GOCAL in SoCal: Why this destination gives you greater options

Jun 12, 2024

Set between Southern California’s Pacific coast and the vast San Gabriel Mountains is an area known as Greater Ontario—or GOCAL, as the locals call it. Here you’re within an hour’s drive of beaches, hiking, theme parks and iconic Hollywood sites, making it an ideal launch point for a SoCal trip that won’t break the budget. 

With nonstop flights from hubs like Chicago, New York, Phoenix and Seattle, the Ontario International Airport (ONT) is a convenient alternative to busier airports in the region—especially if you plan to explore Southern California. Hop onto the airport’s free shuttle to the nearby rental car center to pick up your ride and begin the adventure. 

After a day of exploring the region's array of attractions—like a historic Route 66 landmark and indoor skydiving—the city provides a basecamp primed for chilling out and winding down thanks to its hometown feel and inviting atmosphere. Read on for our guide to crafting a SoCal getaway in Greater Ontario. 

Cruise through some Inland Empire history  

A stretch of the historic U.S. Route 66 runs just north of Ontario in Rancho Cucamonga and is home to one of the highway's landmarks, the Cucamonga Service Station. The station was built in 1915 (10 years before Route 66 created). The station has been designated as a historical site and restored to appear as it did over a century ago. Make this pitstop on your way into town to see the station-turned-museum, full of memorabilia and displays of the famous highway's history. 

Also along the historic highway is the Route 66 Trailhead, a gateway to the nearly 20-mile Pacific Electric Inland Empire Trail. The scenic park at the trailhead has ample parking and features a variety of historical markers detailing some of the region's history. Among its points of interest is a portion of the original Route 66 pavement, which you can stroll across. The trail itself follows the path of the old Pacific Electric Railway—a former public transit system known for its "Red Cars"—and is open to bikers, walkers, runners and even horseback riders. 

Car show frequenters will want to plan a visit to the area during the 11th Annual Route 66 Cruisin’ Reunion Car Show Sept. 20-21. The family-friendly event takes place on the historic Euclid Avenue in downtown Ontario. It will feature over 900 classic cars competing for awards in “Best of Show” and “Best in Class,” plus two evenings worth of live music events. 

Also situated on Euclid Avenue is the Ontario Museum of History and Art. Set in the former city hall, the museum offers free admission to see exhibits like "Gem of the Foothills," a look at the history of Ontario, and "Built on Water," which explores the importance of water infrastructure in the city.

The Sam and Alfreda Maloof Foundation for Arts and Crafts historic home is north of town in Alta Loma, nestled in the mountain foothills. Docent-led tours will guide you through the former home of Sam Maloof, an accomplished woodworker whose art has been displayed in museums around the U.S., including the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. Learn about the Maloofs' story, explore the home's architecture and admire some of the intricate furniture crafted by Maloof, including his signature chairs. 

Plan for an action-packed visit  

Ontario's Toyota Arena is known for hosting exciting and affordable live sporting events. The Ontario Reign, an American Hockey League (AHL) team, calls the arena home in the fall and winter. In 2024, the team made it to the league's Calder Cup Playoffs. On September 28, the LA Kings and Anaheim Ducks will face off at Toyota Arena for an NHL preseason game dubbed the "2024 Empire Classic." The area is also home to the Empire Strykers, part of the Major Arena Soccer League (MASL). The team's next season begins in December and runs through March 2025.

Starting June 25 through August, the Toyota Arena will be hosting The Backyard Patio Summer Series every Tuesday evening. The series will include live music; DJs; and themed nights like Comedy Night, Latin Night, Bestie Night.

If you're visiting in spring or summer, considering getting tickets to see the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes play ball at LoanMart Field, set against a scenic mountain backdrop. The Minor League Baseball team is the Single-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Check out the schedule for different promotions, like drink deals on what they call "Thirsty Thursday," post-game fireworks nights and select days where kids can run the bases after the game. Keep an eye out for Tremor the Rallysaurus, the team's lovable dinosaur mascot sporting number 4.8 on his Quakes jersey. 

Horror film and pop culture fans will want to mark their calendars for the Creep I.E. Aftermath convention, happening Sept. 20-22 at the Ontario Convention Center. Expect celebrity guests, including Billy Dee Williams from films like "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Batman"; Kristy Swanson, who starred as Buffy Summers in the film "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"; and some cast members of "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial." There are Q&A panels, concerts, a cosplay contest with cash prizes and more. This is a sequel event to Creep I.E. Con, which typically takes place earlier in the year; it’s slated to make its hair-raising return Jan. 31 - Feb. 2, 2025. 

You'll also find some exciting familiar favorites in the area, like indoor skydiving at iFLY. Vertical wind tunnels create an exhilarating flying sensation as you're suspended in the air. For more thrills, push the pedal to the metal at K1 Speed. It has two indoor go-kart tracks with a variety of corner speeds for any experience level. Or, for a more laid-back outing, practice your swing at Topgolf. Book a bay (each can accommodate up to six people), order some snacks and a round of drinks, and track your aim with high-tech golf balls that can score themselves. 

Explore the rest of SoCal

Head toward the coast and spend a day on the beach. Take your pick of well-known beach towns within about an hour's drive of Ontario, including Santa Monica, Venice and Laguna Beach. For one of the closest options, consider Huntington Beach—also known as "Surf City USA." This surfers' haven has nearly 10 miles of uninterrupted beach, a landmark pier and a plethora of alfresco dining options. 

If you're arriving with the family, budget for a day at Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, about a 45-minute drive southwest of town. The park has dozens of rides in themed sections, like a children's park called Camp Snoopy; the Old West Ghost Town with favorites like the Timber Mountain Log Ride; and Fiesta Village, named as a tribute to California's Hispanic roots and featuring thrilling coasters.

You're also less than an hour away from iconic sites in Los Angeles—hike to the Hollywood sign, visit the Griffith Observatory for a picturesque view of the city, explore the Los Angeles County Museum of Art or see the stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

About a 90-minute drive northeast of the greater Ontario region is Big Bear Lake. The popular year-round resort town is known for skiing in winter and fishing in summer. Or head about 90 minutes southeast from Ontario to the desert oasis of Palm Springs. Spend a day on the golf course, see the city's famed mid-century modern architecture and explore downtown's lineup up of restaurants and one-of-a-kind boutiques. 

Refuel and recharge at your home base  

There are over 6,000 hotel rooms in the Greater Ontario area, with something to suit most any budget. Whether you want to stay close to the airport and convention center or near amenities like the Ontario Mills outlet mall, all feature free parking and quick access to the interstates, making exploring the area a breeze. By basing yourself on GOCAL, you'll stay for less—leaving more budget to explore.

The Ontario Town Square on Euclid Avenue is considered the heart of downtown Ontario, and it's an ideal place to unwind in the evening. Their annual Summer Series is hosted here at the amphitheater, where you can set up a blanket and chairs on the sprawling lawn and enjoy a lineup of live music and movies. Grab some sweets before the show at Logan's Candies, located within walking distance. The family-owned store dates back to 1933 and carries over 600 candy items (over 200 of which are made in-house). Find throwbacks like ribbon candy and peanut brittle, an array of taffy flavors and decadent fudge. 

A short walk north of the town square on Euclid Avenue is Gloria’s Cocina Mexicana, a beloved Ontario staple. Their expansive menu has about everything you could imagine: burritos, fajitas, tostadas, carne asada, mole poblano and more. Visit between 7 and 10 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and you'll enjoy the sounds of live Mariachi with dinner. Further north on Euclid, the Iron Skillet Restaurant dishes up an assortment of hearty American dishes. Enjoy all-day breakfast with a build-your-own breakfast skillet, a short stack of buttermilk pancakes or "The Ontario Airport," including three eggs, French toast, pancakes, bacon, ham, sausage and your choice of home fries or hash browns. There's also a lunch menu with soups, salads, sandwiches and burgers.  

If your group has a hard time settling on one style of cuisine, add Rancho Cucamonga's Haven City Market to your itinerary. The market is open daily from 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. and features over 30 vendors. Find refreshing smoothies and bowls from Acai Life; fresh sushi rolls at SHOKUNIN; Asian hot chicken from Madbun and more. Everything can be enjoyed at the food court-style seating indoors, or on the spacious outdoor patio.

While Temecula Valley (about an hour south of town) is known as Southern California's wine country, wine lovers will find local options right in Ontario's backyard. The Joseph Filippi Winery & Vineyards in Rancho Cucamonga has been making wine since 1922. Stop by their tasting room to sample their offerings and learn about some of the vineyard's century-long history.

The San Antonio Winery—which started in Los Angeles and now has vineyards in Napa Valley, Pasa Robles and Monterey—hosts a tasting room and gift shop in Ontario. Opt for a guided wine tasting, where you can choose from rotating themes like "Springtime Sweets" or "Experience the Darkness." A wine steward will lead you through the flight of wine (plus an individual charcuterie plate) and share more about the winery's history, vineyards and sustainability practices. You can also opt for a self-guided wine flight, available on their outdoor patio, where you can sip in the California sun. 

Ready to go? Start planning your SoCal vacation with these Greater Ontario accommodation options.   

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