If Idyllwild is simply a sign you pass on your way to the desert, may I suggest that you turn at that sign and take the 20-something mile drive to Idyllwild for a spectacular day, weekend or more at this gem of a mountain destination. It’s about a 2-hour, 15-minute drive from L.A. and is situated approximately 6,000 ft above sea level. Getting there is an adventure in and of itself, as it is nestled deeply in the San Jacinto Mountains. Be prepared for windy roads, steep drop-offs, falling rock areas, and, thankfully, many turn-outs with breathtaking views.

You know you’ve arrived when your lungs are thanking you for the cleanest air they have experienced in a long time. You get a natural high from the scent of the cedar and ponderosa pine trees that permeate the air, kind of a San Jacinto Rocky Mountain high. It is a popular destination for many reasons. The laid back atmosphere makes it a perfect place for enjoying life at a slower pace without sacrificing the necessities of life – like a good restaurant! It has restaurants that cater to all tastes. Cafe Aroma, Gastrognome, and Jo’An’s BBQ are examples of different kinds of dining. Jo’An’s has a large outdoor area in the center of town. The food is OK, the service is slow, but on Sundays, weather permitting, nothing is better than kicking back, having a beer and listening to their fantastic live music. Every now and then the thundering sounds of motorcycles can be a little distracting. But, hey, bikers are allowed to enjoy the mountains too.

The arts are a large part of Idyllwild’s past and present. It is the home of the Idyllwild Arts Foundation, which consists of the world-renowned Idyllwild Arts Academy, a residential high school for the arts and the Idyllwild Arts Summer Program. The summer program has dozens of workshops in all aspects of the arts, from music, visual, to performing, and are for all ages. They attract people from all over the world to teach and to attend. Another reason, and probably one of the main reasons people go to Idyllwild, is to enjoy the outdoors. There are over 50 hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding trails that range from flat to rugged. I’ve hiked many of them, and none disappoint. This is also a serious rock climber’s dream destination. Two popular places to climb are Suicide Rock and Tahquitz Peak. Many people love to camp out in this splendor, but if it’s not your thing, there are many reasonably priced inns, B&B’s and lodges.

Of course you must spend some time perusing their unique shops. We enjoyed their fine art galleries, candle, craft shops and more. My absolute favorite shop was Merkaba. They carry, among other things, an endless selection of teas, medicinal herbs and spices, singing bowls and Tibetan wash bowls. The owner even patiently gave me a lesson in singing bowls. It’s harder to get those bowls to sing than you might think!

Lastly, Idyllwild is a great place to people-watch. It draws a combination of artsy, outdoorsy, Sons of Anarchy, and everyday people there for a change of pace and some feeding of the soul. Despite its success in meeting the varied needs of the people that come to visit, Idyllwild has managed to maintain its integrity. It is a mountain town that is proud of what it has to offer — a genuine piece of paradise.

IF YOU GO

From Santa Monica: I-10/Santa Monica Freeway East to Exit 100 (8th Street/CA-243/South San Gorgonio Avenue); approximately 123 miles (2 hours and 15 minutes

Carole Orlin can be reached at tangling833@aol.com.

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