This guide is perfect for those looking for ideas on what to do in Big Bear Lake, one of the premier mountain resorts in Southern California.
The last couple of weeks have been rough.
I have been struggling with work situations, family issues and the fact that Hurricane Maria destroyed Puerto Rico (where I am from).
The complexity of things has pushed me to stay at home during my free time. This weekend I had enough. I have been giving my all to the things I can control. It was time to give my mood a boost of optimism.
I asked my husband if he wanted to spend the weekend at Big Bear. Without hesitation, he said, “When are we leaving?”
I have been to Big Bear a lot of times. Too many to remember the exact count. Every one of those times, I have been in a group. That limits the numbers of things you can see since you are bounded by the group rules. This time I defined my own rules.
We had a lovely time and perfect weather. I am ready to tell you all about Big Bear!
Here is a practical guide full of exciting things to do, see and eat in the moutains!
- 1 Big Bear Context
- 2 What to Do in Big Bear – The Best of the Best!
- 3 Have Breakfast at a Local Joint
- 4 Circumnavigate the Lake
- 5 Take a Guided Boat Tour of the Lake
- 6 Walk around the Village
- 7 Transport Yourself to Faraway Lands
- 8 Hike to the Top of Castle Rock
- 9 Make you Way to Lake Arrowhead
- 10 Other Activities
- 11 More Lake Escapes
Big Bear Context
Here in Southern California, when we think about Big Bear, we think about an area located at an altitude of 7,000 feet in the San Bernardino Mountains and Forest. We do not make distinctions but the area is home to a lake (Big Bear Lake), a city (unincorporated, Big Bear Lake, yes, the same name as the lake), another city (unincorporated, Big Bear City) and other communities. Hope you got all that! Kind of confusing, right? See why we call the entire region Big Bear?
This mountain area is located 100 miles from Downtown Los Angeles. Therefore, it is one of the most popular high-altitude escapes for Angelenos. We associate the area with snow and skiing. Winter tends to be the most popular season to visit.
Even though the winter connotation is strong, this resort is in business all year long and I prefer to visit when there is no snow in sight (Puerto Rican and snow do not mix). This guide is better suited for people visiting during spring, summer or fall.
What to Do in Big Bear – The Best of the Best!
Have Breakfast at a Local Joint
We tend to hit the road early in order to beat traffic. Once we reach our destination, we love to sit down at a local joint and have a hearty breakfast accompanied by hot coffee.
I noticed the breakfast scene in Big Bear lacks a bit. What is there is good but there is a collapse once the weekend crowds are in town. It may be a good idea to wait till 10:30 to 11:00 if you want to be afforded the option of choices.
If you are hungry early (I am usually like that), stop by the Teddy Bear Restaurant. They have a big selection of omelets, waffles, pancakes, burritos, French toast, chicken fried steak and much more. Staff is attentive and like to converse with dinners.
They are good for lunch and dinner too!
The other massively popular place in town is Grizzly Manor Café. We stopped by but had to leave since the wait was more than an hour. It was full, very full. Therefore, I am assuming the food is delicious.
For bagels, sandwiches, and coffee, Amangela’s, Copper Q and Alpine Country Coffee Shop are recommended.
If you are visiting Big Bear for the first time, I recommend a drive around the 7 miles (11 km) by 2.5 miles (4 km) lake. The views of the blue body of water surrounded by verdant pines are calming and lovely. It is the kind of scene urban dwellers crave.
Big Bear Lake is a manmade lake. It was built to serve as a reservoir to supply water to farmers in the Redlands area. At one point, the county of San Bernardino dedicated the lake for recreational purposes. Once you reach the lake, you are going to notice the arched dam.
There are several viewpoints around the perimeter. Here is a sample of where you can stop:
Pine Knot Marina
Boulder Bay Park
North Shore Landing
East Boat Ramp
Depending on the season, some of these areas have controlled access. Please, follow the usage rules. Also, do not park your car in restricted areas.
Take a Guided Boat Tour of the Lake
So, we are talking about a lake in here. What better way to learn about it than boarding a narrated tour on a ship?
We were lucky to board a paddlewheel called Miss Liberty. The one and a half tour was excellent. It was engaging and full of fun facts.
Not all the roads around the lake are going to take you along the shoreline. Resorts, private homes and hotels have taken that premium space. From the boat, you are able to see coves and bays.
Captain Jack (yes, like Jack Sparrow) showed us the mansions owned (or previously owned) by celebrities (Courtney Cox, Roy Rogers, owners of the Max Factory cosmetic company), told us about the resident bald eagles, explained the Gold Rush associations and talked about the ecosystem. His stories brought the place to life.
We passed by the house where the son of Mel Blanc lives (he gave life to the voices of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig and other characters). He saluted us with some of the voices his dad made famous (using a megaphone). Another highlight was witnessing a guy riding his boat while blasting pirate music through his speakers (not sure what was going on).
Not all of Miss Liberty’s sailings are guaranteed (it depends on the number of reservations). Call several minutes before a scheduled departure to make sure the boat tour is taking place.
There are other boats offering tours around the lake (including a pirate ship, not sure where all the pirate quirkiness comes from).
Walk around the Village
Between activities, walking around the Big Bear Village sounds like a good idea. This area contains 120 vendors offering local crafts, clothing, souvenirs, home décor and much more.
I am not big on shopping but have to admit the merchandise in these stores is peculiar. You can leave town with an arsenal of bear-related things (from socks to shorts, from pet clothing to hats).
This is the area where you are going to find several restaurants, movie theaters, and live music. There are bonfires (controlled) along the streets in case you want to warm up during chilly nights.
Transport Yourself to Faraway Lands
I mentioned the Village and the restaurants but I want to make sure you pay attention to the diversity of cuisines represented in the area. It is delightful to be able to enjoy tasty dishes from other countries in this small town.
For curry, momos, chicken tikka masala, vindaloo lamb, thali plates, tandoori chicken and garlic naan, visit the Himalayan Restaurant. I lost all my class because I think I licked my fingers like 4 times while at this restaurant. Hmmm, it is that good. As a matter of fact, I am craving it right now. Stop by if you want to spice your life!
Another place I love is The Old German Deli. The town has already a Bavarian feel and this place makes you even more nostalgic (if you love Germany). The menu includes sausages, cold cuts, cheese, pastries and grocery items. A lot of what is sold is made on site. They let you sample before ordering. It is hard to believe such a good place exists in a small mountain town in Southern California.
Hike to the Top of Castle Rock
Ok, I have given you ideas on how to see the lake from the car and from a boat. How about seeing it from the top?
Well, I have good news for you. Castle Rock is a prominent natural landmark that is visible from most parts of Big Bear Valley. Rising up out of the mountain at the south/west end of the lake, it stands like a sentinel keeping watch over all of Big Bear Lake.
You can take a 2-mile, round-trip trail to this rock and get awesome views of the lake. The hike is considered moderate and it is apt for the entire family.
This is one of the most popular hikes in the area. You may have to wait around to grab a parking spot near the trailhead.
Make you Way to Lake Arrowhead
I know I am talking about Big Bear but I have to mention the gorgeous Lake Arrowhead.
Lake Arrowhead is a destination in itself. It is located 24 miles from Big Bear. Consequently, you can hit two birds with a stone while in the area.
Lake Arrowhead is smaller than Big Bear Lake but the surrounding village is more reminiscent of an alpine or Bavarian town. Everything is cute in there (even the Mc Donalds!).
While in town, you can walk around the village (which have a lake promenade), take a boat tour or have lunch with views of the lake.
Notice Lake Arrowhead is a private lake. Thus, swimming is not allowed to the general public.
I have only scratched the surface in here. Big Bear offers visitors a wide array of ground and water activities. In all fairness, the list of things to do goes far an beyond. I suggest checking the official tourist site or the visitors center for more information. I am sure you will find plenty of fun activities that will compliment your visit.
More Lake Escapes
California is a land of lakes. If you enjoy these bodies of water, check out these posts:
And, do not forget to hit the big city, Los Angeles, of course!
Have you been to Big Bear? What other things to do or activities do you suggest?
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