It’s been five weeks since we arrived in Palm Desert California for a bit of winter sun and fun. Despite the pandemic we have found lots of outdoor activities we can enjoy in the region, while staying safe and protected. This past week we took a fabulous two-day excursion to the little mountain town of Idyllwild. What a hidden treasure. When in Southern California, you must idle away in Idyllwild California.
Less than an hour from our Palm Desert Airbnb but like a whole different world, Idyllwild is a breath of fresh mountain air. From Palm Desert at 300 feet above sea level you climb the beautiful Palm to Pines Highway (Highway 74) into the San Jacinto mountains and to the little village of Idyllwild. At 6000 feet this area is popular with the Los Angeles crowd on the west side of the San Jacinto and the Palm Springs crowd on the east side. Locals know the secret to idle away in Idyllwild California.
Welcome to Idyllwild
The desert valley Cahuilla Indians came to the region for generations to escape the heat of the desert. In the late 1800’s a summer camp was opened called Idyllwilde, and later a sanitarium for tuberculosis patients. Although there is no skiing in the area, Idyllwild today attracts hikers, mountain climbers and cyclists.
Two beautiful rock formations look down on the village nestled in the small valley where the Strawberry Creek runs, famously known for wild strawberries in the summer. Tahquitz Rock, also known as Lily Rock juts majestically out of the mountain while Suicide Rock is less steep but no less beautiful. Rock climbers love the area.
We aren’t rock climbers but we are definitely hikers and we took advantage of the sunny and cooler mountain weather. We arrived on a quiet Tuesday and spent several hours exploring Idyllwild park just a half mile from town. The Idyllwild Nature Center is currently closed (check website) but the trails are open and mid-week we practically had it all to ourselves. Amazing views no matter where you look.
The gorgeous Ponderosa Pines and Sugar Pines as well as Manzanita, fir trees, oak and many other beautiful green flora contrast with the gorgeous blue skies and I was smitten. Signs warn of mountain lion, bears, rattlesnakes and poison oak. We did see some poison oak (educate yourself) and lots of gray squirrels and birds…but no snakes or large mammals.
Lodging and Food
We checked into The Grand Idyllwild Lodge, one of the premier lodging choices in the area. There are many options for overnight stays, but The Grand Idyllwild Lodge came highly recommended to us so we splurged a bit and were glad we did. We had a beautiful cozy room in the three story lodge, including an amazing “continental” breakfast. On weekends the breakfast is “gourmet” but the weekday “continental” was pretty darn gourmet in my opinion. Fabulous. Currently The Grand Idlywild Lodge is “contactless” and masks are required. They are following California Covid regulations so both guests and staff stay safe.
Idyllwild is home to a wide variety of eateries from pizza and tacos to burgers and fine dining. We enjoyed an after hike beer (or two) at the Idyllwild Brewpub. We did not eat here but the food that was coming out of the kitchen looked amazing. The beer WAS amazing.
The only meal we ate out was dinner, and again on recommendation from our friend we headed to Cafe Aroma just down the street from our lodgings. Outdoor seating under current California Covid rules was well done with large mega heaters keeping us toasty in the cool mountain evening. The service was incredible too. We enjoyed wine with our dinner from their extensive wine list. I had fresh-made Tomato Basil Soup, and Pork Chops with Potatoes. My husband ordered the Steak Frites special which was huge and delicious. We finished our lovely day with fresh made Beignets and coffee.
Day two we headed out for another hike along the Ernie Maxwell Scenic Trail. National Forest or National Park pass required, so stop in at the Ranger station before heading up Fern Valley Road. Park where the road ends and begin your walk. Here on the north facing slopes we encountered some snow from the big storm more than three weeks ago. But easy passage brought us to south and west facing trail with dry and beautiful trails. The incredible giant rocks in this region are astonishing, tumbled down from the mountains and strewn about – the rounded boulders reminiscent of dinosaur eggs.
We returned to Palm Desert late Wednesday via the Banning-Idyllwild Panoramic Hwy (Rt 243) where astonishing views nearly to the ocean welcomed us along the way. At Banning we picked up Interstate 10 east into the greater Palm Springs area and back to our Palm Desert Airbnb.
It would have been very easy to idle away in Idyllwild California for a few more days. I’m not sure how I have never been to this lovely little treasure of a town high above the bustling Los Angeles metropolis. Add it to your list. You won’t regret a day or two enjoying some idle away in Idyllwild California.
More Palm Desert posts coming soon. Meanwhile we love it when you pin and share our posts.