This post was most recently updated on July 9th, 2019
I recently had the opportunity to visit Hemet, California. It’s not the first city you think of when you think of California. I mean, it’s not Los Angeles, San Francisco, or San Diego. Unless you live within 100 miles of it, you probably haven’t heard of it. But Redfin discovered it and named it one of the Top Ten Walkable Cities in southern California for 2016.
I shouldn’t tell you what I love about Hemet. It’s pretty nice the way it is, and I wouldn’t want it to become too touristy, after all. But then, what kind of cad would I be if I didn’t share with you a place that really touched my heart?
My visit with a travel blogging group was hosted by Visit San Jacinto Valley in October. While they did much to make our visit a pleasant one, it was really the people of Hemet themselves who endeared me to their city. Everywhere I went, people were warm and welcoming, happy to help or to talk about why they loved living there.
My focus will be on downtown Hemet, the streets surrounding the intersection of State St. and Florida Ave.
The Harvard District
A vintage postcard of downtown Hemet’s Harvard St. in 1914
Some of Hemet’s oldest buildings are on Harvard Street, and the city as well as its business owners have done a lot to revitalize this area. Buildings are restored and re-purposed. It is attracting new restaurants, antique shops, thrift stores, galleries, a book store, and even a museum. And it’s a labor of love. They don’t have a large budget for revitalization, but the people who live here love their community. A lot of volunteer hours have contributed to improving the downtown district.
Business owners have added signs, lighting, canopies, and outdoor seating.
The old opera house has been converted to the Shine Boutique (vintage clothing and goods) and Victorian Bridal Museum (142 N. Harvard St)
Eve Faulkner began collecting Victorian wedding dresses decades ago and displayed them in her home. The “museum” became so popular and the collection so large, she moved it to this location on N. Harvard Street. It is magnificent to visit and hear Eve talk about Victorian brides — their dresses and their lives– and all the culture and history surrounding them. There is also an extensive collection of beautiful vintage dresses and accessories. I love Eve’s passion for the museum collection and for the community. You could spend a long time here!
Next door is the Hemet Valley Art Association gallery (144 N. Harvard St.). Here, local artists display and sell their art, as well as host local art contests. I had the opportunity to meet Judy Stoh and purchase one of her watercolor prints. She was so kind and willing to answer my questions.
At the other end of the block is the Downtown Deli & Coffee Company (113 N. Harvard St.), in the former historic Nevins building. The owner, Steve Covington, has done a lot to help with the Harvard District revitalization. In 2015, he won Hemet Entrepreneur of the Year and received an award for Business Beautification. This quote from Covington reflects the feeling I had as I visited Hemet businesses: “We treat all our friends in the community the way we want to be treated.”
At 123 N Harvard St, you’ll find the Diamond Valley Arts Council. It’s a combination art gallery, black-box stage, and rental facility. It is well-known for showcasing music with their live music nights, hosting an annual Festival of the Arts, and providing summer educational programs. It’s housed in an 100-yr old brick building, and has a great vibe to it!
On the other side of Florida Ave. are a few more new businesses on the Harvard Street scene. Sweet Baby Jane’s BBQ hosts live music every night of the week and serves up some of the best BBQ I’ve ever had (124 S. Harvard St.). They also host a car show the second Tuesday of every month.
The Harvard St Music Exchange (134 S. Harvard St.) provides new/used instruments, instrument rentals, repairs, and music lessons. They also hold an open mic night every week. The Exchange is housed in the former Odd Fellows Temple built in 1927 — another great re-cycling of historic buildings.
More Downtown treats
As you walk along the downtown streets, there are a lot more treats in store. But the icing on the cake is probably the Hemet Public Library (300 E. Latham Avenue). The library was a huge undertaking, but in 2003, this beautiful 52,000 square feet building was completed.
There’s a beautiful mural on the back side of the Fire Station at 220 N. Juanita St, which you can see from the library. It’s a tribute to the first responders of 911.
The historic Santa Fe Train Depo, at 100 W. Florida Ave, is also a Hemet treasure. This is one of the oldest structures and is over 100 years old. Beautifully restored, it now houses the Hemet Museum and Destination Coffee Bar & Bistro.
The Hemet Museum focuses on local history and features photographs and artifacts of old Hemet and the Ramona Pageant, as well as Native American artifacts and agricultural displays. Admission is free. The museum is completely run by volunteers, and the docents are very knowledgeable–and friendly!
Destination Coffee Bar & Bistro is a fun and clever take on combining food, history, and travel (it IS in a historic train station, after all). In fact, their motto is “Travel the world without leaving Hemet!” In the Bistro, you will find the remaining belongings and souvenirs of Lord Desmond T Chesterberry, who traveled the world and upon arriving at the Santa Fe train station, was never seen or heard from again! I enjoyed a delicious soup and salad combo at Destination Coffee Bar & Bistro.
Part of the effort to revitalize downtown Hemet has focused on the arts. The old theatre, built in 1921, has been restored by the Historic Hemet Theatre Foundation, and efforts are being made to utilize it as a thriving community arts center. The Historic Hemet Theatre hosts films, entertainment, plays, and seminars.
Downtown Hemet Events
While I was in town, Hemet was holding its annual Harvest Festival. While the other bloggers headed home, my husband and I decided to add this event to our itinerary before leaving Hemet. I am so glad we did. It was the perfect ending to my San Jacinto Valley visit.
How do I describe what made this festival so much fun? I’m not sure if it was all the people working the booths, passing out samples and saying hello. Or if it was the vintage auto show with lots of amazing restored cars and photo ops. Maybe it was the music or the performing gymnasts or the local youth orchestra. I’m sure the little train looping around carrying kids and adults alike helped set the scene, too.
Perhaps it was Alex Meyerhoff, the city manager, stopping us on the street to ask us if we were enjoying ourselves. Or Lori VanArsdale, the president of the Ramona Pageant, who flagged us down to say ‘Hi!’. I was equally impressed with the student from the Western Science Academy who wanted to help me find the perfect spider-themed souvenir from her booth.
We felt like family while visiting a town we’d never been to before. If Hemet is a great ‘walkable city’, I think it’s not only because they are putting so much effort into their downtown center. It’s also because the people who live and work there are just plain nice!
Hemet also has a Christmas parade and the Harvard Street Christmas celebration in December, and an Easter Egg Hunt and the Diamond Valley Lake Marathon in March.
Facts for you
- Hemet was founded in 1887 and was incorporated in 1910.
- Hemet is located in the San Jacinto Valley, 104 miles east of the Los Angeles airport. It is 90 miles north of the San Diego airport.
- Average Hemet high temperatures are in the 60’s Dec-Feb, in the 70’s during March/April & November, in the 80’s for May and June, and in the 90’s July-Sept. (This is a great Snowbird destination!)
- Hemet is best known for holding California’s longest continually running outdoor play, the Ramona Pageant. It has been produced every year since 1923.
- Hemet is also home to Diamond Valley Lake, the largest fresh-water reservoir in southern California. Be sure to read my post on what to do for A Day at Diamond Valley Lake!
If you haven’t been to Hemet, I suggest you go. See for yourself why it’s one of the top ten walkable cities. Or don’t. But you’ll be missing out.
I’ve partnered with GPSmyCity, and this article can now be downloaded free. You may read it offline, or upgrade for a small fee to receive the article with GPS coordinates embedded. You won’t need the internet or data to be guided through Hemet! I will receive a few cents commission, which helps to keep this blog going–thank you!