As much as we love to venture off to distant lands, we also love exploring here at home in Southern California. One place I had yet to visit was the small mountain town Idyllwild, popular with hippies and hikers alike.
Idyllwild is nestled in the San Jacinto mountains about 2 hours from Los Angeles. Tall pine trees, magnificent rocks and a small town feel welcome visitors from congested, traffic ridden towns (ahem.. LA I’m talking to you!) down the mountain. Idyllwild is perfect for nature lovers looking for a quiet weekend retreat in nature. And that is exactly what my friend and I were in search of with our little ones in tow!
Where to Stay
The most important question of any weekend away is where to stay. Idyllwild is a small town with only locally owned businesses. That is not a bad thing though. These days, with the rise of sites that allow owners to rent their property, there is a boom in places to stay here. For our weekend away, we booked a cozy cabin on Glamping Hub. Glamping Hub is similar to Airbnb, but focuses more on unique accommodation options like cabins, treehouses, yurts and more. Idyllwild is the perfect destination to try it out as it’s small town woodsy feel lends itself perfectly to the earthy accommodations provided on Glamping Hub.
Unfortunately our top choice of where to stay was not available for our last minute visit, but I thought I would still share it with you since I am dying to go again to stay there! This amazing A frame house looks to be the ideal place to stay to fully immerse yourself in the beautiful surroundings of the San Jacinto Mountains. It’s on my list for our next visit, which I will have to plan a little more in advance!
Instead, we ended up at this cute little wood cabin from the 1900’s. It was actually a bit like stepping back in time as you could feel the original layout of the home, sending nostalgic waves through me of visiting my grandmother’s house when I was a kid. The updated loft area provides a more modern feel as well as providing more space. There was plenty of space for us two moms and the two boys.
Neither of those available? Here’s a full listing of Glamping Hub rentals available in Idyllwild that came up on my search. There are some great options in there, so have a peak!
What to Do
Idyllwild Nature Center
For us, the main thing to do in Idyllwild was to relax and hang out in the beautiful wilds of the San Jacinto Mountains. Given that, and our kid’s love of nature/visitor centers, our first stop was to the Idyllwild Nature Center. This is a must visit even for people without kids as it really provides a great deal of information about the local area’s history, flora and fauna. Additionally, there is a small shop with local field guides, children’s toys/activities, jewlery and more.
Start your visit inside checking out the amazing displays, pay your visitor fee and then head out to hike! The area surrounding the center is full of easy to moderate trails that are great for a quick hike or an all day exploration. There is also horseback riding here. We didn’t get to do it on our visit, but will check it out next time for sure.
The visitor center is closed on Monday and Tuesday, however the trails are still open to visitors. Annoyingly, you must still pay the fee to hike the trails, so bring some cash for the drop box ($4.00 for adults, $3.00 for kids and $1.00 for dogs!). Even having to pay on a closed day, we had so much fun hiking the trails we would definitely recommend it for families.
In addition to the hiking around the Idyllwild Nature Center there are also other great hikes in the area. A nice place to stop off on your way into or out of Idyllwild is Lake Fulmor. There is a short stroll around the scenic lake which is perfect for families looking to stretch their legs.
The other main trail recommended to us is the Ernie Maxwell Scenic Trail. It is one of the least strenuous hiking trails in the area, making it doable for families and less experienced hikers. It has a 1,000 foot elevation gain, however it is gradual over about 3 miles. The trail itself is shaded by pine trees with scenic views of Tahquitz Peak nearby. Access to the trail begins near Humber Park. Make sure you have your adventure pass hanging in your car before heading out. If you don’t have a pass, you can purchase one at most convenience stores in the area.
Since we were with smaller kids, we only sampled the shorter hikes, but head over to California Through My Lens for more on the longer hikes available in the area.
We didn’t have much time to shop since we tried to stay in nature as much as possible, but there are some seriously cute shops around town that are worth a visit. Being with kids, you can imagine that our favorite was the Candy Cupboard Candies Shop selling a delicious selection of chocolates, hard candies and candies from our past. There are also several fun antique shops with cool relics from the past – anyone want a record player juke box?! Another favorite is the Lady of the Lake Soap Shoppe with an assortment of soaps and other goodies. Make sure to pop into the various knick knack shops selling wares from the local community too!
Where to Eat
For a town that isn’t so big, there are shockingly a decent amount of places to eat. We sampled a few during our short visit and were quite happy with everything we tried. The one weird thing was that the opening times and days for places is quite varied, especially if you happen to be there during the week like we were, so check in advance before heading out.
Cafe Aroma is an Idyllwild institution and is on the top of everyone’s recommendation list for good reason. Surrounded by trees in a artsy space off the main road, this cozy restaurant features an Italian focused menu serving up delicious meals from morning until night. It’s a must visit when you are in town.
La Casita Mexican Restaurant
If you follow me at all, you will know my affinity towards Mexican food. Pretty much I must sample it no matter where I am. Idyllwild was no different. Thankfully La Casita was a delicious place to check out. They are famous for their creamy jalapeno sauce, which is SO good! Otherwise, the menu boasts traditional Tex-Mex and Mexican fare. But go for the jalapeno sauce for sure!
The Red Kettle
You can’t go to a sleepy mountain town without visiting an all day classic diner for breakfast! The Red Kettle is the spot I’d recommend for that stop. Serving up breakfast, burgers & sandwiches in old-fashioned surroundings, this casual diner will please everyone. We went for breakfast so didn’t get to sample the pies, but they looked amazing! Try one and let me know how it is.
If you are staying in a house like we were, head over to the little Village Market which is pretty well stocked for not outrageous prices. They have everything you will need to make breakfast at home, pack lunches or even make a nice dinner out on the grill if your house has one.
Don’t fret if you made it up the hill with less gas than you should have, there are several gas stations in the town to fill up before heading back down the mountain.
Unlike some other nature retreat destinations, Idyllwild seems to be pretty well connected through mobile services. We were lucky and had service almost everywhere that we went even while hiking.
Idyllwild is an adorable little town well worth a visit as a weekend retreat or even as a short hop from Palm Springs. Not as crowded or developed as Big Bear, but with all the amenities you will need for an enjoyable stay. I can definitely see us back exploring more of the mountain’s trails this winter season!
Have you been to Idyllwild? What were your favorites?
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