Crews are 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 day after Thanksgiving.
“The Festival of Lights is a time-honored way to celebrate the kickoff of the holiday season with family and friends,” Riverside Mayor Rusty Bailey said Wednesday. “This beloved event also showcases our historic downtown, which provides an incredible boost to our local businesses.”
City officials said everything is on track for the opening of the 27th annual festival on Nov. 29, when Mission Inn owner and festival founder Duane Roberts, joined by Bailey 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 up to 75,000 people will flood the intersection of Mission Inn Avenue and Orange Street to take part in the affair.
In 2018, the city allocated $800,000 for the festival, 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 officials. Appropriations for this year’s celebration could not immediately be confirmed.
The festival began in 1992, after Roberts and his wife, Kelly, took over the Mission Inn.
The festival’s opening night features 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 Christmas 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. New this year will be daily live musical entertainment on the breezeway fronting City Hall, officials said.
Santa and Mrs. Claus will be fixtures next to the castle-like inn. Other attractions will include a “Century Wheel,” similar to a Ferris wheel, a carousel and a huge “snow globe” between Mission Inn and University avenues.
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.
USA Wednesday selected the Festival of Lights “America’s Best Holiday Festival of 2015” as part of the paper’s 10 Best Readers’ Choice Contest.
About 750,000 visitors are expected over the duration of the festival, which will conclude at daybreak on Dec. 31.