Mammoth Lakes is a village in the trees undergoing a notable transformation. Surrounded by the two million acre Inyo National Forest, this 4-square mile piece of paradise survives and thrives as a base for recreational tourism. While the town center had evolved in the norms of the Southern Californians who frequent here for their mountain sports, that had meant no walking streets or town center. The many restaurants, lodging choices and ski mountain were spread apart enough to absolutely require a car to get around. That’s all changing.
Mammoth Lakes in recent years has put tremendous resources into melding the ski mountain with the town, connecting the two with a gondola and adding considerably more lodging options with ski lift access outside the door. Where the ski mountain connects to the town there’s growing walking, dining and shopping areas whose architecture and charm reminds one of Vail. Still the town is firmly enough established in its root to be and feel less about the glitz and more about the manner of its unpretentious, hardworking locals. They treat tourists like family and hold true to the philosophy that life is best lived outdoors doing what you love.
Why Mammoth Lakes is Different
Located in the Eastern Sierra Nevada’s, Mammoth Lakes feels remote (300 miles and 5 hours from Los Angeles). Yet the town is close to the heart of Californians because it embodies the laid-back lifestyle for which California is known. Dress codes are unheard of, as are the casinos or other indoor trappings found in California ski towns like Tahoe and Truckee. Mammoth is all about its world class skiing and ventures into its surrounding forests, lakes and mountains, whether it be for casual or extreme activities of every type imaginable.
Nearest Ski Mountain
With the highest summit elevation of any resort in California, 5,000 skiable acres, 3,100 foot vertical drop and a long ski season, Mammoth is California’s overachiever.
Lodging in Mammoth Lakes ranges from the wallet-friendly Econo Lodge to the upscale Sierra Nevada Resort & Spa and The Westin Monache Resort. Large condo complexes include 1849, Snowcreek, Seasons 4 and many more. Use the “Explore Mammoth’s Best Lodging Deals” box above and right to find the Mammoth Lakes lodging choices that best fit you.
Take advantage of the free public transit system available throughout town. Even though the roads are well maintained, letting someone else do the driving alleviates stress during your vacation. Seven different transport lines run during the day while the Night Trolley and Evening Hospitality Shuttle provide transportation late into the night.
One of the newest restaurants in town, Mammoth Tavern, is gastropub, which has quickly become a local’s favorite for its excellent views of the Sherwin Mountains and delicious unique fare. Or try Petra’s Bistro & Wine Bar, which offers contemporary American cuisine with 30 wines by the glass, more than 350 by the bottle, handcrafted cocktails and a cozy fireplace with couches for casual gatherings.
Get a taste of something south of the border at Roberto’s Cafe, inexpensive yet quality Mexican dishes and margaritas. For barbecue cravings it’s Angels, for giant beef ribs with their homemade sauce in a warm, cabin setting with fireplace. If you’re in a rush to get to the hill or need to a quick bite, head to Good Life Cafe, a one-stop shop for breakfast, lunch and dinner from huevos rancheros to fresh grilled salmon.
Mammoth Rock ‘n’ Bowl will surprise you as an après spot for the entire family. Twelve bowling lanes with lane-side dining and drink service, plus foosball, darts and a virtual golf center are just the tip of the iceberg. What’s surprising though is that Rock ‘n’ Bowl also offers some of Mammoth’s finest dining upstairs at Mammoth Brasserie.
Clocktower Cellar has long been the local’s favorite pub, but when it added 160 selections of whiskey to its menu, it jumped to the top of the list for visitors as well. Visiting a mountain town and not stopping at the local brewery is considered a sin by many skiers. Not to worry, Mammoth Brewing Company opened a new tasting room in 2014 and has since added a beer garden.
Mammoth Lakes Lodging
Use the “Explore Mammoth’s Best Lodging Deals” box above and right to find Mammoth’s best Lodging choices and deals. Lodging choices are pre-ordered by price, but you can enter your own search parameters.
Night of Lights takes place each holiday season at Canyon Lodge with a fireworks show and torchlight ski parade from the slopes of Mammoth Mountain. The annual Holiday Tree Lighting Ceremony held on Main Street serves up hot cocoa, carols and a special appearance from Santa.
As a training ground for Olympic freestyle skiers, Mammoth showcases them as host to the U.S. Grand Prix freeskiing event in early February. In March, the Mammoth Winter Biathlon continues to grow in popularity with categories for first-timers to professionals. The annual Pond Skim, held before the mountain closes to skiers, draws a crowd ready to cheer on scantily-clad participants attempting to ski their way across a pond of icy water.
In winter, when not downhill skiing, the Tamarack Ski Center is Mammoth’s nordic skiing hub with more than 19 miles of groomed trails that takes kick-and-skate skiers and snowshoers through the tall pine forest and around many of the frozen lower lakes. Mammoth Dog Teams offers dog sledding tours over Mammoth’s flat lands, while in town at the Mammoth Ice Rink you can join a game of pick-up hockey or take skating lessons.
In non-winter months when Tioga Pass (on Hwy. 120) is open, spectacular Yosemite National Park is only an hour and fifteen minutes away and makes a very reasonable and scenery-rich day trip. At Red’s Meadow only nine miles away, you can ride horseback on two-hour tours to Rainbow Falls or on multi-day backcountry trips into the Sierra Nevadas. There’s trout fishing on the lakes with boat rentals. And for hikers, there’s walks of all distances from short easy jaunts around the Mammoth Lakes to a connection with the Pacific Crest Trail for journeys as far as either Mexico or Canada depending upon your direction and ambition.
By Lara Kaylor