As many visitors flock to San Diego to enjoy the sunny weather and beaches, locals head out to Idyllwild for their vacation retreat. The two plus hour drive is breathtaking in itself to see the landscape change from lush greens to giant rock formations and back to green again. Peppered in are horse pastures, local farms and a few signs of man on horseback crossings, cow crossings, and even a humorous furry Big Foot one.
Upon arriving in Idyllwild, visitors are greeted to an incredibly creative community that expresses themselves through art, food, music, and some things mystical. Many visitors go to find a personal connection through camping or walking through the numerous trails. However, the true connection lies within the people of Idyllwild.
Little handwritten signs placed in different shops round town remind us to not only respect the nature around us but also the residents of community. Nature's Wisdom has a large sign proudly claiming that they make the best apple strudel. Hanging below is a small sign stating that caffeine and a kitten will be given to any unattended children.
Several stores such as The Pony Express Trading Post, a hipster treasure trove with their Carhartt jackets and Dickie's underwear, request that you not take photos without permission or none at all. In a current world where Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and Yelp create a desire to feed the social beast, those handwritten signs politely remind us of social boundaries.
At Fairway Foods when a question is asked at the checking counter, the clerk at the register stops what he is doing and walks the customer right to what they were looking for. Along with taking a moment to slow down is the appreciation of slow food. This is a language spoken at Mountain Harvest Market where they offer fresh and organic produce.
At the busy Café Aroma where they just received a blunch rush, a frazzled waitress apologizes to a customer at a table for the spotty service. The customer kindly responds that it is OK and that they could see that they are just busy. The visitors still on city mode are perched on the edge of their seats browsing through their smartphones. Those who have embraced Idyllwild are the ones sitting back and enjoying the surroundings and the people around them.
Small charming details at Café Aroma include the old fashioned wind up pencil sharpener at the doorway, the chalk work for the daily specials or the local art for sale hanging high above. An observer would also see how the bar back and the manager Frank Ferro jumped in to help cover the tables. Despite the frantic service, Café Aroma deserves all the high ratings and accolades for their food. Using only fresh local produce the meals served here truly sings. The artisan bread is served up warm and comes with a chopped garlic with olive oil dipping sauce.
Some breakfast standouts include the Sausage and Eggs Purgatorio which is a baked dish that has soft poached eggs smothered in a tomato based sauce with sliced sausage, cheese and grilled peppers. Another popular item that is not listed on the lunch menu but can be served is the Jalapeno Pesto Alfredo Fettucine. The dinner menu offers it with large shrimp but it’s wonderful with mushrooms too. The cream based sauce has just the right amount of kick to the fresh basil. The final verdict was that it was worth the wait.
Be it a at a coffee shop, the Lumber Mill Bar and Grill with live music or the Rustic movie theatre, everyone here stops to say hi and how are you. That even goes for the local and lovable mayor Max who happens to be a golden retriever.
Visitors to Idyllwild bringing in all of their highbrow expectations will only find that the subtle transformations are happening without them knowing. A lifetime’s lesson is in slow food, slow good.