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  • Writer's pictureKathy Condon

Summer in Idyllwild California

Updated: Aug 29, 2023

Summer in Idyllwild means The Rustic Theatre downtown Idyllwild is ready to show movies or live events in the 260-see venue.
Historic Rustic Theatre Downtown Idllywild Photo by Kathy Condon

As the temperatures soar in Palm Springs, California, we residents look for ways to change our daily routines. This blog is about a trip my friend, and I recently took to Idyllwild, California, for the day.

Why do we appreciate summer in Idyllwild?

Summer in Idyllwild is Cooler

Frankly, we know it is going to be about 25 degrees cooler. Idyllwild is located at nearly the 5,500-foot level, nestled in the ancient ponderosa pines in the San Jacinto Mountains high above Palm Springs.

The Road is Windy, So Not Something Most Want to Do in the Winter.

There are two routes to Idyllwild from Palm Springs. My preferred way is Highway 74, which you can access Idyllwild from Palm Desert. The drive can be a bit scary, for the winding roads were designed with curves traversing back and forth along the mountain's edge. Thus, going up the mountain is not high on my travel list if ice and snow stick at high elevations.

Highway 243 is another way, which you approach from Banning, California. Admittedly, the panoramic view is beautiful, but for the driver, focused attention is a must for the road that hugs the mountain's edge.

What is there to do in Idyllwild?

Shopping is Abundant

One of the appealing aspects of Idyllwild is the many retail stores offering a variety of products—most of the stores are owned and operated by independent vendors. There are candle stores, clothing, handmade crafts, and antique stores dotting the streets. Wooley's offers an abundance of gear if you want to head out on some of the local trails.

Strolling is Encouraged

This community is one where a lack of a plan can lead to some unique experiences. We turned right up the street from the downtown parking lot.

Summer in Idyllwild means Idyllwild Gardens plants are lush and plentifful
Entrance to Idyllwild Gardens and Nursery Photo by Kathy Condon

Idyllwild Gardens A Place of Serenity

A recent discovery is the Idyllwild Gardens. What a wonderland. Perhaps, it is the contrast to the desert environment, but this lush nursery makes one want to stop and smell the flowers. Soothing music plays in the background.

Benches are placed through the grounds of this family-owned nursery, where you can buy beautiful pots. We were impressed by the beautiful Christmas red pots of various sizes and commented on how perfect they would be if you were decorating with a red theme.

A special stop on the grounds is the Bucolic Travelers, a vintage van now a boutique shop with everything from vintage garments to non-toxic remedies using plant-based formulas.

The Rustic Theatre Downtown Idyllwild

I had often been to Idyllwild, but always when The Rustic Theatre was closed. We noted that the signs were being brought outside on this day, and the theatre appeared open. From the marquee, it appeared a movie would be shown later in the day.

We crossed the street and asked the staff members if we could peek into the theatre. They smiled broadly and said, "Absolutely." Entering the lobby felt like stepping into a place frozen in time, except for the giant motorcycle parked behind the robes. Staff said the owner, a motorcycle rider, jokes that it is the best parking spot in town.

Here's a video showing how it was initially built. Recently, it has been remodeled, and we marveled at the large seats with wide arms to hold drinks. It shows movies, and the 260-seat theatre also holds live events.

Summer in Idyllwild means learning about cacao. The seed is surrounded by pulp, then it is dried and roasted to make chocolate.
An open cacao seed. The seed used for chocolate is under the pulp and then roasted. Photo by Kathy Condon

El Buen Cacao is a Must Stop

I discovered El Buen Cacao in a small shop tucked down in one of the retail alleys years ago. Now they have moved to the Village Center Shops near the top of the stairs of the Idyllwild Brewpub. In the corner is their 9-year-old child doing her homework while Mom and Dad create the chocolate and greet customers as they come in to buy 75% plus pure cacao chocolate in truffle form or bars.

The owners have been going all over the world to find the best cacao for their products. There was a spark in their eyes as they talked about their newly forming idea—providing tours to the destinations where they travel regularly. I can only imagine how educational these tours will be for people who sign up for such an adventure. For example, the owner had us taste the pulp surrounding the seed that would later be roasted into cacao.

I encourage you to sign up for their newsletter. There you will find information about tours of their present-day facility, their world tours to the cacao plantations, and their excellent product that they send all over the United States.

Nothing better than summer in Idyllwild to go to Idyllwild Brewpub and have some fish and chips while looking into the forest.
Dining in Idyllwild can include fish and Chips at Idyllwild Brewpub Photo by Kathy Condon

Summer in Idyllwild Means Stopping to Enjoy the Restaurants

Pure Bean Idy

After the drive up the mountain, I am sure you will be ready for refreshments. Located adjacent to the main parking lot, Pure Bean Idy does a brisk business making freshly brewed coffee and serving pastries.

After picking up your order, I suggest you take your treat outside and find a seat on the patio that wraps around the building. This is an excellent place for people-watching, and if you are fortunate, a local musician will be playing at the nearby bandstand.

Summer in Idyllwild means stopping for lunch to enjoy great food while smelling the fresh pine-scented mountain air.
Cafe Roma in Idyllwild Photo by Kathy Condon

Café Roma

We were a little bummed when we discovered that Café Roma doesn't open until 4:30 p.m., at least when we recently visited. This is a special place because there are patios that make one feel like they are dining in the forest.

This multi-level restaurant offers fares, including everything from pasta to duck a la orange to Steak Argentina. Another delightful touch is the music provided by local musicians accompanying dining hours.

Idyllwild Brewpub

Craft beers are plentiful on the Idyllwild Brewpub menu. Even though I am from Wisconsin, beer is not typically my first drink of choice, but one cannot help but get caught up in the atmosphere where beer lovers are abundant and gather for conversations. I ordered the Idyllwild IPA and was not disappointed.

However, my reason for numerous returns is the outstanding fish and chips. Breaded just right and fried to perfection, the fish seems to melt in your mouth. Be prepared to be stuff. The fish fillets are enormous. There is also coleslaw and a giant pile of French fries.

Admittedly, I appreciate the cool weather. In fact, on this recent visit, the temperature was nearly perfect, with a slight breeze making the perfect exploration weather. The smell of the evergreen trees brings back memories of my childhood in the Wisconsin countryside. The drive down from Idyllwild to Palm Desert or from Idyllwild to Palm Springs offers a spectacular view of Coachella Valley.

However, one of the unique aspects of this place which makes it special to me is talking to and learning from the people who have decided to make this mountain community their home. I always learn something new when I spend the day here.

Now that I have learned I have more to explore, maybe it is time for me to spend part of the summer in Idyllwild 50 miles from Palm Springs.

Kathy Condon Palm Springs Travel writer portrait wearing white shirt and wearing gold beads
Kathy Condon Palm Springs Travel Writer

Kathy Condon is a Palm Springs Travel Writer, Journalist, and Award-Winning Author. She is the owner of 702-902-3094 About

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Jun 27, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Great place. Who know?

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