Ways to Get Away…Without Going Too Far!

By: Jeff Nazzaro

With summer just around the corner and COVID restrictions (at least for the moment) in a state of remission, now is the perfect time to start planning your getaways. And with another Earth Day upon us, our fifty-second on April 22, it’s also a good opportunity to consider our beleaguered planet when making those plans. Luckily, here in the Inland Empire, there are so many choice destinations in our own little backyard, with even greater treasures awaiting a stone’s throw away.

Just a Tank Away – If you are inclined to fire up the old fossil-fuel burner, it’s good to know there are so many prime destinations so close to home.

You’ve seen it in the movies—James Dean, Natalie Wood, and Sal Mineo hung out there in Rebel Without a Cause; Arnold acquired some much-needed threads there in The Terminator; and Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling tripped a rug and locked lips there—but have you been to the Griffith Observatory? If so, it’s still worth a tank of gas for the hiking (and the city views) alone.

Much less visited than Griffith Observatory, but every bit as fascinating is the Sunken City of San Pedro. A residential development built in the 1920s on a seaside cliff, before the decade was out all but two of the homes were relocated. A 1929 landslide buried the two, creating a hauntingly beautiful attraction.

If aquariums are your thing, there’s a good one down in Long Beach. The Aquarium of the Pacific is Southern California’s largest the fourth most-attended in the country. Dedicated to the ocean that is its backyard, the Aquarium of the Pacific boasts close to 12,000 animals and over 100 exhibits.

While there are of course several beaches within easy striking distance of the IE, there are also islands. A little close to shore than Catalina or San Clemente is Newport Beach’s Balboa Island, named for Vasco Nuñez de Balboa, the Spanish explorer said to be the first European to lay eyes on the Pacific Ocean. You won’t exactly feel like Balboa, much less Gilligan and the gang, when you’re there, but you will know you’re not quite in Kansas anymore.

A little further south and also named for old Vasco, Balboa Park in San Diego is pure theme park for grownups. A 1,200-acre human refuge in the heart of the city that dates back to 1868, Balboa Park features everything from Southern California’s oldest and largest art museum to theatres, hiking trails, and gardens, including the Spanish-style Alcazar Garden and the Japanese Friendship Garden.

Be a Tourist in Your Town – Easier on your gas tank—and Mother Earth—are trips closer to home, and while they may not be as well-known as their coastal cousins, they don’t lack for character.

The Motte Historical Car Museum is a hidden gem for fans of classic automobiles and history in general. Squirreled away down in Menifee in a former produce market that proprietor Leon Motte converted using salvaged materials, its collection spans the twentieth century and includes a 1924 Electric Ford Model T, a 1940s Lincoln Continental, and a baby blue T-Bird from the 50s.

Heading the other way, you’ll find the “Alps of Southern California”—Lake Arrowhead. It has all the usual large lake attractions, including 50-minute narrated cruises aboard the Arrowhead Queen. There’s also the quaint Lake Arrowhead Village for shopping, eating, and, in the summer live outdoor music.

If you’ve already seen the Motte’s cars, head out to Chino for the Planes of Fame Air Museum. Located at the Chino Municipal Airport, the museum keeps a massive collection military aircraft and memorabilia. Those interested in aviation and/or military history will find hours and hours of inspiration and diversion amongst the restored, storied planes.

When Diamond Valley Lake (Southern California’s largest artificial reservoir) in Hemet was being dug, excavators unearthed enough specimens and artifacts from the last ice age to fill a museum. So, they filled a museum. The result is the Western Science Center, which also features exhibits on the first local humans to inhabit these parts.

Spare the Car, Save the Planet – Metrolink offers clean, comfortable rail service originating in downtown Riverside (among several other Inland Empire stations) and reaching throughout the Southland. You can even get a ten-dollar weekend pass good for anywhere the system goes and also good for free transfers onto dozens of local trains and buses, like LA Metro and Anaheim Resort Transit. Oh, and kids 17 and younger who are accompanied by adults bearing weekend passes ride free.

One of the coolest ten-dollar weekend trips from downtown Riverside takes you to San Clemente Beach on the Inland Empire-Orange County Line. The beach is just a short stroll from the station, so bring all your favorite beach gear and follow the crowd down towards the sand, where all the usual amenities and the cool Pacific await.

Who knew there was so much great entertainment—just around the corner!!