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San Bernardino County: An Outdoor Playground
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San Bernardino County: An Outdoor Playground

The vast San Bernardino County is known for its numerous natural wonders and recreational activities.

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5 min read

March 11, 2022

Located within the Inland Empire of California, the vast San Bernardino County is a land of natural wonders, rich indigenous history, and an abundance of recreational activities. With so much to see, learn, and do, it is no wonder that it shines as one of the top places to live and visit in California. Before you plan a getaway yourself, here’s everything you need to know about San Bernardino, CA.

San Bernardino's earliest known inhabitants were Serrano Indians who spent their winters in the valley, and their summers in the cooler mountains.

The History of San Bernardino County, California

The history of San Bernardino County can be tied to the Paleo-Indian sites found here, dating back at least 12,000 years. In fact, in the past three thousand years, various Indian tribes have flourished in the S.B. County area. The Gabrielenos occupied the West Valley, the Vanyumes lived along the Mojave River, the Serranos lived in the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains, to name just a few.

In the early years of the 19th century, the Spanish missionaries came in as the first settlers in the region. They chose to make the fertile valley at the foot of a majestic mountain range an outpost for missionaries traveling throughout California and preaching to the various Indian tribes. Around the same time, pioneer trailblazers like Kit Carson and Jedediah Smith also spent several years in San Bernardino County.

In 1853, San Bernardino County was created from parts of Los Angeles, San Diego, and Mariposa Counties. One year later, in 1854, the City of San Bernardino was incorporated as the county seat. Not too long after, in 1860, gold was discovered in Holcomb and Bear Valleys in San Bernardino County, and mining began in the area.

Today, San Bernardino County is the fifth most populous county in the state, and with a population that is 53.7 percent Hispanic, is also California's first and the nation’s second most populous majority-Hispanic county.

San Bernardino County Attractions

San Bernardino National Forest has 7 wilderness areas: San Gorgonio, Cucamonga, San Jacinto, South Fork, Santa Rosa, Cahuilla, and Bighorn Mountains.

San Bernardino National Forest

From concentrations of desert palms to snow-peaked mountains, the 154,000-acre San Bernardino National Forest allows you to experience it all when it comes to natural beauty. This verdant San Bernardino County park offers an entirely different experience depending on what time of year you visit. During the warmer months, you’ll be able to traverse the best multi-use trails such as the Pine Knot Trail and the Castle Rock Trail, admire the majestic mountain ranges like the San Gabriel Mountains and the San Jacinto Mountains, stay overnight at the scenic camping sites, and cool off in an array of rivers and lakes where fishermen can cast their lines. In the colder months, visitors enjoy skiing, snowboarding, tubing, and snowshoeing at some of the best resorts near Big Bear and Lake Arrowhead. 

Robert Frances Fullerton Museum of Art

One of the biggest tourist attractions in the city of San Bernardino is the Robert Frances Fullerton Museum of Art. Since its establishment in 1996, this impressive museum has grown to have major prominence as one of the top cultural centers in the region. While there is so much to see and admire at the Robert Frances Fullerton Museum, the most famous collection on permanent display are the Ancient Egyptian artifacts—the largest of its kind in the Western United States. 

The earliest known residents of the land in and around what later became Joshua Tree National Park were the people of the Pinto Culture.

Joshua Tree National Park

Another one of San Bernardino County’s most famous destinations for outdoor enthusiasts is Joshua Tree National Park, where both the Mojave and the Colorado Desert ecosystems meet. As the name implies, this park is famous for the peculiar Joshua trees that dot its terrain, but offers more to visitors like rugged rock formations, fascinating flora and fauna, and stark landscapes. Not to mention, there’s something for every interest at Joshua Tree National Park in San Bernardino, CA. Climbing, bouldering, hiking an array of trails, pedaling along mountain biking paths, soaking in the scenery on horseback, or spending a night stargazing—this S.B. County destination has it all.

First Original McDonald’s Museum 

The first Original McDonald’s museum has no ties with the corporation anymore, but operates as a sort of an unofficial museum with a vast collection of memorabilia spanning decades. Owned by Albert Okura—who also owns the weird city and desert ghost town of Amboy—this San Bernardino County attraction displays toys, signs, statues, and other cool McDonald’s related artifacts that you won’t find anywhere else. 

Silverwood Lake provides a major water source for agencies serving the nearby San Bernardino Mountain and Mojave Desert areas.

Silverwood Lake

Silverwood Lake is another one of San Bernardino County’s beautiful natural landmarks. A popular recreation spot among locals, this large lake features picnicking spots, hiking trails, beautiful beaches, and designated areas for boating, water-skiing, and fishing. The iconic Pacific Crest Trail also passes through this San Bernardino County recreation area with trailheads for short or long hikes—trek if you dare! 

Restaurants in San Bernardino County, CA

With all that adventuring and outdoor exploration, you’re bound to want to make a dining stop or two. When hunger strikes, these are the top San Bernardino restaurants you should check out.

Mitla Cafe

Address: 602 North Mount Vernon Avenue, San Bernardino

The city of San Bernardino has changed a lot over the years, but Mitla Cafe remains a constant hit. Having been around since 1937, this lunch counter on Route 66 is the best spot to eat delicious Mexican classics. Grab a seat inside this classic San Bernardino restaurant and you’ll see why generations of locals continue to rave about its food.

Los Molcajetes

Address: 8822 Sierra Avenue, Fontana

Craving Salvadorian cuisine? Check out Los Molcajetes in the city of Fontana. With authentic, flavorful recipes served in a warm and casual atmosphere, this long-standing local favorite is a must-try.

The State is a family restaurant that mainly focuses on serving high-quality American cuisine that everyone can indulge in.

The State

Address: 7900 Kew Avenue, Rancho Cucamonga

The State is a stylish yet laid-back spot to get burgers, tacos, shareable appetizers, and other comfort food in Rancho Cucamonga. This San Bernardino County restaurant also has a delicious brunch menu, so make sure to check it out next time you’re in town.

Kitchen in the Desert

Address: 6427 Mesquite Avenue, Twentynine Palms

Make sure to book a table at Kitchen in the Desert next time you’re on a getaway to Twentynine Palms. Located on a beautiful property with rich history and unmistakable charm, this San Bernardino County restaurant serves delicious Caribbean and New American fare. Everything you can order pulls inspiration from Trinidadian family recipes, and every meal is made with whole, raw ingredients to standards that respect authentic island food.

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