Why go now: This Riverside neighborhood has finally found its inner artist.
Flashback: The 909 gets a bad rap for being a former citrus town turned hot, smoggy sprawling, B-class Inland Empire suburb.
Flashforward: A slow but steady overhaul has snazzed up the Downtown Arts & Culture District.
Coordinates: Four walkable blocks from Mission Inn to University Avenues, between Lime and Market Streets.
What's here: A small but cutting-edge art scene, with a creative niche of hipsters and academics.
Cool refurbs: Two dozen galleries and museums have taken up residence in abandoned deco, Beaux-Arts, and Spanish colonial-style buildings along the leafy streets.
Stretch your legs: The pedestrian promenade, Main Street Riverside, is lined with fountains, sidewalk cafes, and public art from 5th to 10th Streets.
Start your weekend early: At the free Riverside Arts Walk on First Thursdays (6-9 Mar 3; 951/682-6737).
An art trifecta: Three gems make up the UCR Artsblock: The new Culver Center of the Arts has soaring skylight ceilings and quirky exhibits. In the same building is the relocated Sweeney Art Gallery. Next door, the California Museum of Photography (note the camera-shaped building) has a collection of old-fashioned cameras and a walk-in camera obscura. $3 combined admission; closed most Sun; 3834 Main St.; artsblock.ucr.edu
The local bohemian hang: Filled with bookshelves and Victorian furnishings, Back to the Grind is a sprawling coffeehouse that multitasks as a gallery and music venue. Don't be surprised if you come across a ukulele circle. $; 3575 University Ave.; back2thegrind.com
The fox makes a comeback: After five years of sitting empty, the lights are back on at the retro-glam Fox Performing Arts Center. The 1929 cinema and vaudeville theater that hosted acts like Bing Crosby recently got $32 million in TLC, and now the corner fixture headlines musicals, dance, and arock shows. (foxriversidelive.com)
Mexican lunch on the patio: Tio's Tacos serves traditional food, yet the atmosphere is anything but. Check out the fantastical garden of sculptures made from chicken wire, aluminum cans, and bottle caps. $; 3948 Mission Inn Ave.; 951/788-0230.
Make it an overnight: The ornate Mission Inn Hotel is a must-see and has plenty of history. Head inside to the Presidential Lounge, pull up an antique-swank leather chair, and toast the chiefs past with a JFK cosmopolitan or Herbert Hoover lemon drop. From $169; 2-night minimum; missioninn.com
3 more artistic adventures in town
Date-night flicks: On Friday and Saturday nights, the Culver Center of the Arts doubles as a movie house for rare art films. $10; 3834 Main St.; culvercenter.ucr.edu
Old-school building, new-school art: The 1929 YWCA designed by Julia Morgan is the gorgeous home of the Riverside Art Museum. And the sweeping arches and courtyard are a stark contrast to edgy works inside. $5; closed Sun; 3425 Mission Inn Ave.; riversideartmuseum.org
Drop-in art classes: The mix is playful at Division 9 Gallery, from graffiti to Mexican folk art, established artists, and traveling indie exhibits. For a DIY option, head upstairs for lessons in drawing and print-making. Gallery free, classes from $75; closed Sun; 3850 Lemon St.; division9gallery.com