The Inland Empire of Southern California is a semi-arid region, east of Los Angeles, made up of scores of cities and towns. The boundaries are often a subject of debate, however, it is generally agreed that the western boundary is the San Bernardino County/Los Angeles County line and the eastern limits are the most urbanized areas of San Bernardino County and Riverside County. The population of the Inland Empire is over 4 million residents. When taken as the Greater Los Angeles Area, which stretches from the western edge of Ventura County to the eastern boundary of the Inland Empire, this region has a combined population of 17 million. The Inland Empire has its roots in agriculture, primarily citrus and wine-making. The "I.E." (as it is sometimes referred to) is home to many worthwhile attractions.
- Riverside is the county seat of Riverside County, about 55 miles east of downtown Los Angeles.
- San Bernardino is the county seat of San Bernardino County, about 60 miles east of downtown Los Angeles.
- Ontario is the commercial center of the region and home to the area's international airport and main shopping areas.
Some of the cities of the Inland Empire include Riverside, San Bernardino, Ontario, Rancho Cucamonga, Redlands, Highland, Rialto, and Fontana, among many others. These cities all lie in San Bernardino or Riverside counties. The Palm Springs area, which also lies in Riverside County in "the high desert", is farther east and is considered part of Coachella Valley. The High Desert is generally not considered part of the I.E.
Native Americans called the Inland Empire home for thousands of years before the arrival of European explorers in the 18th century. Residents would spend winters in the warmer valleys and move into the cooler mountains during summer months.
Throughout much of the 19th and 20th century, agriculture was the dominant industry for the region. The post-World War II decades saw an explosion of residents and industry as developers turned to cheap land east of Los Angeles. Although the area is often criticized for its sprawling developments that are incredibly automobile-dependent, in recent years many cities have made an effort to encourage denser housing developments centered around commercial and office-park developments. Today, the region's growth continues as housing prices remain incredibly affordable and residents from Orange and Los Angeles counties swell the area's population.
The Inland Empire is highly populated, containing 4.2 million residents. However, the area isn't as totally self-sufficient in the regard that many residents still commute to their jobs in the adjacent Los Angeles metropolitan area of Los Angeles and Orange counties. Inland Empire residents also tend to travel to Los Angeles and its immediate environs for activities such as zoos, aquariums, theme parks, planetariums, higher-rated museums, and such. This isn't to say the Inland Empire is without its own attractions as its has some good theatres, nearby mountains, lakes, and enjoyable restaurants and malls. But it does show that the Inland Empire is not just a stand-alone metropolitan area, but also an integrated part of the Greater Los Angeles area.
Like the rest of California and the nation, English is the main language spoken. But like many American regions that border Mexico, Spanish is widely spoken by some residents as well as some employees at restaurants, stores, and businesses. That being said, there are certainly many parts of the region where knowing some basic Spanish will go a long way in helping you receive better service at restaurants and businesses. Some residents, however, advocate the opposite, feeling that those who speak only Spanish can give and receive better service by learning some basic English.
LA/Ontario International Airport (IATA: ONT) is the main airport for the Inland Empire. Almost all domestic airlines serve the airport and there are a handful of flights to Mexico depending on the season.
Commercial airports in Los Angeles, Burbank, Santa Ana, and Long Beach (all outside the Inland Empire, but still in the Greater L.A. area) can be used, but understand that they are about a one-hour drive away without traffic -and chances are there is going to be traffic in Southern California.
San Bernardino Airport (IATA: SBD), in the Inland Empire, has been undergoing renovations in the past several years and may receive domestic flights soon, but it is currently a commuter airport mainly for private aircraft.
Other smaller municipal and private airports dot the landscape as well, including Cable Airport in Upland, which is the largest private airport in the United States.
The national railway Amtrak serves many Inland Empire cities, including Ontario and San Bernardino.
The suburban commuter Metrolink system connects many Inland Empire cities with Los Angeles, Ventura, and Orange Counties. Because it is a commuter train, be aware that weekend service is limited.
Three east-west freeways link the Inland Empire with Los Angeles to the west. Interstate 10, the main route, connects downtown Los Angeles with San Bernardino. Interstate 210 and State Route 210 connect Pasadena and the San Fernando Valley with San Bernardino and Redlands. State Route 60 connects downtown Los Angeles with downtown Riverside.
In addition, the almost always-congested State Route 91 freeway connects many Orange County Cities with Riverside. Two north-south freeways also traverse the region. Interstate 15 connects San Diego to Las Vegas via Corona and the western Inland Empire cities. Interstate 215 forms a loop through the eastern cities, from San Bernardino south to Riverside, Perris, and Murrieta.
Greyhound serves many Inland Empire Cities.
The Inland Empire is incredibly car-dependent. However, there are still ways to enjoy the region without having a car if you are willing to be flexible and patient. Nonetheless, it is worth it to rent a car to save time and if you wish to visit more remote areas, such as the High Desert and the mountains.
Metrolink, Southern California's commuter rail system, operates four lines that serve the Inland Empire. These are the San Bernardino Line, the Riverside Line, the 91 Line, and the Inland-Empire Orange County Line. Some lines, such as the Riverside Line, have no weekend service at all.
Much of the Inland Empire is laid out in a grid-like pattern, making navigation very easy. In addition, streets maintain their names as they cross city boundaries, which helps reduce confusion.
Because many Inland Empire residents commute towards Los Angeles and Orange counties for work, westbound traffic is heaviest in the morning (between 7 and 9AM) and eastbound is heaviest in the evening (between 4 and 7PM). Friday traffic can be a nightmare, especially on long weekends, as many Southern California residents flock to Las Vegas. However, some simple day-planning can help you avoid driving on freeways during rush hour and will make your experience more enjoyable.
Although mountains sit nearby, much of the Inland Empire is flat enough to encourage bicycle riding. Many major thoroughfares have marked bike lanes, and numerous projects are converting abandoned rail lines to paved bike trails. Although bike use is low compared to other urbanized areas, rising gas prices are resulting in more and more cyclists using the bike lanes throughout the area. Local politicians are slowly but surely becoming aware of this and there are at least token promises for more bike infrastructure to come in the future.
- Ontario Mills Mall, One Mills Circle, Ontario, CA 91764 (SEC Miliken Ave/4th St), ☎ +1 909 484-8300. One of North America's largest indoor malls, Ontario Mills hosts numerous outlet stores and massive weekend crowds.
- Victoria Gardens, 12505 North Mainstreet, Rancho Cucamonga, CA 91739 (NEC Foothill Blvd/Day Creek Blvd). A large outdoor mall designed to resemble America's "Main Street," Victoria Gardens contains many upscale stores and restaurants.
- Route 66. Historic Route 66 ("Foothill Blvd" or "5th Street") passes through many Inland Empire cities. In recent years, local agencies have invested heavily in improvements to commercial services and infrastructure along the corridor. Still, many historic relics survive. A trip east from La Verne to San Bernardino will take several hours but is worth it.
- San Bernardino Nat'l Forest. The Inland Empire contains much of the San Bernardino National Forest, whose territory covers parts of the San Gabriel, San Bernardino, and San Jacinto mountains. Recreation opportunities are numerous and include hiking, skiing, and boating.
- Santa Ana River Trail. The Santa Ana River Trail is currently complete through the cities of Riverside, Colton, and San Bernardino, and under construction through Redlands and Highland. When complete, the trail will connect Orange County beaches with the San Bernardino Mountains.
The Inland Empire hosts a large diverse immigrant population and is home to a multitude of ethnic cuisines, ranging from Persian to Peruvian. Also, because much of the region developed after World War II, excellent diner-style establishments are found in almost every city.
- Bulldog Pub, 1667 N Mountain Ave Upland, CA 91784 (NWC Mountain Ave/16th St), ☎ +1 909 946-6614. Bulldog Pub in northern Upland is a great place to catch live music and drinks at very reasonable prices.
Throughout the years, for a variety of social and economic reasons, parts of the Inland Empire have become home to dozens of gangs and a haven for at-home drug operations. Residents often jokingly refer to Moreno Valley as "Murder Valley," for example. Increased outreach and tougher anti-drug operations have made some progress, but there are still some areas in many cities that should be avoided, especially at night.
Remember, not all low-income areas are crime-ridden and drug infested. In fact, many low-income neighborhoods are often host to the best and oldest restaurants in the area. Use a combination of street smarts, do your research, and know your area when choosing a destination.