Also known as “The I.E.,” the Inland Empire comprises a huge and diverse swath of land that stretches from the coastal areas of Orange County, L.A. County and San Diego County to the Coachella Valley on the east and High Desert to the north.
It’s a strange combination of deserts, mountains, forests, small towns, metropolitan cities, industry, agriculture, golf courses, housing tracts, hiking trails, freeways and people of all socioeconomic strata. The I.E. sprawls across two massive counties, Riverside and San Bernardino, the largest geographically in California.
At its heart are the cities of Riverside and San Bernardino, separated by a county line but closely linked at the confluence of the 10, 60, 91 15, and 215 freeways.
Nearly 1 million people live in the central portion of the I.E., which is among the fastest-growing areas in the state.
The Inland Empire is attractive for homeowners because it is so close to the coastal counties yet home prices are about half what you’d pay in the metro areas to the west and south. It’s a commuters’ paradise, marked by wide freeways and MetroLink access to the “City.”
The Inland Empire is divided into distinct “districts,” each with its own individual identities.
At the heart is Riverside, named for the Santa Ana River, which runs through the middle of the city. It is a massive community, nearly 10 miles from one end to the other, crowned by a historical district downtown and the Mission Inn, which has hosted U.S. presidents. Riverside’s roots are in the citrus groves, though only a few remain. Riverside is home to several universities and colleges, including the University of California, Riverside; California Baptist University, La Sierra University and Riverside Community College.
Moreno Valley and Perris are among the most affordable cities in the Inland Empire. The availability of inexpensive land prompted massive growth between 2003 and 2007. Housing communities sprung up quickly, followed by commercial strip malls and entertainment complexes and schools. The area continues to be a target for home investors.
Corona and Norco border Orange County to the west and are popular for commuters. Corona has a diverse population, from the old City Circle to newer golf-course communities with million-dollar estates. The city spreads out from the foothills of the Cleveland National Forest to former dairy farmland that now host large housing tracts. Corona is also home to the Fender Guitar Museum. The City of Norco is famous for its rural sensibility and horse-friendly nature. Horse trails run throughout the area, and many homesites exceed one-half acre, which is the county minimum to board a horse.
San Bernardino, home to a Cal State campus, has experienced a quiet resurgence in recent years as new housing tracts have popped up. The Interstate 210 connection has made the city more popular with commuters who work farther west. The city enjoys a mix of communities, from older more mature communities at the foot of the mountains to brand-new tracts farther north near the university.
Along Interstate 10, you’ll find Loma Linda, Redlands and Yucaipa-Calimesa. These beautiful foothill communities are the last stop before heading east to the desert communities of Greater Palm Springs. It’s a mix of rural lifestyle, small-town friendliness and high-energy college frivolity. The University of Redlands is a private school that is routinely ranked among the best in the country. Loma Linda University is an internationally known proving ground for doctors and dentists. It also hosts a world-renowned children’s hospital.
Southwest Riverside County includes the cities of Temecula, Murrieta, Menifee and Lake Elsinore. These cities exploded between 2003 and 2007, fueled by the housing boom and the pleasant weather. Temecula and Murrieta boast great schools and newer neighborhoods among foothills that benefit from evening ocean breezes. Temecula is popular with San Diego commuters. The rural communities of Menifee, Sun City and Romoland are dotted with newer housing tracts (some with man-made lakes) and agricultural tracts. Lake Elsinore, Canyon Lake and Canyon Hills are great draws for growing families.
Rancho Cucamonga, Fontana and Rialto border the metropolitan Los Angeles area. Rancho is a tony city along the 15 freeway with tons of shopping and mountain great views. Fontana and Rialto provide lower-cost housing alternatives.
Ontario, of course, is the travel hub of the I.E., with Ontario International Airport, which is among the most convenient and least-stressful airports in Southern California.