This is the 25th year that Duane and Kelly Roberts, the owners of The Mission Inn Hotel & Spa, have created the nations largest holiday light collections. USA TODAY voted the display the “Best Public Lights Display.” This year’s theme is a Candy Spectacular.
Every year the historic Inn ushers in an increasing number of visitors from around Southern California and the world to the City of Riverside. Families, couples and individuals walk through this festive and free holiday extravaganza.
It all started in 1992, when the Roberts purchased the Mission Inn and hung colorful lights inside the hotel to celebrate its maiden year. In 1993, they decorated the hotel with over 16,000 lights and created a free holiday destination for the community of Riverside. Word spread fast (even before cell phones, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter) and by 1996 the Roberts celebrated the hotel’s fifth anniversary with 1.2 million lights and 100 animated characters.
In 2003 The Mission Inn Hotel & Spa celebrated its 100th birthday with 20,000 visitors enjoying the lights, animated characters, festive food, music and fireworks.
Soon the City of Riverside joined in the fun to expand the festival to neighboring downtown Riverside with live entertainment and holiday themed vendors.
Today the Festival of Lights! has over 5 million lights and draws over 70,000 spectators to the switch on the lights ceremony. It takes a crew of 20 to decorate the entire hotel for the Festival of Lights. This talented crew starts decorating in July for the November switch-on.
Recently, I was invited to experience a holiday dinner with my family at the Mission Inn Restaurant. Parking at the Inn’s valet parking, we told the valet that we had a 4:30 p.m. dinner reservation at the restaurant. Does 4:30 p.m. sound too early? It’s the optimal time to arrive, just before dark. By 5 p.m. the bell tower chimes and the courtyard becomes aglow in lights and animated characters come “alive.” Also you bet the crowd. Without a dinner or hotel reservation, security will not allow the public into the Mission Inn, because there are thousands of people who want to come inside to see the elaborately decorated Christmas tree, gingerbread Mission Inn, listen to the live music, have a photo taken with Santa and his elves. Best of all walk, after dinner reserved guests can out of the hotel to see more than 5 million lights without waiting in the public line that patiently waits to see the exterior lights of the Mission Inn Hotel and Spa. You also get to see the lights from the secured pool area. Now that is a one-of-a-kind night swim for hotel guests among colorful lights!
We were first escorted out to a lovely table on the beautifully decorated and illuminated courtyard. Besides an al a carte menu, there is a festive Holiday Dinner Buffet for $42 per person and $18 for children 5 to 11 years old. The elegant buffet is available from 4 to 10 p.m. nightly until Jan. 7, 2018.
To add to the Joy, the bar makes 12 Holiday themed cocktails for the 12 Days of Christmas. One is Two Turtle Doves made with Van Gogh Dutch Chocolate Vodka, milk, Creme de Cacao and garnished with a delicious mini, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.
After dinner, we admired the Gingerbread Mission Inn in the lobby, made by Executive Pastry Chef David Blaine. This large scale replica of The Mission Inn Hotel took 10 weeks to make using 500 pounds of gingerbread, icing and candy.
Dickens Carolers sang near the beautifully decorated Christmas Tree. They are a quartet from Riverside Community College and perform every Thursday through Sunday from 5 to 9 p.m.
Near the Presidential Lounge is a large menorah that will be lit each night for Hanukkah.
Afterwards we walked out the Mission Inn Hotel’s side door to the Candy Stroll Lane filled with Candy decor, thousand light canopy, window displays, animated candy elves and a Santa Letter Drop Box for children to drop off their Christmas letters.
Beyond the perimeter of the Mission Inn, two to three blocks in each direction, the city of Riverside’s shops and restaurants stay open to accommodate the crowds of people seeking hot chocolate, popcorn, gingerbread cookies, carnival rides, live music and more lights.
Since it’s The Mission Inn’s 25th anniversary, the City of Riverside is honoring Duane & Kelly Roberts with a Mission Inn Hotel float for the 2018 Tournament of Roses Parade presented by Honda. The float is designed to celebrate their vision of Festival of Lights and their revival of The Mission Inn Hotel & Spa. Be sure and see this float on Jan. 1, 2018 at the Pasadena Rose Parade.