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San Bernardino, California Travel Guide


San Bernardino, the heart of San Bernardino County, California, is a dominant part of a larger metropolitan area that is considered the “Inland Empire.” It was established shortly before the dawn of the 20th century. In addition to hosting several major national events, the city’s biggest claim to fame is the home town of the world’s largest fast food chain, McDonald’s (dating to 1940).


The original inhabitants of the region were American First Nations tribes, dating back to approximately 1,000 BCE. They dominated the land until the mid 1800s. Several 18th century expeditions led by both Spanish and Mexican explorers considered the territory uninhabitable and not commercially viable, and so no settlements were established.

American expeditions of the 19th century began to see the land differently, and in 1819, the San Gabriel Mission was founded in what would come to be known as Old San Bernardino.

By the late 1830s, the area began extensive urban development, but early plans were not successful.

In the late 1840s, a Mormon Battalion of the US Army set up camp in the region and touched off a wave of Mormon migration. By 1851, Mormon settlers established a settlement that would grow into the town of San Bernardino. The San Bernardino Meridian, established in 1852, divided all of Southern California from the rest of the state.

A council house and Fort San Bernardino were constructed on the site of the current county court house, fearing attacks from First Nations locals. No attack ever came, and the boundaries of the fort were expanded.

In 1853, San Bernardino County broke off from Los Angeles County and remained under Mormon leadership. The future city began to take shape, based on the grip pattern of the Mormon home of Salt Lake City, Utah.

By 1854, the city of San Bernardino had been incorporated. Drinking and gambling were outlawed within city limits. The Mormon residents began extensive development, including public squares, parks, and churches.

When the Mormon settlers were recalled to Salt Lake City in the late 1850s, the town was largely vacated, but continued to attract the interests of Caucasian America, and several new settlements (including Colton, Redlands, and Riverside) were developed.

Conflict arose as to where the county seat should be established, and by the early 1890s, several communities formed their own civic identities. Riverside County broke off from San Bernardino and San Diego counties, further reducing San Bernardino’s jurisdiction.

In 1864, legendary lawman Wyatt Earp came to San Bernardino, at the age of 16.

In the mid 1870s, San Bernardino established Chinatown, which would become home to the majority of Asian residents. The district would remain largely the same until the early 1920s, supported by locally grown vegetables and imported products.

When the national railroad reached the coast, the region began to really prosper. In spite of several conflicts between the city and the rail company, the California Southern Railroad laid tracks through San Bernardino in 1883.

The city opened the Opera House in 1883. The house was renovated in 1912 and opened its repertoire to performers ranging from the legendary Al Jolson to Maude Adams.

The San Manuel Indian Reservation was established in 1891, as an act of law.

Several crops were transported throughout the nation, the most prominent of which were Naval and Valencia oranges that grew out of the planting of orange trees imported from Brazil. The reach of the Colorado River, extending all the way to the Gulf of California, further promoted the rich potential of San Bernardino County agriculture, and the economy soared. By the early 1900s, several additional rail companies extended tracks into the city.

By the end of the 19th century, dairy production became a secondary industry. The region surrounding San Bernardino saw rapid growth in population, as well as subsequent growth in related industries such as construction.

The arrival of Route 66, in the early 20th century, strengthened connections between San Bernardino and Arizona. The modern highway brought tourists and residents in mass numbers, and the “Citrus Belt” prospered through the mid 1900s.

The city founded the National Orange Show, first held in 1911.

Within a few years, the Pacific Eastern Railway connected San Bernardino with Los Angeles.

The current courthouse was built in 1927.

In 1940, McDonalds opened its first location, offering the innovative “Speedee Service System”. McDonalds has since opened restaurants in over 120 countries, serving more than 50 million customers daily.

Following the Second World War, the landscape began to change. Several regions were torn down to make way for then modern housing, known as suburbs.

In 1965, California State University was founded.

The development of the Ramona Highway (now the San Bernardino Freeway) continued to extend the agricultural reach throughout California. Even more residents began to flock to the renovated and modernized San Bernardino.

A flood in 1980 destroyed more than 40 homes, and a fire later that year further devastated the city, claiming many of the homes in the north.

In 1982, Apple Computer founder Steve Wozniak held the first US Festival, at the Glen Helen Regional Park. Wozniak personally financed the construction of a then state of the art stage, and drew a record one day festival attendance of 375,000 people.

The San Manuel Indian Reservation opened the Indian Bingo hall in 1986, bringing much needed financial prosperity to the reservation. A casino and water bottling plant have since been added to the reservation.

Tragedy struck once again in 1989, when a train derailed claiming two lives and destroying seven homes. The derailment also led to a pipeline failure which covered an entire neighborhood in gasoline. When the rupture ignited, two more residents died and eleven more homes burnt to the ground. As a result, the city passed ordinance banning the construction of homes along the rail lines.

When the Norton Air Force Base closed in 1994, more than 10,000 jobs were lost (both military and civilian). Coupled with the rise of recession through the early 1990s and the influx of gang related organizations fleeing crackdown in Los Angeles, the local economy suffered. Crime rates rose and some residents relocated to less troubled cities.

In an effort to raise city moral, several urban renewal projects began, including the construction of minor league baseball parks and the support of live community theatre.

Modern San Bernardino now sees continued growth in agriculture, and has attracted much interest as a shipping port. In addition, some of the largest manufacturing plants have been built in the region, further boosting the local economy.


There are plenty more things to do in exciting San Bernardino, California.

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Power: 120 V, 60 Hz

Languages: English

Climate: The climate of San Bernardino ranges from humid (Mediterranean) to dry and arid. The summers are often hot and dry. Winters are often cold, with occasional snow flurries.

Currency: US Dollar

Time Zone: DST -0400 UTC


LODGING Wigwam Motel: Rows of wigwam-shaped buildings hold single guest rooms at the Wigwam Motel. The motel, built in 1947, was recently renovated and contains a swimming pool. The teepees are located on Foothill Boulevard, on Historic Route 66.


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