While Los Angeles and San Diego often steal the limelight in Southern California, there’s San Bernardino, quietly making its mark as an authentic and diverse destination. It’s a place where you can escape the tourist crowds, dive deep into local culture, and uncover hidden treasures that most travelers overlook. If you’re looking to experience California beyond the usual hotspots, San Bernardino is where your adventure begins.
San Bernardino isn’t just about its historic California Theatre or the bustling downtown streets. It’s a place where the past seamlessly intertwines with the present, offering both nostalgic moments and modern experiences. From local eateries serving up mouthwatering dishes to the tranquil trails of the San Bernardino National Forest, every corner holds a new surprise.
I’ve been captivated by the panoramic vistas from Rim of the World Scenic Byway, immersed myself in the city’s storied past at its museums, and relished the fresh produce at vibrant farmers’ markets. Each adventure, be it a nature hike or a local event, has left an indelible mark on my traveler’s heart.
For those ready to dive into the authentic experiences of this often-overlooked Californian city, I’ve curated a guide to the best things to do in San Bernardino. With insights from my own journeys and local recommendations, this guide aims to showcase the true essence of San Bernardino. So, gear up and join me on this exciting exploration! To help you make the most out of your next trip, here are my top 12 things to see and do in San Bernardino.
Ready to jump into all the coolest things to do in San Bernardino? As noted above, there’s something for everyone at this diverse vacation spot in California. So keep reading to discover all these unique San Bernardino places to visit.
Are you looking to go hiking, try biking, and engage in water sports? Or would you prefer to explore cultural and historical attractions, such as museums and art galleries? Whatever you’re planning, these must-sees in San Bernardino can accommodate your needs. Here’s all the best attractions in San Bernardino that you should know about.
San Bernardino National Forest is a vast expanse of wilderness that covers over 800,000 acres. It’s a favorite among nature enthusiasts and offers a variety of recreational activities. From hiking and camping to fishing and mountain biking, there’s something for everyone here. It’s one of the best nature spots in Southern California.
One of the best things to do in San Bernardino is to explore the forest’s diverse trails. They range from easy walks suitable for families to challenging hikes for seasoned trekkers. As you navigate these trails, you’ll encounter picturesque lakes, towering pine trees, and maybe even some local wildlife. The forest is also home to the iconic Big Bear Lake, a popular spot for boating and water sports.
For those interested in history, the forest has remnants of old gold mining sites. You can learn about the gold rush era and how it shaped the region. There are also designated picnic areas, perfect for a relaxing afternoon with family or friends. If you’re lucky, you might even spot some of the area’s native animals, like deer or bobcats. San Bernardino National Forest is a must-visit destination, known for its natural beauty and rich history. It offers a variety of outdoor activities, perfect for experiencing the essence of Southern California’s wilderness.
When you think of fast food, McDonald’s is likely one of the first names that comes to mind. But did you know that San Bernardino is where it all began? The city is home to the site of the original McDonald’s restaurant. Today, it’s not a functioning eatery but a museum dedicated to the iconic brand’s history.
Visitors can explore a collection of memorabilia, vintage advertisements, and even old toys that were once the joy of many kids’ Happy Meals. The museum offers a nostalgic trip down memory lane, especially for those who grew up frequenting the golden arches. It’s fascinating to see the evolution of this global brand from its humble beginnings in San Bernardino.
The museum is informal and self-guided, allowing visitors to take their time browsing the exhibits. There are also friendly staff members on hand to share interesting tidbits and answer questions. If you’re a fan of pop culture or just curious about the origins of this fast-food giant, the Original McDonald’s Site and Museum is a worthwhile stop in San Bernardino. It’s a testament to how a simple idea can transform into a global phenomenon.
San Bernardino has a rich history, and there’s no better place to dive into it than the San Bernardino History and Railroad Museum. Located in the historic Santa Fe Depot, the museum showcases the city’s deep ties to the railroad industry and its pivotal role in California’s development.
The museum houses an impressive collection of artifacts, photographs, and documents that trace the evolution of the railroad in the region. The exhibits provide a comprehensive look at the bygone era of rail travel, featuring old train tickets and timetables. Vintage equipment and tools are also on display, showcasing the history of the industry. Interactive displays engage visitors, making the experience enjoyable for all ages. These features ensure that everyone leaves with a deeper understanding of San Bernardino’s railroad legacy.
Among the coolest things to do in San Bernardino, a visit to this museum stands out for history buffs and train enthusiasts alike. It’s a chance to step back in time and appreciate the significance of the railroad in shaping the city’s past and present. Whether you’re a local or just passing through, the San Bernardino History and Railroad Museum offers a unique and informative experience.
Deep Creek Hot Springs is a hidden gem in the San Bernardino area, perfect for those looking to unwind in nature’s own spa. The hot springs are well-known among both locals and visitors for their relaxing and therapeutic properties.
Getting there is an adventure in itself, with a hike that’s moderately challenging but incredibly rewarding. You’ll navigate through the rugged beauty of the desert, so be sure to pack water, sunscreen, and good hiking boots. The trek is especially demanding during the hot months, so preparation is key.
At the springs, you’ll discover a variety of pools, each with different temperatures to suit your comfort. The setting is rustic and natural, with boulders and plants framing the soothing waters. It’s a social spot where you can mingle with others or just enjoy the peaceful environment. Be aware that it’s a clothing-optional area, which is part of the laid-back atmosphere.
Deep Creek Hot Springs is ideal for those who love combining an outdoor challenge with the reward of relaxation. It’s a slice of tranquility away from city life, offering a chance to recharge in the warm embrace of geothermal waters.
Glen Helen Regional Park, spanning over 1,300 acres, is a recreational gem in San Bernardino. It’s a place where families, solo travelers, and groups come to enjoy a day outdoors, whether it’s for picnicking, fishing, or hiking. The park’s two lakes are stocked with fish, making it a popular spot for anglers. If fishing isn’t your thing, you can rent a pedal boat and enjoy a leisurely ride on the water.
The park also boasts a water play area, which is a hit during the summer months. Kids and adults alike can cool off under the water sprays and slides. There are also several playgrounds, volleyball courts, and open spaces perfect for a game of frisbee or soccer.
Among the unique things to do in San Bernardino, spending a day at Glen Helen Regional Park stands out. It offers a blend of recreational activities and natural beauty. With its scenic views, diverse amenities, and opportunities for both relaxation and play, the park is a testament to San Bernardino’s commitment to preserving green spaces for residents and visitors to enjoy.
Located on the campus of California State University, San Bernardino, the Robert and Frances Fullerton Museum of Art (RAFFMA) is a cultural treasure trove. It’s not your typical university museum. RAFFMA boasts a collection of over 1,200 objects, including ancient Egyptian artifacts that are over 4,000 years old. These artifacts make it one of the most impressive collections of its kind in the western United States.
The museum also showcases contemporary art, with a focus on works by Latinx and African American artists. Regular exhibitions rotate throughout the year, ensuring there’s always something new to see. Art workshops, lectures, and special events are also part of the museum’s offerings, making it a dynamic space for art lovers and curious minds alike.
If you’re an art enthusiast or a history buff, RAFFMA is a must-visit. It’s a place where ancient history meets modern artistry, offering visitors a chance to explore diverse cultures and time periods. With its rich collections and educational programs, RAFFMA stands as a testament to San Bernardino’s dedication to arts and culture.
Arrowhead Springs, located in the San Bernardino Mountains, is named after the naturally occurring arrowhead-shaped rock formation on the mountainside. This area has long been celebrated for its natural hot springs, believed by many to have therapeutic properties. Native American tribes, including the Serrano and Cahuilla, historically visited these springs, attributing healing powers to the waters.
In the realm of San Bernardino things to do, a visit to Arrowhead Springs offers a mix of relaxation and history. The region became a popular resort destination in the early 20th century, drawing Hollywood celebrities and other elites to its luxurious hotel and spa. While the grandeur of its heyday has faded, the springs and their storied past remain.
Today, visitors can explore the area, soak in the history, and enjoy the scenic beauty of the mountains. The iconic arrowhead landmark is visible from various points in the city, serving as a constant reminder of the natural wonders and rich history of the region. For those seeking a blend of nature and nostalgia, Arrowhead Springs is a destination worth adding to your itinerary.
San Manuel Stadium, located in the heart of San Bernardino, is more than just a baseball field. It’s a gathering spot for locals and visitors alike, eager to catch a game of the Inland Empire 66ers, the minor league baseball team that calls this stadium home. The atmosphere here is electric, especially during evening games when the setting sun casts a golden hue over the field.
The stadium boasts modern amenities, ensuring a comfortable experience for all attendees. There’s a variety of food stalls, offering everything from classic ballpark hot dogs to more gourmet options. And, of course, there’s the thrill of the game itself. Watching the 66ers play is an exhilarating experience, filled with the passion and dedication of the team. Many of these young players harbor dreams of one day playing in the major leagues.
Beyond the games, San Manuel Stadium frequently hosts events, including concerts and community gatherings. It’s become an integral part of San Bernardino’s social fabric. If you find yourself in San Bernardino during baseball season, attending a 66ers game is a must. It’s an excellent opportunity to immerse yourself in the local culture and experience the camaraderie of the fans.
Perched atop Black Mountain, the Black Mountain Fire Lookout offers visitors a unique vantage point over San Bernardino and its surrounding areas. Originally built in the 1930s, this lookout was a crucial part of the region’s fire detection system. Today, it stands as a testament to the area’s history and the importance of preserving our natural landscapes.
The journey to the lookout is an adventure in itself. A winding drive followed by a short hike will take you to the top. Once there, you’re rewarded with panoramic views that stretch for miles. On clear days, you can even spot the shimmering Pacific Ocean in the distance.
While the lookout is a popular spot for photographers and nature enthusiasts, it’s also a place of learning. Volunteers often man the tower, eager to share stories of its past and educate visitors about the region’s flora and fauna. If you’re looking for a mix of history, nature, and some of the best views in San Bernardino, the Black Mountain Fire Lookout is a place you shouldn’t miss.
One of the best things to do in San Bernardino is to step back in time at the Kimberly Crest House & Gardens. This stunning French château-style mansion, built in 1897, is a testament to the opulence of the Victorian era. The estate showcases well-kept gardens and detailed architecture, reflecting the luxury of California’s wealthy from the past. Visitors get a sense of the high-end lifestyle from over a century ago.
The interior of the mansion is equally impressive. It boasts original furnishings, artwork, and personal belongings of the Kimberly family. Guided tours are available, providing insights into the history of the mansion and the stories of its former residents. The docents are knowledgeable and passionate, ensuring every visitor leaves with a deeper understanding of the region’s history.
Adjacent to the mansion are the gardens. They’re a serene oasis, featuring fountains, terraces, and a variety of plants. For those interested in horticulture, the gardens at Kimberly Crest are a living classroom. The gardens host a variety of plants, including Italian cypress trees, rose bushes, and a koi pond. They’re arranged so there’s always something in bloom, no matter when you visit. The gardens are designed to bloom in succession, ensuring that no matter the season of your visit, there will be something beautiful to see.
Whether you’re a history enthusiast or simply someone who appreciates beautiful architecture and gardens, Kimberly Crest House & Gardens is a must-visit spot in San Bernardino.
When the California sun gets a bit too intense, locals and visitors alike head to Splash Kingdom Waterpark for a refreshing escape. Located conveniently in the heart of San Bernardino, this waterpark is more than just slides and pools. It’s a hub of excitement, offering a variety of attractions for all ages.
Kids can enjoy the interactive play structures, while thrill-seekers can test their mettle on the park’s high-speed slides. The lazy river is perfect for those looking to kick back and float, letting the gentle current carry them along. And if you’re looking to catch some waves without hitting the beach, the wave pool is the place to be.
Splash Kingdom Waterpark is not only a place to cool off but also a venue for a variety of entertainment options. During the summer, the park often hosts live music and family-friendly movie nights, transforming the wave pool area into an outdoor amphitheater under the stars. These events bring an extra layer of fun to the already vibrant atmosphere of the park.
Beyond the water attractions, the park also features an expansive trampoline park and an arcade, ensuring there’s never a dull moment. With plenty of dining options on-site, you can easily spend an entire day here. If you’re searching for a fun-filled day in San Bernardino, especially during those hot summer months, Splash Kingdom Waterpark should be high on your list.
One of the coolest things to do in San Bernardino is diving into the rich history and culture of the region at The San Bernardino County Museum. Located in Redlands, a quick trip from downtown San Bernardino, this museum is a deep dive into the local heritage. It showcases the area’s history, current developments, and gives a nod to what’s ahead.
The museum boasts a diverse collection that spans from Native American artifacts to displays on the region’s natural history. The geology wing, with its impressive array of minerals and fossils, is a favorite among visitors. For those interested in the local wildlife, the museum’s biology exhibits showcase the diverse species that call this region home.
Interactive exhibits make the experience engaging for visitors of all ages. The museum also regularly hosts special events, workshops, and lectures, making each visit unique. The San Bernardino County Museum combines elements of history, science, and art. It delivers a well-rounded grasp of the region’s importance. Whether you’re a history enthusiast or just curious about the area, a visit here is both enlightening and entertaining.
Looking for more content on the top things to do in San Bernardino? Here are some popular questions (and answers) I get that will help you plan your trip to San Bernardino:
San Bernardino is renowned for its rich history, diverse culture, and stunning natural landscapes. It’s home to several historical landmarks, museums, and parks. Additionally, it’s known for being a part of the iconic Route 66, which has left a lasting legacy in the city.
Like any city, San Bernardino has its safe and less safe areas. It’s always recommended to stay aware of your surroundings, especially at night. Researching neighborhoods before visiting and consulting local advice can help ensure a safe trip.
The ideal time to visit San Bernardino is during the spring and fall months. The weather is mild, making it perfect for outdoor activities and sightseeing. Summers can get quite hot, so if you’re planning a trip during this time, be prepared for higher temperatures.
Absolutely! San Bernardino offers a diverse culinary scene. From traditional American diners to authentic Mexican cuisine and everything in between, there’s something to satisfy every palate. Don’t miss out on trying some local specialties when you’re in town.
A 2-3 day trip is ideal for covering the main attractions in San Bernardino. However, if you’re keen on exploring the city in-depth, including its natural parks and hidden gems, a longer stay of up to a week would be more suitable.
San Bernardino’s affordability stems from past economic challenges and its contrast to pricier California cities like Los Angeles. While it faced financial hardships, including a 2012 bankruptcy, it offers reasonable real estate prices due to lower demand.
Definitely! San Bernardino boasts a mix of cultural, historical, and natural attractions. It provides an authentic Southern California experience, distinct from the state’s more famous cities, making it a worthwhile visit.
While San Bernardino might not top every California travel list, it’s a destination worth your attention. With its rich history, diverse attractions, and proximity to both mountains and urban centers, it offers a unique blend for travelers.
Don’t let its under-the-radar status fool you. This city provides a genuine Californian experience without the overwhelming crowds of more touristy spots. Whether you’re a history buff, nature enthusiast, or just looking to explore a different side of the Golden State, San Bernardino has something for you. Dive in, explore, and let the city surprise you.