If you haven't heard of Idyllwild, you're not alone. With less than 4000 residents to its name, the town is hardly the kind of big, buzzing metropolis that attracts news headlines. And yet despite being one of Southern California’s best-kept secrets, the town still manages to attract millions of visitors every year. Why? Who knows? Maybe it's the dramatic peaks, the majestic forests, or the sublime views. Maybe it's the huge variety of flora and fauna. Maybe it's the charming, small-town vibe. Perhaps it's a little bit of everything. Whatever it is, one thing is clear: if you love the outdoor lifestyle, you're going to love Idyllwild. Regardless of whether you're traveling solo, with your partner, or with the entire family, you'll be spoilt for choice when it comes to things to do, see, and experience. If you're traveling to the town for the first time and are struggling to draw up an itinerary, here are the 20 best things to do in Idyllwild for first-timers.
20. Admire the art at Artspresso Art Gallery
Described by TripBuzz as one of the top free things to do in Idyllwild, Artspresso Art Gallery might not be the biggest art gallery in the world, but it's certainly worth a few hours of your time. Crammed with a diverse collection of photographs, paintings, sculptures, jewelry, and ceramics, it's a great place to check out the talents of local and regional artists. There are even a few pieces from internationally recognized artists to admire.
19. Take a trip to Palm Springs
If you're looking for a fun-packed day of family-friendly entertainment, it's worth making the short trip over to Palm Springs for the day. The city is packed with great things to do, see, and try. While you're there, don't miss checking out the horticultural displays at the Moorten Botanical Garden and Cactarium to learn more about the native varieties of flora that you'll no doubt see during your stay in Idyllwild. A few hours splashing around the pools at Wet’n’Wild Palm Springs is also very much recommended.
18. Hike Devil’s Slide Trail
If you're looking for a fun way to pack some exercise into your vacation, why not challenge yourself to hiking Devil’s Slide Trail? Despite its somewhat intimidating name, the trail is actually moderate enough to be tackled by most skill levels. If you do find yourself running out of steam along the way, there are plenty of benches to rest upon. There's also plenty of telescopes available for anyone who wants to catch a glimpse of the ocean in the distance. If you'd rather tackle the trail from a seated position, you can - all well as welcoming hikers, the trail is also open to horseback riders and cyclists.
17. Rock Climb at Suicide Rock
Recommended by Tripping.com as one of the best things to do in Idyllwild with kids, rocking climbing at Suicide Rock guarantee an action-packed day of fun and adventure. The rock offers over 300 different routes and climbing opportunities: although you'll struggle to pack them all in, try out as many as you can to find different ways to the top. If the thought of scaling the rock is too daunting, hike it instead: the 6-mile Suicide Rock Trail is long but easy enough for all ages and skill levels to tackle.
16. Have lunch at Café Aroma
Thanks to Idyllwild's legendary outdoor opportunities, many visitors to the town bring along their dogs for the ride. Fortunately, plenty of the town's restaurants and cafes are just as happy to entertain four-legged customers as they are two-legged ones. The dog-friendly Café Aroma won't blink an eye if you want to enjoy dinner or lunch at one of their outdoor tables with your dog alongside you. You will, however, be expected to keep them on a leash at all times. The menu is a mishmash of European, Asian, and Latino styles, with a great wine list and an even better selection of desserts - forget the diet and try the tiramisu for a slice of sheer indulgence.
15. Tackle the Tahquitz Peak Trail
20 years or so ago, Tahquitz was a working fire lookout. These days, it's one of Idyllwild's most popular hiking trails. Spanning over eight miles, the wildflower-strewn trail demonstrates exactly why Idyllwild is such a hot ticket for nature lovers. Dogs are allowed, but be sure to keep them leashed. If you'd rather save the hiking for another day, there's the chance to take a horseback ride instead.
14. Watch your favorite movie at The Rustic Theatre
As idyllwildcabinrentals.com notes, the 117-seat Rustic Theatre is a great place for families to watch their favorites movies on the big screen. Boasting a screen, concert sound system, and stage, the theatre is Idyllwild's one-stop entertainment venue, offering visitors the chance to munch popcorn, enjoy the latest releases, or even take in a show for a fraction of the price it would cost in bigger cities.
13. Ride the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
According to Trip.com, taking the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway ranks as one of the best things to do in Idyllwild. Considering it has the distinction of being the world’s largest rotating tramcar, it's hard to disagree. The tramway opened in 1963 as a means of traveling from the base of Coachella Valley to the summit of San Jacinto Peak. Prior to that, the only way to travel the route was on foot. In 2000, rotating cars were added to the tramway, marking its development from a convenient transportation system into a hugely entertaining attraction. The scenery along the way is incredible. Once you reach the summit, you'll plenty of trails to meander along - although be warned, some of them aren't for novices.
12. Tempt your appetite at Gastrognome
Idyllwild has a great collection of restaurants, with Gastrognome being one of the most popular. The restaurant offers three very different dining experiences under the same roof. For formal dining, try the Main Dining Room. For a more informal lunch, The Cafe's casual menu of sandwiches, fajitas, and pizzas is ideal. If you want to enjoy some alfresco dining, grab a table outside on The Deck. Regardless of which experience you opt for, you're guaranteed excellent service, great food, and very reasonable prices.
11. Visit the Idyllwild Area Historical Society Museum
If you want to learn more about Idyllwild's unique history, you'll be hard-pushed to find a better place to do it than at the Idyllwild Area Historical Society Museum. Established in the 1930s and maintained by the volunteer organization Idyllwild Area Historical Society, the museum is a fabulous showcase of the unique history and culture of the San Jacinto Mountains. Despite its small size, the museum offers a good collection of exhibits. If you've ever been fascinated by the story of Tahquitz and Suicide or Elvis Presley’s “Kid Galahad,” this is the place to find out more.
10. Treat yourself to a burger at the Mile High Cafe
If you want to indulge in some fine food during your visit to Idyllwild, why not take the advice of Trip101 and book a table at Mile High Cafe? The family-owned, mountain-themed, log cabin style cafe does a fine line in American and Asian cuisine, including treats like jalapeño burger, eggs benedict, bibimbap, and beef bulgogi. Visit on the weekend, and you'll be treated to some live music with your food.
9. Experience nature at Humber Park
Idyllwild isn't short on outdoor attractions, but not many can compare to the beauty of Humber Park, especially if you enjoy hiking. The park is scattered with scores of trailheads, each of which leads to a unique hiking experience. Regardless of your skill level, you're almost guaranteed to find a trail to suit. If you want to add some more adventure to your hike, there's even the possibility to follow the trails into the extensive San Jacinto Wilderness area.
8. Picnic at Lake Fulmor
Lake Fulmor offers just as much outdoor fun as you can take. Crammed with stunning scenery, gorgeous views, ample wildlife spotting opportunities, and scores of trails, it's the perfect place to enjoy Idyllwild's sublime natural beauty. Whether you fish it, boat it, or walk it, the lake promises plenty of family fun. Just be aware that as one of the town's most popular spots, you can expect to share it with plenty of other fishermen, hikers, photographers, and families, particularly if you visit on the weekend.
7. Enjoy the beauty of Eastside Reservoir Project
At first glance, the Eastside Reservoir Project might not sound the most fascinating of venues. Established with the simple aim of getting more water to the state, the reservoir consists of three separate dams between the mountains of Diamond Valley and Domenigoni. So far. so ordinary. So, why should you factor a visit to the project into your trip? Simply put, it's beautiful. Serene, surrounded by nature and wildlife, and offering stunning views, it's an amazing place to walk, picnic, or even camp.
6. Scale the rocks at Idyllwild Park
With its wide-open spaces, its expansive green areas, and its multiple opportunities for resting, relaxing, and rejuvenating, Idyllwild Park is understandably one of Idyllwild's most beloved spots. Yet despite its popularity, it never gets overwhelmed with visitors, ensuring the kind of peace and quiet that means you can enjoy the park's highlights without being disturbed by legions of tourists. Located just on the edge of the town, the park is easy to access by either foot or car. Depending on the season. you might even be treated to some outdoor events, including rock climbing competitions that are guaranteed to test even the most experienced climber.
5. Sample the goods at Middle Ridge Winery
Idyllwild may be best known for its natural beauty and outdoor opportunities, but there's a lot more to the town than hiking and camping. If you want to indulge in some pleasures of the more urbane variety, a visit to Middle Ridge Winery comes highly recommended. With its excellent selection of award-winning local wines and its upscale but welcoming vibe, it offers an outstanding wine tasting experience at a very reasonable rate. Although you can't really go wrong with any of the wines on offer, the 2015 Pinot Grigio, the 2014 Vin Gris of Pinot Noir, and the 2012 Meritage of California shouldn't be missed.
4. Check out the art at the Town Gallery
According to vacationidea.com, the Town Gallery is one of Idyllwild's most unmissable destinations. Founded by Rick Martinez and Jon Millhouse with the intention of promoting both local artists and artists whose work is inspired by Idyllwild's natural surrounds, the gallery is a great place to check out some outstanding works of art. Along with the paintings, it also features a fascinating collection of custom furniture made from reclaimed wood found in the local area. The gallery is open Wednesday through Sunday, 12 pm to 5 pm.
3. Experience nature at Idyllwild Nature Center
If you want to learn more about Idyllwild's geography, there's only one place to head: the Idyllwild Nature Center. The center offers visitors the chance to learn all about the area's unique flora and fauna, before heading out into the great outdoors to experience it for themselves. Surrounding the center are scores of trails and picnic areas, making it a great place to spend an entire day soaking up the sights and sounds of nature.
2. Check out the view at Indian Vista Scenic Overlook
Recommended by Trip Advisor reviewers as one of the best free things to do in Idyllwild, the Indian Vista Scenic Overlook is a must-visit for any first-time visitor to the area. Set on Highway 243 around 9.5 miles northwest of the town, the scenic viewpoint offers spectacular views in all directions. It also offers great wildlife spotting opportunities: keep your eyes peeled for lizards, deer, bobcats, gray foxes, and coyotes.
1. Visit Mount San Jacinto State Park
There are some parks that you visit, enjoy, and forget about the moment you leave. Then there are those that you never quite forget. Mount San Jacinto State Park falls into the second category. Boasting stunning vistas, a superb array of trails, and a diverse collection of indigenous plants and wildlife, it's an unmissable destination for anyone who has an appreciation for the great outdoors. If you want to extend the adventure overnight, you'll find plenty of camping spots scattered throughout the park.
Written by Liz Flynn
Read more posts by Liz Flynn