Rancho Cucamonga

There’s a reason why purple grapes are so conspicuous on the city seal of Rancho Cucamonga—vineyards and wine-making are more central to the Cucamonga character and identity than even the citrus boom that famously swept across the entire region in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Nestled at the base of Mt. Baldy and the San Gabriel and San Bernardino mountain ranges, this city of about 165,000 belongs to the Cucamonga-Guasti Wine District, which first started vineyards in the 1830s and was once considered one of the largest wine-growing regions in the country.

The city honors this tasty heritage late in August with its annual Grape Harvest Festival, which celebrates the cultivation of many grapes, especially Zinfandel, that have thrived here over the years  (it’s no accident that you’ll find streets named Grapevine and Zinfandel in the city limits!) Athletes can also compete in the Grape Stomp Triathlon—a 5k run, 8-mile cycling and 100-yard swim—although the predominant beverage served to runners there, of course, is water.

Why has the city grown into a popular home-buying destination in the past two decades? City official have managed to blend a variety of businesses and uses without losing the community’s small-town feel. In the past five years, in fact, Rancho Cucamonga was even voted as one of the top 100 best places to live in a study from Money magazine and CNN.

The median income of families in the city is about $76,000, and like its neighboring communities of Fontana, Norco and Ontario, the wide-open spaces that once gave the young city an agricultural identity are now serving companies as large distribution centers. You can find many of these in the area of Milliken Avenue and the stretch between Archibald and Etiwanda Avenues.

Many cities in Southern California have at least one thing in common: a traditional, historic downtown, but that was never the case for Ranco Cucamonga. So, while cities like Upland or Ontario have always enjoyed an original, commercial center of town, Rancho Cucamonga had to do the next best thing: Build one.

The result? Victorian Gardens on the east side of the city -- a sprawling network of shops, theaters, pedestrian access, open spaces and restaurants all embracing some of the more familiar elements of urban design shared by surrounding cities. It’s proved to be a wildly popular place not only for locals but for visitors as well , demonstrating that the old maxim “if you build it, they will come” isn’t just true for baseball.

Speaking of baseball, Rancho Cucamonga residents hungering for some dramatic, high-energy baseball -- but don’t want to drive out to Anaheim Stadium or Chavez Ravine -- have a great alternative right in their backyard: The Epicenter, the home stadium of the minor-league baseball team the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes.

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