With 21,000 year-round residents, Big Bear Lake is a Southern California bedroom community attracting visitors with its pristine views and splash of the arts. The town has a rich history. In 1845, a group of settlers arrived in the area, which used to be known as Yuhaviat, but took the liberty of renaming the area to Big Bear due to the large number of grizzly bears they encountered on arrival. Today, the grizzlies are gone and instead the town brims with local restaurants, souvenir shops and vacation rentals.
A humble two-hour drive from downtown Los Angeles, the town is wedged between the San Bernardino Mountains and the south shore of Big Bear Lake. Some Californians consider Big Bear Lake a smaller and less expensive version of Tahoe. Though less grand in size of mountain, like Tahoe, Big Bear is surrounded by pine tree forest, home to two ski areas, located on a lake and throngs with visitors in winter and summer alike.
Why Big Bear Lake is Different
Once a playground for L.A.’s affluent, Big Bear Lake has become an affordable spot for those looking to get away from the city. In winter, its southern location and warm temperatures make a wonderful combination for what feels like perpetual spring skiing.
Nearest Ski Mountain
Bear Mountain and Snow Summit
Bear Mountain and Snow Summit are sister mountains and both skirt the edge of town. Look for smoother operations in the upcoming years as both mountains were recently purchased by Mammoth Mountain Ski Area and are planning upgrades. Easy runs and ski schools dominate the area creating a great experience for first timers as well as experienced skiers from Los Angeles looking to keep the rust off. Pro skiers need not apply.
In Big Bear, the most important consideration when choosing a place to slumber is party size. If traveling by yourself or with a partner, look to stay in a bed and breakfast or the Big Bear Hostel. They provide low rates and a fun social environment. For families or large groups, consider renting a cabin. They’re prevalent in the area and provide extra space for kids to play and visiting friends. Use the “Explore Big Bear Lake’s Best Lodging Deals” box above and right to find the Big Bear lodging choices that best fit you.
If visiting in the spring, bring more than just your ski gear. Chances are the warm weather and clear waters of Big Bear Lake will entice you to retire from the slopes for an afternoon kayak or canoe paddle. Venturing beyond the ski hill gives you the opportunity to experience more of the area’s outdoor recreation. Contact Bear Valley Bikes for cruiser and mountain bike rentals and trail suggestions from those who know the area best. If fishing is your game, schedule a few hours with Big Bear Charter Fishing to hook the lake’s best bass, bluegill, crappie and trout.
What the town lacks in exotic cuisine, it makes up for with a handful of local, mom and pop restaurants and cafes. Find local and visitor favorites below:
Peppercorn Grille is a town staple, serving up some of the best Surf and Turf in the area.
For breakfast check out the Grizzly Manor Café. Health nuts say never to eat portions larger than your hand, but their pancakes are the exception. Forewarning, the demand for these hot cakes creates a long wait list.
Broadway Café is the perfect little lunch spot after a half day of skiing. Hearty burgers and sandwiches provide fuel for your next adventure. Himalayan deserves a high-five for diversity and taste! For something different try Botana, a funky cross-fusion of Mexican and Italian. Botana offers a 5-course fixed price menu. Reservations are recommended.
For those who are of age and wish to indulge in an adult beverage, this ski town is no different than any other…bars abound. Start the night at Big Bear Lake Brewing Company for a wide selection of local and global brews. After, head over to Club Bombay for a cocktail from one of their seasoned mixologists. Check their calendar for live music on weekends and during peak season. The Beach Bar is another solid choice. It sits at the base of Bear Mountain, allowing you to watch skiers and boarders as you sip. It’s the go-to spot for après-ski.
Big Bear Lodging
Use the “Explore Big Bear Lake’s Best Lodging Deals” box above and right to find Big Bear’s best Lodging choices and deals. Lodging choices are pre-ordered by price, but you can enter your own search parameters.
There are several week-long and daily events worth checking out. Visit the “Events” and “Special Events” pages at bigbear.com for daily happenings such as happy hours, live music and entertainment at the Performing Arts Center. Annual events like Oktoberfest in mid-fall and the Volcom PB&J Rail Jam, usually in January or February, are visitor favorites.
Off Mountain Activities
Aside from the standard snowshoeing and village shopping suggestions, horseback riding, helicopter rides, hiking tours, fishing, off-roading and more is at your disposal. During winter, spa days and strolling through town is what you’ll find most people doing, aside from skiing, of course.
By Zach Lambros