Mission Inn Festival of Lights in Riverside, CA

By far, my favorite time of the year is the fall season. For us in Southern California, the fall season doesn’t normally mean the changing of colors or dramatic temperature loss, but it does give way to the many great traditions that make me excited for this time of year. Ever since moving to Riverside four years ago, the Mission Inn Festival of Lights has been one of my main traditions during the fall season. It is an extravagant display of Christmas lights that combines with the famous and historic California hotel for a unique night out that is worth the drive to Riverside. It was even on the top ten destinations for holiday lights last year in the whole United States. Here is all the information so you can check it out yourself.


  • Free
  • Starts the day after Thanksgiving is crazy busy for opening night
  • Hard to find parking on the weekends
  • Some of the dinner places are only open during the weekends and not during the week


A little history and info on Festival of Lights:

“For 19 years, the Festival of Lights has been well known for its nearly three million Christmas lights, and over 400 animated figures. Although the Festival lasts all throughout the holiday season, the day after Thanksgiving is the lighting ceremony. On this day city officials and the owner of the hotel, Duane Roberts, give speeches before fireworks light up the sky and nearly 25,000 people attend annually to view the unique hotel and its holiday decorations. During the festival of lights, decorations including musical angels, carolers on the balconies, and a Santa Claus climbing the chimney are featured.”


The map below is provided by the city to show where parking is and how much it costs. They haven’t made a new one for 2017 so some of this information may be different, but it is still a good guide.


Mission Inn

The Mission Inn is, of course, the standout of the festivities. It has an insane amount of Christmas lights covering every inch of its exterior as well as snowflakes blinking on and off on the massive palm trees in the front of the hotel (A truly California addition). You can walk around the entire hotel multiples times and see something new every time. Here is a video I made that shows how awesome it is, but believe me you really need to see this in person to grasp it.

Every year it seems to get more fantastic and it seems like more people show up. Even with all of the people it never seems too crowded on the weekday nights and it doesn’t take away from the magic of the decorations, assuming you can find parking. Check out more pictures below.

If you get a chance to go in the Mission Inn you can also see the beautiful tree they have in the lobby which is huge and always very well decorated. Often, there is a long line to get into the hotel on weekends and while there is not a ton to do it is still fun to explore. There are a lot of other famous things you can see at the Mission Inn, read about them here.

Surrounding Attractions & Food

While the Mission Inn is the reason to come, the surrounding activities allow you to make it into a full night. There are many restaurants around the area at which you can get a meal. I personally would recommend Simple Simons as it is one of my favorites in the area and has great sandwiches but it is not usually open for dinner. There is Thai food, pizza, salads and cafes around the area you will be walking. If you are just looking for a snack then there is a cupcake shop, the Gingerbread House, and even a funnel cake stands. You can also go to Salted Pig or Tio’s Tacos but both are a little bit away from the Mission Inn area itself. Also, Hero’s is a good sports bar nearby and there are Mexican and Italian food spots at the Mission Inn itself.

There is also a carriage ride that you can take to see the lights in style. You shouldn’t have to wait too long as there were about 6 different carriages running when I was there.

If neither of these sound fun there is a carousel this year and even a Ferris wheel to ride at the end of the main walking area, near city hall.

All in all, the Mission Inn Festival of Lights is one of the best reasons to come to Riverside (along with a light up Halloween house and Mt Rubidoux). If you have never checked it out, do yourself a favor and do it this year. Who knows it may even become one of your Christmas traditions as well.

Leave me a comment and let me know what you think or if you have any tips to make the most of your time there.

Center map

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  • Suzee Myers

    Annual pilgrimage – Can’t wait to see it again this year!

  • This looks like this is the place to feel the Christmas spirit! Our usual decorating
    tree(in front of our house),went down in the windstorm. The Christmas spirit was a
    little sad. We were going to decorate the palm/fram,that same night. Then the wind started picking up,so we decided to hold off.Power was out for 4 days. It took us about 2 weeks
    to get back on track. I wish we could have gone to Riverside to see opening night.

  • berlyn

    Do you know if the Gingerbread shop will be there this year?

    • I am sorry I do not know

  • Gracie

    SO excited to go!!! TX!!!

  • CJ

    Great summary of what to expect at the Mission Inn Festival of Lights. I’m from Riverside and wanted to share with outside city family the basics of this event. You captured it! Thank you.

    • Thanks for the comment, I can’t wait to go again this year always one of my favorite Christmas things.

  • nini

    Oh wow! Love that place went there last year with my family for the 1st. Time and we all loved it we wanted to go by today but it’s a shame it starts after thanksgiving day!

    • I agree, it is one of my favorite things to do every Christmas!

  • michelle

    Does anyone know at what time the fireworks start?? I would love to go as we are having family coming in from San Diego.

  • Jewels

    WOW!! Thank you thank you for this info! I wanted something just like this to take my son too! Super excited to go! 🙂

    • No problem, it is a lot of fun to visit!

  • Donna Marie Williams

    What time does the lights turn off

    • robyn

      Around 5pm

  • Crizz Santiago

    is there an entrance fee or anything if you go to the inn? and the lights are on everyday right? im planning to go this week and want to make sure.

    • Nope, there is not an entrance fee. Yes, they are on every night. Have fun!

  • Seeker Rekees

    Can I take my dogs there for pictures?

    • The main area is all city streets so you should be able to walk your dog there. I doubt you can walk into the Mission Inn itself with a dog though.

  • layonie

    What time is the fireworks if any?

    • They only have fireworks on the day after Thanksgiving when they turn the lights on.

  • Brenda Sanchez

    What is the best time to get there

    • I would get there at sunset so you can get a spot before dark, that is probably the best way to beat the rush.

  • Polly Savage

    When do they take the lights down?

    • January 6th is the last day.

  • Erica Kim

    when do they turn off the lights? (not turn on) till dawn?

  • Word of caution … there have been anti-police protests going on around the Mission Inn. We drove in 2 hours in traffic to get there on Saturday, only to get caught up in a protest that caused them to shut the Mission Inn down and you could not walk inside. 🙁

    • Thank you for the comment that is good advice!


    IS IT OPEN ON DEC 24, AND 25TH ?

  • ASeel Matti

    Hi I wonder if we can bring baby in we have a baby girl 2. Years old?

    • Walking around the Mission Inn Festival of Lights you will see lots of strollers and children enjoying the lights.

      • ASeel Matti

        Thank you



    • Yes, if you wait for about a week after it goes live and then stay away from going Thurs – Sunday you will have a much less crowded time. I usually go on a Tuesday or Wednesday and it is usually pretty nice. It does get crazier on all nights the closer you get to Christmas though.

  • Karla Fritts

    Are there things to do in the area in the day time? Trying to find a place to take some older family and have the lights be the end of our day so we don’t have to drive home terribly late at night.

  • soprano#1

    Hey there! Do you know of any other Christmas activities to enjoy during the holidays?

  • Marisol

    When does it end?

    • Usually in the first week of January

  • Carlos Aguilar

    Is it a everyday event?

    • Yep, the lights are on display every day till it ends.

  • lady_sexy26

    What time does the show start?

    • The lights turn on each night around dusk.