Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Road Trip: Mt. San Jacinto and Pines to Palms Highway

Being in the San Jacinto mountains this weekend reminded me how much I love them.
I may not get to visit my most favorite mountains in the world, the Alps, but these are a bit easier to get to and really quite wonderful.
One of the things that makes them so amazing is the difference between the 2 sides of the mountains.  
On one side you have pines.

On the other, palms.

And there is a road that takes you between the 2.  It's called the Pines to Palms Highway (CA-74).
Aaron and I drove it this summer and if you are a fan of beautiful drives I highly recommend this one.
There are a multitude of ways to approach this drive; it doesn't have to be Pines to Palms.
It could just as easily be Palms to Pines.
In fact, we enjoyed it so much that we took it both coming and going.

The benefit of starting at the top of the mountain and dropping down to the desert floor is watching the landscape change so dramatically and taking in the views.
So we'll take it from the top.
From where ever you are in LA, Orange County or San Diego, you end up on the 10 East, headed toward Palm Springs.  When you reach the tiny town of Beaumont (worth driving around for their great signage) you exit the freeway and head up the mountain.

Soon you are taking in vistas like this:

And this:

As befitting a mountain landscape, you'll find towering pine trees,

Moss covered rocks,

and lots of the Manzanita tree with its smooth, red bark.

There are plenty of good hiking trails just off the highway as you drive through.  It feels good to stretch your legs, even if you are huffing and puffing from the altitude.  You are, after all, at 6000 feet.

Here are some links for hiking trails: here, here and here

If you worked up an appetite, you can stop in the little town of Idyllwild for a mid- morning snack, if you started early enough, or for lunch, if you slept in.
I haven't actually eaten in Idyllwild, but there are plenty of places to try and I did find a pretty great used book store.  It's worth the stop.

Once you've fueled up and took a break from the car, hop back in and head out of Idyllwild, towards Palm Springs.  
You'll catch CA-74 also known as the Pines to Palms Scenic Byway.
You'll notice the landscape change quickly.  
Gone is the verdant green moss, replaced by hardy desert vegetation.
Very different but still very beautiful.

The highway snakes you down the mountain on a very steep, very curvy road.  It's the kind of road my mom hates and my dad loves. He looks out at the views while she tells him to keep his eyes on the road.   If you are prone to car sickness, this part may be a challenge to you.

There are plenty of spots to pull out and take in the desert spreading out before you.

Once you've reached the bottom of the hill, you can drive into Palm Springs.
I highly recommend stopping at the ACE Hotel for lunch.  The food is very good and they have a photo booth!  (see more about the ACE here)

I love Palm Springs and can find lots and lots to do here.
If you like thrift stores and vintage, read this post to see some of my favorite picks.
If you like art, you can visit the Palm Springs Art Museum.
Or do some hiking on the desert floor.
You can visit the Palm Springs zoo and botanical gardens.
You can even ride the Palm Springs Ariel Tram back up to San Jacinto Peak for a whole new Palms to Pines experience.

Whatever you end up doing, you'll find it hard to tear your eyes off that beautiful mountain.
Whether it's covered in afternoon shadows,

or bathed in morning light.

For the drive home, you can head out of Palm Springs on the highway and hook back up to the 10 West, or, you can drive back up the mountain for the Palms to Pines version of the drive.
The views are spectacular that way too.

If you live in Southern California, or are here for a visit, I hope you'll give this little road trip a try.  We're going to do it with the kids this month or next, before the sun really warms things up.  What a great way for them to experience mountains and desert in one day.
I'll be sure to tell you all about it.
Happy travels!

Love from,


mygirl said...

thanks greta for the post. i was telling jeff about this weekend and he's always up for a good drive. i am hoping we will do this one soon. - christina

Lillian said...

Beautiful pictures Greta, and a great travelogue. I who fear....and sometimes loath heights want to take this trip.