Idyllwild is a peaceful small town in California’s San Jacinto mountains. You will find so many fun and relaxing things to do in Idyllwild. You can easily fill a weekend. And it’s easy to reach Idyllwild from Los Angeles or San Diego. You can hike, stroll through boutique shops downtown, learn about the area at the Nature Center, and enjoy fabulous food at homey, welcoming eateries. If you’re ready for a getaway from the city, Idyllwild is a perfect choice.
This mile-high alpine retreat is over the San Jacinto Mountains from Palm Springs. People come to Idyllwild year-round because each season offers delights. Play in the snow in winter, smell the lilacs in spring, warm up in the sun in summer. And the bracing fall temps are ideal for hiking.
Read on for fun things to do in Idyllwild. Whether you want to sit on a front porch and relax or conquer a steep mountain, take in an art gallery or savor a coffee, visit a local animal shelter or shop for handmade soaps, you can do it all in Idyllwild. Here are some highlights to help you plan your getaway.
How to Get There
From San Diego head north on I-15, turn onto 79 in Temecula, then take 371 to Highway 243. The drive is just a little over two hours.
From the middle of Los Angeles, take I-10 east and turn on Highway 243. This drive is also just a few minutes more than two hours.
Head to the Town
When you arrive in Idyllwild, first drive into the town, which is basically a few blocks on North Circle Drive. Park on the street or in one of the lots near the main street. Then visit any shops that appeal to you.
The iconic Wooley’s is a must, and you can easily spot it by looking for the giant cowboy hat. Here’s where you’ll find the best souvenirs of your trip, as well as practical items you may have forgotten to pack, such as sunglasses and hats.
As you wander along North Circle Drive, you’ll find gift shops, clothing stores, and a pet store called Mountain Paws. We went in here and found chicken treats my dog loves.
Find the Impressive Town Monument
A wood sculpture featuring wildlife sits just off the main street. A bear stands soaring into the sky. You can’t miss it. It’s titled “Harmony” and it speaks to the importance of nature and the arts. Wooden stairs are built into the front so you can sit or stand on them for a photo op.
Visit the Idyllwild Nature Center
The Idyllwild Nature Center just a few miles north of town on Highway 243 is a place to explore the flora and fauna of the area. An enclosure of quail outside is fascinating. They are such odd birds. The Perimeter Trail is a short loop that begins at the Nature Center and is great for a fast hike, with views of the mountains. You can also pick up a detailed map of area trails here. And if you’re looking for an ideal place for a picnic lunch, you can sit under the pines on benches outside the center.
Notice Famous Lily Rock Keeping Watch Over the Town
A striking granite rock towers above Idyllwild. As you explore the town, you’ll be able to look up and spot Lily Rock. Its face is about 1,000 feet and it sits in the San Jacinto Mountains at about 9,000 feet in altitude. This is also known as Tahquitz Peak. Sometimes you’ll see it through pine branches and other times you’ll get a clear view. I enjoyed watching the sun set on Lily Rock, with the changing light patterns.
Get Out in Nature with an Enjoyable Hike
Hiking Trails in Idyllwild abound. All levels of hikes are available, from the easy Perimeter Trail at the Nature Center to the strenuous trails up the mountainsides. The Pacific Crest Trail passes nearby, so you can hike part of that if you wish. You can spot groups of hikers from the PCT during the spring months when they stop in town for food and maybe a night at a hotel.
Check out information on Idyllwild’s trails before you start out. Some of them are rated extremely strenuous. And with names like “Suicide Rock” and “Devil’s Slide,” the trails are obviously not all a walk in the park.
On my last trip to Idyllwild, I hiked the Ernie Maxwell Trail, which turned out to be the perfect blend of a moderate hike and breathtaking views. Read on for more about this amazing trail.
Enjoy the Ernie Maxwell Scenic Trail
The Ernie Maxwell Scenic Trail is an out and back 4.5-mile trail that features views of the mountains all along, with a few streams running in the spring. It’s rated moderate, as you drive up to the parking lot rather than hiking up from the town level.
The views from your first step on the trail are magnificent. Such majesty, with the boulders, varieties of trees, and clear blue sky.At this altitude, the sun can warm you up fast, so I appreciated all the shady parts of the trail.
Greet Mayor Max and His Deputy Mayors
His people Phyllis and Glenny help Max run the town by spreading peace and love to all who visit. Their motto is “Positive Energy Leads Towards Life,” and they live this out every day. You can visit Mayor Max’s website to arrange to meet him either at his home or downtown. We just love greeting the mayor.
Soak In Culture in an Art Gallery
Idyllwild is friendly to artists and musicians. The Idyllwild Arts Academy offers classes in subjects such as modern dance and basket weaving. Concerts and art exhibits take place in the spring and summer.
Meet Dogs and Cats At Living Free Animal Sanctuary
If you’re an animal lover, spend an hour at this sanctuary located a few miles out of town on Highway 243. Living Free Animal Sanctuary covers 150 acres and cares for dogs, cats, burros, and wild mustangs.
Tour the cattery and the dog kennels after checking in at the visitor center. It’s heartwarming to know that all the resident animals were rescued right before their time was up at a shelter. Here, they can live out their days in peace. And when a dog or cat is adopted, that opens up space for more rescues.
Hungry for Mexican food at its finest? Choose La Casita for a yummy dinner. Eat on the patio among the pines. Sit back and savor delicious enchiladas, chips, and margaritas. Service was friendly. I felt like we were among locals here, which is a great feeling for visitors.
Fratello’s Ristorante and PIzzeria
In the heart of town, Fratello’s is also a local favorite. Here the cuisine is genuine Italian. Order wood-fired pizza or a generous helping of pasta. Ask for extra garlic bread. Live music adds to the ambience.
The Mile-High Café served such a great breakfast that we ended up going back the next day, too. My top recommendation is the French toast. We ordered a plate of bacon for Bailey, which he loved.
The Red Kettle
This is a historic restaurant. It’s open for breakfast and lunch. We missed going to eat, but I had to take a photo. Open since the 1920s, the Red Kettle has had different names, but it’s been on this same spot. Visitors through the years include John Wayne and Elvis Presley. Wow. I plan to eat here on my next trip.
Where to Stay
Small hotels and cabins dot the area. One boutique hotel that was recommended to me is the Bunkhouse. This is a favorite of Pacific Crest Trail hikers.
For our first time staying in Idyllwild overnight, we chose a cabin through Airbnb. It was perfect, with a modern kitchen, large living room with a fireplace, and – my favorite features – a deck among the pines and a yard with a tire swing.
There’s plenty of camping in the area, too. Check the Mt. San Jacinto State Park website for information.
Idyllwild does make a perfect getaway, whisking you up into the pines and fresh air for a mile-high adventure. And there are so many things to do in Idyllwild. Plan a few days here to unwind and reconnect with nature. You’re sure to return home with a new perspective on life.
Want to extend your getaway? Palm Springs is just a 45-minute drive from Idyllwild on the Pines to Palms Highway (74). And if your pup is along for the fun, you’ll find plenty to do in the desert, too.
PIN IT FOR LATER!!!