Wrightwood

Perhaps more than any other trail town in Southern California, Wrightwood really gets it. The town has a long tradition of supporting hikers, with local families regularly volunteering to open their homes to the PCT community. The town's deep affection for -- as opposed to mere tolerance of -- thru-hikers is apparent today.

There are at least four perfectly decent motels in Wrightwood. I recommend the Mountain View Motel (1054 Hwy 2, 760 249-3553), a clean, mom-and-pop operation at the north edge of town on the highway. The Mountain View's duplex cabins, decorated in mish-mash garage-sale style circa 1965, are a restful haven two long highway blocks north of the town center and separated from the highway by a small bird sanctuary. I found the longer walk to and from Wrightwood's services to be an acceptable tradeoff for the peace and quiet. My family has also enjoyed the hiker-favored, centrally located Pines Motel (6045 Pine St., 760 249-9974). The Pines vibe is old school funk, but clean. Each room has a microwave, fridge and cable. On a personal note, the Pines proprietor, Mr. Kwon, did us a major favor in 2009 when he found our little girl's beloved red quilt stuck in the sheets of the bed and mailed it back to us. Thank you Mr. Kwon! You are a good man.

On the dining front, the Yodeler (6046 Park Dr., 760 249-6482) is a long-time hiker favorite that does boom business all day and most of the night, mostly pizza, burgers and beer. On a lazy afternoon, the Yodeler's porch is the prime spot in Wrightwood to watch the world roll by. Pizza is a can't-miss proposition.

Directly across the street is the Raccoon Saloon (1269-1275 Evergreen St., 760 249-6393), one of the most memorable drinking establishments on the PCT. This joint gets pretty raucous (and not just on Friday and Saturday nights). It sells many tap beers, including Sierra Nevada, in 12, 22 oz. and one liter measures. A shocking number of the local citizenry are pounding ridiculously outsized liter sleeves of brew at any hour of the afternoon or evening. I had the distinct privilege of watching two shirtless, linebacker-sized townies engage in an impromptu Greco-Roman wrestling match, with one eventually executing a dramatic throw that sent his opponent clear over the pool table and headfirst onto the floor. ("Is this, ah, serious?" I asked, eyeing the back door that leads to a conveniently placed alley. "Shit no! They known each other since they was in Cub Scouts. They just playin!") All this and a four-star jukebox that's often free in the afternoons. The Raccoon is partnered with the Evergreen Cafe, a middling diner in the adjacent building that probably does its strongest work at breakfast. The smart move is to do your serious eating at the Yodeler and then cross the street for some serious drinking and local culture at the Raccoon.

As of spring 2009, the revolving door at the nursery on Highway 2 turned yet again. This time, in the space formerly occupied by the Sawmill (and, briefly, Babbo), there's a no-name burger and taco joint. C'mon guys. Get $50 and buy a sign. There's also Mexico Lindo Seafood (1253 Evergreen St,, 760 249-4100) directly between the Raccoon Saloon and the Pines Motel.

Avoid the Grizzly Cafe (1455 Hwy 2, 760 249-6733), where my overpriced steak came with some of the worst, most clueless service of the entire Southern California segment. The daffy waitress -- someone who should never be employed in any service industry -- unceremoniously plopped my steak on the table just moments after she'd served my salad. She was back two minutes later to ask perfunctorily "Is everything OK?" Being just three bites into the salad, I replied, "Um, I dunno. I haven't tried the steak yet." "Well why not? What's wrong with it?" And it went downhill from there.

The venerable Blue Ridge Inn (6060 Park Dr., 760 249-3440) is still widely regarded as the finest restaurant in the region. Not as expensive and not as dressy as you may think. I'd give it a try the next time I find myself in Wrightwood -- after I'd done some laundry.