Day Trip: Idyllwild

One of my favorite places to go for the day or weekend is Idyllwild.  Located in the San Jacinto Mountain range in Riverside County, this little mountain town is overflowing with charm and beauty.

The most direct route is to take CA-55N to CA-91E.  After about 35 miles, you will merge onto the CA-60E toward I-215S.  In approximately 18 miles, take I-10E (exit 100) for a short distance before exiting onto CA-243 toward Idyllwild.  After passing through some flat and rather boring scenery, you will finally begin the ascent up to the mountains.

CA-243 climbs rather significantly and the road is quite narrow in some places.  On the way up, it hugs the mountainside, but on the descent, it can be a bit nerve-wracking as there is no guardrail for most of the drive, so be aware of road conditions such as loose gravel etc. as well as your downward speed.  However, the curves and scenery make this road very pleasant indeed, so be sure to look around.  The ancient Ponderosa pine trees are beautiful as well as the spectacular valley views on the way back down.

Once you reach the town proper, find a place to park and set off on foot to explore.  Circle Drive is the main street and there is a lot to see.  At once, you will notice Tahquitz Peak, along with Lily Rock and Suicide Rock, favorites among Southern California rock climbers. You will likely encounter many other motorcycles in town as it has long been a popular destination with bike riders of all kinds.

Idyllwild is known for its artist community and is home to the Idyllwild Arts Foundation, a fully accredited private high school that prepares students for careers within the arts.  There are several local galleries that are always featuring local art from paintings to sculpture and all mediums in between, so be sure and take in a few exhibits while there.

Shopping in this town is eclectic and original.  You will find a few of the usual touristy shops here, but for the most part they are on the unique side.  One of the more iconic merchants is Mountain Mike’s Leather Works located at 54360 ½ N. Circle Dr.  Visiting here is an absolute must.  Mike has been hand-crafting leather goods for about forty years and is a true original.  His beautifully designed and lovingly made items range from chaps, moccasins and gun holsters to dreamcatchers, leather cuffs and leather-wrapped stone necklaces.  Mike also offers a line of lotions, scents and bath salts.

You will most likely get hungry while exploring this little town and there is a plethora of amazing places to eat.  The Lumber Mill Bar & Grill features excellent burgers, including their challenging “Paul Bunyun”-three pounds of beef and one pound of bacon!  As the name indicates, they have a full bar with many beers, cocktails and shots and oftentimes feature live music in the way of a piano player.

Other great places to try are Restaurant Gastrognome, Red Kettle, and Arriba Enterprise Mexican.  My favorite, however, is Café Aroma, south of town.  Originally a very good coffee shop, it now features some of the finest food in Idyllwild as well as wines from their winery in Temecula, a cozy atmosphere inside and beautiful outdoor seating as well.  They serve what they call “A Casual Brunch” Wednesdays-Sundays 10:00 AM-2:00 PM with craft coffee and matcha and dinner Tuesdays-Saturdays 4:30-8:30 PM. They also have a full bar with craft beers, wine and fine spirits. They are closed on Mondays.

If you plant to stay for night or two, you will find all types of lodging ranging from the campground at Idyllwild Country Park to bed & breakfast inns and rustic cabins.

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