IDYLLWILD, CALIFORNIA - SPIRIT OF THE SAN JACINTOS
As he watched the sunrise from the summit of Mt. San Jacinto, the naturalist and National Park pioneer John Muir is said to have exclaimed: “The view from San Jacinto is the most sublime spectacle to be found anywhere on this earth!”
No one who knows Idyllwild would argue with that sentiment. The town is nestled in a picturesque, secret valley about halfway up this great mountain’s imposing southern flank. Idyllwild may be in California, but it is not of California. It has four full seasons: a springtime of wildflowers, a summer that is often 35ºF cooler than the heat of the desert below, a fall with an autumn tapestry of tree foliage, and a winter wonderland of Disney snow.
Idyllwild is in fact a sky island. This is a rare geographic anomaly when a region is completely isolated from its surrounding area by an extreme shift of altitude in a very short horizontal distance. Because of this Idyllwild has one of the richest bio zones in the world with an incredible density of plant and animal life within a very small area, all effectively marooned by the Californian desert that surrounds it. It makes the village truly unique and utterly beguiling, a place of incredible beauty set in the wilderness of the San Bernardino National Forest.
As you come up the mountain highway and into the forest, you really do feel that you are driving out of America and into a different world. We drove into Idyllwild looking for somewhere to stay overnight and ended up staying for five years. It was love at first sight; a deep-rooted, emotional reaction that we soon discovered to be a common theme as we listened to the fascinating stories of other residents who also came up here to visit and then were compelled to stay.
THINGS WE LOVE ABOUT IDYLLWILD
So, if Idyllwild sounds like your kind of town, here are some personal suggestions, tips and links that may help. Totally unscientific of course, just a few of our favorite things that we discovered about this magical place over the years.
For How To Get Here
Two scenic highway routes wind their way up the mountain to Idyllwild: Highway 243 from Banning and the “Palms to Pines” Highway 74, either from Palm Desert or Hemet. Many people visit the town just to enjoy the beautiful drive. (During the winter months you will need four wheel drive or snow chains.)
For The Weather
Idyllwild, CA, Alt: 5.350’, Lat: 33.76ºN, Long: 116.69ºW
It is notoriously difficult to get an accurate weather forecast for Idyllwild. This is simply because the mountain has, and creates, its own weather. You can need air conditioning when you leave the desert and heating by the time you drive into the village.
The most reliable forecast we have found is from wunderground.com. As well as detailed current weather conditions, they also provide a 10-Day Forecast as well as astronomical data, air quality levels and a host of other useful meteorological information including, for the photographer, sunrise and sunset times.
For What’s Happening
For all things Idyllwild a good first stop is the excellent local newspaper, The Idyllwild Town Crier. It was founded in 1946 by Ernie Maxwell who gave his name to one of the wonderful local trails, an easy two and a half mile hike through big rocks and tall pines.
The paper is a “home-owned” treasure, bought back from the former corporate owners by Jack and Becky Clark in the summer of 2013. Becky is at the helm once more as publisher-editor having worked for the paper for 23 years before “retiring” in 2009.
The paper also publishes an Arts & Entertainment Weekender Bulletin and a twice-yearly Idyllwild Visitors Guide.
For Somewhere To Stay
The Grand Idyllwild Lodge is pure luxury in the forest with spectacular views of the surrounding mountains. Inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement, the owners have done an amazing job of bringing together craftsman architecture and the natural landscape.
Another favorite place has to be Quiet Creek Inn with its cozy, woodland cabins set right beside Strawberry Creek. You’re guaranteed a warm welcome from the local squirrels, as there’s a bag of peanuts provided for them on your arrival!
We also love the ambience, the log fire, the hammocks and the board games at Strawberry Creek Inn Bed & Breakfast. Best of all, it’s only a short, quarter mile walk into town.
For Somewhere To Really Stay
If, like us, you drive into Idyllwild and never want to leave, you are going to need a realtor. There are many wonderful realtors “on the hill”, one of our favorites is Dora Dillman. An Idyllwild veteran of nearly forty years, there is not much she doesn’t know about the town and the unique properties you’ll find here. You will find her and the rest of the team at Idyllwild Realty.
For Eating & Meeting
Café Aroma is definitely the place to eat and meet in Idyllwild, it just is. The social and creative hub of the village, this unique café has great food, amazing live music and is simply the most fun place to be. Great espresso coffee, eggs, art and jazz, and that’s just for breakfast! Friendly and welcoming, Aroma is a true Idyllwild gem and we love it.
Another favorite place of ours is Higher Grounds Coffee House. Wonderful lattes in real cups! Coffee in ceramic is a big thing for us. Right in the middle of the village, Higher Grounds is the place to head for when you first arrive. Linger there a while and adjust to the relaxed Idyllwild pace of life. The coffee shop is also home to Idyllwild Coffee Roasters, roasting organic, fair-trade goodness in the San Jacinto Mountains.
Feeling hungry in the middle of a card game, the fourth Earl of Sandwich asked his valet to serve his supper between two slices of bread so he could continue playing. The idea caught on and the sandwich was born.
In Gary’s Deli on Strawberry Plaza, (opposite the Post Office) you will find Gary preparing to order the best take-out sandwiches on the hill. You can select one from the menu or create your own. Other specialties are the rotisserie chicken, freshly made salads and from scratch pies, desserts and cookies. The chocolate brownies are particularly luscious!
For hiking the trails, rock climbing and experiencing the great outdoors, head for the Ranger Station. This is where to get an Adventure Pass for your vehicle if you’re going to park on Forestry Service land, and a Wilderness Permit if you are heading up into the magnificent high country. They have lots of free maps and all the information you need to get your bearings on the mountain.
We love being out in the fresh mountain air, walking the trails in Idyllwild’s County Park where there are lots of easy hikes through the forest with the beautiful wildflowers in the spring and tree colors in the fall. We think it’s one of Idyllwild’s best-kept secrets, also great for camping and picnics.
Plan a visit to the County Park
The Nature Center, on the way into town on Highway 243 from Banning, is also a delight to visit with some gentle trails and nature walks. They have information and exhibits on mountain ecology, flora and fauna as well as the Native Cahuilla Indian culture. The center also puts on a range of seasonal events for children and families. It’s just a lovely place to relax and spend some time.
For Live Music
If anything sums up Idyllwild, it is the abundance of live music. Arrive any weekend and you will find singers and bands playing everywhere. It’s a joy to wander the village and listen to talented musicians performing in this amazing setting. Lots of good vibrations and, for the most part, absolutely free. The most notable among many music events are the Earth Fair in the spring and the Summer Evening Concerts in July and August.
The highlight of Idyllwild’s musical year is the incomparable jazz festival, Jazz In The Pines. Held in the grounds of the Arts Academy at the end of August, it could just as easily be called Joy In The Pines.
Check out Jazz In The Pines
Other unique Idyllwild events include:
• The International Festival of Cinema (January)
• Fourth of July Town Parade
• The Lemon Lily Festival (July)
• Ghost Town & Giant Pumpkin Bounce (October)
• Christmas Tree Lighting (Saturday after Thanksgiving)
For Education and the Arts
Idyllwild is renowned for its world class Arts Academy, one of three nationally recognized boarding high schools for the visual and performing arts. At the end of each semester they put on free shows of an incredibly high standard. Another unique Idyllwild experience. Preparations are underway to celebrate the 70th Anniversary of Idyllwild Arts next year.
Discover more about Idyllwild Arts Academy
This small town has an extensive and thriving artist community and has been listed in John Villani’s guide, “The 100 Best Art Towns in America”. The Art Alliance of Idyllwild hosts a wide variety of events throughout the year including Second Saturday Art Fairs throughout the summer and an Art Walk and Wine Tasting in October, an oenophile’s delight.
A real treat for us is the three-day Plein Air Festival weekend held in June when you can watch artists create original artwork at locations around the village and then have the opportunity to buy the paintings at the Sunday Brunch.
For A Day Trip
One of our favorite day trips is to head for the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway and step inside the world’s largest rotating tramcar. Starting at Valley Station (2,643 ft), the ten-minute ride is a breathtaking journey up the sheer cliffs of Chino Canyon to Mountain Station (8,516 ft). This is one of the steepest ascents in the world and takes you through five biomes from desert valley to alpine forest, the equivalent of driving from Mexico to Canada. Spectacular in every season, this is a one-of-a-kind experience.
(Do remember to check out the current weather conditions for your visit. It will be about 30 degrees colder at the top, even in the summer, and there will definitely be snow in the winter.)
For The Mayor
Nothing sums up Idyllwild’s unique attitude to life more than its mayor. In our opinion, Mayor Max is the ideal example of public office as it should be undertaken and performed. Washington DC, and indeed the entire democratic world, could learn a great deal from how Idyllwild’s exemplary public representative conducts himself and carries out official duties of behalf of this community. Is it any wonder that he enjoys a near 100% approval rating? This is politics at its very best.
For The Spirit
There is a well-known theory that every place has a word, a noun that is widely accepted to encapsulate the essence of that particular community. For Los Angeles it is success, for Paris, romance and for Rome, power. For Idyllwild, the word is surely spirit. Its setting, high in the forest surrounded by granite mountains, is stunningly beautiful, but it is the collective spirit of the people that live, work and create here that makes this community so very special.
Idyllwild is a place where it can take several hours to run a few simple errands, especially if your list includes collecting or sending mail from the Post Office on Strawberry Plaza. This is a neighborhood that really does care and your route around town is sure to include many hellos, smiles, waves, hugs and how’ya doin’s. Everything is individual; everything is personal. Exactly as it should be. This is a truly remarkable little town with a big heart and a unique spirit.
And Finally, For Sunsets
One of the best and easiest public places to capture the magnificent Idyllwild sunsets is on the road south. Head out of the village on Highway 243 towards Mountain Center and after about a mile you will see a large turnout on the right hand side. Pull in here for a great view of the sunset show.
Another good place is Inspiration Point, out at the far west of the village. Coming in to Idyllwild on the 243 from Mountain Center, the first road on the left is Marian View Drive. The first left off there is Double View Drive. Take this as far as it goes and you’ll reach Inspiration Point, enjoy.
Disclaimer: We do have to point out that Sunsets In My Slippers cannot be responsible for the content of the external websites featured on this page. Information may change, always check details before your visit.