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Mission Inn: It will take you to Early California

If you're like many California people, the most you know about Riverside is that it's a seeming metropolis that passes underneath the I-215 freeway in that vast extension of back-to-back cities that stretch eastward from Los Angeles. If you try to think about one distinguishing characteristic, you probably can't.

But get on down off the freeway and you'll find one of the most unique getaway experiences in the state -- an experience that transports you to Early California through architecture and through the efforts of city fathers to preserve Riverside's past. Smack in the middle of it all is an inn so grandiose that presidents have married there, honeymooned there and even planted trees there.

It's always a good sign when the place you'll be staying has a street named after it -- and so locating our destination was especially easy when we took the Mission Inn Road exit off the freeway and found ourselves instantly surrounded by historic Spanish architecture on every street corner. We noticed that churches, museums and historic storefronts are all within walking distance of one another and, towering above it all, was our weekend getaway -- the Historic Mission Inn.

Just inside the ivy-covered adobe archway, we walked through a courtyard of lush landscaping before getting our first glimpse of the majestic lobby area. Spectacular chandeliers and giant wood beams complemented the elegant flower-patterned carpet to create a sense that this building was at once luxurious and historic. The lobby's grand piano is the only piano made by Steinway for the1876 Centennial. But this was only the beginning -- the Historic Mission Inn is like a fun house for those who marvel at historic and creative architecture. Around every corner there is something unique or fascinating.

The Historic Mission Inn at first gives the feeling it might have been a real mission or monastery, what with its 239 guest rooms, including 28 suites. But upon closer reading of its history, this palace-like inn was actually built by Riverside town father Frank Miller, who had taken the original Glenwood Tavern, built in 1874, and converted it to a small inn that opened in 1903. Over the years Miller continued to expand the inn using the popular Mission Revival architecture so prevalent in California, but blending architectural styles and ornamental details from the Southwest U.S. as well as several Mediterranean countries -- and of course the California missions.
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