LIFE: Idyllwild, California

If I didn’t live in San Diego, I would live in the mountains. Idyllwild, California is the perfect weekend, mountain escape from San Diego. It is a short, 2-hour drive, yet it feels like it is much further. Part of the route to Idyllwild is known as the Palm to Pines Highway, the name is a perfect description of the changes that happen as the elevation climbs.

My husband, Sean, and I have visited Idyllwild at least twelve times in the last five years because we feel most calm and centered when we are surrounded by immense trees, big skies, bright stars, and gorgeous peaks. We have celebrated holidays in Idyllwild several times, including this past Thanksgiving weekend. On our recent trip it was sunny and 71 degrees when we left San Diego, by the time we reached the mountains it was 52 degrees and the perfect weather to build a huge, cozy fire.

Idyllwild Hike - Humber Park to Saddle Junction
Idyllwild Hike – Humber Park to Saddle Junction

Since we’ve been there so much, I have lots of recommendations. Part of me doesn’t want anyone else to know about this quirky, artistic village near Palm Springs, but it is too great of  a place not to share. If you decide to go, here are some suggestions…


Quiet Creek Inn and Vacation Rentals is the only place that we stay. When we first started visiting Idyllwild, we would stay at Quiet Creek Inn which are cozy cabins near Strawberry Creek. They are comfortable, relatively inexpensive (about $130/night), and full of amenities like free fire logs, coffee, and movies.

After staying at the Inn a few times we decided to rent a vacation home from them and we have continued to do that each time. We have stayed in five different vacation rentals, a few of them multiple times. The rentals range in price from $100-over $400/night, prices increase during peak seasons and there are fees for pups (of course we always bring ours) and for housekeeping.

All of the houses are well-equipped, secluded, and generally better than they are advertised on the Quiet Creek website. The houses are ideal for group travel. Last weekend our group consisted of 6 adults, 2 kids, and 2 pups. All of us had plenty of space and were able to make and share a Thanksgiving feast together.


I crave the penne arrabbiata at Cafe Aroma. Super spicy and deceptively simple, it is the only thing I order; however, I do try dishes that others order and they are always also yummy. This restaurant is warm, charming, and smells like roasting garlic at all times. Sean and I have ate many dinners outside under heat lamps and a star-filled sky. On our recent trip, we enjoyed a delicious lunch that included a bottle of wine, bread and garlic oil, curried carrot soup, and of course, penne arrabbiata. When we got home I re-created the curried carrot soup and was pretty successful (1 lb carrots, 2 cloves of garlic and 1 onion, diced and roasted for 40 minutes at 400 degrees, after they are done add to a soup pot with 5 cups of vegetable broth and 1 -2 TB of Penzey’s curry, puree with an immersion blender until smooth and creamy). I have tried and can not re-create the arrabbiata, so I’ll continue ordering it every time I go.

Cafe Aroma
Cafe Aroma

We shop for food at the Mountain Harvest Market. It is a small grocery store that sells healthy, organic food with a Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings.

For a quick meal we generally order pizza from Idyllwild Pizza Co. It is a satisfying, easy meal to pick up in town.

The best coffee in Idyllwild is at Higher Grounds Coffee House, which is located right in the center of the town.


Idyllwild has a lot of shops and art galleries that are fun to stroll through. It is listed as one of the best 100 art towns in America, so there are a lot of artists that reside in the area. The only stores that I have purchased items at are Ink Book Gathering and Mountain Paws. Ink Book Gathering is a used bookstore with a great selection and good deals. Mountain Paws is a dog-lover’s heaven. It is full of handmade dog treats, unique gifts, and fun gear for pups and cats.

We hike and walk a lot when we are in Idyllwild. It is best to start early before the crowds come, and it is important to remember that there is often snow at the higher elevations so the trail can get slippery. We like to hike the following trails (in order of preference): South Ridge Trail to Tahquitz PeakDevil’s Slide Trail to Saddle JunctionThe Ernie Maxwell Trail, and Deer Springs to Suicide Rock. We take Ruby on all of the hikes, and (mostly) keep her on her leash.

What we do in Idyllwild
Idyllwild images: Nature, hiking, snuggling pups

It was fantastic spending Thanksgiving weekend in one of my favorite places with some of my favorite people. Sean and I are looking forward to heading to Idyllwild sometime this winter so we can play in the snow with Ruby.

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