Tucked away in the San Jacinto Mountains 100 miles east of Los Angeles lies a hidden gem of an alpine town that even some Californians don’t know about. With a population of less than 4,000, Idyllwild is an ideal spot for a relaxed weekend getaway.
“It's not what people think of when they think of Los Angeles, or even Southern California,” explained guidebook author and travel journalist Ann Marie Brown on a recent episode of the California Now Podcast. “Most people think of palm trees and beaches and the big city and Hollywood, and here is this beautiful little mountain town that could just as easily be in Montana.”
The Inland Empire town was once a logging hub, until President Grover Cleveland established the San Jacinto Forest Reserve in 1897. No longer permitted to cut down trees, savvy loggers opened camping reserves that brought a different kind of boom to Idyllwild: nature tourism. Outdoor activities—from hiking to rock climbing to snowball fights—are still a major draw today, along with artsy cafes, vintage shops, galleries and restaurants. Here are Brown’s picks for a perfect escape in idyllic Idyllwild.
Idyllwild’s affinity for the arts means that food is almost always paired with live music. Café Aroma, one of Brown’s go-to downtown restaurants, is known for its hearty Italian fusion cuisine, community vibe, and live entertainment. On any given night you may find music, poetry readings, comedy sketches, and art shows.
Vegans and vegetarians flock to Plant Food Supper Club Café for veggie delights like tofu scrambled eggs, creole polenta, and vegan shepherd’s pie. Carnivorous skeptics often become converts at the café’s all-you-can-eat Sunday brunch, Brown says, because you can sample a variety of dishes and the food is just plain delicious.
A visit to Idyllwild wouldn’t be complete without a scenic hike. The Humber Park Trailhead is the gateway to the San Jacinto National Forest, with access to the Ernie Maxwell Scenic Trail—an easy out-and-back route that showcases stunning spring and summer wildflowers—and the Devil’s Slide Trail, the entry point for the challenging nine-mile hike to Tahquitz Peak. The route passes through beautiful pine forests, and once you reach the peak, Brown says, “You can see the Salton Sea, the desert, and San Diego's mountain ranges.”
Shopping and Sipping
Along with art galleries, Idyllwild’s downtown district is known for its cool vintage shops. Brown especially loves Funky Bazaar, an “Alice in Wonderland kind of store” that’s full of fun surprises. There you’ll discover such treasures as old pocket watches, vintage science fiction magazines, and cigar box guitars.
And for a combination art gallery and winery tasting room, stop in at Middle Ridge Winery, a 4,000-square-foot space in the middle of town that features intimate wine tasting areas, rotating art exhibits, and—of course—live music.