Today’s post is by Amanda from HotMamaTravel.com
A quick Google search will yield little results, and chances are you haven’t heard of this little town despite it being the setting of the movie Galahad, starring Elvis Presley.
Where am I talking about you ask?
I’m talking about Idyllwild, of course!
Where the heck is that?
Idyllwild is a small town hidden away in Southern California’s San Jacinto Mountains. For those unfamiliar, the San Jacinto Mountains are located in Riverside County about 90 minutes east of Orange County. Unlike other Southern California mountain towns such as Big Bear that are geared towards the sporty types, Idyllwild indulges the art lovers and foodies. All the shops and restaurants are locally owned, which adds to the uniqueness of every shop and restaurant. For a town with a population under 4,000, it is quite amazing the number of fantastic restaurants and artists that are in this small area. Seriously, you would think you were in a much bigger city with the number of galleries and quality of dishes being served up in Idyllwild.
My hubby and I first visited when we were 18 years old to celebrate 1 year together after a friend had told us about the low-key mountain escape that would make for a perfect romantic getaway. This friend also recommended a couple of restaurants that even 14 years later continue to be our favorite dining spots.
Honestly, our entire visit to Idyllwild is focused around food. It is one of the few destinations I travel to where the meal budget is the biggest part. In Idyllwild, eating is recreation! I’m not sure what drives so many great chefs here, but it sure makes for the yummiest of small towns I’ve ever been. The hardest part about visiting Idyllwild is making enough time and room in your gut to dine at them all, and my goal here is to share a few of my favorites with you.
Since we first started visiting Idyllwild, Café Aroma was one of my favorites. I love the cozy living room vibe, comforting Italian cuisine and live music. It has a very small main dining room, so reservations are necessary on busy nights. The crave-worthy dish, in my opinion, is the Feta Fettuccine Verde. The combination of feta cheese, tomatoes, onions, kalamata olives, spinach and pine nuts is simply heavenly! It’s all about the pine nuts!! I can’t stop and have to order this plate every time I visit Café Aroma. In fact, my last trip up to Idyllwild I forgot to make reservations and they were full all night. I almost cried, but everything happens for a reason.
Thanks to Café Aroma being full, I was able to discover some new places in town. The most recent addition to Idyllwild’s culinary culture is the modern Italian style restaurant, Ferro. And guess whose restaurant it is? Frank Ferro, the same chef that started Café Aroma! How exciting! His new restaurant has an amazing outdoor patio with a huge wood burning pizza oven, surrounding bar and outdoor concert area. If you visit, the star of the show is of course the brick oven pizzas. We had the Formaggio Di Capra with Goat cheese, leeks, scallions, garlic confit and Neuske’s bacon, and it was fantastic. The Caprese Panini was delightful and, fitting of a mountain town, the Parmigiana Di Pollo panini was truly mountainous!
Fratello’s Ristorante & Pizzeria is another new Italian restaurant in town, owned by four brothers. The atmosphere is warm, inviting and very romantic, even if you traveling with kids like me. Every dish is authentic and delicious! I ordered the gnocchi and I loved it, but my kids ended up devouring it.
Gastronome is a classic and one of the first restaurants recommended to me on my first trip to Idyllwild. The traditional dinner house style menu serves up succulent filet mignon, decadent rack of lamb, and buttery lobster. Nature art and big stone fireplace complete the cozy cabin vibe.
Idyology is really funky, but at the same time bizarrely elegant. The eclectic décor of steer horns, crystals, candles, carpets, and Victorian furniture complement the fun flair on country favorites. The menu items do change with the season, but the ingredients are always fresh and the meat is always treated ethically. I guess you could say it is their ideology.
Mile High Café is an Asian fusion restaurant with cuisine much more exciting than the name suggests. Sizzling rice soup, Yaki Sopa, Udon Soup, and Bibimbap are just some to name a few. It is unexpected surprise to find in the mountains!
Idyllwild was named one the 100 Best Art Towns in America and that’s an amazing feat considering its size. The appreciation of art is prevalent as soon as you reach town with the presence of the Idyllwild Art Academy and Summer Program. The academy is a residential high school that gives young artists pre-professional training and college preparatory classes. The summer program provides workshops for all ages in various forms of visual arts as well as performing arts. Both the academy and summer program draw thousands of students. That’s a lot of artists in one little town!
The juxtaposition of small town, but big art community is exemplified in the art of film. Idyllwild has only one Movie Theater that’s only big enough to show a couple movies at a time, but Idyllwild is also home to the annual Idyllwild International Festival of Cinema.
Then there is the Idyllwild Art Alliance, a non-profit organization with the goal of enhancing Idyllwild national art reputation. They offer support for local artists by helping them find opportunities to display their art and holding numerous events throughout the year.
There are over eight official galleries in Idyllwild. If you love art, it is a bit overwhelming the variety of mediums displayed all over town. There are mineral galleries, fine art galleries and more. However, there is one gallery that happens to be my favorite. The beauty of Idyllwild natural landscape no doubt inspires many of the artists in town, but for those who like a little something different, be sure to check out the Funky and Bazaar. No nature or sweet animal pieces in here. My daughter loves the dead dolls that are a spooky twist on the traditional porcelain doll. The owner is quirky and greets guests with fun little speech to get you ready for all things funky and bizarre.
The support of this art community is extensive Idyllwild. Local artists’ work is not only proudly displayed in art galleries, but in various businesses throughout the town. For instance, at most of the restaurants in town the two worlds, art and food, come together. On the wall of many restaurants, and definitely the ones I listed above, have display art from local artists. In fact, Café Aroma is not only a restaurant, but an art gallery. One of the dining rooms is even called “the gallery.” A good dish is art in itself, but imagine dining while surrounded by visual art.
Let’s not forget the musicians. Idyllwildians love music and almost everywhere you go in town has a live music performance for all palates. Fratello’s has live music on their patio, Jo’Ann’s has the beer garden rocking every weekend to outdoor BBQ and classic rock favorites, Café Aroma has live music in their main dining room, often with an intimate and folksy vibe, and Idyology has live music in the bar and outdoor patio. Ferro is not only a great place to hang out with locals at the pizza bar, but it also aims to be a reputable music venue in the area. The hills are alive with the sound of music in Idyllwild, for sure.
Needless to say, Idyllwild is a full sensory experience. Taste great food. See the beauty of nature and art. Hear the rhythms of great music any time of day. Idyllwild may be small, but it sure has a lot going on. I love telling people who have never heard of Idyllwild about their amazing food and art culture. The feeling I get from this mountain town can best be described as pure satisfaction and relaxation. Come see for yourself. I know you’ll love it, too!
Author Bio: Amanda is a Travel Writer and Family Travel Blogger. Making family travel hot, she taking here family around the world and sharing her adventures with you. For more information on Idyllwild, and other destinations guides and travel tips head to HotMamaTravel.com. Follow HotMama on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and keep the party going!