Idyllwild, California

There’s nothing to do in Idyllwild! Exactly – it’s not Big Bear or Mammoth. Like my family and I, that’s why visitors to the “mile high” town return year after year.

There’s not one traffic signal in the town of 5,000. Other than two gas stations, there are no franchised businesses – not one Starbucks, Subway or 7-11. Our three days over New Year’s were spent breathing fresh air and browsing the numerous ma-and-pa shops, antique stores, art galleries and restaurants in the village.

Our favorite lodging: Woodland Park Manor, quaint 1950s-style cottages with a kitchen, fireplace and floor-to-ceiling forest-view window ($95 - $115/night.)

Best inexpensive eats ($10 or less): Good Times Pub, The Village Market and Lumber Mill. Or cook your own from the fully stocked Fairway Market.

Best shops: the Toy Shop (with classic bottled soda) and Spruce Moose at The Fort shopping center.

Best antique store: Fern Valley Emporium, with lots of Americana and memorabilia, restored-in-shop jukeboxes and pinball machines and real antiquities too.

Directions: Less than two hours from most of San Diego. Save some miles, and time (despite what your GPS may tell you), by taking the 15/215 north to Newport Road exit, right to Winchester Rd. (Hwy. 79), left on 79 to Hwy. 74. Right on 74, through Hemet, into the mountains (the Palm to Pines Hwy.) At Mountain Center, turn left on Hwy. 243, up five miles into Idyllwild.

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