Riverside embraces the ‘Lights’

Now that the Orange Blossom Festival is officially kaput, officials in Riverside are eyeing an enlarged Festival of Lights as a quasi-replacement for the annual citrus celebration.

2002 - Festival of Lights

Already a great success in its own right, the annual FOL draws tens of thousands of visitors from throughout Southern California during the winter holidays. The centerpiece of the nightly event is the historic Mission Inn, aglow with millions of holiday lights and animated figures. The festivities extend to the adjacent Main Street Pedestrian Mall where horse-drawn carriages and carolers stroll amongst one-of-a-kind shops.

The event, which began as a modest hotel-only event in 1993, has since grown into one of the premier holiday lights displays in the country:

The festival has become nationally known — an article in People magazine in 2005 put a photo of the Mission Inn all lit up next to a photo of the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center in New York City.

The Press-Enterprise

2002 - Mission Inn

With the city’s backing, an enlarged event will add an outdoor ice rink and expanded holiday decorations/lights throughout downtown.

In light of the growing popularity of the FOL, reservations are recommended for the various horse-drawn carriages as well as dinner at any of the Mission Inn restaurants, Mario’s Place or Cafe Sevilla — particularly on weekends and days in and around Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. And if you’re planning an overnight stay, advanced reservations are highly recommended for either the Mission Inn or Marriott hotels.

Although we lament the complete loss of the Orange Blossom Festival and hope the city revives some sort of citrus heritage celebration and/or arts & culture expo in the near future, we agree that an expanded Festival of Lights could turn out to be a much bigger boon to the city. After all, instead of one huge weekend event, the FOL lasts nearly 6 weeks.

Not a bad “replacement,” to say the least.

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