17 Free Things to Do in Riverside, CA

Free Things to Do in Riverside, CA

Let me take you on a virtual tour, sharing some of the free things to do in Riverside, California.

We extend our heartfelt gratitude to the following individuals for their invaluable contributions to this article: Marcia Miller, Ruby Mendoza, Nadia Sellers, Linda Webb, Elizabeth Vicini, Maxine Quinn and Daphne Ponce.

Explore Mount Rubidoux Park

Aerial view of Mount Rubidoux Park
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Every Saturday morning, there is a tradition I won't trade for anything else - hiking up the trails of the magnificent Mount Rubidoux Park.

An all-natural terrain, this place is a haven for canine buddies and hiking enthusiasts like me.

Trust me when I say the view from this park, centered around a mammoth white cross at the pinnacle, is breathtaking.

I usually start my hike early, just when the world wakes up.

Pushing my stroller, I make my way to the top.

The path is easy to navigate, and even on my lazier days, I reach the summit without breaking much of a sweat.

What adds to the charm of these hikes are the little surprises that nature throws my way.

I have spotted many adorable lizards, and they never fail to make me smile.

Scenic views from Mount Rubidoux Park
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The trails at Mount Rubidoux Park cater to all types of hikers, beginners or advanced, and include dirt paths, adding to the rustic feel of the place.

Most days, I park near Ryan Bonaminio Park and follow the crowd walking up towards the mountain. You can't miss it.

The climax of the hike is the stunning view from atop the park.

I make it a point to time my hikes so that I can soak in the beauty of the day, watch the sunset, and witness the night scene all in one go.

The magical view makes my weekly journey to the top worth every step.

I cannot recommend Mount Rubidoux Park enough to all nature lovers, hikers, or someone looking for quiet.

It's an experience, a journey, a memory waiting to be created.

A tower at Mount Rubidoux Park
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Take a Stroll Through History at Riverside Heritage House

It was a lazy Sunday afternoon when I finally decided to check out the Riverside Heritage House, a place I had passed by countless times but never actually entered.

Stepping into the grand Victorian residence was like being transported back in time with its period furnishings and decor.

Every nook and cranny whispered stories of bygone eras, making me feel like a time traveler.

The docents were friendly and incredibly knowledgeable, adding depth to the house's history.

I was fortunate to visit during the special black veil presentation - a unique experience that brought the past to life.

As each room unfurled its story, I found myself completely engrossed.

I remember wishing that I could explore the attic, imagining the treasures it must hold.

The house is a museum and a beautiful piece of architecture surrounded by beautifully landscaped gardens.

It was a sight to behold when I visited during December, with the trees adorned with oranges studded with cloves and ribbons.

I was so taken by the festive atmosphere that I promised to return during Christmas.

Remember, entry to the house is free, but they do encourage donations to help keep the place running.

If you've got a free afternoon, I highly recommend you take the time to explore and immerse yourself in the rich history of Riverside Heritage House.

And who knows, you might even catch me there on my next visit!

Make a Splash at Islander Park

It's almost impossible to resist the lure of the clear blue waters at Islander Park. The city of Riverside has done marvelous work maintaining this little oasis.

The sound of kids' laughter echoing off the tiled walls is the perfect soundtrack to summer.

My children have been taking swimming classes here, and their excitement is palpable each time.

The instructors are patient and attentive, making the classes fun and educational.

And the pool is always pristine.

They also have a kiddie pool, a haven for the little ones to frolic and play.

The lifeguards are vigilant, always on their toes, ensuring a safe environment.

Likewise, the park hosts various events.

I remember attending a football banquet here, where we had the luxury of using the on-site kitchen.

Islander Park is a treasure trove of memories where summer magic happens.

Every visit leaves me nostalgic and yearning for more.

It's our little piece of paradise right in the heart of Riverside.

Walk Through UC Riverside Botanic Gardens

Flora at UC Riverside Botanic Gardens
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When you live in Southern California, you're no stranger to natural beauty.

But even with the Pacific Ocean's grandeur and the Sierras's majesty, there's something magical about a walk through the UC Riverside Botanic Gardens.

This is a place wrapped in the quiet hush of nature, nestled right in the heart of Riverside.

I'm always drawn to its leafy acres, and I'm always thrilled by the different species of plants and birds found there.

My most recent visit was during the sweltering height of summer, but even then, the gardens offered a serene respite.

The shade of the majestic trees provided a fantastic retreat from the heat.

During this visit, I could partake in the reserved twilight tour.

Vibrant flowers at UC Riverside Botanic Gardens
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As we navigated the gardens, I was taken by various sights, from the spectacular rose gardens to the fragrant herb garden, the fluttering butterfly garden, and the newly added Native American garden.

We even had a chance to do some moderate hiking.

Every visit to UC Riverside Botanic Gardens brings something new, so I always return.

For locals and visitors alike, the UC Riverside Botanic Gardens is a gem that begs to be explored.

It's more than worth the drive, and I encourage everyone to donate generously to keep this magical place thriving.

And who knows, you might have a surprise encounter with one of the residents.

Succulents at UC Riverside Botanic Gardens
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Go Hiking at Sycamore Canyon Wilderness Park

I've been an outdoors enthusiast since childhood, and living in Riverside, California, the Sycamore Canyon Wilderness Park is my playground - a sprawling 1,424-acre haven for nature lovers like me.

I lace up my shoes every morning, fill up my water bottle, and head to the park. It's a melting pot of flora and fauna.

On a lucky day, I see ravens, lizards, and even rattlesnakes.

(Don't worry! They usually mind their own business).

Apart from these, it's the company of the most gorgeous wildflowers that I enjoy the most.

I remember this one time in May when I was dwarfed by flowers standing over 5 feet tall. It felt like a different world altogether.

The park is crisscrossed with trails that cater to all fitness levels, from those seeking a gentle walk to those craving a challenging hike.

My favorite trail? It's the one that starts from the Barton Street entrance. Sure, there's no parking lot, but ample street parking exists.

And once you enter the park, nature's bounty opens up.

Do remember, if you're planning a visit on a weekend, it's better to arrive early as it tends to get a bit busy.

Mountain biking is another activity that this park is famous for.

I don't bike, but I love watching the bikers zooming past me on the trails.

But remember, as beautiful as it is, the park has its challenges.

And if you're into bird watching, a small creek runs through the park, a hotspot for various bird species.

Each visit to the Sycamore Canyon Wilderness Park brings a fresh perspective, and I'm grateful to have such an incredible natural reserve right at my doorstep.

It's a wilderness in the heart of Riverside, waiting for you to explore and appreciate.

Visit Hunter Hobby Park

Imagine waking up to a gorgeous sunrise and stepping out for a brisk, energizing walk in the town.

Where, you might ask?

None other than the Hunter Hobby Park.

As soon as you enter, you're welcomed by the mouthwatering smell of cookies and cream, making you feel at home.

Occasionally, I find myself getting lost in the serenity of the park.

The peaceful vibe and welcoming community make every visit unique and unforgettable.

Not just that, Hunter Hobby Park is a haven for fun activities.

There's something for everyone, from horse riding to fishing, playing ball, and flying kites.

And if you're in the mood for some downtime, find a lovely shade tree, sit back, and lose yourself in some music while basking in the breathtaking sunset.

The bathrooms are spacious and spotlessly clean – quite rare in public parks!

Another standout feature is the beautiful lake.

It's the perfect backdrop for a romantic wedding anniversary celebration or a simple picnic with friends or family.

These walking trails and gazebos add to the charm of the place.

Despite being a public space, it's surprisingly clean and well-maintained.

Hunter Hobby Park is an experience that keeps me coming back, day after day.

Check Out First Congregational Church

Exterior of the First Congregational Church
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Every time I hear the musical peal of the bell tower from the historic First Congregational Church, I can't help but feel a surge of pride and gratitude.

Nestled in the heart of downtown Riverside, right across the street from the famed Mission Inn, this church has been a beacon of hope and community for over a century.

This church is a living testament to the spirit of Riverside.

Its Mediterranean Revival build, designed by the architects who brought us parts of the Mission Inn and the Rose Bowl, is a sight to behold.

To add to its charm, this picturesque edifice is a National Historic Landmark.

But when you step inside, you realize it's not just about the century-old walls.

It's about the people and the sense of community that fills every corner of the church.

Towers of the First Congregational Church
Eddie J. Rodriquez / Shutterstock.com

From the progressive congregation indulging in traditional services, complete with choir, organ, and hymns, to the volunteers like me, who spend their Wednesdays serving the homeless, it's a place where love and compassion genuinely live.

Every Wednesday, the church opens its doors to a free medical clinic, continuing its longstanding tradition of service.

But my favorite part of church days is the choir performances.

My youngest is part of the choir, and there's nothing more heartwarming than hearing their angelic voices echoing through the church halls.

Lately, the church has embarked on a noble mission of restoring its historic bell tower, currently hidden behind a shroud.

They aim to raise $400,000 and every contribution counts.

I look forward to the day when the bell tower stands restored in all its glory, continuing to serve as a guiding light for the downtown community.

Journey through History at the Mission Inn Museum

It's hard to resist the Mission Inn Museum's captivating allure in downtown Riverside's heart.

Stepping into the grand hotel, Ily is taken on a voyage through time and art.

The beauty of the Mission Revival style architecture is a sight to behold, with each corner of this National Historic Landmark speaking volumes about local history.

Selling an array of impressive souvenirs, each visit to the Mission Inn seems incomplete without acquiring a memento.

The 75-minute tour, a true highlight of a trip, is an investment of time and money that is entirely worth it.

Touring the inside of the museum, you're offered a deeper dive into the history of the place, with the artwork there beautifully complementing the overall narrative.

During the tour, you'll experience a lot of outdoor exploration, so I'd recommend protecting yourself from the Riverside sun.

Bring along your sunscreen and a hat to shield yourself.

The hotel also displays some of its grand rooms, including the presidential suite.

Quite a few American presidents have graced this historic hotel, which adds another layer to the intriguing narrative of the Mission Inn.

The Mission Inn Museum truly embodies the essence of Riverside's rich history and is a must-visit for all locals and tourists alike.

Uncover Art Treasures at Riverside Art Museum

Every city has its gems; the neatest one is the Riverside Art Museum.

Talk about a place that boasts an array of art classes, engaging workshops, insightful lectures, and a museum store selling local art!

When I stepped into this hub of creativity, I was greeted with a friendly smile and an atmosphere brimming with artistic energy.

The museum is housed in a beautifully historic building, the architecture of which is grand, like a work of art.

With spacious gallery rooms, the museum exhibits various artworks that genuinely capture the essence of our local artists.

On one visit, I remember witnessing an entire gallery room being transformed for a new exhibit, a thrilling sight indeed.

There's also a museum store for those who appreciate taking a piece of art home.

Although the variety might seem limited, every piece is unique and radiates the skill of our local artists.

Now, if you're a fan of art or just curious, it's worth checking out the Riverside Art Museum.

Our local tip is to grab your tickets from the nearby Cheech Museum.

It's always quiet and lovely, perfect for a day of immersing yourself in art. And who knows?

You might even fall in love with our art scene like I did.

Trust me, you won't be disappointed.

Hike the Rubidoux Trail

Daytime view of the Rubidoux Trail
Jon Bilous / Shutterstock.com

I've always been asked about how safe the Rubidoux Trail really is.

I can tell you, from countless evening hikes around 6pm, I've not come across any signs of crime.

The area is as peaceful as it is beautiful.

Moreover, the hike is a modest two to three miles, depending on your chosen route.

There's a certain beauty about the path being paved the whole way – this makes it accessible even if you have little ones in strollers.

When it comes to reaching the top, you have two options.

If you're feeling adventurous, take the left side: it's shorter but more inclined. If you'd prefer a longer but easier walk, head to the right.

People along the Rubidoux Trail
truannak12 / Shutterstock.com

Indeed, the view from the trail is lovely, with grand vistas from every angle.

The Rubidoux Trail has natural beauty and scenic views, making it an excellent place to visit.

Visit Riverside Metropolitan Museum

From the moment I first set eyes on the stunning Italian Renaissance architecture of the Riverside Metropolitan Museum, I knew I was in for a treat.

This unassuming museum, nestled in the heart of my hometown, is packed full of local history, culture, and nature, making it a staple in the local community.

Although the main building is closed, the Museum's dedication to community engagement has not wavered.

They continue to be involved in local events and maintain their other heritage properties, the Heritage House and Harada House.

Even just from the outside, there's plenty to appreciate.

A charming miniature statue stands proudly at the front, adding a delightful touch of art to the city landscape.

Despite its size, this museum never fails to deliver on quality.

The exhibits brilliantly showcase the rich history of Riverside County, from the stories of the Native Cahuilla, Serrano, and Luiseno Bands of Indians to the displays of local flora and fauna.

Each visit, no matter how brief, offers a new appreciation for the ingenuity and craftsmanship of our local ancestors.

This hidden gem also boasts a nature lab - a big hit with the kids when it's open.

It's a fun, educational activity that helps young minds understand and appreciate our local ecosystem.

On top of that, the museum's gift shop is a treasure trove for book lovers like myself.

Its shelves are filled with rare and hard-to-find books, making it the perfect place to pick up a unique souvenir or gift.

So, whether you're a history buff, nature lover, or just looking for a way to spend an afternoon, the Riverside Metropolitan Museum has something for everyone.

It's a slice of Riverside history that continues to captivate, educate, and inspire locals and visitors alike.

See the World's Largest Paper Cup

The moment I moved to this city, I knew it had its unique charms.

But perhaps the most unusual feature is the World's Largest Paper Cup.

It's one of those bizarre roadside attractions that you can't help but be curious about, even though it's a little off the beaten path.

Standing tall amidst the otherwise mundane surroundings, the cup is quite a sight.

It's not exactly a place where you can go and chill, as it's more of a drive-by kind of landmark—there's no parking spot nearby, and the city doesn't seem to put much effort into maintaining the area.

But it's the spot that can induce a chuckle when trying to show off your city's quirkiest attractions to your out-of-town friends.

If you like collecting experiences or are interested in the world's largest items, this could be a delightful little addition to your collection.

Just remember that it's a quick stop-and-snap kind of place. So get your cameras ready and enjoy this oddball attraction in our city.

Pay Respects at Riverside National Cemetery

Medal of Honor at Riverside National Cemetery
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There's something solemn yet beautiful about an expanse of meticulously maintained greenery.

The Riverside National Cemetery, tucked away in my humble town, is such a place.

It is home to fountains, ponds and, most importantly, the final resting places of numerous brave souls.

I've had the difficult privilege of attending services for friends and family members at this cemetery.

The military honor ceremonies in particular are something to behold.

When they play TAPS, the entire area seems to stand still in respect.

The gun salute, the folding and presentation of the flag, every minute detail is handled with a reverence that is palpably felt by everyone present.

Flags at Riverside National Cemetery
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The grass is always a vibrant green, and the gentle sounds of the fountains provide a tranquil background.

Riverside National Cemetery is a dignified final resting place for our brave veterans.

Discover the Wonders at Jurupa Mountains Discovery Center

I catch my breath every time I drive past the Jurupa Mountains Discovery Center.

And finally, one fine day, I decided to dive into its enchanting world.

As I stepped inside, the Earth Science Museum was a sight to behold with a myriad range of rocks and fossils.

I felt as though I was travelling back in time, with each piece telling its own unique story.

It was a hands-on learning experience that was nothing short of extraordinary.

Strolling through the nature garden trail was like walking through the pages of a prehistoric chronicle, with dinosaur sculptures dotting the pathway.

The turtle pond added a dash of tranquility to the whole scene.

Certain areas though, were accessible only with a tour guide - a mysterious allure that left me yearning for more.

The gift shop was a little treasure trove packed with fascinating souvenirs.

From the youngest to the oldest, there was something for everyone.

And the best part? If you purchase goods worth more than $40, they kindly offset the $10 entrance fee.

While the center does not house a restaurant, one is free to bring their own food.

Picnic areas are strewn across the place, making it perfect for a family day out.

The aroma of the BBQ stand nearby was tantalizing, and it's definitely on my list for my next visit.

Another key highlight was the dinosaur hunt that my kids loved.

A word of advice though - don't forget to bring your sunblock!

The center is open, and the sun can get pretty intense. So here's to more adventures under the sun at the Jurupa Mountains Discovery Center.

I am looking forward to my next visit already!

Take a Stroll through California's Citrus History

Exterior of the California Citrus State Historic Park
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Every time I pass by the California Citrus State Historic Park, I can't help but feel a rush of nostalgia.

Reminiscent of California's excellent citrus boom of the 20th century, this park is a gem tucked away in the heart of our city.

I remember once taking my kids for a casual stroll through the park, and we ended up spending the entire day lost amidst the lush citrus groves.

The scent of oranges, lemons, and grapefruits hung in the air, transporting us back to a time when 'Citrus was King' in California.

Likewise, the greenery is enchanting and the groves are brimming with different varieties of citrus trees.

On weekends, I often like to venture here on my own, wander through the groves, and take in the serene environment.

The park is beautifully maintained, with clean picnic tables nestled under the shade of the trees.

It's the perfect spot to enjoy a quiet afternoon with a good book.

Orange tree at the California Citrus State Historic Park
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The park's museum features interactive exhibits and interpretive features beautifully narrate the story of California's citrus industry.

Who knew that oranges could have such a fascinating history?

I've often found the park volunteers to be friendly and very knowledgeable.

They're always happy to share stories about the citrus industry and the park's history.

It's this passion that makes every visit to the park a unique experience.

And for those looking to buy some fresh citrus, you won't be disappointed.

The tastings are a great way to sample the different varieties.

I just wish they had more fruit for sale, especially after the tastings.

The California Citrus State Historic Park is a slice of our city's past, juiced around the corner. I'm definitely looking forward to my next visit.

Palm trees at the California Citrus State Historic Park
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Enjoy the Serenity at Bordwell Park

Every so often, I find myself drawn to the charm and tranquility of Bordwell Park.

It's a sanctuary tucked away within the bustling city of Riverside, a place where nature thrives and serenity takes root.

As I venture through the park, the rustling of leaves and chirping of birds welcomes me into a world that seems miles away from any cityscape.

The park is teeming with life, a blend of flora and fauna that never ceases to amaze me.

You will encounter squirrels scampering around and crows cawing in the distance.

I often bring my Australian Shepherd with me.

With plenty of open spaces, it's the perfect playground for him to roam freely and burn off his energy.

There's always a sense of community here.

Whether it's early morning joggers or families having a picnic, everyone seems to appreciate the park's natural beauty.

I recently decided to help enhance the park's greenery by planting a few saplings.

There's something genuinely fulfilling about giving back to a place that has given me so much peace and joy.

If you're ever in Riverside and need a breather from the city's hustle and bustle, I highly recommend visiting Bordwell Park.

Whether you're a nature enthusiast or simply seeking some peace and quiet, this park is sure to enchant you.

Keep an eye out for the local wildlife while you're there. They're all part of the Bordwell Park experience.

Enjoy a Day of Leisure at Fairmount Park

The grounds of Fairmount Park
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When life in Riverside gets too hectic, I often find myself drawn to the tranquil beauty of Fairmount Park.

The park adds a touch of serenity to our bustling city, serving as an oasis where locals like me can relax and unwind.

Nestled within the heart of our city, this park is a haven for those seeking tranquility amidst nature.

Fairmount Park is an incredible place to kickstart my day with a jog.

As I run around Lake Evans, the soaring cypress trees silently cheer me on.

As a photography enthusiast, the park also provides endless opportunities for landscape and bird photography, especially in the early hours of the day.

The park is a fantastic venue for family gatherings as well.

I remember many beautiful afternoons spent picnicking with my family under the shade of the park's trees.

The kids adore the two large playgrounds by Fairmount Lake and are often reluctant to leave when it's time to head home.

Moreover, the rose garden, an often-used location for photo shoots, is a sight to behold when in full bloom.

The waters of Fairmount Park
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I've lost count of the number of times I've strolled through the garden, completely enchanted by the captivating colors and fragrances around me.

Whenever I'm in the mood for a bit of adventure, I rent a pedal boat from the boat house and set off to explore the park from the water.

It's always exciting to see the park from a different perspective and to get up close with the ducks and other water birds that call the lakes home.

However, one of my favorite things about Fairmount Park is the breathtaking sunsets.

Witnessing the sky transform into a canvas of vibrant hues over the lake is a magical experience that never fails to leave me in awe.

Remembering to clean up after myself is something I hold in high regard.

I take pride in maintaining the park's beauty by disposing of my trash correctly.

Indeed, as a member of the Riverside community, it is my responsibility to keep our public spaces clean for everyone to enjoy.

Whether you're an active runner, a nature lover, or simply someone looking for peace, Fairmount Park is the perfect destination.

I look forward to many more days of leisure spent in this serene corner of Riverside.

Final Thoughts

Riverside, California, truly is a gem hiding in plain sight.

Despite living here for years, I'm continually discovering new things about Riverside that surprise and delight me.

I'm incredibly grateful to call Riverside my home and I'm excited to see what else I'll discover in the future.

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