Two hours from Los Angeles in the San Jacinto Mountains, Idyllwild’s small-mountain-town vibes are the perfect escape for a laid back weekend in the woods.
Set among tall pine trees, surrounded by rocky mountains, and with miles of hiking trails, Idyllwild is sometimes described as a mini-Yosemite — an alpine paradise without the crowds. Its cute downtown is walkable and un-cosmopolitan as it comes; although you will need an appointment to meet with the famous town mayor, canine Mayor Max though (long may he reign.)
Part of the adventure in a trip to Idyllwild is the drive. If you have a little extra time, take the Palms to Pines Scenic Byway up from Palm Desert into Idyllwild. The change in landscape is fascinating, with lots of designated vistas and scenic spots to pull over and admire the view.
What to Do in Idyllwild, CA: the Best Hiking, Dining and Shopping
Idyllwild’s downtown area is small and cute, filled with gift shops and food. It’s walkable and easily explored in a day. Highlights include Wild Idy, Ephemera, and Wild Land Organics. If you have a sweet tooth, check out the Candy Cupboard for throwback candy store vibes.
The most heavily used trail in the region, and for good reason, is the 8.1 mile Tahquitz Peak via Devil’s Slide Trail. It features an elevation gain of 2,000+ feet, so come prepared for a challenge; of course, the reward is so worth it. An easier option is the Ernie Maxwell Scenic Trail, a 5-mile out-and-back along lower elevation (in winter, this means less ice!) with lovely views.
For these two hikes, and many others around Idyllwild, you’ll need to pick up a day-use wilderness permit; they are free and available at the Idyllwild Ranger Station (State Park) as well as the San Jacinto Ranger District Office (National Forest), both located in the town of Idyllwild.
If you’re looking for less commitment, or just want to take some photos without a big hike, check out the 1-mile Panoramic Point Loop, located in Stone Creek Campground.
With all the hiking around Idyllwild, you’ll surely work up an appetite! Post-hike favorite meals were had at the Idyllwild Brewpub, with amazing views; Gastrognome, a classic Idyllwild spot that’s been around for decades; and Ferro, for great pizza or other Italian dishes.
Where to Stay: the Best Lodging in Idyllwild, CA
Idyllwild definitely specializes in vacation home rentals. For a two-night stay in Idyllwild, we ultimately chose Idyllcove, one of multiple Experience Idyllwild properties. With two bedrooms, the cozy A-frame is perfectly sized for a couple or traveling friends. Conveniently located in town, grab some to-go lunch and head for a hike, then spend your evening gathered by the wood stove, or stargaze on the deck from the hot tub. A back patio has all the makings for a memorable evening outside, equipped with a dining set and grill, plus Adirondack chairs to relax.
Other favorite cabins of note include the super cute, super dog friendly Whiskey Creek Cabin, midcentury modern gem Idyllhaus, both tucked into the woods, and both with stunning views. You can also find cabin-style boutique hotels, such as the cozy Fireside Inn with fireplaces in its rooms, or the kooky Hicksville Pines Bud & Breakfast, which features a few Twins Peaks-themed rooms.
Where to Stay: Featured Vacation Rentals in Idyllwild, CA
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Photo c/o Plum Guide
This 1960s beauty sleeps four (two bed one bath) and is only a picturesque 5-minute drive from Idyllwild.
Nestled amongst towering trees, you’ll feel tucked away from the hustle and bustle of it all in this beautifully restored mid-century cabin. Cozy up to the centerpiece stone fireplace, take in the fresh mountain air via the numerous nearby hikes, or stargaze from the outdoor hot tub to fully embrace your cabin goals.
Photo c/o Plum Guide
Within walking distance to town, this three bed two bath home sleeps up to seven. Enjoy the misty mountain views from the wrap-around deck or multiple outdoor gathering spaces.
Retro details are abundant throughout the property — antique bar, stained glass windows, and plush pink carpeting and up the ante on kitschy vibes. There is no shortage of entertainment here from the foosball table to the vinyl collection (the property even has a grand piano!).
Photo c/o Plum Guide
Stargaze through the vintage telescope, try your hand at the multiple board games on offer, or soak in the surroundings in the outdoor hot tub under the stellar 400-year-old cedar tree.