San Jacinto just north of Hemet is a town best known for its great mountain scenery. The city was named for the Christian Saint Hyacinth, and it shares its name with the fantastic national park that sits on its doorstep. While you’re here, explore the region’s great natural environment and local parks, or simply admire the view from downtown San Jacinto.
If you fancy some frivolous fun, head over to the local Indian reservation whose casinos and resorts will allow you to languish in luxury.
Finally, wander downtown into Hemet for some great nightlife and cool museums.
Here are the 13 best things to do in and around San Jacinto.
1. Visit Estudillo Mansion and Museum
This recently restored 19th-century house was built by Francisco Estudillo. Regular events, including the local agricultural festival, take place in the stunning manicured grounds of this large mansion. Come here at the right time of the month and you’ll find concerts, fairs, and farmers markets in the beautiful gardens.
The house itself is now a museum with great exhibits documenting the lives of the early pioneers who came to the San Jacinto area, including their run-ins with the local indigenous people.
You’ll meet lots of friendly reenactors here who can tell you more about this intriguing slice of Californian history.
2. Find the Hemet Maze Stone
This stone carving on the edge of San Jacinto was donated to Riverside County in 1956, and now resides in Reinhardt Canyon.
The intricate carving is one of the most mysterious petroglyphs in America and is known to be at least 500 years old. There are lots of theories about it, and some believe it may have been carved as early as the late Stone Age.
The unusual design on the stone is reminiscent of artwork from Asia, which has created a local myth about Chinese mariners washing ashore in southern California. Others think it is reminiscent of regular Hopi Indian designs. Hike the canyon to decide for yourself!
3. Climb the Peaks at Mount San Jacinto State Park
The snow-capped mountains of San Jacinto Park loom over this little town, and they present an arduous challenge for even the most experienced hikers.
Reaching over 10,000 feet at its peak, most tourists approach San Jacinto mountain the lazy way, via the aerial tramway in nearby Palm Springs. However, from San Jacinto town you will find several moderate hiking trails which lead you up into the mountains on foot, via the Idyllwild Park Picnic area.
You may choose to hang back at this leisurely picnic ground, nestled in rugged pine forest, or else strike out toward the peak.
It’s a steep climb, but you’ll be rewarded with incredible panoramic views the whole way up.
4. Play Golf and Gamble at the Soboba Springs Resort
Sporting some of the best scenery of any golf course in California, this fantastic park sits on the edge of San Jacinto in neighbouring Soboba Springs Resort. On the edge of the local Indian reservation, it’s open to visitors who want to play a few rounds.
The Casino here is also worth a visit. With roulette tables, card games, and slot machines, their extensive gaming rooms are lots of fun. Spend your winnings at the luxury boutique when you’re finished.
Finally, grab a burger and a beer from the Canyon Steakhouse, the resort’s great onsite restaurant.
5. Shoot your Friends at Backyard Paintball
Nestled in the rocky foothills of the San Jacinto mountains, Backyard Paintball offers visitors a brilliant adrenaline rush, and it’s a great way to spend an afternoon if you are with a group. You’ll be masked up for your protection and the friendly referees will ensure you and your friends play fair.
Stealthily traverse this open-air battlefield, filled with manmade obstacles, before using your high-pressure paintball guns to shoot your fellow players.
6. Try Paragliding at Soboba Flight Park
The brave won’t want to miss this opportunity to float gently through the foothills of the San Jacinto mountains at the local paragliding school.
Available for private and group lessons, you can hire gear here to learn the ropes of paragliding in a safe and professional environment. Alternatively, more experienced aviators will want to look at their speed gliding options.
The park here doubles as a campground with fire pits and lots of games, so it’s a great place to spend an evening if you’re a keen adventurer.
7. Eat your Fill at Emilio’s Mexican Restaurant
This is the number one best restaurant in San Jacinto. Come here for frosty margaritas and tasty and authentic Mexican food. Their chile relleno and shredded beef enchiladas are particularly adored.
If you fancy a drink, head to their cantina for piña coladas and mai tais galore. Make sure you taste the margaritas — their secret recipe has won them awards!
Come here on a Thursday to listen to the fantastic mariachi band who take requests from the crowd.
8. Visit the Victorian Bridal Museum
This cute little museum is dedicated to the history of wedding dresses. The frocks here range from demure 1850s garments to sleeker 1920s designs. The incredible detail on the beautiful lacework and beading will take your breath away.
More than just dresses, lots of 19th-century wedding-related bric-a-brac and local antiques have made their way to this tiny museum.
The fantastic onsite shop sells vintage gowns and dresses, so you can leave with a masterpiece of your own.
9. Explore the Western Science Center
Head downtown into Hemet to find this brilliant educational museum.
This center is an important research hub that has over one million samples of ancient flora and fauna, as well as many archaeological artifacts, in their collection. Visitors will love their displays of bones and fossils, and their towering mammoth and giant sloth skeletons are popular favorites.
Visit the theater here for regular lectures on geology, palaeontology, and archaeology given by notable experts, and come here on Saturdays to experience some of their interactive exhibits.
10. Take a Trip to Joshua Tree National Park
San Jacinto is just a few miles away from one of America’s best desert landscapes. This expanse of rolling sand and gritty scrub offers visitors the opportunity to commune with nature, or engage in some exhilarating extreme sports.
Blessed with a diverse range of arid landscapes, you’ll spot all sorts of wildlife, from lizards to hawks and coyotes.
This wild, open space is devoid of light pollution, and one of the best things to do here is pitch a tent for the night to admire a vault of sparkling stars.
11. Bird Watch in the Mystic Lake
Just north of San Jacinto’s, Mystic Lake is a wide-open expanse of tranquil water. It got its name from its tendency to rapidly expand following the rainy season.
Most people come here primarily for the wildlife which thrives in this protected area. In addition to hundreds of ducks and small wading birds, you’ll find rare red-tailed hawks circling the skies looking for prey. Lots of local photographers come here to snap rare birds, and over 200 species have been recorded nesting around the water’s edge.
Watch clouds of local birds move in unison over the lakes or simply rest peacefully on the edge of these serene waters.
12. Taste the Beers at the Mason Jar Ranch
This restaurant and bar operates one of the region’s best breweries which supplies their fantastic beer. The restaurant itself is primarily a burger joint selling generous but simple all-American fare, such a fantastic pulled pork burgers and piles of French fries.
The beers here are served in huge mason jars, something you’ll appreciate when you discover how good they taste. They regularly rotate their selection, so there’s always something new and exotic on tap.
Get a flight to taste their top-notch brews.
13. Relax by Diamond Valley Lake
One of the largest bodies of water in California, this huge lake is located in Hemet just south of San Jacinto. The dam was built to supply the region with drinking water, and although you can’t go in the lake, which is protected, an aquatic center provides a swimming pool for the locals.
Make sure you head to the well-curated visitors center, which documents the valley’s history, including the lives of the many indigenous tribes who were once settled here. There are also a great many fossils on display, as this lush valley was very busy in prehistoric times.
The lake itself is very beautiful, and the lakeside banks are known across California for their meadows of poppies and other wildflowers which bloom in the Spring.