- Distance from San Francisco: 80 miles
- Best time: June to February
- Best for: FamilyBudgetOutdoor
Big Bear and Lake Arrowhead are known as wintertime retreats, but during the summer, these mountain getaways are fantastic for water sports, hiking, biking, and just relaxing. The skies are blue, and the air is clean and scented with pine and sage. Temperatures hover around 80 degrees, which is downright perfect compared to parts of L.A. at the height of summer. While both areas have their own charm, Big Bear is more popular because it's larger, with more to do around the lake and the main part of town, simply known as The Village. The other great reason to visit off season: You'll find plenty of bargains. Here are few tips for a weekend around the lake and beyond. – By Lesley Balla
Big Bear Cheat Sheet
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1After the scenic drive in, stretch your legs with a stroll around The Village. Pop into shops like O Koo Ran for trendy women's clothing and locally made art, and Stupidiotic, a hilarious shop for gag gifts and other unique items. There are a slew of cute-overload shops, too (think lots of bears and woodsy motif gifts), plus bookstores and plenty of spots to rent bike and boat equipment.
2Big Bear isn't the epicenter of haute cuisine, but it does have something to satisfy most any craving. If you want Italian food and pizza along with creative cocktails like basil mojitos, hit Sweet Basil Bistro. Great burgers and '50s style can be found at Get The Burger (which has its own secret menu; order "spicy style" for a hit of heat), and there's the Peppercorn Grille for traditional American fare in a dressed-up dining room.
3For evening entertainment, we recommend stargazing with a glass of wine. But if something more social is desired, head to the dive bar Murray's Saloon for craft beers (Delirium Tremens and Hangar 24 Orange Wheat) on tap, free pool (and popcorn!), and karaoke. On weekend evenings, Murray's is the local hotspot.
1About five miles from The Village you'll find Madlon's, where the all-you-can-eat pancake and waffle deal is wildly popular. Try any of the more than thirty flavor options, like pear and almond with orange butter, candied pecans and caramel, bacon and cheddar, or raspberry and lemon zest with crème fraiche. After breakfast, stop at the Vons grocery store for picnic provisions before your day on the lake or the mountain.
2There are so many things to do on the lake, and it all depends on your speed—literally—to decide how to spend your day. For a slower pace, take a paddle boat ride, go paddleboarding, fish from the shore, or take a guided kayak tour. If you're looking to rev your RPMs, rent jet skis or a powerboat (with wakeboards and water-skis). We recommend renting your equipment from Holloway's Marina or Pleasure Point Marina.
3For landlubbers, climb 8,200 feet above sea level on the Scenic Sky Chair to the top of Snow Summit. While it's a winter wonderland for skiers, other times it's perfect for biking and hiking. Feeling lazy? Take the lift up, picnic at the peak, then ride it back down. The mile-long ride carries you through the picturesque San Bernardino National Forest and its wildflower fields, pine-scented breezes, and panoramic views.
4If that's not enough high-altitude fun, check out the Action Zipline Tours. The three-hour tours include an off-road ride and zipline through the tree tops above Johnson Valley.
5You'll need something casual and hearty after such an active day, and Big Bear Mountain Brewery fits the bill. The historic 1925 building—it was formerly home to a Masonic Temple—is located on Red Ant Hill, featuring a warm, rustic ambience. In addition to the six beers made on the premises, fuel up on grub like massive burgers, chili in a bread bowl, or French dip sandwich.
1The Grizzly Manor Cafe always has a long line for breakfast in winter, but off-season it's a bit more reasonable. A good alternate is Alpine Country Coffee Shop for pretty straightforward diner food. Or, if you want something quick, pop into the Copper Q, a countrified kitchenwares store and deli, for great coffee and homemade pastries or breakfast sandwiches. There are some nice lunch items, too, like albacore tuna salad and daily quiches.
2Have you ever golfed at 7,000 feet? The Big Bear Mountain Golf Course at the base of Bear Mountain Resort in the Moonridge meadow features a challenging 9-hole golf course for experienced golfers and a 300-yard driving range for anyone who wants to pick up a club. There's even a pro shop on site so you can look the part.
3Dine at the Club House Grill at the golf course, or take Highway 38 around the lake on your way back home, stopping at the North Shore Cafe in Fawnskin for a late lunch of sandwiches or pastas.
Where to Stay
You can stay in a condo or cabin, but the point of a getaway is to let someone else take care of you. And there are plenty of motels, inns, and full-service hotels to choose from. Make sure to check for weekend packages and deals—there are great bargains, especially in the summer.
If you want to stay in The Village, we recommend the rustic (think knotty pine and country-pattern fabrics) Northwoods Resort (rooms from $139/night). It has a heated pool and onsite restaurant and bar, Stillwells.
For something a bit more remote, the Windy Point Inn (rooms from $155/night) is the only bed and breakfast perched right on the lake with wraparound windows and great views, private decks, and wood-burning fireplaces. It's more modern in design than a lot of the woodsy accommodations in the area. Take note: It's called Windy Point for a reason. The North Shore gets some gusts.
When to Go
With the ski resorts and other snowy sports, winter is the obvious choice for weekends in Big Bear. But summertime offers its own attractions, from the chair lift up Snow Summit to the myriad water sports to be enjoyed on the lake. The best part about summer visits—other than the temperate water and breezy 80-degree afternoons—are events like the Cowboy Gathering, Antique Car Club Fun Run, and Art on the Lake. The crowds aren't as abundant in summer months, and you can find great rates on everything from cabin rentals to condos to hotel suites.
How to Get There
By car from Los Angeles and Orange County: Take I-10 East to the Running Springs Interstate 210 North Exit in Redlands. Follow 1-210 North to Highway 330, which takes you to Highway 18. Or take I-10 East to Orange Street North in Redlands and follow signs to Highway 38. You can also take Route 66 all the way from L.A. It's more scenic but a longer, more light-filled trek.
By car from San Diego Count: The trip is about two and a half hours from San Diego. Take I-15 North to I-215 and pick up I-10 East.