Having lived in Southern California all my life and having managed to find many excuses (birthdays, weekend getaways, ladies’ trips and the like) to visit Palm Springs, I can practically navigate the short road trip out to the desert oasis blindfolded. (In other words, I know exactly when to begin switching lanes to exit for In-N-Out’s burgers and fries, when the massive Cabazon dinosaur will peep his ferocious head and when an ensemble of windmills will appear, dancing with the gusty winds.)
But it was only recently that I became acquainted with Palm Springs’ woodsier neighbor: Idyllwild. About two hours from Los Angeles and a 45-minute drive outside Palm Springs, the proud-to-be-tiny town is nestled in the San Jacinto Mountains and has its own set of quirky lures.
While Palm Springs’ dusty landscape is speckled with cacti, palm trees and other desert flora, Idyllwild thrives with ponderosa pine trees, cedar trees, wildflowers and granite boulders. And instead of spotting midcentury-design lovers sipping martinis or sun-kissed vacationers lounging by a hotel pool, it’s more likely that you’ll get lost in conversations with locals who are passionate about the arts or bump into trekkers on the area’s winding roads.
The juxtaposition aside, however, Idyllwild has plenty of activities to fill up a weekend. Perhaps the best way to explore its coniferous terrain is through its widespread network of trails, each promising breathtaking views — and, oftentimes, literally breathtaking elevation gains.
My friends and I decided to embark on the Deer Springs Trail to Suicide Rock, which is about 6.7 miles roundtrip and relatively easy, but largely uphill with 1,700 feet of elevation gain. Although our choice is one of the most popular options in the area, we encountered only a handful of other hikers at the gorgeous peak. Be sure to obtain a required free day permit from the ranger station, located about a mile from the Deer Springs trailhead.
After working up a fierce appetite, we headed to local restaurant IDYology for dinner. Food here is hearty and delicious, but the shabby-eccentric decor of clashing prints, grand chandeliers and funky art are what’s truly memorable. New to the local scene is Idyllwild Brewpub, which serves top-notch beer brewed on-site and features an outdoor patio facing Strawberry Creek and the woods around it. Gift shops, thrift stores and antique vendors line Idyllwild’s downtown area, so allow time for shopping and getting to know all aspects of the charming town.