October 06, 2021
Day Trippin’ is a new feature in Parts and Labor where we share epic two-wheeled riding spots across America. To kick things off, here’s a route I fell in love with after I bought a fixer-upper in Idyllwild, a small village in the heart of SoCal’s San Bernardino National Forest. Nestled 5,700 feet above sea level among tall pines and massive boulder outcroppings, this wooded hamlet is a short but entertaining 55-mile ride from Biltwell headquarters in Temecula.
Winchester Road where the ride begins turns into State Road 79 as you head northeast, passing through French Valley before intersecting with Domenigoni Parkway in Winchester. Domenigoni is a flat, high-speed four-lane that dissects acres of dusty sod farms on its way to Hemet. Circumnavigating this bedroom community on side streets is advised, and the route provided on the QR code meanders through old neighborhoods and beautiful orange groves before feeding onto Highway 74 in the foothills east of town. This is where the fun begins.
The ribbon of swoopy two-lane from east Hemet to Mountain Center climbs 2,900 feet in 15 miles before reaching the gas station at Highway 243. Fill up here so you don’t suffer long lines at the Shell station in Idyllwild. After topping off, head north on 243 five miles to Idyllwild. Merge right at Ridgeview Drive in downtown Idyllwild and follow it to town circle. Your destination is Restaurant Gastrognome, one of Idyllwild’s oldest and most eclectic eateries. The ‘Gnome has set the standard for fine dining in Idyllwild since ’73. It looks like it, too, with 75-foot-tall trees jutting through the outdoor dining deck overlooking downtown. If you’re hungry—and you should be—I recommend the French onion soup, followed by the lump crab cake appetizer as your entree. Ask your waitress to keep the complimentary bread and olive oil coming, but don’t get dessert—you’ll stop for gas on Highway 371 in Anza, and there’s a Dairy Queen next door.
Leave Idyllwild the same way you came. When you reach the gas station where you topped off in Mountain Center, take the fork in the road heading left. This is Highway 74—a fast, rolling stretch of two-lane that takes you past Lake Hemet and Thomas Mountain turnoff on its way to the Highway 371 intersection at Paradise Valley Café. Turn right at the café to descend into Anza Valley, home of the Cahuilla Indian Reservation and Lake Riverside Estates, a dusty housing development with its own fishing pond and gravel airstrip. After seeing where citizens of Anza Valley live their best lives, count your blessings over a Dilly Bar at Dairy Queen, then keep riding south.
Highway 371 terminates at State road 79. You’ll turn right and head back to Temecula here, but not before stopping at renowned sculptor Ricardo Breceda’s outdoor gallery. Señor Breceda’s medium is metal, and his art is extra-large—everything from stallions and stagecoaches to his best-known piece, a 350-foot-long serpent that basks in the sand in nearby Borrego Springs. Get a tetanus shot before touching anything, however; Ricardo’s stuff is rusty, and much of it has teeth. After you leave Ricardo’s gallery, Biltwell is 15 miles of mostly suburban stop-and-go past tract homes and strip malls. The juxtaposition of urban sprawl, arid desert, rolling farmland, and majestic forest on this 110-mile loop is a striking reminder of Southern California’s geographical diversity, and a big reason we call this place home.