Mission Inn Festival of Lights


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It seems that every state has a lights festival to end the year right. Ultimately, these events showcase beautiful Christmas/holiday lights and often have a theme. The Mission Inn Festival of Lights started in 1992 and has become a beloved tradition each year for the Riverside, California, community.

Festival highlights

Ultimately, the hotel and spa calls it “Christmas Lights at the Inn.” The exterior of the hotel is bedazzled with tons of lights, but you can also see the holiday décor and interior lighting within the hotel if you’re a guest. Usually, there are tons of entertainment options, horse-drawn carriages, rides, and vendors at the festival.

More than 500,000 visitors attend the Mission Inn Festival of Lights each year. You can see the display come to life. In fact, it’s one of the largest light shows in the nation and was voted as the “Best Public Lights Display” from USA Today.

Festival Dates

The festival dates vary each year, but they typically run from November through January. This past year, it went from November 26, 2021, to January 6, 2022.

Where It’s Located/How to Get There

The Mission Inn Festival of Lights is held at the Mission Inn Hotel and Spa. Its address is 3649 Mission Inn Avenue in Riverside, California. In fact, it’s in the heart of the downtown Riverside area and is about 90 minutes from San Diego and Los Angeles or 16 miles from the Ontario Airport.

This hotel takes up a full city block and is situated close to the 91 and 60 freeway interchange. If you’re coming from the Los Angeles, Pasadena, or Ontario area, you should take I-10 E or the I-210 E San Bernardino to the I-15 S San Diego. Then, take the CA-60E to Riverside. Exit at Market Street and then turn right. Continue about 1.3 miles and then turn left to get on Mission Inn Avenue. You can’t miss it!

Those who come from the John Wayne Airport and Orange County should take the I-40S North to CA-55 North Anaheim-Riverside. Then, you should take the CA-91 E/Riverside. After that, exit at University Avenue and continue past that one block until you turn left onto Mission Inn Avenue.

If you’re in Victorville or San Bernadino, you can get on 215 S and then take the exit for Mission Inn Avenue. Turn right and go three more blocks.

Anyone in Temecula or San Diego can take the I-15 N to the I-215 N to Riverside or CA-91 E. Then, take the Mission Inn Avenue exit toward the downtown area and turn left. Drive three blocks to get to the Inn.

Festival Hours

The lights festival has varying hours based on the situation. For example, last year (2020), there were no hours of operation because you had to book a hotel stay to enjoy all the activities and options available. However, anyone could drive by the Inn and see the beautiful light display outside, regardless of the time.

Cost to Visit the Festival

When you attend the Mission Inn Festival of Lights, the entire event is free. Therefore, you don’t have to pay anything to see the lights or get inside. There are usually over 400 animated figures to watch and enjoy.

Last year, however, the Mission Inn Festival of Lights was toned down because of the pandemic. Therefore, you had to book a room for the night to enjoy what was found inside. There’s usually a switch-on ceremony, but the 2020 edition didn’t include that. Still, it’s completely free. Once you’re inside, you can purchase food and beverages, as well as other items.

Weather and What to Wear

Since the Mission Inn Hotel and Spa is located in California, you can expect the weather to be sunny and on the warm side. Typically, weather in November through January ranges from 58 to 75 degrees. It rarely rains during this time.

Because the weather is so warm, you don’t have to layer up for the winter months. This is why many people choose to attend the lights festival at the Mission Inn. In most cases, you can wear a short-sleeved shirt with some loose-fitting cotton pants. Bring along a hoodie in case it gets chilly, and you’re good to go.

Some people prefer to wear shorts and sandals or a cute skirt. This is possible, but the temperatures do drop into the high 40s once the sun goes down. Therefore, it’s best to bring along a coat and possibly some gloves and a hat. It all depends on your body and how easily you get cold.

Where to Sleep

The Mission Inn Festival of Lights happens each year at a hotel. Therefore, you can stay right on-site and enjoy everything the lights festival has to offer.

Last year (2020), the festival was toned down quite a bit. There weren’t any vendors or entertainment options. However, there was some interior décor in a castle theme. Plus, patrons of the hotel could visit the gingerbread house, which was life-sized, and the gorgeous 19-foot Christmas tree in the lobby.

It offered sweet treats from the Casey’s Cupcakes company, as well as Irvine & Roberts wines. You could also enjoy different cocktails each night and dine on scrumptious holiday cuisine items in your room.

If you only want to spend one night at the Mission Inn Hotel and Spa to enjoy the lights festival, you may want to consider going to the Hyatt Place next. It’s a little less expensive and has free WiFi and an outdoor pool. Though it’s ‘winter,’ some people may not find the water too cold to enjoy while the sun is out. Most of the rooms have a tub, and you can use free toiletries. There’s also digital check-in, free breakfast, and a fitness center. Plus, pets are welcome here.

Another option is the Courtyard by Marriott. There are a pool and fitness center, but the guest rooms are all renovated to include luxury amenities. You can relax in style while you plan the rest of your adventure to the Mission Inn Festival of Lights.

What to Eat

You can’t go on vacation without dining out a few times. While most hotels offer microwaves and refrigerators, you want to experience the dining choices nearby.

The downtown Riverside area has many places to eat. Mario’s Place is right across the street from the Mission Inn. It features contemporary French and Italian cuisine, along with fine wines. This elegant and upscale setting is the perfect way to end your day.

Those who want to try something new or enjoy sushi can visit Cabin Sushi. It’s less than a mile away from the Mission Inn and features authentic and fresh Japanese cuisine. The setting is inviting but casual, so you don’t have to dress up if you don’t want to do so. This local Sushi spot includes traditional favorites like udon and sashimi.

If you just want some classic bar food and prefer a social atmosphere, Lake Alice Trading Co is the place to go. It’s about half a mile away from the Mission Inn and includes all your favorites. Get curly fries, burgers, and fried pickles, all while drinking some draft beer or perfectly-crafted mixed cocktails.

More Things to Do in the Area

The Mission Inn is a unique place to hold a lights festival because it’s a hotel and spa. Therefore, you can visit Kelly’s Spa without having to leave the hotel itself. There are plenty of services available, including massages, nails, waxing, body treatments, and facials. It’s so easy to treat yourself right when you stay at the Mission Inn.

However, you may want to venture out after seeing the Mission Inn Festival of Lights. Consider the Riverside Metropolitan Museum. It features a lot of regional culture and history, as well as natural history of the area. You can learn so much and have a relaxing day. Plus, this is a free option, so you don’t have to shell out more money while learning about Riverside.

Add some culture to your life with the Fox Performing Arts Center. This theater was built in 1929, and it’s considered to be a Spanish-Colonial-style building. There are always exciting events happening here, depending on when you attend. Sometimes, it is open when there are no shows scheduled so that people can see some of the beauty and architecture. Call ahead to make sure, though!

Clearly, you can see that the Mission Inn Festival of Lights is a great source of holiday fun. If you live in a cold climate and want to try something different, consider heading to California to experience Christmas in a new way.

Arik Akunis
Arik Akunis

My name is Arik Akunis and I have been in the field of lighting for over the last 20 years, I started my journey in the world of lighting in the lighting niche for events where I first came across a festival of lights and immediately fell in love with it.

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