The “Inland Empire” is a Southern California region that is somewhat of a hidden treasure. East of bustling Los Angeles, the cities that populate the Inland Empire area are famous for their agricultural roots and winemaking.
For groups looking to escape the lights and noise of L.A., three main areas in the Inland Empire—Temecula Valley, Ontario and Riverside—all offer sunny, arid respites that are packed with special meeting spaces and a trove of group activities.
Following are some of the unique offsite team-bonding sessions planners can arrange to reward their meeting groups after a packed agenda of work.
Horseback Riding, Temecula Valley
Temecula Valley is probably best known for being the wine hub of Southern California. The region is home to over 40 wineries. Many of these wineries provide group tastings, tours and their venues can be rented for impressive offsite receptions.
The good wine in this part of California is possible because of a unique microclimate featuring morning mist, midday sun, ocean breezes and cool nights. A granite-based soil also makes Temecula Valley ideal for growing grapes.
Photo: Horseback riding outing at Green Acres Ranch, Temecula Valley. Credit: Visit Temecula Valley.
One of the best ways to experience SoCal’s wine country and its picturesque landscapes as a group that’s a little more out-of-the-box than your simple wine tasting is via an equestrian excursion.
Planners can book group rides through a few providers in the area and blend the outings with a wine-tasting experience at nearby wineries.
A few providers include Green Acres Ranch and Wine Country Trails by Horseback.
Green Acres Ranch, which was established in 1957, is in the heart of wine country on 50 acres and offers a Ranch Ride and Wine Tasting package. After a guided ride around the ranch, participants receive six vouchers for tastings at three nearby wineries.
Wine Country Trails by Horseback is also recommended by the CVB and provides a few different Ride and Wine packages. Customized itineraries for private groups is also possible. Wine Country Trails by Horseback also partners Maurice Car’rie winery, where you can ride through the vineyards and end your journey with a complimentary wine tasting.
Hot Air Balloon Adventures, Temecula Valley
The optimal weather in Temecula Valley doesn’t only lend itself well to grape growing and winemaking.
Google Temecula Valley and you’ll immediately get served storybook images of colorful hot air balloons dotting clear blue skies. Hot air ballooning is becoming synonymous with Temecula Valley, thanks to the gentle morning breezes and consistent weather.
It’s likely this activity will be on a few attendees’ bucket lists when coming to the area for a meeting, and there are many opportunities for planners to organize a special surprise-and-delight balloon excursion.
[Related: California’s Best Hiking Destinations for Rejuvenating Meeting Breaks]
Annette Brown, Temecula Valley CVB’s director of public relations, recommends A Grape Escape Balloon Adventure, which has a fleet of 13 hot air balloons and can accommodate group flights of 10-200.
She also noted that competitive teambuilding challenges can be incorporated into early morning or sunset flights, including Hare and Hound Races, where one balloon (the hare) takes off first and lands, and then the other balloons try to land as close as possible to the hare.
Outdoor Hikes, Ontario
Greater Ontario is the gateway to the Inland Empire, home to Ontario International Airport and located where two interstates intersect, making traveling to and from other Southern California locations easy. Just two miles from the airport is the Ontario Convention Center, which has 225,000 square feet of meeting space.
Photo: Aerial of the city of Ontario, which is backdropped by mountains. Credit: Greater Ontario CVB.
Outside the meeting room walls, Ontario benefits from pleasant, Mediterranean-like weather conditions, which make it excellent for outdoor activities and events.
“Smack in the middle of the city limits is a 150-acre regional park, Cucamonga Guasti Regional Park,” said Sue Oxarart, director of marketing and communications for Greater Ontario CVB. “Plenty of green grass open space to set up old fashion games like sack races, tug-of-war or, on a hot day, a water balloon challenge.
“Our food and beverage department can set up a fabulous outdoor BBQ as well,” she added. The park has several shelters that can be rented for corporate events and BBQ meals.
Photo: Ontario is the gateway to the Inland Empire, home to Ontario International Airport and (pictured) Ontario Convention Center. Credit: Greater Ontario CVB.
Additionally, Oxarart recommends an outing at North Etiwanda Preserve, where a hike through the foothills of the mountains to Etiwanda Falls—a rare waterfall in the otherwise dry climate—is a popular morning trek that will have attendees feel a world away from city buzz.
Citrus Culture, Riverside
Riverside, which is easily accessible from Ontario and L.A., is best known as the birthplace of the citrus industry in California, a hugely important part of the state’s agricultural history.
This history goes as far back as 1873 when the U.S. Department of Agriculture sent two small navel orange trees to Eliza Tibbets, who nurtured the trees and found that the soil in Riverside and the ideal weather conditions produced an exceptional winter fruit.
This citrus success story soon spread fast, bringing many agricultural workers to California in what was referred to by some as the “second Gold Rush.”
The citrus culture remains revered in Riverside today and is preserved at California Citrus State Historic Park. The entrance is marked by a replica of an old-fashioned fruit stand with a big orange structure in front. In the park, over half of the 250 acres are dedicated to orange groves.
Guided group tours for up to 50 people led by park staff can take participants through the groves and lead them through citrus tastings. Exhibits are also included inside the visitor’s center, where groups can learn more about California’s citrus culture.
The park is home to a few venues that are available for rental, where planners can book for parties and receptions among California’s celebrated fruit. Rentals include the Sunkist Venue, the amphitheater, and a covered picnic area that’s surrounded by the historic orange groves.
Greater Ontario CVB | 909.937.3000
Riverside CVB | 951.335.7040
Visit Temecula Valley | 888.363.2852
Read next: The Top Group Wellness Options in Southern California’s Inland Empire