Southern California has a special place in the stories and legends of America, from the glamorous Los Angeles lifestyle to the surfer vibes of San Diego. But there are stories that have been lost in the archives: the eclectic cities of the Inland Empire.
This huge area east of LA has mountain towns and desert oases, old-Hollywood charm and modern technology hubs, wine country and ski resorts. So what are the best areas to live in the Inland Empire? We've narrowed it down to 9 awesome Inland Empire cities, and matched them up with their perfect inhabitant. Which one fits your style?
Rancho Cucamonga: The Elder Millennial
Xennial, elder millennial, "Oregon Trail generation" … whatever you call those at the older end of the millennial generation, they're ready to grow up—but not too much. Got home ownership and career advancement on your mind? In Rancho Cucamonga, median income is high and homes are affordable. Healthcare and education are big industries, making for great long-term career prospects. And the neighborhood around Victoria Gardens is super walkable, with trendy eats like Hello Kitty Café and The Pie Hole, plus shopping and bars. It's everything an elder millennial could want, without the LA County prices.
Redlands: The "Cool" Mom or Dad
Redlands is one of the best cities for families in the Inland Empire. It has some of the area's best schools, plus fun stuff like Splash Kingdom Waterpark, tea parties at Kimberly Crest House & Gardens, and even a haunted mansion: the Barton Villa. But parents, never fear. You can still be cool when you live in Redlands, because it's a magnet for the craft beer craze. Hangar 24 was an industry pioneer, Escape Craft Brewery is making a splash, and Bootlegger's Brewery opened a location here in 2017. Most breweries are kid-friendly, but you don't have to bring them. We won't tell.
Ontario: The Free Spirit
If settling down sounds like the opposite of your dreams, you might be a free spirit. Ontario fits the bill for those on the go: it's one of the closest Inland Empire cities to LA. Its central location makes it great for Inland Empire day trips, like hikes in Angeles National Forest and skiing in Big Bear. Got a longer trip in mind? Throw your stuff in Ontario storage and head to the international airport. There are plenty of things to do in Ontario, too: the Town Square hosts movie nights and concerts, Cucamonga-Guasti Regional Park has fishing and swimming, and San Antonio Winery has—you guessed it—wine!
Temecula: The Foodie and Oenophile
Speaking of wine, if you're a true oenophile (that's a wine lover), Temecula was made for you. Bust your wine fridge out of Temecula storage, because you're going to be buying a lot of bubbly. The region has over 40 wineries, many of them award-winning. Try the daily tours and tastings at Callaway Winery, Avensole Winery, and Robert Renzoni Winery. For a perfectly paired dinner, head to the Farmers Market (Wednesdays at the Promenade) to find the freshest ingredients. Or just let the experts at Crush & Brew make that pairing for you—whether you want beer, wine, or a cocktail.
Big Bear Lake: The Ski Bum
Boarders and skiiers from around California flock to this area each winter to shred some gnar, but there are plenty of things to do in Big Bear Lake year-round. Autumn leaf-peeping in Bluff Lake Reserve is a local secret, while spring brings the chance to trade your board for a bike. Ride the Scenic Sky Chair Lift to 8,200 feet and speed down on two wheels. In summer, it's back to boarding—wakeboarding, that is. When you've worked up an appetite, dine at Oakside for hearty food and an impressive craft beer selection—two key ingredients of a great time in Big Bear.
Idyllwild: The Artist
If you're most at home with a paintbrush in your hands or a camera around your neck, you'll fit right into the artsy town of Idyllwild. For inspiration, paint your own pottery at Earth 'n Fire or discover rare minerals and unique jewelry at Everitt's Minerals & Gallery. Need more? From March through October, the Art Walk & Wine Tasting event will introduce you to local artists, while Art in the Park takes over a corner of town for one Saturday a month from May to September. Follow your artistic dreams to Idyllwild, and it could be you showing off your handiwork.
Riverside: The Innovator
Riverside's nickname is "City of Arts and Innovation," and they're not kidding. It's home to the University of California, Riverside, which has the state's largest business program, and the city has actively recruited tech start-ups, making it one of the best places to start a business. Aerospace aficionados will love March Field Air Museum, and genetic engineers can check out the Parent Washington Navel Orange Tree. For late-night brainstorming fuel, the Salted Pig serves ramen from 10 p.m. to midnight on weekends. And to store all that business swag, check out Riverside's self-storage options.
San Bernardino: The Diamond in the Rough
Like the agave you'll find growing in the driest desert, scrappy San Bernardino is rising from the dust of a few rough years. It's polishing its cultural gems: get your RV out of storage in SB and road trip along Route 66 for historic sights like the California Theatre, opened in 1928, and the Wigwam Motel, one of only three "teepee-style" hotels in the country. And it's cheering once again: for the Inland Empire 66ers, the local Minor League Baseball team. If you love diamonds in the rough, you just might find you flourish in San Bernardino.
Palm Springs: The Fashionista
Consider Palm Springs a bonus, because it isn't really in the Inland Empire. But we simply couldn't skip it—it's one of the chicest cities in SoCal. Grab happy hour eats at the sleek LuLu California Bistro. Immerse yourself in the tropical interior and crafty cocktails at Bootlegger Tiki. Lounge by the elegant, blue-and-white pool of the Alcazar Hotel. And of course, shop 'til you drop at stylish boutiques: Iconic Atomic for vintage, Lush Couture for the latest styles, and Trina Turk for brand names and bright patterns. When it comes to fashionable towns, Palm Springs is à la mode.
If you hear the sunshine and swaying palms of SoCal calling your name, you should definitely listen up. But don't be tricked by the high prices of the coast. Let your passions lead you to one of the charismatic, quirky, fearless cities of the Inland Empire.
Header image credit: Tim Gray/Shutterstock.com