In the San Jacinto Mountains, Idyllwild is a contrast to busier mountain towns up the road like Big Bear.
"Keep close to Nature’s heart... and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean." ~ John Muir
San Jacinto Peak (pictured in the background) is an easy tram ride up from Palm Springs on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway.
Ah, now I understand why my friends escape to the mountains on a whim! A weekend in Idyllwild does the body and soul some mighty good. With the pine trees, fresh air, and towering peaks, you might think for a second that you're in Colorado or Montana. Thankfully, Idyllwild is only a 2.5-hour scenic drive from San Diego or Los Angeles.
As you head through Mountain Center and San Jacinto, take advantage of the turnouts to snap photos of panoramic views. Pay attention to road signs once you pass Mountain Center: Idyllwild is only about ten blocks wide/tall, and I almost missed the tiny, quaint town. Once you're there, it's a magical patch of wilderness that will help you "keep close to Nature's heart."
Emerald Cabin interior.
Where to stay and eat
Booking a room at one of the local lodges will get you within walking distance of the town's center. However, if you're looking for a place with character, privately owned cabins are your best bet. My friends and I stayed at the Emerald Cabin. Jennifer was a wonderful host, and her cozy abode the perfect retreat. I couldn't stop taking photos of the beautifully decorated interior, exposed beams, and natural furnishings.
If you're in need of basic supplies and groceries, the Idyllwild Village Market is just down the street. Several fine restaurants surround the town's plaza.
I recommend breakfast at Cafe Aroma (Editor's note: temporarily closed), lunch at Gastrognome, and dinner with drinks at Idyology. For those looking for vegetarian/vegan/gluten free options, Plant Food Supper Club is a great spot for breakfast and lunch.
Among the pines in Idyllwild.
What to do
Idyllwild is a draw for hikers, bikers, climbers and outdoor enthusiasts. San Jacinto Peak offers abundant hiking and climbing opportunities in the spring, summer and fall. The area becomes a snowy wonderland in the winter. If time allows, I highly suggest taking a ride up to the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway and exploring the trails. The summer months can be quite hot; cool off by taking a swim at Lake Hemet. Boating and fishing are also popular here.
For those looking for a slower pace, Idyllwild's art scene doesn't disappoint. The Art Alliance of Idyllwild regularly hosts classes, seminars, and art walks. Every August, hundreds of people flock to the town for Jazz in the Pines.
The small-town charm and hospitality make Idyllwild worth the trip. And the surrounding mountains offer lots to do and see, with something there for everyone. Add this gem to your weekend adventure list!