Dreaming of a wintertime getaway to a cabin in the woods? This mile-high village in the San Jacinto Mountains has the welcome mat out.
Besides a dozen inns that offer cabin accommodations in a forest of cedar and pine trees, many private vacation homes can be rented for the weekend or longer. There are bed and breakfast lodgings, too.
Idyllwild is aptly named, a quiet community surrounded by the San Bernardino National Forest. It's a place where bushy-tailed, gray squirrels play tag on the tree limbs, and wood smoke curls from cabin chimneys into crisp alpine air.
Few travelers expect to find such a north woods post card just two hours or so from Los Angeles.
Cahuilla Indians were the first visitors, followed by settlers in 1876 and a resort hotel that opened at the turn of the century. Nowadays a major attraction is the Idyllwild School of Music and the Arts and its new Residential Arts Academy.
A variety of dining spots and gift shops also entice visitors to this slow-paced town of 3,000 year-round residents.
Some part-time residents rent their vacation cabins and homes fully furnished, except for sheets, towels and paper goods. Residences are available with one to three bedrooms; some have special features that range from rock fireplaces to hot tubs.
Minimum rental is two nights any time of the week, with rates from $50 to $150 per night. Weekly rates are a bargain: one- and two-bedroom homes average $300 to $400. Reservations are required three to five days in advance.
Two companies handle most of Idyllwild's vacation rentals. For lists of the homes and more details, call Mountain Greenery Rentals & Realty, phone (714) 659-4628, and Idyllwild Property Management, phone (714) 659-5015.
Also making visitors feel at home is Associated Idyllwild Rentals, which has a map to lodgings offered by its 24 members. Many of them feature cozy cabins with fireplaces and kitchens. Nightly rates average $50 to $60.
Write AIR, P.O. Box 43, Idyllwild, Calif. 92349, or pick up a lodging guide map in the Sugar Pine Shop on North Circle Drive.
Each week, one of AIR's members acts as a reservation coordinator to handle calls about accommodations. To get the current coordinator's phone number, call Idyllwild's recorded information service, (714) 659-4139. You'll also hear the daily weather and road report.
Hidden in a mountain forest at 5,394 feet, Idyllwild already has enjoyed the season's first snowfall. Be sure to carry tire chains.
The main route to the town is a two-lane switchback road, California 243, an official state scenic highway. Join it at Banning by driving east from Los Angeles on Interstate 10. California 243, the Banning-Idyllwild Highway, ascends quickly through a boulder-strewn landscape into the pines.
Stretch your legs along the way at Lake Fulmor, a roadside recreation area with hiking trails and picnic tables. Or stroll to the vista point that overlooks Indian Mountain.
A few miles beyond, the highway climbs above 6,000 feet to the hamlet of Pine Cove, where a side road leads to rustic cabin accommodations at Edelweiss Lodge and Pinecrest Cabins.
Farther along the highway, turn right to the Idyllwild Park Visitors Center to learn about the history and wildlife of the area. Especially interesting are vintage photographs taken during Idyllwild's lumbering and mining era and early resort days.
Also look for the Indian exhibits and pine cones that help identify different evergreen trees. Just outside the building is a self-guiding nature trail. The center is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m (to 5 p.m. weekends) except Monday and Tuesday. Admission free.
As you enter Idyllwild, another right turn leads to Mt. San Jacinto State Park and a campground that's open year-round; it's $10 per site. Nearby is Idyllwild County Park campground with other sites at $8 per night. Neither park has RV hook-ups.
Bear left on North Circle Drive to the heart of town, which is marked by free parking areas and a crisscross of streets with shops and restaurants. You'll find cabins in the center of the village at Idyllwild Inn.
Look for other accommodations, as well as stores and eateries, on a circular orientation tour through Fern Valley.
Follow North Circle Drive, then go right on South Circle Drive and right again on Village Center Drive back to your starting point. Fireside Inn, Oak Leaf Lodge, Fern Village Chalets, Woodland Park Manor and Ida Wilder Cabins are along the way.
Landmark Lily Rock
Detour on Fern Valley Road for a good view of Idyllwild's landmark, a granite monolith on the mountainside called Lily Rock (some call it Taquitz Rock). At the road's end is hilly Humber Park, a favorite place to play after a snowfall.
Shopkeepers give visitors a friendly welcome, and you'll enjoy browsing in places like the Village Crafts and Cook Shoppe, Four Winds Folk Art Gallery and the Joy of Toys. The Book Shop has best sellers and used paperbacks to read in front of your cabin fireplace. Don't miss the Horton & Fogg sculpture garden.
Most folks agree Idyllwild's best restaurant is the Gastrognome, serving continental fare as well as steak and seafood. It's in the village center and open daily for dinner at 5 p.m.; Sunday brunch from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The Chart House in Fern Valley also is popular for dinner and Sunday brunch.
You'll eat Italian (including pizza) at Michelli's, and Mexican at Toucanos. Among the favorites for breakfast and lunch are the Bread Basket, Chef in the Forest and Nan's Red Kettle.
Heading south on California 243 for an alternate route home, you'll pass Strawberry Creek Inn and Wilkum Inn, both B&Bs;, and the Bluebird Motel with cabins.
Join California 74 down the mountain to Interstate 217 and California 60 back to Los Angeles. Round trip to Idyllwild is 226 miles.