out. If you get on the 91 and head east, you will be there in ten minutes.” they explained.

The Mission Inn, situated on an entire city block and known as one of California’s most dramatic, historic buildings, celebrated its 100 year anniversary in 2003.

My memories of this historic site, as a child were typical of any child being taken on a family outing. We visited. We took in the beauty and the many notable facts about famous people who have stayed here.

So, as I enter the Mission Inn, thirty-one years later, I’m in awe of this four-story, U-shaped hotel. Inside the “U” is an expansive, cobble-stone courtyard, with plenty of well placed places to sit as you take in the art and artifacts that they have so carefully preserved.

To the guests and to the Riverside residents, the Mission Inn means more than bed, bath, and board. It’s a creative collection of arcades and gardens, turrets and domes, flying buttresses and spiraling staircases, catacombs and carillon towers.

From the exterior, there are also Spanish cannons, massive mahogany doors, Tiffany stained glass windows, Spanish ceramic tile, saints and dragons, bells and wrought iron. It’s absolutely beautiful.

Riverside's Surroundings
Riverside’s Surroundings
As I entered the Mission Inn lobby, refreshed from my brief moments of relaxation in the court yard, I was pleasantly surprised by the cozy, yet expansive lobby, with its nicely blended beige and various brown tones.

The fire in the fireplace crackled just enough to again beckon me to slow down, take this history and culture in, before moving to the next delight.

From the lobby to the Mission Inn Restaurant, world-famous for its Sunday brunch, there is an unforgettably inviting Castilian Spanish theme, with its colorful tiles, vaulted ceilings, and ornate walls with marble accents.

To the right, adjacent to this restaurant is the Spanish Patio. I’m told by on site staff that many receptions are held in the Spanish Patio, with bell towers, a view of the Spanish Art Gallery and the magnificent circular tiled fountain.

There are four other restaurants on the ground floor. If you prefer Mexican food, there’s Las Campanas Mexican Restaurant & Cantina. From the moment that I stepped in to check this out, I was pleasantly welcomed by the grilling aroma that truly was not overpowering.

For those who prefer an American fine dining restaurant, the Mission Inn offers Duane’s Prime Steaks and Seafood. With the high ceilings and beautifully framed paintings, Duane’s has a very stately ambiance. Yet, for those who desire a less formal meal, and perhaps good bantering while you meet old or new friends, the Presidential Lounge is near the main lobby, where you entered the Mission Inn.

While I didn’t stay overnight in any of the 239 guestrooms, I was honored to have been given a tour of the newest addition to the Mission Inn – Kelly’s Spa. Located between the Mission Inn Museum and the Mission Inn Hotel, on the same grounds, this 6,000 square foot spa has an intimate feel that offers a tranquil refuge for guests to retreat from the hustle of life itself.

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Kelly’s Spa at the Mission Inn truly impressed me. The architects managed to blend well the Italian Tuscan design in this spa with the Mission Inn’s Castilian Spanish design. There designed were reminiscent of my years stationed in Italy. This spa has archways, domed and barrel-vaulted ceilings that glow in a rich, warm Venetian plaster tones.

The spa also has a warm color palate of gold, accented with green and terracotta. This is all brought to life by soft Venetian chandeliers.

In addition to the six treatment rooms, which all have outdoor terracotta tiled patios and a nail salon, there are two private villas that I’m told are for those who wish anonymity.

Outside the spa, there is an outdoor swimming pool, a whirlpool and private men’s and women’s steam rooms.

And so, thirty-one years after leaving – and returning – to Riverside, California, I invite you to slow down, get in touch with California’s history, your history, and your soul in Riverside, California.

The Mission Inn was voted “Connoisseur’s Choice 2004″ for their exceptional commitment to quality, service and overall guest experience by “Resorts & Great Hotels” Magazine.

When you Go:

Sunkist Center: California Citrus State Historic Park: (951) 780-6222. One mile east of the 91 freeway, in the Arlington Heights area of Riverside. Park hours are: October – March 8:00 am – 5:00 pm April – September 8:00 am – 7:00 pm

Mission Inn: (800) 843-7755 3649 Mission Inn Ave, Riverside, CA 92501 in the heart of downtown Riverside, just ten minutes from the Sunkist Center: California Citrus State Historic Park. www.missioninn.com. Guided tours are every day. Please check current schedule.

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