Hot California

Family Guide to Idyllwild with kids – Where to eat, stay & play

A distinct, artsy town in the mountains near Palm Springs, Idyllwild is one of our favorite family vacation spots
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Idyllwild, Ca. Where the heck is that, you might ask? Well, tucked away in the San Jacinto Mountains is a wonderful little town bursting with an amazing culinary and art culture. From Palm Springs, a swanky California desert oasis, Idyllwild can easily be reached by Aerial Tramway.

Fun and convenient. It only took us a little more than an hour to get there from Orange County. One minute you are at the beach or desert and then next you are breathing fresh mountain air. Got to love California. Plus there are tons of things to do in Idyllwild with kids, making for a great weekend escape.

HotDaddy and I have been going to Idyllwild, California since we were 18 years old. We went for our first time to celebrate our first anniversary as a couple in 2003 and have made it a tradition every year. However, our last trip was the year I was pregnant with Firecracker and we hadn’t been back until we two kids. After an almost five year hiatus, we were pleasantly surprised to see that not much had changed, except for the addition of a few new fabulous Idyllwild restaurants. Awesome!

Money Saving Tips:

Avoid holiday weekends:

Kind of a no-brainer, but during holiday weekends the rates are always higher and usually require a three night minimum. Pay attention to your calendar, because winter has a bunch of hidden holiday weekends such as Presidents’ Day, Martin Luther King, and various presidents’ birthdays and so on.

Look for specials:

Idyllwild is always offering great specials. The most common is the “buy two nights, get the third free.” This is my favorite, because we get an extra night to enjoy the town for less. These offers exclude holiday weekends.

Stay during the week:

The special listed above works on weekends and weekdays, but the rate during the week is less, so you save even more if you have the flexibility to stay during the week verses the weekend.

Where to stay in Idyllwild CA

There are many options with it comes to Idyllwild lodging. There are sites for Idyllwild camping as well as an Idyllwild RV resort. I prefer resort cabins and inns. The rates are reasonable and you can’t beat the convenience of amenities. Most of the inns even have free firewood and DVD rentals. So, why not?

Idyllwild Cabins:

Quiet Creek Inn:

The first place (and only place) for years we had stayed when we would visit for our anniversary. It was recommended by a friend and we instantly fell in love with the property and the Strawberry Creek. Every cabin comes with a fireplace and kitchenette among other amenities you would expect from an inn. Some are bigger than others. For instance, some have a separate living space from bedroom and bath, while the rest are studio style cabins. We used to rent the cabin with the hot tub on the balcony. It made for romantic evenings, especially on snowy nights. There is a two night minimum. Rates: $130-$250.

Things to do in Idyllwild with Kids

 Fireside Inn:

Our recent favorite stay. We stayed here for the first time in 2010 and really enjoyed the proximity to the town center and the reasonable rates. This year we stayed at one of the cabins, The BlueBird, that are not on the main inn property, but closer to the location of Quiet Creek Inn. The rates are reasonable and we got the third night free. Rates: $65-$185. For more details on staying at the Fireside Inn, see my post, HERE.

Things to do in Idyllwild with Kids

Things to do in Idyllwild with Kids

Idyllwild Hotels:

Creekstone Inn:

We actually haven’t stayed here yet, but are going to try next time. We drove by during the evening after dinner and it looked so warm and cozy. Rates: $100-$145.

Idyllwild Inn:

At Idyllwild Inn guests have the option of staying in one their rustic cabins, themed rooms or luxury suites. For families you will have to choose between between the luxury cabin suites, rustic cabins or new rustic cabins as the themed rooms are for adults only and sleep two. Rates vary depending on the type of accommodation.

Best Places to Eat in Idyllwild

When thinking of small, slightly isolated towns, great food may not be the first thing to come to mind. Well, in Idyllwild, our favorite thing to do is eat!! They have so many fantastic restaurants in Idyllwild, Ca that even during our weekend stays we don’t get our fill. It is like a bunch of amazing chefs got together and decided to head to Idyllwild to feed the ones smart enough to make the trip. Thank you Idyllwild for making eyes roll in the back of head and always delivering a table-slapping-When-Harry-Met-Sally dining experiences. See my post on the food and art scene in Idyllwild on Culture with Travel. Here are some of our favorite places to eat in Idyllwild.

 Gastronome Idyllwild:

Also known by the locals as The Nome, this is one of favorite places to eat. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, I prefer dinning in the evening with the dime romantic lighting and the roaring fireplace. The bar/lounge area is ultra cozy with comfy seating closely surrounding a circular fireplace and view of the warm bar. The cuisine is classic steakhouse with filet mignons, fresh fish and pastas, salads, baked potatoes and much more. It is everything you want to warm up on a cold winter’s night.

Things to do in Idyllwild with kids


Let’s just start with the décor, shall we? I mean it is glorious. It looks like a cozy Victorian saloon with waxy candles dripping and crystal chandeliers sparkling in the dime glow. There is an eclectic mix of furniture, rugs double as table cloths, a skeleton greets you at the door and sage hangs from the bar. It is just fascinating.

Things to do in Idyllwild with kids

Now, the food is equally interesting. Described as American traditional comfort food, I enjoyed the Stuffed Bell Peppers with Goat Cheese and Quinoa. Grams had the French Dip, HotDaddy had the Mountain Man Burger and the kids nibbled on Cheese Toasties. For dessert we indulged in Girl Scout Cookie Bread Pudding, featuring the Lemonades. I wanted to try their mulled wine, but it wasn’t ready when I came the next afternoon. Oh well, next time!

Mile High Café

I love me some Asian cuisine, so you can imagine my delight to find an Asian Fusion restaurant near our cabin. We sat near the piano, sipping on beer, slurping up Udon and nibbling on bibimbap and sushi. I asked if they had live music and I was informed that although there is musicians that play on the weekend evenings, the students from the local performing arts school often make random appearances to entertain the diners. Sounds fun, I wish I could have that for myself.

Things to do in Idyllwild with kids

Café Aroma Idyllwild:

Another favorite! This venue is not only a restaurant, but an art gallery and social club. There is live music at night and the main dining room is teeny tiny, but that’s what makes it so cozy. The food is incredible and I always go for a pasta dish. My favorite is the Feta Fettuccini with olives and pine nuts. Coupled with a chilled glass of white wine? Heaven!! There is the gallery dining room as well, but I always request the main dining room.

Things to do in Idyllwild with kids

La Casita:

Mexican food with a view. I prefer patio seating while visiting, because surrounding trees and fresh air make the food even more yummy! Come hungry. The portions large and the food is delicious. So you won’t be able to stop and with such a reasonable menu, you won’t have to.

Things to do in Idyllwild with Kids

Fratello’s Ristorante & Pizzeria

Family-owned by four brothers, their passion for food shows in every dish. Serving up authentic and delicious Italian cuisine, you want to savor every bite, but save room for their decedent desserts. The atmosphere is warm and inviting, great for family dining as well as romantic dates for two. Plus, like many of the restaurants in Idyllwild there is live music to enjoy too!

Things to do in Idyllwild with kids

Ferro Idyllwild

Love Italian food? Good, because I have another great restaurant for you. Owned by Chef Frank Ferro, this is Italian cuisine elevated. Not only is the food scrumptious and creative, Ferro is also an entertainment venue with a kick-ass patio and stage. Oh and the pizza oven surrounded by  bar seating is super cool!

Things to do in Idyllwild with kids

Where to Grab a Drink:

Jo’An’s Restaurant and Bar:

Yes, they have food and it makes for a great little lunch stop, but I honestly love going just to hang out in the beer garden. On the weekends they have live music and an outdoor BBQ going on. That is my favorite time to go. Us adults could enjoy the awesome tunes from talented local musicians and sip on pitchers of cold beer while the kids played in the trees and danced.

Things to do in Idyllwild with kids

 Cabin Cocktails:

Let’s not forget to stock our bar at the cabin. The most inexpensive way to drink is at home and we loved sitting on our porch enjoying HotDaddy Bloody Mary’s and Gin Mules.

Things to do in Idyllwild with kids

La Casita Idyllwild:

I’m just going to say it, best Michelada I have ever had and I have a lot of Micheladas. Kids and non can have fun too, because Firecracker loves her virgin margaritas.

Things to do in Idyllwild with Kids

Fun Things to do in Idyllwild

In truth, the reason I go up to the Idyllwild mountains is to relax and escape the crazy of my everyday life. I don’t like to fill my days with tons of activities. I mostly just sit, enjoy the gorgeous surroundings, sip cocktails and beer, listen to live music and eat…a lot. That being said, there are a lot of things to do in Idyllwild, Ca, especially for the art, music and nature lover.

Live music:

Idyllwild is a very artsy town loaded with talented musicians. I heard Dolly Parton even has a house up there. Almost every venue and restaurant has live music. I am a huge live music lover, so I am a happy girl when I visit Idyllwild. Plus, since most the music is happening at restaurants, I get to eat while I listen and the kids are usually well behaved, because they are being entertained too. Holla!!!

Things to do in Idyllwild with kids

Community Playground:

The kids got to burn off energy and have fun too. Music is entertaining, but it doesn’t compare to outdoor fun. Idyllwild recently established a community playground. It is beautiful, fun and creative. Everything you would expect from Idllywild’s art community. The kids LOVED it and played for forever. I like to take them right before we would head to dinner, so that they would be more relaxed and hungry.

Idyllwild with kids

Idyllwild Hiking Trails:

It’s the mountains, so naturally there is a lot of nature to explore. Like I said, I’m more about sitting when I visit Idyllwild. However, I did some Idyllwild hiking the first year I visited. It was beautiful, yes, but I had worn the wrong clothes and fashion hiking boots (no bueno). I thought I chose a relaxing trail, but it turned out to be quite strenuous. I enjoyed the view, snapped a few pictures and then got lost on the way down. Yeah, so, that is my first and last trail story from Idyllwild.

I have since had more experience on trails and would love to take a walk in Idyllwild on our next trip with the kids, except we are too busy eating all the time.

Relaxing at the Cabin:

Hello? You rented a cabin, so enjoy it. I love hanging out at one of my Idyllwild cabin rentals. I take in the views; we play cards at night by the fireplace and enjoy the hanging out the family.


There is a movie theater, but it is tiny and usually only showing one movie. It is kind of fun and quaint. Most Inns have free DVD rentals too. Oh also did you know that Elvis actually filmed a movie here in Idyllwild? Yes there is an Idyllwild movie and you can get here to watch before or during your trip.

Kid Galahad (1962)

Idyllwild Shops:

Lots of shops in the Idyllwild town center and goodies to collect. I love the Lady of Lake Soap Shoppe and always get myself a new soap to use during my stay.

Things to do in Idyllwild with kids

Things to do in Idyllwild with kids

Earth ‘N Fire:

A nice relaxing activity to enjoy is painting pottery. HotDaddy and I paint our souvenir every trip. This year we took the kids and let them paint. It wasn’t as relaxing as past years, because the kids are hectic and gave me a headache. Still it was worth it and they had fun.

Things to do in Idyllwild with kids

Play in the Idyllwild Snow:

Although this is Southern California, Idyllwild weather does yield some snow in the winter. It doesn’t always last that long though, so if you are asking, “is there snow in Idyllwild,” and you see a postive Idyllwild snow report, get up there quick. 

Things to do in Idyllwild with kids

Because we are from Southern California, we are never really prepared for snow. I always underestimate how cold and wet snow is and regret not buying proper snow wear. So, I provide a link to help you not make the same mistakes.

That’s A Wrap:

So, think you want to book a stay in Idyllwild with kids? It is a really cool little town and your tummies will thank you. The kids had a blast and we adults had the chance to relax. It was just what we needed to recharge the batteries. I can’t believe we waited five years to return to this awesome mountain town. Our love for Idyllwild was reignited and we can’t wait to make this a new tradition for the family!

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Things to do in Idyllwild with kids

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I am a busy mama with 3 delicious babies and a serious itch for travel and writing (when I am not bartending, that is)! After graduating from Cal State San Marcos with a B.A. in Communications, I decided to start a family and pursue a career in freelance writing. I created HotMamaTravel as an outlet to do what I love while sharing useful travel tips and inspiration with others. Our mission is to show parents how to master travel with kids, while keeping your Saturday-night selves. We call it "Family travel...with a twist".


    • It really is idyllic in Idyllwild and with the cabin, you are right. It is the best of both worlds!

  1. Dawn Sonnier Reply

    A beautiful platform about my wonderful town! The playground is awesome, glad your kids enjoyed it! We had over 500 local volunteers build it in just 5 days! It’s priceless! Maybe I’ll See you next time at the candy cupboard, it’s a small town!

    • The playground was a huge highlight for the kids! It was the nicest playground I’ve seen in a long time! Yes, the kids loved the candy shop. We may have already run into each other! Ha. We’ll be sure to say “Hi” the next time we’re in town!

  2. Pingback: Best Family Travels of 2015 |

  3. The water track is amazingly beautiful. The accommodation seems great too. Thanks for sharing your trip experience. I will definitely consider it if my kids like the place.

  4. What a lovely alternative to Palm Springs. Gorgeous looking place, and peaceful. Thanks for sharing.

  5. I had no idea ! Thanks for the thorough research, I will recommend this for families in lieu of Palm Springs.

  6. That looks awesome. I love weekend camping trips and Idyllwild looks great for the whole family!
    That food selection is surprisingly awesome. The Nome looks great but IDYology looks phenomenal! I love the interior!
    I think I will have to send my god daughters and their parents there for a fun weekend away from San Diego

  7. The Christmas period is my holiday as a teacher haha! This looks like a great place to relax though! Looks like it’s a lot of fun for the kids as well!

  8. Toby Settle Reply

    Thanks for writing about one of our favorite, and underrated Southern California destinations. Everything you mention, and more! Just to clarify, Idyllwild cannot be easily reached via the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. Getting to Idyllwild from the top of the tramway requires a moderately strenuous 10.1 mile hike that should be attempted by experienced, properly prepared hikers only. Hiking across is only advised between the months of June and October.

  9. Come stay with us at New Spirit Vacation Homes we would love to accommodate your stay, we also offer packages that include reservations, tickets to events, and other things to do in the area!

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