A visit to the California Citrus State Historic Park in Riverside is a vivid reminder of when fragrance from orange blossoms filled the air and citrus groves decorated the Southern California landscape.
Situated in Riverside’s historic Arlington Heights citrus greenbelt, the 377-acre Citrus Park celebrates the role citrus – and in particular the navel orange – played in California’s history.
In the early 1880s, two small navel orange trees from the U.S. Department of Agriculture arrived in Riverside for test planting. Originating as a mutation in Bahia, Brazil, the citrus trees took well to Southern California’s semi-arid climate, producing a sweet, succulent and seedless navel orange found to be superior to all others.
As word of Riverside’s new thick-skinned and sun-kissed orange spread, local growers began grafting budstock straight from the two original “parent navel” trees, eventually creating California’s navel orange industry (and making Riverside’s navel orange one of the most successful fruit introductions in U.S. history).
The Citrus Park, which opened in 1993, features two components: a public area with visitor’s center and museum, banquet facility, walking trails and picnic areas; and 186 acres of working citrus groves, which help support park operations.
Upon arrival, guests are initially greeted by a “big orange” located just outside the park. Though not an actual working fruit stand, it is a replica of citrus stands that once dotted major roads throughout California’s citrus regions.
Once inside, the park’s hilly terrain features several walking trails lined with palm trees and flanked by citrus trees – including a varietal grove that contains 75 different types of citrus. Atop the knolls are various scenic viewpoints from which one can gaze at the Mockingbird Canyon arroyo and surrounding valley as well as Riverside’s remaining citrus greenbelt.
The visitor’s center, which resembles a packinghouse, contains a museum that tells the story of how Riverside’s navel orange became California’s “golden fruit” thanks to its superior quality and clever marketing using romantic images of sunshine, abundance, health and prosperity.
The park also contains a grower’s farmhouse, outdoor amphitheater, gift shop and interpretive exhibits, including a nice display explaining the importance of Riverside’s Gage Canal. Future plans call for an operating packing shed, laborer’s camp, early citrus settlement, pedestrian “water flume” bridge and a wealthy grower’s mansion featuring a restaurant.
Currently open Friday through Monday, the park is located on Dufferin Avenue just east of Van Buren Boulevard in Riverside, about one mile south of the 91 Freeway. Entrance to the park is free. However, a $5 parking fee is required for those that stay.
The park is also a popular – and scenic – spot for family picnics, weddings, receptions and community meetings, with both indoor and outdoor options available.
For more information, visit the Citrus Park’s website.