10 Best Ski Destinations Near San Diego and Los Angeles
From family-friendly beginner runs to expert-level hills.
Whether you’re a powder hound, beginner skier or snowboarder, or champion lodge warmer, now is the time to brush up on your ski resort and winter destination knowledge. As you do your snow dances and pray to the snow gods for many inches of powder this season, be thankful that there are plenty of mountain excursion options—whether you’re hailing from Los Angeles or San Diego. From Mt. Baldy to Lake Tahoe, here are the top places to head to in and around Southern California for that magical winter wonderland getaway:
Mountain High is a quick hour-and-a-half drive from LA and a little over two hours from San Diego, attracting many Southern Californians who are looking to get an easy snow fix. Flexible ticketing options are available from half day, from 12–4 pm ($94-$109) to a whole day, from 8:30 am–4 pm ($109-$119) and—on the weekends—even nighttime, from 5-10 pm ($49–$59). If snow sliding isn’t your thing, you can still activate your sense of adventure with a day of zip lining or retail therapy by perusing nearby antique shops.
How to book: You must purchase tickets online and in advance, as well as rentals and lessons. None of these options are available for walk-ups. Check hotels.com, booking.com, and Airbnb for local lodging options.
Snow Valley is an hour-and-a-half to two-hour drive from Los Angeles and a little over two hours from San Diego, and will generally have smaller crowds than Mountain High. Though there are fewer people getting in the way of you and a good time in the snow, the vertical isn’t as high. You can go all day for a $79–$105 lift ticket, half-day for $69–$95, or at nighttime for $37–$52. This is a good beginner hill with great access to the city, and children under five as well as “super seniors” who are above 70+ will get to ski for free. Alternatively, family fun packs good for two adults and two kids are available for $179–$209. If you’re going more than a couple times this season, it might be worth it to look into a pass—which is good for one companion all-day pass, one companion nighttime pass, and 10% off food, drink, and retail. Nearby, take a hike among chaparral and yellow pines along the Exploration Trail in the San Bernardino Mountains at the National Children’s Forest.
How to book:Advance online purchase is encouraged. Check hotels.com, booking.com, and Airbnb for local lodging options.
Mt. Baldy Resort is a small hill that’s only one hour from Los Angeles and two hours from San Diego. Though it’s the shortest commute, it tends to open a little later in the season than the other local resorts due to its lower base elevation, while offering the best natural terrain after a big storm. There are more skiable acres than Mountain High, so there’s literally more room for learning. A big plus for families coming to the mountain is that non-skiers can take a scenic chairlift ride starting at $25 and go snow tubing for $58 on the weekends.
How to book: A dynamically priced day lift ticket purchased in advance ranges anywhere from $35–$68 throughout the short season, available online. Check hotels.com, booking.com, and Airbnb for local lodging options.
Big Bear Lake
Bear Mountain is a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Los Angeles and three hours from San Diego. The mountain is known for its state-of-the-art terrain park, with features like boxes, rails, a variety of jumps, and the snowboard scene that goes along with it. It’s got a higher elevation than its sister slope Snow Summit that's also operated by Big Bear Mountain Resort, but with more beginner runs. Full day lift tickets range from $99–$139, but on holidays they bump up to $145+ per day. With a nod to masks and proper social distancing, safety in the pandemic era is also ensured by the resort’s dedication to reduced capacity. The best thing about tickets to Big Bear is that you also get access to Snow Summit since the two hills are connected and operated by the same people.
How to book: All Big Bear Mountain Resort day lift tickets are valid for same-day use at Bear Mountain and Snow Summit. Full-day lift tickets are limited each day this season and guests should book in advance online or by calling 844.GO2.BEAR to ensure availability. Half-day and night session lift tickets are available on select dates and guests should call in advance to ensure availability. Check hotels.com, booking.com, and Airbnb for places to stay.
Big Bear Lake
Snow Summit is the more family-oriented half of the Big Bear Mountain Resort duo despite having more skiable acres—240 compared to Bear Mountain's 198—with same-day lift tickets working for both hills, so the same ticket rates and rules apply. You can also download the Big Bear Mountain Resort app for easy, direct-to-lift access using your smartphone. Summit is also where night sessions happen from 3–8:30 pm on select weekend dates from December through March, and cost $99 per person. The mountain is ideal for beginner skiers and snowboarders thanks to its robust facilities and instruction team, but has a larger share of advanced runs compared to Bear Mountain—so unless you’re into terrain parks, you’ll want to ski or snowboard Snow Summit over Bear Mountain if you’re out of the beginning stages. Other family activities nearby include tubing at Big Bear Snow Play and bob sledding at Alpine Slide. Visit Big Bear Alpine Zoo to take a gander at animals. For hiking, try the Pinenut trail, the Alpine Pedal Path trail, or the steep Castle Rock trail—all of which are situated around Big Bear Lake.
How to book: All Big Bear Mountain Resort day lift tickets are valid for same-day use at Bear Mountain and Snow Summit. Guests should book in advance online or by calling 844.GO2.BEAR to ensure availability. Half-day and night session lift tickets are available on select dates and guests should call in advance to ensure availability. Check hotels.com, booking.com, and Airbnb for places to stay.
A north Lake Tahoe resort which has recently undergone a name change, Palisades Tahoe is a two-mountain wonderland worth that eight-hour drive from LA and nine-and-a-half hours from SD. However, once you get there, the mountains are only a 20-minute drive from each other and you can ski and snowboard both hills on one ticket—the price of which ranges from $144–$229. The terrain is varied, with wide open beginner runs in Alpine Meadows and steeper, advanced runs at Palisades Tahoe. You’ll find the fine ski village life at Palisades, which is handy especially if you plan on taking advantage of outdoor dining options. In addition to the diminished capacity, Palisades requires face masks at all times for COVID-19-safe skiing. For non-downhill ski activity options, Palisades offers cross-country skiing, tubing, sledding, and ice skating, as well as plenty of shopping.
How to book: Skiing and snowboarding tickets are available for a discount in advance of that date. Ikon pass holders have access immediately. Check the Palisades Tahoe site for lodging options.
North Lake Tahoe
Regularly great conditions at Northstar in North Lake Tahoe will make that eight-hour drive from LA and nine-and-a-half hours from SD worth your while. The resort is a winter mecca, with snow-making abilities on its skiable 3,170 acres as well as its own Village, providing for a great overall winter getaway if you’re travelling with non-skiers. You’ll find plenty of terrain parks as well as long runs here, so it’s well suited to a range of abilities. Great dining options as well as an ice skating rink abound in Northstar Village. As for other activities, go cross-country skiing in the forest, snowshoeing under the stars, and fat tire snow biking for some adventure. And at night, sit with s’mores kits by the fire. Truckee is just a short drive away for those looking for that ski town vibe; you’ll find great independent restaurants and retail.
How to book:Book at least seven days in advance so you get the best online pricing, with peak days costing $169. Multiple days will score you bigger discounts and on holidays there are only a limited number of tickets available. Epic pass holders can head straight to the lift. Find local lodging options on the Northstar Resort website.
You’ll find some great skiing and riding terrain in South Lake Tahoe at Kirkwood, just under eight hours from LA and nine-and-a-half hours from SD. Kirkwood tends to have even better conditions than Northstar thanks to consistent incoming storm systems from the north and south. At 2,300 skiable acres and a summit elevation at 9,800 feet, Kirkwood is massive and offers a great variety of natural features. For those who would like to play in the snow, but not necessarily on the ski hill, head to the Kirkwood Cross Country and Snowshoe Center for other adventures on foot. Check the schedule for family events happening at the Red Cliffs Lodge.
How to book: Be sure to book your tickets online in advance for the best price and to secure your reservation—especially on holidays, when tickets are limited. They start at $104 and go up to $115, but you’ll save even more when you purchase multiple-day passes. Epic pass holders are able to head straight to the slopes. Find local lodging options on the Kirkwood Resort website.
Long considered the local mountain for Mammoth and June Lake residents, June Mountain is an unsung hero for its smaller crowds and families. It’s the perfect hill for an intimate feel. It’s a five-and-a-half-hour drive from LA, six-and-a-half hour drive from SD, and offers 1,500 skiable acres. Kids ski free, making it very attractive for families. The hill has a good amount of viable tree riding for advanced riders who like to duck in and out of the groomers, as well as terrain parks and an ultra-impressive run with huge jumps and a super pipe for pro riders. Chairs won’t be loaded to full capacity as before and masks will be required indoors. Mammoth lift tickets can be used the same day at June Mountain. Explore the town of June Lake for some extracurricular activities, as it’s a charming hodgepodge of independent restaurants, craft shops, coffee shops and retail.
How to book: It’s still unclear when June is slated to open. Purchase tickets, which range from $109-$159 in advance online for the best savings. Half-day tickets will be available at a 25% discount, scannable starting 12:30 pm and are the only tickets sold onsite. Find local lodging options on June Mountain Resort website.
The prize mountain of Southern California, Mammoth Mountain, is a five-and-a-half hour drive from Los Angeles, and six-and-a-half hours from San Diego. It offers 3,500 skiable acres of varied terrain, with multiple terrain parks for all levels and two or three half pipes in the peak season. Their ski lifts are some of the most efficient (read: fast) in all of California, and the whole mountain—including the peak, 11,000 ft up—is epic when there’s a good amount of snowfall during the season. Masks are required at all times while indoors and cancellation policies have been loosened a bit to accommodate peace of mind (changes can be made up to three days in advance). Other fun options available for the family include snowmobiling trips, cross country skiing, and snowshoeing. There’s also a relatively new tubing track for more downhill fun. There are many lodging and dining options in and outside Mammoth Village, but you’ll want to stay close: There’s great après-ski and dining right in the Village, making Mammoth LA’s best ski-vacation destination, by far.
How to book: Mammoth is on the Ikon pass network, which will yield the best savings should you have the foresight and commitment to purchase one. Individual lift tickets range from $179-$189 each and walk-up tickets on holidays costing as much as $219. Explore Mammoth’s lodging collection on their website.
Esther Tseng is a Lo Angeles-based writer and snowboarder. She's contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine and more.