Valley News -

Riverside's 'Festival of Lights' begins Friday


Last updated 11/21/2018 at 10:03am

RIVERSIDE - Crews were applying the finishing touches around the Mission Inn Hotel & Spa in preparation for the Inland Empire's signature holiday event -- the "Festival of Lights'' -- which turns downtown Riverside into a brilliantly illuminated kingdom of Christmas-themed entertainment.

The 26th annual festival will get underway at 4:45 p.m. Friday when Mission Inn owner and festival founder Duane Roberts, joined by the mayor and other officials, will throw the switch illuminating more than five million Christmas lights, followed by a fireworks extravaganza and holiday music.

The city is anticipating that up to 75,000 people will flood the intersection of Mission Inn Avenue and Orange Street to take part in the affair.

"The Festival of Lights represents the best of Riverside -- our history, our commitment to family and our desire to be together in a joyous season,'' Mayor Rusty Bailey said. "The switch-on ceremony is a tradition in Riverside, and is better than ever.''

The city allocated $800,000 for this year's fest, covering the cost of lights throughout the downtown area, decorations, and carnival entertainment. The economic impact of the roughly six-week celebration is estimated to range into the millions, according to city officials.

The festival began in 1992, after Roberts and his wife, Kelly, took over the Mission Inn.

Each fest opens with a pyrotechnics spectacular that brightens the entire Main Street pedestrian plaza. Afterward, the century-old inn is bathed in multi-colored hues, with some 400 animated characters, including elves, toy soldiers, nutcrackers and angels, visible on banisters, balconies, and ledges.

Towering Christmas trees line the way outside and into the hotel, where visitors also encounter a mistletoe measuring 12-by-8 feet. The city's holiday trees will be located at Main and Sixth streets, as well as outside the Riverside Municipal Auditorium at Mission Inn Avenue and Orange Street.

Nightly horse-drawn carriage rides are planned, along with performances by the celebrated Dickens Carolers.

Santa and Mrs. Claus will be fixtures in the area fronting the castle-like inn. Other attractions at this year's festival will include a 20-gondola "Giant Wheel,'' similar to a Ferris wheel, a carousel, live musical entertainment and other acts on specially constructed stages between Tenth Street and University Avenue.

There will be bounce houses and a playground saturated with LED lights, where kids can hop on teeter-totters and swings.

Vendors will be selling a variety of goods along the pedestrian mall, day and night.

"The Festival of Lights is so successful that our staff is constantly working with the Mission Inn Hotel & Spa to ensure that pedestrian flow is maximized wherever possible,'' Councilman Chuck Conder said. "The changes that are being made this year promise to retain the festival's charm while spreading attractions out a bit, giving people more room to maneuver.''

USA Today named the Festival of Lights "America's Best Holiday Festival of 2015'' as part of the paper's 10Best Readers' Choice Contest.

About 750,000 visitors are expected over the duration of the fest, which will conclude at daybreak Jan. 6.


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