An easy drive from Southern California’s coast, an hour’s flight from the Bay Area, and just a few hours from the beautiful Palm Springs sits the San Jacinto Valley. A fast growing area where the median age has dropped 19 years to 37.1 in Hemet, this is no longer a spot that is only known to attract retirees and snowbirds. Professionals, young families, and vacationers are coming to the area to enjoy a lifestyle rich in history, recreation, culture, and education! The area has a lot to offer and on a recent visit, my husband and I found 4 fun places to explore in the San Jacinto Valley in just 4 days.
4 Fun Places to Explore in the San Jacinto Valley
This spot was one we both were excited to see. The night before our day on the lake, we viewed it at sunset and it was just as gorgeous from above at Simpson Park as it was in person. Completed in 1999 and built by the Metropolitan Water District, my husband followed along with the construction in his civil engineering magazines. Southern California’s largest reservoir, the lake is a reliable water source to 19 million people, and in case of emergency can secure six months of water storage southwest of the San Andreas Fault. Though it’s not a body contact lake, thousands visit the area to boat, sail, and fish annually. Miles of hiking, biking, and scenic vistas surround the hour-glass shaped lake and wildflower trails can be observed in winter and spring. Fishing, bass, and pontoon boats are available to rent.Our morning cruise on the lake had us staring at water still as glass, the reflections were phenomenal. The pontoon boats were comfortable, like sitting on a living room sofa on the water, and we rode at just the perfect speed. The October morning was already in the 60’s and we didn’t even need a sweater with the warm sun keeping us cozy. A relaxing few hours for sure, and not to worry, floating restrooms can be found on the lake, if necessary!
America’s longest running outdoor play, “Ramona” celebrated it’s 93rd year running this past spring. Based on Helen Hunt Jackson’s novel, Ramona is performed each year under spring skies in the amphitheater over looking Hemet and the hills of the San Jacinto Valley. The spirit of California’s vast history and traditions are presented with a cast of hundreds, actors and extras, Spanish dancers and musicians, horses, cowboys, and those who represent the rich heritage of Southern California’s Native Tribes. “More than just a love story, its pageantry and grander creates an aura of exuberance that you simply cannot experience anywhere else.”
The museum is a must visit for a historical recap of the epic show as well as observing the gorgeous mural. We got a behind the scenes chance to visit the costume room and try on some of the spectacular dresses that are a part of the show. The Ramona Bowl has events year-round and is know as THE concert venue in the Inland Empire for great musical and theatrical entertainment and even has a fun family-friendly Halloween event! My husband and I are already marking our calendars for next spring to return and experience the Ramona play first hand!
Western Science Center
During the construction of Diamond Valley Lake some amazing archaeological artifacts and Ice Age fossils were unearthed. The largest mastodon ever found in North America was discovered during the lake’s development and his height was estimated at 11 feet based on a femur bone. Continued excavations uncovered more Native American artifacts and thus a place for them to be displayed was a must and the Western Science Center was born. You can stand before “Max”, the Mastodon on display, as well as “Xena” a Colombian mammoth, engage in exhibits and view a 270 degree immersion movie theater that explores the life of Ice Age creatures and tells the story of the building of Diamond Valley Lake. Over a million specimens, artifacts, and even traveling science exhibits can be found in the center. Currently the H2O Today exhibit, organized by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, is on display and really has you thinking how we can learn to be better water consumers for the better of our planet.The Western Science Center has a formal connection to the adjoining charter high school (Western Center Academy) that focuses on science, technology, engineering and math and includes a fascinating simulated dig site for the students (open for public summer camps) to study and learn from. An amazing place that would never have existed without the development of Diamond Valley Lake…so interesting to fathom.
A gorgeous drive up to Idyllwild had me relating this alpine village to a smaller, lower-key Lake Tahoe. Of course you won’t find ski resorts, casinos, or crowds, but that makes it all the better! You will find many outdoor recreation activities like hiking, biking, fishing, rock climbing, camping, and horseback riding. Vacation rentals, inns, and lodges are within short driving distance to great dining options, coffee shops, and wine tasting. I recommend the chicken tacos at Gastrognome! Plenty of boutique shopping spots, art galleries, and you should stop into the Idyllwild area Historical Society Museum for a history lesson of the area!
Also you’ll find many deer in Idyllwild. The sightings are actually found on the Trail of the Painted Deer, the first public art project where 22 deer sculptures are placed at 12 different area locations for public viewing. The deer are made of recycled aluminum and painted with acrylic paint by local artists and each tell a story making for a family friendly day event. You can pick up a brochure at many local shops, and go exploring!
If you’re lucky enough, you’ll run into the Mayor of Idyllwild! Even luckier if you get a kiss or two from him, beware they’re a little wet! Of course I’m talking about “Max” the dog! Because the town is unincorporated, Idyllwild doesn’t officially elect a mayor. So in 2012, a local pet rescue held a fundraiser to vote pets in the running for office. Max won by a landslide and the Animal Rescue Foundation also won a $20,000 donation. He’s since passed on, but Maximus Mighty-Dog Mueller II was born of the same bloodline and has taken over duties, with two deputy mayors, Mikey and Mitzi.
I honestly can say I haven’t been to an area in a long time where their whole community was as friendly and welcoming as the people of the San Jacinto Valley. I felt the passion and love for their area and loved how much they wanted to share it with us. Our first time to the area, we were so impressed and look forward to returning with our family and my parents. There are so many more places to explore in the San Jacinto Valley, but these really stood out to us.
Our activities were hosted as part of our media visit, all opinions are 100% our own.