When you’re looking for a fun getaway from city life in Los Angeles or San Diego, the charming town of Idyllwild is the perfect place to go. Set among tall trees, ringed by rocky mountains, and boasting plenty of hiking trails, Idyllwild provides a place to relax and recharge. Breathe in the pine-scented air, wander through the friendly downtown, and hike as much (or as little) as you want.
This mile-high alpine retreat is located in the San Bernardino National Forest. Just over the nearby San Jacinto Mountains you’ll find Palm Springs. And it’s just a 2-hour drive from Los Angeles and San Diego, so it’s great for a weekend or day trip.
In Idyllwild, each season offers delights. There’s snow in winter, lilacs in spring, warm sun in summer, and crisp air in fall.
Here are some ways to enjoy a perfect day in Idyllwild. Whether you’re looking for time out in nature, a stroll through a quaint town, or some local art, you’ll find plenty to fill your day.
What To Do In Idyllwild
Stroll Through The Town
When you arrive, head into town and check out the locally owned shops and eateries. Park on the street or in one of the lots near the main street, North Circle Drive. Stop for a coffee at Black Mountain Coffee Roasting, and scope out where you might want to have lunch.
One store I always visit is Wooley’s. Look for the large carved wooden bear out front. Filled with mountain clothes, cowboy hats, stuffed toys, and sunglasses, Wooley’s offers everything you need (did you forget your cap?) as well as a variety of fun souvenirs.
If you have a furry friend, be sure to check out Mountain Paws. Treats, including homemade dog cookies, and other pet items are available. On one trip, the friendly proprietor told me that they have a “secret” bookstore. If you ask, you can look at their collection of antique and one-of-a-kind books and find a treasure!
Stocking up for a picnic? Coyote Red’s Country Gourmet has interesting foods of all kinds. Shop for jellies, jams, hot sauces, honey, jerky, and treats and sweets.
Just off North Circle Drive is the unusual Idyllwild Town Monument. This wood carving celebrates the wildlife of the area and is worth seeing.
You’ll know the town has personality when you learn that the mayor is a Golden Retriever named Max. He and his people run Idyllwild by spreading good cheer, lending a helping hand to those in need, and showing lots of love.
Visit Mayor Max’s website to arrange to meet him downtown and give him a pat.
Explore Mount San Jacinto State Park
Ready for a hike? Mount San Jacinto State Park, which surrounds Idyllwild, has 30 trails to choose from. This may seem overwhelming if you are only in Idyllwild for a short time. I recommend starting at the Idyllwild Nature Center to narrow down the options.
Visit The Idyllwild Nature Center
Located in a beautiful mountain setting, the Idyllwild Nature Center on California Highway 243 combines displays about local nature and wildlife with trailheads for hiking. If you want to picnic, you can do so on the benches outside.
If your time is limited, take the Perimeter Trail, which is a short loop that comes out from the trees to stunning views of the mountains. The Idyllwild Nature Center also offers this detailed map of the area’s trails.
Relax In The Idyllwild Regional Park
The Idyllwild Regional Park contains 200 acres of picnic area and five hiking trails. Located on the edge of town, the park is a great place for gathering with family or friends. You could also mountain bike on the trails or tackle the challenging rock-climbing courses.
Check the website for directions and for more information about activities. A small fee will be collected for day use.
Go For A Walk Around Lake Fulmor
If you prefer a flat, easy hike out in nature, head to Lake Fulmor. You can walk around it in the company of ground squirrels, tree frogs, butterflies, and noisy jays. This recreation area is good for fishing, since it’s stocked with rainbow trout. It also has picnic tables and restrooms.
Sip Some Excellent Wines
Ready for wine tasting? The Middle Ridge Winery on North Circle Drive specializes in premium wines. Stop by and sample one of their legendary pinot grigios or pinot noirs. Owner Chris Johnson says his goal is to “have a conversation with everyone who comes in contact with the winery.” He was inspired by the friendliness of Idyllwild to open his winery in the town, where people could come together, visit, and enjoy fine wine.
Check out the virtual tour on the website before you go to decide how long to allow for your wine tasting.
Soak In Culture At A Local Art Gallery
Idyllwild is known as a community that’s friendly to artists. The Idyllwild Arts Academy offers classes on everything from modern dance to basket weaving. Their summer concerts and art exhibits are open to the public.
For more about art in Idyllwild, take a look at the Art Alliance of Idyllwild’s website. A new visitor center and gallery in The Courtyard Building downtown hosts art by locals as well as frequent events.
Meet Dogs And Cats At Living Free Animal Sanctuary
If you’re an animal lover, you’ll want to spend an hour at this sanctuary located “just around the bend” from Idyllwild on California Highway 243. Living Free Animal Sanctuary uses its 150 acres to care for rescued animals. Dogs, cats, burros, and wild mustangs call this place home.
You can tour the cattery and the dog kennels after checking in at the visitor center. It’s heartwarming to know that all the residents were rescued right before their time was up at other shelters. Here, they can live out their days in peace. And when a dog or cat is adopted, that opens up space for more rescues.
I thoroughly enjoyed my tour with an enthusiastic volunteer. You can plan to visit on your way out of town and leave Idyllwild with a smile on your face.
The sanctuary is open every day except Wednesday.
Where To Eat In Idyllwild
Idyllwild offers an amazing range of cuisine for its size. Here are some of the best places to eat in the area.
Serving up delicious meals since 1973, Restaurant Gastrognome focuses on providing a place for conversation as well as good food. You can sit in the main dining room or in the cafe, which is described as a “cozy nook.” And in nice weather, you can enjoy your meal on the deck. The dinner menu includes chicken cordon bleu and king salmon.
Fratello’s Ristorante & Pizzeria
Authentic Italian food is the specialty at Fratello’s, which is run by four brothers. If you’re hungry for a Caprese salad, spaghetti carbonara, or fettuccine Alfredo, this would be an excellent choice.
Perry’s Red Kettle
Located in a historic building from the 1920s, Perry’s Red Kettle started life as an ice cream store. Today, it specializes in hearty breakfasts and lunches. Try the omelet, the buttermilk pancakes, or the breakfast quesadilla for a yummy meal.
Atomic Cow Creamery
On a summer afternoon, the line for a soft-serve ice cream cone here goes out the door and around the corner. Atomic Cow Creamery also serves sub sandwiches, pizza, and hot dogs. It’s on North Circle Drive, conveniently located right in the middle of downtown.
Where To Stay In Idyllwild
Idyllwild specializes in vacation home rentals. You can also find cabin-style hotels, though I recommend checking for vacation homes in the price range you are aiming for. Here are a couple of accommodations to consider.
The Fireside Inn
Located in the town of Idyllwild, this vintage hotel features cabins described as cozy, rustic, and charming. The decor includes wood paneling and plaid tartan carpets. The Fireside Inn boasts a lovely garden and area where you can have a barbecue. Most guest rooms offer kitchens, and all have fireplaces. From the inn, you can easily walk downtown.
This stand-alone log cabin home is 800 square feet and sits in the forest. The Creekside Hide-Away comes with a fully stocked large kitchen, a living room with a comfy sofa, and a wraparound deck with a barbecue -- plus, it’s pet friendly.
Pro Tip: After your trip to Idyllwild, take a drive on the Pines to Palms Scenic Byway for about 45 minutes, winding down the mountains into Palm Desert. The change in landscape is fascinating, and the view down into the desert is breathtaking.
Idyllwild started out as an enclave for artists, but now it’s a friendly mountain town where you’re sure to feel welcome and plan to return!