This past week I was blessed to get to go to the very first night of the 27th annual Festival of Lights at the Mission Inn in Riverside. This event will showcase 5 million lights over a five-week period. If you are able to go on opening night in the future it is well worth the trip. The firework display is really the cherry on top of an amazing display of lights. If you are coming from Los Angeles or Orange County it is quite a distance to get to Riverside but this experience is really worth checking out!

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Mission Inn Riverside Review

If you have not heard of The Mission Inn, it is truly one of the best places to see in the Riverside area. The hotel is a beautiful building that is packed with history from head to toe. If you are interested in learning more about the hotel and what staying there is like be sure to check out this post.

Festival of Lights

My first time to see the festival of lights at The Mission Inn was back in 2016 when I took my family. We went the week before Christmas and found a two-hour wait to see the interior lights. At that time we enjoyed getting as close as we could but agreed we did not want to wait in the long line. We didn’t drive all the way out to Riverside just for the lights otherwise we would have waited in line.

mission inn festival of lights

This year I was available to go on opening night and I truly hope this will be a tradition for my family for years to come. It was such a magical experience and it is free! USA Today calls it the best public display of lights in the nation. And outside of Disneyland, it is the best one I have seen in Southern California. The main difference between going on opening night versus any other night is the entertainment and fireworks.

What time should you arrive?

festival of lights riverside

Knowing how early people line up for The Christmas Tree Lighting at The Grove¬† I told my family we should arrive around 2 pm. Now, I thought the event started at 4 pm and not 5:30 but still, I was under the impression we would need to arrive early. Honestly, the area didn’t even become very crowded until 4:30. So you don’t necessarily need to arrive as early as I did. I had no idea you could bring lawn chairs as I am used to the standing room only type events in LA.¬†

However, by arriving that early I was able to get my family inside the hotel. My Aunt had never seen it before. If you try going to the front they’ll say it is closed to hotel guests but if you enter on the side by the spa entrance you can get in!

gingerbread man

There are several stands selling hot chocolate, cookies, funnel cakes, and more. We stopped by the cute gingerbread stand and got fresh cookies and very tasty hot chocolate. Make sure to have cash as this stand was cash only.


We paid $10 to park in a structure near the Fox Theatre one block from the Mission Inn. And that felt like the best place to park.


You might be interested in my blog post about seeing Christmas Lights in Orange County.

About The Author

Michelle Ares is the founder and creative director of LA Dreaming. I have a passion for Southern California and love sharing my adventures and experiences with you. I love to travel, find new places to check out, and watch movies. You can follow me on Instagram @la.dreaming

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