Unlike Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear to the north, the mountain hamlet of Idyllwild has no large reservoirs to provide freshwater recreation. This, however, is a blessing for those who want to get away from all things mechanical. Because there’s no place for powerboats, the town has remained tiny over the years. There are no fast food restaurants, no traffic lights, and no chain hotels; “downtown” is less than five blocks long. Only artists and lovers of “Vitamin N” visit – and that’s what makes an Idyllwild weekend so, well, idyllic.
Located halfway between San Diego and Los Angeles, Idyllwild is midway between the 215 and 10 freeways, up Highway 243. There's a long-standing tradition of artistic endeavor here; the Idyllwild Arts Academy was first established (under a different name) in 1946. Writers, visual artists, and musicians can all take summer classes here; the school also offers a residential four-year high school. The school is expensive, but the experience is priceless.
Visitors to Idyllwild can easily connect with resident artists through the plethora of galleries, demonstrations, and social occasions. The Art Alliance of Idyllwild’s web page has information individual artists, upcoming events, and various galleries in the area. Middle Ridge Winery is one such location, with a tasting room in Idyllwild that also offers art and music. It’s a fine place to spend an hour, or an afternoon!
Many souvenir and antique shops downtown offer perfect browsing. When this palls, it’s time to head outdoors and commune with nature. Hiking trails range from the comfortable to the rigorous; venture out for an hour, afternoon, day, or weekend in the high country. Or, take the Palm Springs tramway up to the top of Mt. San Jacinto and then hike down into Idyllwild (the masochistic vacationer can reverse direction and hike uphill instead!) Mountain biking and rock climbing are also popular activities. Feeling lazy? Spread a picnic cloth at any one of a number of parks, unpack lunch, and read or nap under the pine trees!
Mt. San Jacinto State Park offers two drive-in campgrounds. The Idyllwild campground is ‘developed,' with showers, flush toilets, and sites for RVs, trailers, and tents. Stone Creek’s vault toilets and lack of showers classify it as ‘primitive.’ Both are located right out of town, with the Idyllwild campground a short one-mile walk from the downtown area. Dark Canyon and Stone Creek campgrounds are located further in the woods, offering an even more rural experience. Firewood for all campgrounds is available in town, where the grocery and liquor stores offer provisions for open-fire cooking.
Don’t want to spend the weekend in the rough? The Bluebird Cottage Inn offers both lodge rooms and private cottages. Located just a few miles outside of town, this longstanding small business provides reasonably priced, cozy accommodations, some with kitchens, some with fireplaces, some with Jacuzzi bathtubs. For a romantic getaway, this is one of the best bargains in Southern California.
For lunch or dinner, you can’t go wrong at either Arriba’s or the Gastronome. Both restaurants have been there for decades, providing Mexican and gourmet meals respectively. It’s worth the wait for an outdoor table!
Disclaimer: I am not associated with any of the businesses profiled in this article. I have paid for my own lodging, food, and activities with my own funds.
Idyllwild Arts Foundation, http://www.idyllwildarts.org/
Art Alliance of Idyllwild, https://artinidyllwild.wildapricot.org/
Middle Ridge Tasting Room and Gallery, 54301 N Circle Drive, Idyllwild, firstname.lastname@example.org
Mt. San Jacinto State Park, http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=636
Bluebird Cottage Inn, 26620 Saddle Drive, Idyllwild, email@example.com
Gastrognome, 58381 Ridgeview Drive, Idyllwild, http://gastrognome.com
Arriba’s Restaurant, 25980 Highway 243, Idyllwild