For us San Diegans heading north, it’s those rolling, stress-releasing mountains inland of Temecula that we cruise through on the way to Palm Springs.
But instead of darting right on Highway 74, hang a left. Fifteen minutes later, tucked inside the San Jacinto Mountains at over 5,000 feet of elevation, resides the welcomingly small town of Idyllwild. Where best to figure this town out, you ask? Goodtimes Pub & Grill, of course.
“'Idyllwild time' is what we call it…there’s no rush here,” declare Margie and Blondie, the two amiable bartenders/servers. The local newspaper, The Town Crier, is known by Idyllwild-ians (why not) as "The Town Liar."
I look closer and read below the paper’s title, “Almost All the News – Part of the Time.” I’ve already got the feeling that this is going to be a great town to get to know.
But first I want to hike and get in something of a workout. Without camping overnight. After all, I’m crashing at the comfy (and recommended) Strawberry Creek Inn, walking distance from “downtown” Idyllwild. Margie’s given me word on a trail that is clear of crowds and fairly strenuous.
Deer Springs Trail, with its initial 1,300-foot climb achieved in a bit over two miles via stretches of absolutely blissful silence, hits the hiker spot for me. At this two-mile juncture, literally, I decide to go the Suicide Rock way – its name derived from a Native American princess who took a dive from its heights rather than face separation from her lover, per the tribal chief’s order.
Looking at Suicide Rock, and the better-known Tahquitz Peak, it’s easy to grasp why this area is one of the premier rock climbing venues in Southern California.
After getting lost trekking on a somewhat manicured trail (fine, it could have been entirely my fault), some scant civilization ultimately leads to a part of “downtown”: North Circle Drive.
I mention the street because two of my favorite locales open their doors here. Peter, the proprietor of The Funky Bazaar, sells anything from classic vinyl records to local artwork to candle holders in an atmosphere that might have you reminiscing about the 70s. He’ll soon be opening a members-only club called Word of Mouth, showcasing an open mic with an ambiance for likewise-minded individuals.
Walk further along North Circle Drive to discover Cafe Aroma – this is the town’s star restaurant. It’s hard to trump the exquisitely prepared food, such as the chicken cacciatore that I can’t help but finish in a few minutes.
But the staff makes it a close run. Feeling at home after spending a couple of minutes here is easily achieved. Characters like the host, Holly O’Farrell (who declared that she’d dated Billy Wood in high school, but did not marry), ignite conversations like old friends.
It’s a quick day-and-a-half trip and I'm back on the road home, of course swerving to Outkast’s Idlewild album – how can I not?
Thanks for the Idyllwild times, you all. This is a town full of down-to-earth characters, thrift shops like Granny’s (I’ve never been in a town with so many thrift shops per capita), exploration, funkiness, and overall, complete comfort.