This historic California inn is filled with treasures from around the world.
This whimsical, mysterious and slightly bizarre National Historic Landmark may well be one of the most intriguing destinations in Southern California. The inn's life began in 1902 and construction took 30 years to complete, incorporating design elements from throughout the southwestern United States and several Mediterranean countries with those from the California missions. Beginning as a 12-room adobe boarding house built in 1876, The Mission Inn Hotel & Spa is now a tribute to one man's passion for art from all walks of life. Frank Miller bought the original property from his father, and over the years he developed it into a showcase for his diverse — some say clashing, others say compelling — collection.
Whether you think his intentions were eccentric or eclectic, there's no denying the significance of the end result. The sometimes oddball blending of architectural styles includes flying buttresses, domes, a bell tower, clock towers, interior courtyards and patios, a five-story open-air rotunda, a circular wrought-iron staircase and oddly placed small doors from old ships.
After a series of financial disasters, the decaying structure was rescued from the wrecking ball in the late 1980s and restored to the tune of $55 million. In addition, a $15 million investment in the inn by owners Duane and Kelly Roberts in the early 2000s brought the property’s "eccentric chic" design to a whole new level, with brightly-colored tapestries, carpets and wall coverings that revolve around a floral motif.
The hotel houses its own museum and gallery, but there isn’t a corner without antiques on display, from Duane's Prime Steaks and Seafood's "Charge Up San Juan Hill," an early 20th-century rendition of Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders, to Cloister Music Hall, featuring a beautifully restored 1920s Kimball-Kilgan pipe organ. You will see tributes to Mission San Juan Capistrano and Mission San Luis Rey in the arcades, and treasures such as the oldest dated bell in Christendom (inscribed "1247") in the rooftop "garden of the bells."
Occupying nearly one square city block in downtown Riverside, Mission Inn is a self-contained compound of balconies, arches, domes, turrets, covered walkways, underground catacombs (once a gallery, now off-limits to the public), an impressive five-story outdoor spiral staircase and endless unique facilities. You can get married in the St. Francis of Assisi Chapel, adorned with a massive 18th-century, gold-leafed cedar altar from Mexico and seven Tiffany stained-glass windows, or host an intimate dinner in the Court of the Orient, anchored by an 8.5-foot Amitabha Buddha from Japan's Tokugawa period. A tiled, heated swimming pool, El Agua Azul, sits in the Court of the Birds.
Meeting the desires of modern travelers is the 7,000-square-foot Kelly's Spa, named after Kelly Roberts (who owns and tends the inn with her husband). There is also Las Campanas Mexican restaurant, The Mission Inn Restaurant (popular for its Saturday night prime rib buffet), and The Presidential Lounge — a former four-bedroom apartment (Richard and Patricia Nixon were married in it) turned into a gentlemen's club-style cocktail lounge. Casey's Cupcakes & Cappuccinos has the feel of a '50s diner with modern touches, serving up light and fluffy gourmet cupcakes, made from scratch. The Mission Inn Restaurant also features an exhibition kitchen, with Duane’s Prime Steak and Seafood boasting handmade stained glass windows and an interactive wine bar —54 Degrees at Duane's— plus the Southern-style Italian bistro, Bella Trattoria, showcasing design elements reminiscent of an Italian café with rustic stone, tile and faux painting.
Of the 239 bedrooms and suites, no two are alike. Their original Arts and Crafts style has given way to a more contemporary, although still classic, look. They are well equipped with modern amenities, such as WebTV (on flat-panel TVs), high-speed Internet access, 24-hour room service and even Nintendo. As part of the inn’s expansion, all guest room amenities have been integrated into the furnishings for further convenience, including updated bathrooms with hand-painted decorative floor tiles and imported handcrafted mirrors over the vanities. There are also 13 junior suites, and accommodations on the fourth floor of the historic Mission Wing are our favorites due to their distinctive accents, including arched ceilings and stained- and leaded-glass windows, which, as part of the redesign, along with the third-floor accommodations, have been updated to keep with the current look of the inn by integrating fresh and lively colors with stylish furnishings.
However you spend your time, you will be in good company. Theodore Roosevelt, Andrew Carnegie and Sarah Bernhardt have been guests, Betty Davis and Humphrey Bogart held nuptials here (not to one another), and numerous American presidents ─ whose oil portraits adorn the hotel’s public spaces — have made this their base. In addition, Mission Inn has hosted several peace conferences. It contains many halls, rooms, nooks and crannies ideal for gatherings. Such conferences seem particularly appropriate. In a peculiar way, the hotel is a tribute to the possibility of a more peaceful world, bringing elements together from around the globe to live in harmony beneath the warm California sun.