The Inland Empire of California is a semi-arid region east of Los Angeles. Its boundaries and territory are often a subject of debate. However, it is generally agreed that the western boundary is the San Bernardino/Los Angeles County line and the eastern limits are the most urbanized areas of San Bernardino and Riverside counties. Although the region has its roots in agriculture, primarily citrus and wine-making, the "I.E." (as it is commonly referred to) is now home to millions of residents and dozens of worthwhile attractions.
The Inland Empire contains dozens of cities and towns, each with a very unique history that usually began around agriculture or a specific crop.
Throughout much of the 19th and 20th century, agriculture was the dominant industry for the region. The post-World War II decades saw an explosion of residents and industry as developers turned to cheap land east of Los Angeles. Although the area is often criticized for its sprawling developments that are incredibly automobile-dependent, in recent years many cities have made an effort to encourage denser housing developments centered around commercial and office-park developments. Today, the region's growth continues as housing prices remain incredibly affordable and residents from Orange and Los Angeles counties swell the area's population.
Like the rest of California, English is the main language but Spanish is spoken by many residents and employees at restaurants, stores, and businesses. That being said, there are certainly many parts of the region where knowing some basic Spanish will go a long way in helping you receive better service at restaurants and businesses.
LA/Ontario International Airport (ONT) is the main airport for the region. Almost all domestic airlines serve the airport and there are a handful of flights to Mexico depending on the season.
San Bernardino Airport (SBD) has been undergoing major renovations in the past several years and is due to receive domestic flights soon.
Many smaller municipal and private airports dot the landscape, including Cable Airport in Upland, which is the largest private airport in the United States.
Amtrak serves many Inland Empire cities, including Ontario and San Bernardino.
Metrolink connects many Inland Empire cities with Los Angeles, Ventura, and Orange Counties. Because it is a commuter train, weekend service is often limited or modified.
Three east-west freeways link the Inland Empire with Los Angeles to the west. Interstate 10, the main route, connects downtown Los Angeles with San Bernardino. Interstate 210 connects Pasadena/San Fernando with San Bernardino/Redlands. State Route 60 connects downtown Los Angeles with downtown Riverside.
In addition, the almost always-congested State Route 91 Freeway connects many Orange County Cities with Riverside. Two north-south freeways also traverse the region. Interstate 15 connects San Diego to Las Vegas via the western Inland Empire cities. Interstate 215 forms a loop through the eastern cities, from San Bernardino south to Riverside, Perris, and Murrieta.
Greyhound serves many Inland Empire Cities.
The Inland Empire is incredibly car-dependent. However, there are still ways to enjoy the region without having a car if you are willing to be flexible and patient. Nonetheless, it is worth it to rent a car to save time and if you wish to visit more remote areas, such as the High Desert and the mountains.
Metrolink, Southern California's commuter rail system, operates four lines that serve the Inland Empire. These are the San Bernardino Line, the Riverside Line, the 91 Line, and the Inland-Empire Orange County Line. Some lines, such as the Riverside Line, have no weekend service at all.
Much of the Inland Empire is laid out in a grid-like pattern, making navigation very easy. In addition, streets maintain their names as they cross city boundaries, which helps reduce confusion. Because many Inland Empire residents commute towards Los Angeles and Orange counties for work, westbound traffic is heaviest in the morning (between 7 and 9 am) and eastbound is heaviest in the evening (between 4 and 7 pm). Friday traffic can be a nightmare, especially on long weekends, as many Southern California residents flock to Las Vegas. However, some simple day-planning can help you avoid driving on freeways during rush hour and will make your experience more enjoyable.
Although surrounded by mountains on nearly every side, much of the low-lying Inland Empire is flat enough to encourage bicycle riding. Many major thoroughfares have marked bike lanes, and numerous projects are converting abandoned rail lines to paved bike trails. Although bike use is low compared to other urbanized areas, high gas prices are resulting in more and more cyclists using the many bike lanes throughout the area.
The Inland Empire hosts a large diverse immigrant population and is home to a multitude of ethnic cuisines, ranging from Persian to Peruvian. Also, because much of the region developed after World War II, excellent diner-style establishments are found in almost every city.
Throughout the years, for a variety of social and economic reasons, parts of the Inland Empire have become home to dozens of gangs and a haven for at-home drug operations. Residents often jokingly refer to Moreno Valley as "Murder Valley," for example. Increased outreach and tougher anti-drug operations have made some progress, but there are still some areas in many cities that should be avoided, especially at night.
Remember, not all low-income areas are crime-ridden and drug infested. In fact, many low-income neighborhoods are often host to the best and oldest restaurants in the area. Use a combination of street smarts, do your research, and know your area when choosing a destination.