Since 1969, restaurant, hotel, travel & other witty reviews by a handpicked, worldwide team of discerning professionals—and your views, too.

Mission Inn Hotel & Spa, Riverside, California - Review

Collector's Item: Historic California Inn Filled with Treasures from around the World

by Alain Gayot

Mission Inn Hotel & Spa, Riverside, California
Mission Inn Hotel & Spa in Riverside, California

When it comes to the combination of architecture and recycling in Southern California, the first place that springs to mind is Watts Tower, crafted from steel, concrete and old broken bottles and ceramics. But this well-known monument has a competitor, and it is one of the region's best-kept secrets: a massive, elaborate hotel complex comprising design styles and artifacts from around the world. In addition, a $15 million investment in the Inn by owners Duane and Kelly Roberts has 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.

Beginning as a twelve-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.

Eclectic styles come together at the Mission Inn Hotel & Spa in Riverside, California Lovely pool area of El Agua Azul at the Mission Inn Hotel & Spa in Riverside, California
Eclectic styles come together
Lovely pool area, El Agua Azul

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 twentieth-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 eighteenth-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 newly-expanded 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), Duane's Prime Steak and Seafood, 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. A new addition to the inn, Casey's Cupcakes & Cappuccinos has the feel of a 50s diner with modern touches, serving up light and fluffy gourmet cupcakes, made from scratch.

International Rotunda spiral at the Mission Inn Hotel & Spa in Riverside, California Entrance arch of the Mission Inn Hotel & Spa in Riverside, California
International Rotunda spiral
Entrance arch

The Mission Inn Restaurant also features an exhibition kitchen, with the AAA four-diamond Duane’s Prime Steak and Seafood boasting handmade stained glass windows and a new interactive wine bar—54 Degrees at Duane's—and 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 the room’s 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. Also, an additional thirteen junior suites have been built. 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.

The best way to grasp the complexity of Mission Inn and learn about its history and colorful architecture is to take a docent-led tour. Offered daily in the mornings and afternoons, tours include highlights such as the St. Francis Chapel with its Tiffany windows, the Music Room and the Ho-O-Kan Room. A book titled Historic Mission Inn is available for purchase at the museum. More information at Or call the foundation at 909-781-8241 or the museum at 909-788-9556.

The Mission Inn Hotel & Spa
3649 Mission Inn Ave.
Riverside, CA 92501
951-784-0300, 800-843-7755

Read a review of Kelly's Spa at the Mission Inn
Going to California? Check out our Travel Guide
Discover Los Angeles with our Los Angeles City Guide or our 72-Hour Vacation Guide to Los Angeles
Orange County Guide
Top California Spas

Orange County Restaurants

(Updated: 04/27/10 CT)

Sip your way through wine country with GAYOT's list of charming inns and resorts, featuring vineyards from Napa Valley to Long Island, New York.
Go off the beaten path and explore GAYOT's Top 10 Extreme Hotels, which feature one-of-a-kind accommodations for a truly unforgettable experience.