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Sep 16, 2023

The city of Riverside in California's Inland Empire is plenty historic, with its long legacy of orange groves and its "Gold Rush" of the citrus sort.

But when it was founded by John North and a group of East Coast-ers in 1870, it was to further education and culture.

Most of its orchards are long gone — but the culture remained, and it's even grown over time. That's especially true with the opening of a new museum for Chicano art and culture, possibly the first of its kind in this country.

If it's been a while since you've explored this cultural community, or you're a Riverside newbie, here are five ways to dive into its art collections and architecture — and even a bonus world-renowned roadside attraction.

The city of Riverside has been getting a lot of attention from the art world and Southern Californians alike for the arrival of "The Cheech," a new museum of Chicano art that's a public-private partnership between the city, Riverside Art Museum and comedian/actor Cheech Marin — known for assembling the finest collection of Chicano art in the country over the last 40 years.

Located in the 61,420-square-foot former Riverside Public Library (built 1965), the museum finally opened in June 2022 after over five years of planning and renovations. Today, the ground floor displays the museum's permanent collection — some pieces of which have been included in Marin's touring exhibitions, which have made their way to world-class institutions around the world. Marin donated a total of 500 works to the museum — and only a fraction is on display at any given time, with the "Cheech Collects" exhibition showcasing the initial selects for the museum opening. QR codes are posted to help visitors explore certain works further.

Upstairs on the second floor is a space for a rotating roster of visiting artists — like the inaugural show, "Collidoscope," which brings together a retrospective (or "retro perspective") of the Guadalajara-born de la Torre Brothers. Don't miss their more recent lenticular prints (which complement the two-story tall "Gaiatlicue" on the first exhibition floor), as well as their mixed media, kinetic art and the blown glass sculptures of their "Retracollage" section of early-career works. Highlights include a depiction of the musician Prince as a deer ("Prince Tonali") and many kaleidoscopic pieces that evoke both Aztec imagery and the geometry of mandalas.

3581 Mission Inn Avenue, Riverside, CA 92501

Metered street and lot parking is available along Mission Inn Avenue. Many large-scale downtown events that require street closures occur throughout the year and may affect parking and drop-off/pick-up. For more parking guidelines, click here. COVID-19 safety protocols may be in place.

Your paid admission to The Cheech also grants you access to same-day admission to its parent organization, the Riverside Art Museum (RAM). Located just one block down from The Cheech, RAM is housed in the circa 1929 former YWCA designed by Hearst Castle architect Julia Morgan. Stop in to admire the wrought iron railings, tiled fireplace, sunlit courtyard, historical display about the building and rotating art exhibits (including the current "Rhythmic Inquisitions" featuring the paintings of June Edmonds, on display through November 27, 2022.

3425 Mission Inn Avenue, Riverside, CA 92501

Literally across the street from The Cheech is The Mission Inn, Riverside's castle-like hotel that began as a tiny adobe boarding house and expanded, wing by wing, until it took up an entire city block when it was completed in 1931. Now it's a patchwork quilt of varying architectural styles from all over the world — Europe to Asia — inspired by the travels of its founding father, Frank Miller. And it's one of the most historic hotels in the country.

From the grand entrance on Mission Inn Avenue, say hello to the pair of macaws — Napoleon (the blue bird) and Joseph (the rainbow one) — and step into the dark, magical lobby of the nationally-landmarked hotel. From there, you can access the hotel bar (the "Presidential Lounge"), a number of eateries (as well as the spa) and The Music Room and its stunning stained glass.

To get the full experience of the entire Inn — especially if you're not staying overnight — it's best to take a guided tour. A docent will take you onto the Spanish Patio, the Court of the Orient and Author's Row; past 13th-century bells and other antiques and oddities; through the International Rotunda (which pays tribute to the founding padres of the California missions); and into the ornate St. Francis Chapel, where Bette Davis got married in 1945. Be sure to leave some extra time to visit the Museum, located in the gift shop on the Main Street side of the hotel.

3649 Mission Inn Avenue, Riverside, CA 92501

COVID-19 safety protocols are currently in effect. Metered street and lot parking is available along Mission Inn Avenue and other surrounding streets. Many large-scale downtown events that require street closures occur throughout the year and may affect parking and drop-off/pick-up. Valet parking is also available at the Mission Inn Avenue entrance.

Just a quarter-mile down Mission Inn Avenue from the Mission Inn is Tio's Tacos — whose backyard garden of folk art and assemblage has now expanded to the parking area and the outdoor patio in the front, as well as the sidewalk by the taco stand's entrance. Throughout the property, you'll find sculptures made primarily of beer bottles, mannequins, rubber masks, metal can lids and other found materials.

Among the folk art attractions here are skeleton mariachis (with trash can cover sombreros), tongue-wagging dragons, a small-scale reproduction of El Pueblo in downtown Los Angeles, a ukulele-playing Popeye and a sprawling fountain/water feature in the center of the garden.

Then there's Sanchez's Beer Bottle Chapel, which is actually an active chapel where you can say a prayer, get married or memorialize someone you love. It's named after the artist behind the garden — Tio's Tacos restaurant owner Martín Sánchez — who grew up poor and never forgot the value of recycled materials.

3948 Mission Inn Avenue, Riverside, CA 92501

Small onsite parking lot or free street parking. No entrance fee (beyond the purchase of your meal.) Enter at your own risk, and be careful where you step. Closed-toed shoes are recommended. Children are prohibited from playing among the art pieces and must be accompanied by an adult at all times.

Riverside has got plenty of historic architecture — from Victorian to Mid-Century Modern — but one of its most intriguing historic homes defies definition when it comes to architectural style. And what's more, it's located in the most unexpected of places: in the parking lot of the Courtyard by Marriott Riverside UCR/Moreno Valley Area hotel on University Avenue (a.k.a. Old Highway 395).

The Weber House was named after and designed by Peter J. Weber, who worked as chief designer for architect G. Stanley Wilson's firm. Weber helped design the Mission Inn's International Rotunda (see #2 above), where the firm eventually moved its office — but his magnum opus was really his family home, which was built between 1932 and 1938. The brick-clad house — a Riverside city landmark — exhibits an unusual blend of Moorish, Craftsman and Art Deco architecture, brought to life through many recycled and reclaimed materials (including a circa 1935 solar water heater on the roof, which was constructed out of car windshields).

You'll enter through the former washroom, which now houses a mini gift shop for Old Riverside Foundation. (The foundation's headquarters are located there). From there, proceed past Weber's old desk (architectural drawings still scattered about) and into the kitchen, whose doors feature reclaimed hardware and decorative nail heads — like all doors in the Weber House. In the dining room, a hand-painted ceiling looms over a wood-burning stove that was later converted to oil.

Throughout the rest of the house, you'll find tiled fireplaces; decorative metal hand-worked by Weber; hand-carved moldings, cabinets, doors, ceilings and walls; and compartments hiding behind panels of wood oiled with used motor oil. A stunning bathroom is tiled in Gladding McBean ceramic shards (which reportedly cost $5 per barrel at the time). An outdoor courtyard showcases the different brick patterns Weber could offer in his architectural designs.

1510 University Avenue, Riverside, CA 92507

Private tours of The Weber House are available for groups of six or fewer, Wednesday through Sunday, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., by advance reservation only (minimum 48 hours' notice). Restroom facilities are available at the Courtyard by Marriott, directly adjacent to The Weber House. Plenty of free parking in the surface lot. An online virtual tour is also available on the Old Riverside Foundation website.

Riverside's Heritage House is a stunning showcase of what life was like for those who lived on the right side of the tracks at the turn of the last century. The Queen Anne-style mansion was built at the behest of Catherine Bettner — the well-off widow of James Bettner, who'd co-founded the California Fruit Growers Exchange and served as president of Riverside Fruit Company before passing away from a rare kidney disease at age 45.

The Bettners had lived with their two sons on a citrus ranch on Indiana Avenue — but when Catherine's husband and one of her sons passed away (of tuberculosis at just 22 years old), she left it to her surviving son and created a new home of her own. And since the Bettner family had profited handsomely from the citrus industry, Catherine was able to upgrade and relocate to Magnolia Avenue — Riverside's version of "Millionaire's Row."

Mrs. Bettner commissioned architect John A. Walls (of the firm Morgan and Walls) to design the Victorian manse — and in 1891, it was completed, with 14-foot ceilings, indoor plumbing and plenty of space to entertain and show off her fine art collection. She lived there until her death in 1928. Its next owners — Daniel and Rena MacDavid, who purchased it in 1936 — helped keep it in pristine condition, right down to its original lighting fixtures. Today, Heritage House is preserved by the Museum of Riverside (formerly known as the Riverside Metropolitan Museum).

8193 Magnolia Avenue, Riverside, CA 92504

Open from the first weekend after Labor Day through June. Closed in July and August and on Thanksgiving Day, December 24 to 26 for Christmas, New Year's Eve, and New Year's Day. Tours available Fridays through Sundays (closed Monday through Thursday) from noon to 3:15 p.m. Reservations are required. Admission is free, although a suggested donation is appreciated. Parking is available in the lot behind the house or on Magnolia Avenue. A wheelchair lift located on the side of the house provides access to the first floor only.

This super-sized "paper" cup (which is actually made out of concrete) used to promote the Sweetheart brand of disposable cups — which were manufactured in the adjacent factory (formerly the home of Lily-Tulip Cup Corporation) until 1997. It even once bore the teal and purple swish design of Sweetheart's "Jazz" line of products (still distributed by Solo Cup Company, which bought Sweetheart in 2004). Now, the 68-foot-tall beverage monument is painted plain white — but it still makes for a worthy detour for some fun photo ops.

800 E Citrus St, Riverside, CA 92507