We sat with cocktails on an expansive private terrace
overlooking the cloisters and archways of the historic Mission Inn.
A fire glowed in the outdoor fireplace, chasing away the evening
chill and illuminating a fresco of a Franciscan monk looking, well,
Guests often have the same look while staying at this lovely,
eclectic 239-room property one of Southern California’s oldest and
most romantic spots. From the setting, we could have been in Spain,
colonial Mexico or even one of the historic Spanish missions that
dot California. But, in fact, we were in Riverside a small town
about an hour east of Los Angeles.
The Mission Inn was never actually a mission but an adobe
boarding house. The building and surrounding land were purchased in
1880 by Frank Miller, who wanted to design a hotel to attract
wealthy Easterners and Europeans looking for sunshine in the middle
of a beautiful nowhere. Though a bit eccentric Miller wandered the
hotel wearing monks’ robes to set the stage over the next 30 years,
he designed his hotel around the notions of “truth, liberty and
The Inn’s overall design is mission revival, but as Miller added
new wings, he introduced new styles. The Spanish wing, for example,
evokes a Moorish castle, while the Court of the Orient has a
Japanese influence. Critics have described the Inn as adorably
cockeyed, but the architectural patchwork makes for a beautiful
While Miller was an active pacifist, he was also a republican
with a particular fondness for Abraham Lincoln. GOP fingerprints
are all over the place: Richard and Pat Nixon married at the Inn in
1940, and Ronald and Nancy Reagan honeymooned here.
Politics aside, weddings at the Inn continue to be big business.
Several large presidential suites are perfect for couples. Ours
favored by singer Barbara Streisand included working gas fireplaces
in the sitting room, bedroom and patio.
The property also features two chapels: The Francis of Assisi,
which accommodates about 150, is known for its 18th-century,
18-karat gold-leaf Rayas Altar, carved-wood ceiling and
stained-glass windows. The ornate St. Cecilia Chapel is more
intimate, designed to hold about 15 people standing.
With ample indoor meeting space and outdoor courtyards, wedding
photographers love the many possibilities for dramatic backdrops
and so does Hollywood. “The Wild Party,” “Buddy, Buddy,” “Nixon”
and the remake of “Man in the Iron Mask” were all filmed here.
After Miller’s death in 1936, hotel patronage slowly declined,
but the Inn has since bounced back after it was purchased and
renovated by a city agency in the ’70s. Since then, locals have
embraced the hotel, from the docents who offer daily 75-minute
anecdote-packed tours, to the regulars who pack the lobby for
Riverside may not be one of Southern California’s bigger tourist
spots, but the hotel makes it worth a visit. The Mission Inn will
even make a monk smile.