The Angeleno's Ultimate Guide to Big Bear

Courtesy of Snow Summit Resort

Part Aspen, part Mt. Baldy, Big Bear Mountain Resorts’ two ski hills and the surrounding area make up the indisputable SoCal snow-play destination (suck it Mountain High and Snow Valley!). It’s just two hours away, and it has tubing and sledding, slopestyle and snowshoeing, and what just might be our favorite Indian food in the country, which makes all that outdoor sport absolutely worth the sweat.

Inn at Fawnskin

Where to check in

There are no shortage of places to stay so you can play in Big Bear. The Big Bear Resort Association can help steer you in the right direction, whether you’re looking for a bed & breakfast, a hotel like the modern rustic Northwoods Resort and Conference Center, a cozy cabin or even a hostel. Local recs include the The Inn at Fawnskin on the North Shore and Sleepy Forest Cottages closer to town, both of which are run by great people (and great musicians). Give them your money (they’re not making any from the music). 

Where to rent/buy gear

First things first, if you need gear, choose from LeRoy’s, Blauer’s, Get Boards and the newly expanded Goldsmith’s ski and board shops on the main drag. You literally cannot walk a quarter of a mile without hitting a store that sells and rents puffy clothing and snow sticks of some sort. If you’re fancy, you can even get custom ski boots made at Tom Wohrman Sports -- Tom offers shell stretching, canting, and custom liners and orthotics to make your footsies as comfy and functional as possible on the slopes.

Courtesy of Bear Mountain Resort

Where to ski/snowboard/fall on your bum

Since Mammoth Mountain purchased the 435 developed acres of Big Bear Mountain Resorts property at the end of last ski season, the new owners plunked down about $2 million in upgrades that have made everything super streamlined. You’ll be happy to learn that $500K of that went toward improving IT services, which means buying tickets, rentals, and lessons online before loading up the car with gear just got easier. And if you choose to do things the old-fashioned way, you can take care of all three in one line. Bam. You’re in. 

There has also been a huge renovation to the base area of the family-friendlier Snow Summit, expanding the beginner ski area by about a third of what it was previously. Bear Mountain, the more-chill, bro-like of the two resorts, skews toward a younger crowd looking to hit all 200 park features and the Red Bull Plaza. The skate park in the snow is best viewed from the Beach Bar on the back deck. You’ll catch some of the local pros tearing it up while you kick back and sip whatever you’re sipping on. A tram takes skiers and snowboarders back and forth between resorts all day if you want to park jump. 

If you’re sticking with Snow Summit, you can dig into some pit-'cued pig product and craft beers for a lunch 8,000ft high atop Miracle Mile run, looking out at San Gorgonio peak from the recently remodeled deck. The eats upgrade is thanks to the resort’s new contract with Levy Restaurants, which also services Dodger Stadium and Staples Center. 

Flickr/Miss Shari

What other stuff you should do

If skiing and snowboarding aren’t your thing, in January, Snow Summit will unveil its new Grizzly Ridge Tubing Park smack in the middle of the ski hill, complete with a magic carpet tube lift. So if you’re not the sporty type, but your companions are, you can still get in on some snow sliding while the rest of the crew shreds without having to venture back onto Big Bear Blvd. 

But say, no one in your party is clicking or strapping in. There are two more tubing areas east and west of the ski areas -- Alpine Slide at Magic Mountain and Big Bear Snow Play tubing hills. Both offer heated snack bar areas, inflatable tubes, and cost about $30 a day. 

There are plenty of off-the-drag sledding areas, but make sure you are not on private property and do not sled into oncoming traffic. You’re thinking, "Really? Who would do that?" Everybody, that’s who. And it’s annoying and dangerous. Seriously.

If you’re looking for snow shoeing and cross-country skiing once the snow really starts flying, check out the Big Bear Discovery Center where you can pick up Adventure Passes (which give you permission to park on Forest Service land) and maps of forest roads and off-highway fun. The center also offers naturalist-led tours and interpretive programs, which are (seriously!) fun and informative. 

Thinking of something warmer and drier? Big Bear Funplex has a little pizza place, arcade games, ice skating, and laser tag.

Where to shop

Not feeling snow bunny-ish enough? Get your retail therapy in at shops in the Big Bear Lake Village like O Koo Ran and ReJoyce, two upscale clothing stores that can have you suited up in winter-weather duds from brands like Free People, Jeffrey Campbell, P.J. Salvage, and more in no time. Looking for all sorts of shit with bears on it? Bear Skins

Then hit Copper Q, the upscale kitchen store with baristas on standby to fire up an espresso or feed your sweet tooth with a homemade marshmallow for your hot cocoa. Looking for hot toddies with hot bodies? Oh yeah, buddy. Grab a beanie and get up here. We’ve got nightlife.

Big Bear Chateau

Where to eat/drink

Big Bear offers an unusual per capita ratio of restaurants and bars for a 15,000-population town in San Bernardino County. Nearest to the resorts are Black Diamond Tavern (it has live entertainment and an extremely delicious heirloom tomato salad) and Hacienda Grill & Bar with its Mexican folk art interior, killer salsa bar, and big-screen TVs to catch the games. Looking for something swankier? Big Bear Chateau at the Best Western (yep, seriously) has a cocktail lounge with European flair, complete with ouzo straight outta Lesvos. Just got a hankering for some munchies? Grab some carne asada French fries at Wabo’s Tacos and go.

Or head to the Village and you can choose from two, seriously -- two!, Indian food restaurants that could go head-to-head with any in the world. Seriously.

We’re pretty sure the Himalayan has converted more masala lovers than any Indian restaurant in the tri-county area. And as if that isn’t enough reason to jump in your car and floor it to the mountains right this second, on the other side of the Village is the new momo-maker on the block, MasalaCraft, which has people splitting their aloo allegiances. You’re on your way? Good choice.

But maybe you’re thinking, that now those places are going to be packed because you just explained that the best Indian food in the world is in Big Bear Village. We hear you. There’s an amazing little Italian place called Sweet Basil Bistro on the outskirts of the Village, located under -- we’re not making this up -- The Bowling Barn. Best drinks in town, too. Chef Sally’s daughter worked as a bartender in New York for years, and she hooked up that drink menu with mixology-style concoctions like the Blushing martini with raspberry puree and Champagne and the Blackberry Gimlet.

Before your buzz begins to wane, skip calling Big Bear Taxi just yet and head up the stairs with your liquid courage to belt out some karaoke at the Alley Oops bowling alley bar. You know Adele’s “Hello” is eating you up. Get it out, then go bowl your ass off. Call that taxi (or walk!) and head to Murray’s Saloon, the local watering hole and karaoke bar. (Pssst, the best burger in town comes directly from this hole-in-the-wall, and the kitchen is open late). The best part about Murray’s is the mixed pool of visitor talent from all around the world. But the lineup is the lineup, no matter how impressive your pipes are. No cutsies.

Prefer to let the professionals take the stage? There are plenty of live music options, with little folk duos at places like Friar Tucks above Nottinghams and Le Dolce Vita wine bar and Top 40 cover bands and dancing at watering holes like Chad’s Place (it moved!) and Whiskey Dave’s. There is also a fairly newish music venue in the Village called The Cave, which brings in touring and tribute acts, with recent acts including punk-reggae-ska fusion from The Aggrolites and a Johnny Cash tribute, Cash’d Out. Come January, Mickey Avalon, Los Lobos, and Missing Persons are booked.

On the serious tip: the altitude makes your alcohol intake at least twice as potent. So do the math. If you down two shots at Murray’s between epic renditions of “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Friends in Low Places,” that is like doing four shots. Check yourself. And you are not going to kick that bouncer’s ass, so just simmer down or you won’t need a taxi. You’ll get a ride courtesy of one of Big Bear's finest, and the destination will be either the hoosegow or the ER. Choose fun. And visit often.

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Arrissia Owen writes about music, business, social issues, and travel. She left the city behind for Big Bear more than a decade ago and doesn't miss the 101 or the 405 one bit.