Will Rogers called it "the most unique hotel in America". Who am I to argue? The Mission Inn Hotel & Spa is truly one-of-a-kind. Museum, grand hotel, home, boardinghouse, mission, art gallery, aviator’s shrine, presidential lounge are a partial list of its functions. And while Riverside, California may seem like an unlikely place for a National Historic Landmark (well, at least one that is not a Spanish Mission), there it is. Occupying 2.5 acres, and boasting 239 rooms and suites, the Mission Inn is a destination in itself.
Believe it or not, in the 1890's Riverside was the richest city (per capita) in the United States. Wealthy Easterners and Europeans flocked to the small town for its healthy climate and burgeoning citrus industry. Frank Miller, the Inn Keeper of a 12-room adobe boarding house built in 1876, anticipated the demand for a grand resort hotel. Expansion began, and in 1903 he open the Mission wing in Mission-Revival style architecture which borrowed structural elements of the various California Missions. By 1931, three more wings had been added.
In the 30's, the Mission Inn was already an architectural wonder, but Frank Miller was also a world traveler and collector of priceless treasures, many of which he brought back for display in his hotel - furniture, paintings, statuary, and much more. Just one example, is the St. Francis of Assisi Chapel, built as part of the Spanish-colonial style Rotunda wing. It is decorated with amazing artifacts from around the world. Gorgeous Tiffany stained glass panels, purchased directly from Louis Comfort Tiffany, accent the chapel's impressive walls. The chapel's focal point is a meticulously-detailed 18-karat-gold leafed, gilded Raya’s altar dating back to the mid-eighteenth century.
Frank Miller also collected hundreds of bells in his lifetime, of which over 400 can be seen on the grounds of the Mission Inn. These include the large Nanking temple bell (enclosed in its own pavilion) as well as the oldest dated bell in Christendom (1247 A.D.).
As unique and amazing as the Mission Inn is, it gets even better at Christmastime. Why? Each year, shortly after Thanksgiving, the hotel and downtown surroundings begin the Festival of Lights. The Mission Inn celebrates Christmas in a big way, with over 4 million lights decorating the grounds, as well as animatronic figures, live entertainment, live reindeer, carollers, horse-drawn carriage rides, an outdoor ice rink, fresh snow, and of course Santa Claus. In addition to the wonderful decorations, the hotel's restaurants offer some amazing holiday menu items.
Be sure to check out the "Switch-On Ceremony" in late November when downtown Riverside is magically illuminated in an instant, followed by some spectacular fireworks.