This Mountain Lake Escape Is the Winter Wonderland Reset You Need
Cozy mountain vibes, just two hours outside of LA.
The area now known as Big Bear Lake was called Yahaviat (“pine place”) to the native Yuhaviatam (“people of the pines”). They lived among grizzly bears, which were revered by the Indigenous tribe and considered to be reincarnations of their ancestral spirits. Though there are only black bears here now, the little town named after the Californian carnivores has become one of Southern California’s most popular destinations—for good reason. The gold rushers are long gone, but the movie crews, hikers, bikers, fishermen, skiers, and snowboarders visit the mountainous abode year-round to take in its beautiful tree-laden scenery with each breath of pine-scented air. Here are the essential stops you’ll want to put on your winter itinerary:
Head to one or both hills for some leisurely snow carving, whether you’re riding on one plank or two. For the more family-friendly resort, head to Snow Summit. Young terrain park riders will want to lap Big Bear. The two summits are two miles apart—but lift tickets are good for entry to both on the same day. This year, you’ll want to buy lift tickets and reserve your rentals and lessons in advance so you’re assured your spots due to a reduced capacity for pandemic protocols.
How to book: Buy your tickets online and download the Big Bear Mountain Resort app onto your phone for easy scanning.
Warm up with some toasty cocktails
You’ve got your choice of some lively bars in Big Bear for a drink or two to acclimate your body to the elevation, starting with Club Bombay. It’s a wood-ensconced bar with an extensive whiskey selection and live music on the weekends. It’s currently open Friday through Sunday nights. For a more extensive food menu (served until 2 am, to boot) to hold your own with the drinks, try Murray’s Saloon & Eatery—a popular joint with the locals complete with bikers, TV screens, and karaoke. Feeling like some local beer brewed at 6,700 feet elevation? Big Bear Lake Brewing Company has just that—but also craft cocktails for mixed drink aficionados.
Grab provisions from Bear Cupboards Market
This brand new little shop on Village Drive stocks snacks and meals to-go from LA purveyors. Try a loaf of bread from Bub & Grandma’s, grab-and-go items from Heirloom LA, plus takeout beer and wine. Pick up some dairy products and produce to stock up your cabin kitchen. Novel items like kewpie mayo and Maldon sea salt will fill in those specialty gaps in your pantry
Ziplining is a great way to get the perfect vantage point of Big Bear’s beautiful scenery while enjoying some adventure. Strap in for nine whole runs of speeds of up to 35 mph, zooming above the treeline while feeling the wind blow in your face. The entire tour is three hours of fun, and you can also rent a go-pro camera to record footage for a keepsake video of your daredevil tour. Tack on a wine or beer tasting at Barrel 33 in the village for a perfect way to wind down.
How to book: Buy tickets in advance online for $139 per adult, or bring a group of 10-18 people for $125.10 per adult.
You’ve got a few options to catch that exhilarating feeling sliding down a hill in Big Bear. Take a bobsled down the Alpine Slide, where you’ll get to steer your own individual sled on two different quarter-mile tracks. Feel like making it a night adventure? Glow Tubing is available on Fridays, Saturdays, and holidays. You can also go tubing at Snow Play, where they have the longest hills in Southern California. Both are open, with safety precautions, and Snow Play is even open at night on Fridays, Saturdays, and holidays.
How to book: Tickets are $40 for adults and $25 for children. Buy at the ticket window, and remember to bring cash.
A trip to Big Bear wouldn’t be complete without a hike to appreciate all its glory and wonder. Oak Knoll Lodge rests off the beaten path and has been owned by the same family for 100 years, with many scenic hiking trails just across the street. You can rent snowshoes at one of the sporting goods retailers, then head to one of the trailheads. For a couple hikes out of the way, head east to Baldwin Lake to pay homage to the Eye of God, a quartz dome that was a sacred tribal landmark for the Yuhaviatam people. For another interesting trail south of the area, scout the largest Lodgepole pines by Bluff Lake on the Champion Lodgepole Pine Trail.
How to book: Book your standalone cabin with contactless check-in directly with Oak Knoll Lodge. For snowshoe rentals, head to Bear Valley Bikes, Goldsmith’s Sports, TC Ride Shop and North Shore Trading Company.
Enjoy the winter wonderland from the vantage point of one of the best cardio workouts to exist: Cross-country skiing. Next to hiking, it’s one of the most affordable activities around. You’ll need to head five to ten miles west from Big Bear Lake to the Rim Nordic Ski Area, the only place for cross-country skiing in Southern California. Beginners can start out with a quarter-mile loop called the Deep Creek Loop. Intermediate skiers can hop on the Lower Country Road Trail that’s about two miles long.
How to book:The Rim Nordic Ski Area is only open when there’s snow on the ground and costs $22 per adult.
Relive Big Bear’s gold rush of the 1860s at Gold Rush Mining Adventures, where no one goes home empty-handed. Pan for gold, crystals, and gemstones. You can also harvest pearls straight from the oyster or excavate fossils. They’ll also calculate your numerology and personalize your gemstone. And while you’re there, take a stroll in their ghost town called Glitter Gulch.
How to book: Gold Rush Mining Adventures is open every day, all year round. When you arrive, book the packages you want for the adventure you seek.
Get some coffee “with altitude” by stopping by Big Bear Roasting Company for a cup of joe. They take coffee roasting seriously, offering samples of each varietal for customers to try. With over 50 flavored blends, this is a place you’ll want to keep coming back to try each flavor. The variety of specialty drinks is unmatched, so this is a coffee house where you'll want to get some beans for the road as well as a fancy flavored latte.
Stop by this top-notch donut shop—one that boasts itself as the highest one in the west—for yeast-risen treats in a wide variety of flavors. They’ve got crullers, twists, bear claws (of course), cronuts, fritters, cinnamon rolls, vegan options, and more. If you’re feeling extra savory, go for their breakfast burrito—but they sell out fast so get there early. If you come by after breakfast, you’ll find items like Orange Chicken (and an Orange Chicken Burrito!), a Vegan Thai Salad Wrap, and a Chicken and Bacon Wrap with Caesar-dressed slaw.
Sit down for a meal and a piece of Big Bear history at this restaurant that was established in 1944—whether for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Popular items here include a 100% angus beef Pastrami Burger, house-made Chicken Pot Pie, Country-Fried Steak and Teddy Bears Benedict. All pies are made from scratch, so you know that all their food is made with a lot of love.
Feast on excellent Indian food
A mountain town in the San Bernardino Mountains is probably the last place you’d expect to find great Indian cuisine, but Big Bear has not only one, but two such places—two blocks away from each other. Himalayan Restaurant is located adjacent to the aforementioned Club Bombay bar. Masala Craft is the newer of the two and just completed a remodel, but both are heavily favored as the top restaurants in town, which essentially has Indian fare cornering the market on comfort food made for the mountains.