On December 31, 2019 at 11:59PM, many of us looked forward to 2020 with wide eyes and hopeful hearts. The countdowns playing across our television screens were a bright reminder of the 365 days before us, full of opportunities and endless possibilities.
I don't think any of us were anticipating a worldwide pandemic that would claim an unspeakable amount of people and change all of our lives significantly.
For many of us, this time has been incredibly hard in so many ways. Between the the chaos in the media, the widespread (and appropriately warranted) panic, my cancelled trips and my new restrictions, I found that my stress levels have been rising and I needed to get out.
I contacted my friend Stefani and asked her if she was comfortable going on a little staycation. We had some thorough conversations about our comfort levels, our exposure to people at our current work situations, and what options we had, as far as destinations. We worked out a lot of the details and settled on visiting a place I'd wanted to visit for a while: Idyllwild.
Before I get into the fun stuff, I'd like to make a note here: Stefani and I agreed to wear face coverings, social distance, be completely honest about our exposure recently, and only go places that were adhering to safety practices per state guidelines. I made sure I did my research ahead of time, so we knew which businesses were being safe. We took our masks off for pictures if we were not around anyone else. Otherwise, we wore masks pretty much the entire time we were out, with the exception of being in our cabin. Even when it was 102 degrees, we wore our masks.
Now for the fun stuff!
Friday, July 31 - Temecula
On Friday morning, I slept in a bit and headed off to Riverside, to meet Stefani. With my favorite Beis weekender bag in tow, I was ready for a fun but relaxing weekend with beautiful views. Our first stop was brunch in Temecula!
Temecula is a pretty popular vacation destination for Angelenos, but surprisingly, I am really not familiar with it. This was my first taste of Temecula, and I could definitely see its charm. Although Covid caused obvious restrictions, we were still able to shop a bit and have brunch at 1909. The hostess took our temperatures before escorting us to a table on the outdoor patio. Despite the intense heat, sitting on the patio wasn't so bad, especially since there were misters and plenty of shade.
I went for a couple oysters and the lobster benny. Both were a perfect beginning to our staycation! The meal was surely an indulgence for me, but the food wasn't too heavy. It was my first time at a restaurant since before the pandemic, so it was also nice to feel even mildly "normal."
We explored some local shops after we filled up at brunch. Due to the heat, we weren't able to walk around much, but everything worked out, since we were ready to head off to our next adventure, Sugar Plum Zoo.
About 20 minutes away from Old Town, there is a quaint petting zoo and chocolate shop. I stumbled upon this gem randomly online, and I knew it would be a wonderful stop for us.
After heading up the steep dirt road, we were met with a beautiful view of Temecula wine country. The blazing July sun was beating down on us, but we were excited to make some new furry friends.
A staff member gave us an overview of the farm and laid down some simple ground rules. The atmosphere was very welcoming and relaxed, making us feel very comfortable. We paid our entrance fee and were allowed to roam around and stay as long as we wanted.
We fed some goats and alpacas, including one alpaca who used to 'work' on the Disney Channel show, Austin and Alley. When the show was done filming, Disney called Sugarplum Zoo to re-home this particular alpaca. Cool, right?
As we made our way around the farm, the staff was incredible. Stefani and I were kind of afraid to enter one of the enclosures with this beautiful, large bird named Atlas, but one of the staff members helped us and reassured us it was safe to go in and pet Atlas. As I became acquainted with Atlas, the staff member was telling us about the little quirks in his personality. It became very clear that the staff members at Sugarplum Zoo really love the animals and know each one's personality!
We continued around the farm, petting the miniature horses, admiring the zonkey, and becoming quick friends with the "instagram camel," Zeus.
After we made our rounds with the animals, we ducked into the shop for a quick moment. There was a great selection of handmade gifts, but the real star of the show was the chocolate.
It took me quite a while to make my choices, but I left with tiramisu and vanilla custard truffles for myself, plus a cherries jubilee and Irish cream truffles for my mom. In fact, I devoured the vanilla custard truffles as I began this post!
Soon after, we started our drive up to Idyllwild. Stefani and I enjoyed the gorgeous, winding drive as we talked up a storm. Vineyards changed to desert landscapes that slowly faded into greenery and beautiful pines.
Before we knew it, we had arrived in the picturesque mountain town that is Idyllwild. We drove through town and just around the corner, we found our adorable Emerald Cabin.
I immediately fell in love with the warm-toned wooden ceiling, rustic decor, and cozy ambiance.
Shortly after dropping off our bags and settling in, we walked into town for some shopping, and course, picture taking!
I won't go into full detail, but through our wandering, we ended up doing a bit of shopping at Merkaba Tea, Coyote Red's, and Middle Ridge Winery. I loved weaving in and out of the shops, admiring all of the locally-made wares and trinkets. Though Idyllwild may not be a large city, it has a lot of personality, and a lot to offer. If the weather hadn't been so intense, we would have spent a lot more time shopping.
We came back to the cabin for a short period of time to cool off and drop off our purchases before going on a walk to pick up some food. We were planning to get takeout from Cafe Aroma, which was a 15-minute walk from our cabin. On the way, we took advantage of the scenery and snapped more pictures.
Our walk was gorgeous - the sun was setting and golden hour peeked through the never-ending pines. Temperatures were dropping, and a soft breeze blew threw the forests. Our walk was quiet and peaceful - exactly what we had been seeking in Idyllwild.
We finally arrived at our dinner destination: Cafe Aroma. When I was planning for this trip, I saw this restaurant recommended countless times. Naturally, we had to try it for ourselves!
Once we grabbed our food, we headed back to our home base, watching the moon rise above the trees. When we got back to our cabin we changed into our loungewear and PJs, and began our cozy night in.
After our delicious dinner of pasta a la vodka and a porkchop, we started up a fire in the fireplace and began dessert. I'd made homemade graham crackers and homemade marshmallows for s'mores! In times like these, it's really the little things that can bring us the most joy. We could have easily splurged on a tiramisu or a locally-made dessert, but bringing up some homemade treats and assembling them in front of a fireplace was really special.
It was such a joy to sit around the fire, enjoying homemade s'mores and talking about life with an old friend. We went to bed that night with full hearts and full bellies.
Saturday, August 1 - From Idyllwild to Oak Glen
Saturday morning, I woke up a little early to make breakfast. Even though I grew up with my mom telling me stories of her fabulous breakfasts in Idyllwild, I knew that Covid would present some dining limitations, and I did not want a half-experience. Instead of going out, I cooked breakfast with food I'd brought up in a cooler. One reason I love staying in Airbnbs vs. hotels is the ability to cook in a kitchen! This is often a money saver, but also makes for a more cozy, special meal.
When we were done with breakfast, we packed up and said goodbye to our gorgeous cabin. The sun was already out in full force, and we wanted to spend our last few minutes in Idyllwild before heading off to our next destination.
We stopped by a few shops that weren't open on Friday, bought some things, then we were off! The conversation started up again, and every few minutes one of us would gasp at the gorgeous views we were encountering on our drive away from Idyllwild.
Unfortunately, we were not on the outside lane, so we did not have easy access to the turnouts on the road. We kept our eyes peeled for the perfect places to stop, get out and snap some pictures. Just as we were complaining, we actually found two perfect places to stop.
While living in California, it's easy to be captivated by grandiose sights and tourist attractions, insta-worthy places made popular by influencers. It is always enjoyable to visit an interesting or exciting destination, but some of my favorite trip moments are the in-betweens, whether its stopping off the side of the road or taking pictures at a vista point.
We parked off the road, in front of the vista point. We took the short, paved walkway that lead us to sweeping views of the San Jacinto valley and beyond. Living in an urban area, I often forget about the impressive desert landscapes California offers. It was so nice to stand at this vista point, breathe in the mountain air, and appreciate the beauty around us.
Soon, we were on the road again. This is where our adventure got a little wonky.
By this time, it was around 1PM. We checked out of our cabin at 11AM, did a little bit of shopping, then had been leisurely driving until this point. As the highway began its descent down the mountain, we noticed a pillar of billowing smoke. It became obvious fairly quickly that there was an active fire nearby.
Although we hoped and prayed we wouldn't encounter it, we soon found out that the fire was ravaging the very area we had planned on visiting: Oak Glen. Our hearts dropped - we had to think on our feet to try to pick up the pieces of our obsolete plans. We drove around hoping to find other farms in the area, but we had no luck. We looked at the map and even tried driving around the opposite way, to drive "around" the fire. Still, no luck!
All roads to that particular area were blocked off, and we finally admitted defeat. Stefani pulled into a lot nearby, which was actually the beginning of a hiking trail. We got out of the car, stretched our legs and admired yet another beautiful sight of California scenery.
It was so hot that it was hard to breathe with a mask on - it had to have been at least 101 degrees, and the fire was raging behind us. We still took some time to breathe, before getting back in the car and deciding to stop in Downtown Redlands.
Unfortunately, our adventure in Downtown Redlands was cut short due to the heat. There was simply no relief, between the masks, outdoor seating at all restaurants, and social distancing.
By this point, we were quite exhausted and decided to call it quits! We grabbed some yummy ice cream from La Michoacana, then we headed home. Overall, it was a lovely weekend, despite all of the safety restrictions and the heat. I'm glad we still found a way to "get away," while still being smart and staying safe.
So there you have it - my little staycation in the time of Covid. I hope some of you will be able to go on your own adventures soon!
Until next time,
Stay safe, wear a mask, social distance, and wash your hands!