Southern California might not have snow over the winter holidays, but they do know how to celebrate the season in style. The historic Mission Inn Hotel & Spa, for example, a luxury property in Riverside, is hoping to wow everyone in your family with the 26th annual Festival of Lights, featuring, among other highlights, a life-sized gingerbread house, Santa sightings and a stocking full of family-friendly activities.
The six-week celebration, which kicked off Nov. 23, is a gift to the community from the hotel’s innkeepers, Duane and Kelly Roberts, credited with saving and restoring the hotel in 1992.
Since then, the Festival of Lights has been an annual tradition, and attracts more than a half-million visitors from all over the world to Riverside every year. The grand opening, also known as the Switch-On Ceremony, instantly illuminates the property with 5 million holiday lights and a full fireworks display.
Other festival features include 400 animated figures, including angels, elves, appearances by Santa Claus and Sugar Plum Fairy ballerinas, and an elf tuck-in amenity for young, overnight guests.
New this year is the North Pole walkway, complete with elves building snowmen and decorating trees; faux snow overhead; holiday window displays; and Santa’s poolside workshop, featuring elves hard at work making toys.
Executive pastry chef David Blaine shows off his talents with a life-sized Santa’s Wonderland gingerbread house, on display in the lobby, featuring a whopping 800 gingerbread bricks and 200 gingerbread tiles. Kids will enjoy spotting the details, like planters and picket fences all around the house, candy trees and even a mailbox. Peek inside to see the pink-and-white -striped wallpaper, a fireplace with stockings on the mantle and a Christmas tree with presents underneath.
Kids can also send their wish lists to the North Pole via the Santa Letter Drop Box.
For an extra dose of luxury, book the hotel’s new Kensington Kelly Suite, named for the owners’ granddaughter. The pink and gold, castle-themed suite offers such posh, whimsical touches as a crown mounted over the elevated queen-sized bed, a pink Chesterfield-style sleeper sofa, a sitting area with tea set, a tiled fireplace and French doors that lead to a personal patio enclosed by wrought iron fence.
A Sugar Plum Fairy Suite package, good through Jan. 6, 2019, includes a stay in the suite, which will be decorated with a holiday tree, stockings, holiday lights and candy decor. The two-night suite experience is complete with a cupcake turndown amenity for four accompanied by hot cocoa and a $200 dining credit. Rates begin at $1,419. An extra elf tuck-in amenity, available until Dec. 26 and priced at $50 per child, includes a story at bedtime from a resident “elf,” along with a candy-filled stocking, a cupcake and a copy of ‘Twas Night Before Christmas.
Other add-ons include Breakfast with Santa, a buffet and performance from the Inland Pacific Ballet’s The Nutcracker, a Sunday Champagne Brunch with Santa, holiday-themed brunches on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day, and a dinner buffet throughout the holiday season.
Any time of year, the hotel, a National Historic Landmark, offers a swimming pool and Jacuzzi; a fitness center; an on-site museum; and Kelly’s Spa.