Guide to Big Bear, California

July 16, 2018

Big Bear is located in the middle of the San Bernadino Mountains alongside Big Bear Lake. The area is blessed with mild California temps but is lucky enough to experience the beauty of all four seasons.

Since this small mountain is only a two-hour drive from Los Angeles and Orange County,  it is a popular weekend destination for adventure seekers. The slopes are a big draw in the winter, but there are plenty of outdoorsy activities available throughout the year.

Do and See

Get Out on the Lake
Rent a kayak or paddle board for a couple hours from the friendly Argentinean dude at Massive Snowboards just down the street from Boulder Bay Park. There is nothing like taking in the beauty of the lake set against the pine-tree lined mountains and bright blue sky.

Hit the Slopes
If it’s wintertime, you’ll likely be hitting the slopes. Though it can get crowded, seasoned skiers and snowboarders favor Big Bear Mountain because the slopes are challenging and well-maintained. Beginners may choose to take ski lessons at another resort.

Hike the Trails
The Castle Rock Trail is a bit steep but you’ll be rewarded with a great view once you reach the top. If you’re looking for a more leisurely experience, head over to the northeast side of the lake for a pleasant walk along the lake on the Alpine Pedal Path.

Cruise The Village
It’s impossible to visit Big Bear without a trip to The Village. Enjoy a drink or meal (recommendations below) and browse the shops like O Koo Ran for it’s rustic, boho goods and The Copper Q for kitchen goods.

Fun with the Kids
Start at the Big Bear Discovery Center to explore exhibits on local animals and nature. Then, check out Magic Mountain for the alpine slide in warmer months or inner tubing in the winter. When the weather isn’t cooperating, go bowling at the Big Bear Bowling Barn or play games at the Big Bear Funplex.

Eat and Drink

572 Social Kitchen and Bar
Located in The Village, this expansive restaurant is the answer to all of your millennial dreams. Gastro pub menu? Check. Fancy cocktails and wine list? Check. Modern industrial design? Check. Order a pizza, grab a drink, and head out to the patio. If you are lucky, there will be live music.

Himalayan Restaurant
Don’t let the white tablecloths fool you, this hyped restaurant has a laidback, welcoming vibe. The expansive menu offers cuisine from Northern India and Nepal. Chicken tikka masala and garlic naan are crowd favorites but more adventurous eaters will spring for a one of the lamb dishes or the vegetarian aloo govi.

Big Bear Lake Brewing Company
After hitting the slopes or being in the cabin all day, there’s nothing more refreshing than downing a cold brew. Choose from one of their six offerings (my personal fave is the hefe) and try the avocado bomb if you are hungry. Pro tip: Avoid this place on busy, holiday weekends. They get packed and service often suffers.

Get the Burger
Any fan of In and Out will love these California-style burgers with thin patties, secret sauce, and fixings the way you like it. Service is friendly and the 50s diner-vibe is spot on. Love the bear-inspired mural painted on the inner walls!

Thelma’s Family Restaurant
There is no shortage of family-run diners in Big Bear, but this one just happens to be our favorite. Even though the atmosphere isn’t anything to write home about, the service is generally good and the tasty breakfast will fill your tummy. My suggestion: Go with the pancakes or any breakfast item that includes biscuits and gravy on the side.

Tips and Tricks

On holiday weekends, the population of Big Bear can go from 5,000 to 100,000 people. There are usually additional activities and fun planned around the city for these special weekends but the cons are that you have to deal with increased traffic and crowding.

My favorite time of the year to visit Big Bear is in the spring when the temp is good for hiking and lakeside fun, wildflowers are blooming, and crowds are generally nonexistent. That said, we always go up the the family cabin a couple times during the winter to enjoy the snow.

The air is a bit thinner up in these wooded parts so apply sunscreen often to avoid getting burnt. If you are hitting the slopes, don’t forget sunglasses or goggles to protect your eyes from the rays that bounce off the snow.

P.S. Here’s a travel guide for another fun weekend trip in California and make a French fondue when you are up in the mountains during the winter.