The story of Banning, CA began in the Pliocene Age when a prehistoric lake covered the San Gorgonio Pass and mastadons swam in its depths. Or so scientists believe.
By the time mankind came around, the pass was populated by members of the Cahuilla and Serano tribes. The first Europeans in the area were the Spanish, on an expedition up from Mexico, in 1774.
It wasn’t until 1853 that the first white settlers in the form of a Dr. Smith, his wife, and their seven children arrived and called this area home.
Their settlement would be come to be known as Highland Springs, today the home of a ranch, resort, and farm shop.
Banning itself grew thanks to being a stop on the Colorado Stage & Express Line, the stagecoach line that ran through to the Colorado River from 1862 thanks to the discovery of gold along the riverbanks – that’s right, people actually migrated out east for gold.
Fourteen years later, the railroad would replace the stagecoach line, but Banning would forever be known as Stagcoach Town, USA. The town’s name came from freighter and general, Phineas T. Banning.
The San Gorgonio Pass is so named because it passes between two mountains: San Gorgonio and Mt San Jacinto.
The former lies in the San Bernadino Forest and the latter in its eponymous State Park. Both of these preserved natural areas lie just east of Los Angeles and San Bernadino County, separating the city conglomerate from Joshua Tree National Park and the desert beyond.
Where exactly is Banning, CA?
It takes about thirty minutes to drive from Banning into San Bernadino or Riverside. Despite being just beyond these two cities, Los Angeles is an hour and twenty minute drive from Banning. The nearest beach is just as far.
Things to do in Banning, CA:
1. Gilman Ranch Museum
California’s early history is famous for the gold rush, the miners and their families who set up wild west towns replete with saloon and general store.
The Gilman Ranch Museum honors the history of California since the early Cahuilla Indians up through the settlement in the late 1800s.
The ranch house that serves as today’s museum started as a meagre adobe hut, expanding greatly over the years as the town found success.
The museum has the largest collection of wagons, buggies, and stagecoaches in the area. They host yearly events like the Wild West Festival and Western Arts Show and an Olde Tyme Christmas at the Ranch.
2. Grammas Country Kitchen
Avoid the chain restaurants and go to Gramma’s Country Kitchen, just off of I-10. You’ll know it by the branded covered wagon parked out front.
Sit down to eat surrounded by a blast from the past, the inside feels like you’re eating in your own grandma’s house, surrounded by period memorabilia with a country touch.
Like all good diners, Gramma’s serves all-day breakfast so you can get your bacon and egg fix at any hour. You can order southern classics like biscuits and gravy and finish off with a freshly baked dessert.
3. Bogart Regional Park
Bogart Regional Park is open every day until sundown. There are hundreds of acres of space. Spend the day wandering down hiking, biking, and equestrian trails – all of which are pet friendly, so bring the family dog. Just be sure to keep them on a leash.
You can picnic or practice your angling skills in the fishing pond stocked with albino trout, catfish, and rainbow trout.
Keep anything over 10 in. Love spending time there? You can camp overnight at one of the 27 campsites where you can roast marshmallows around the fire.
4. San Jacinto Peak Trail
Just below Banning is the Mt. San Jancinto State Park. The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is a relaxing way to enjoy the view, starting with a relaxing float over the mountains in a scenic cable car.
The trailhead for the San Jacinto Peak Trail starts at the top. It’s best to reserve your trip on the Aerial Tramway in advance.
Definitely a challenging route, it’s a 10.5 mile out and back trail that gains over 2,000 feet in elevation.
The average time it takes to complete the route is 6 hours, so it is a full day’s commitment.
5. Morongo Casino Resort & Spa
Get the Vegas experience without the overwhelming city of sin.
Morongo Casino Resort & Spa is a beautifully modern hotel complex with 1960s design inspiration containing a full casino with over 2,000 slots and table games, 310 rooms over 27 floors, and six restaurants.
You can play blackjack, pai gow, Texas Hold ‘Em, three-card poker, and more.
Take a break between hands and relax outside at one of the three pools. You can lay out in the sun in a lounge chair or float along on the lazy river.
Indulge in some luxurious time away from home.
6. Desert Hills Premium Outlets
What to do with all the money you won at Moronogo Casino? Go shopping at Desert Hills Premium Outlets.
The sprawling complex is broken up in to two sections, West Village and East Village, containing the largest collection of luxury outlets in the state.
There are 180 stores, home to some of the biggest names in clothings and design. Such high style can’t simply offer a food court.
Desert Hills has 12 different food vendors to choose from, from Five Guys and Panda Express to Villa Italian Kitchen. Shop ’til you drop!
7. Cabazon Dinosaurs
Want to see something truly unforgettable? Planet Earth’s ancient history meets modern art at the Cabazon Dinosaurs. You might recognize them from Pee Wee Herman’s Big Adventure.
The first dinosaur, Dinny, was completed in 1975. Mr. Rex was added in 1986. Both dinosaurs were created by artist and sculptor Claude Bell who wanted to attract more customers to his restaurant.
The restaurant closed in 2013, but today you can still visit the dinosaurs and go on a walk around the lifesize monsters. There is also a creationist museum on site.
8. Whitewater Preserve
The Whitewater Preserve is a place of natural beauty and wonder. It encompasses 2,851 acres in the San Gorgino Wilderness.
It’s an important wildlife corridor that allows for seasonal migration and provides a home to endangered species.
You can spot a variety of species of bird, bighorn sheep, and deer. But there are also bears, mountain lions, and rattlesnakes, so be careful.
You can hike and picnic in the day, or spend extra time and camp in the preserve – it’s free! Admission and parking are also free.
9. Papaya Bay
Papaya Bay is a hidden gem. Once located in Redlands, the restaurant moved and came under new ownership and the reviews are just as supportive.
You can eat in, order delivery, or pick up take out every day of the week.
Their extensive menu is full of Thai classics, like stir fries, curries, noodle and seafood dishes, and more. The delicious food also goes beyond dinner.
Try a traditional Thai dessert like creamy banana or sticky rice with mango. The outside might not look like much, but everyone agrees Papaya Bay is worth a visit.
10. Monrongo Golf Club at Tukwet Canyon
Want to tee off on a world-class golf course without becoming a member? Morongo Golf Club at Tukwet Canyon is a public course.
For the past five years, it’s been home to the Symetra Tour IOA Championship. Choose between The Champions 7,377 yard course and The Legends 7,442 yard course.
Before you choose you can practice your swing at the driving range, or refine your skills on one of two putting and chipping greens.
You can also sign up for lessons and get kitted out at their pro shop.