Escape to Big Bear

The road to Big Bear, CA, for those who have never been, is a tale of paved un-expectation. What begins as a characterless, fifty-three lane freeway—rough estimate—soon turns to a thin, serpentine course that twines around rippling, green-pine landscape licked by slow-moving fog and then, sunshine.

It’s so crazy beautiful to twist your way up the mountain that as you do it, you can’t help but think about how foreign this place is from the nautical scenes of Newport Beach and the traffic-jammed smog of Los Angeles, worthy of a John Denver song or some fancy car commercial. Your pick.

Another perk to Big Bear: The town is located only two hours from Newport, which means you could technically wake up in the morning, surf for a few, hop in your car, drive to Big Bear, ski on fresh powder by afternoon and still be home in time for dinner. Yes, it would be a very late dinner but surf-to-ski (and back again) can technically be done.

Whether you plan a one-day turnaround or weekend-long trip, Big Bear is the place to have yourself a little mountainous, holiday adventure. Here’s how:

Ski, ski and ski some more.

Bear Mountain and Snow Summit are the two spots for wintertime fun; both resorts, pending the weather, open in November and close in late March or early April. But even if summer or autumn finds you road tripping to Big Bear, you can still enjoy the mountain clime via an endless amount of hiking trails that will still allow you to experience the great outdoors sans snow.

Travel toward the sky.  

We suggest buying a ticket to ride a “Sky Chair” at Snow Summit. The 15-minute, mile-long journey up the mountain—reaching an elevation of 8,200 feet—offers breathtaking views of Big Bear and the surrounding San Bernadino National Forest as your feet dangle over the ski-lift seats. Once at the top, take any number of open trails back down again or stay right where you are and visit the Skyline Tap House Restaurant located at the Summit’s peak. “You can’t help but to drop your jaw at the spectacular views on the mountain and valley below,” describes the Snow Summit official website. “So since your jaw is open anyway, you might as well nibble on some decadently delicious food.”

Shop at Big Bear Lake Village.

A quaint row of stores selling locally sourced trinkets and touristy souvenirs, Big Bear Lake Village offers a decidedly more commercial respite from the wilderness surrounding the area. Also, can you really return home before buying a Big Bear mug or an “I Went To Big Bear And All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt” keepsake? You’ll wear that tee again, (maybe).

Head to the water.

No trip to Big Bear is complete without a trip to Big Bear Lake. We recommend parking at the East Boat Ramp and walking the rustic two-mile path along the lakefront, which is definitely more “Sound of Music” than it is Southern California. The lake is seven miles long, so you won’t cover it all on this flat-land hike but you will get to see the tiny, European-inspired homes that speckle the shoreline as you take in the pristine mountain air. The atmosphere is enough to make you want to learn how to play the banjo, find a friend who plays the fiddle and together form a folk band called “The Rolling Tumbleweeds” that performs strictly by the waters of Big Bear Lake. Or something.

Bring your dog.

One other thing of note: The lake path—and really, the entire town—is a dog-friendly paradise. While trekking along the lakefront, many dog owners let their dogs off leash and allow them to enjoy pure duck-chasing, fish-smelling heaven. Big Bear Lake’s restaurants, or at least those with outdoor seating, are also canine cool, and water bowls and doggie treats are just a few ways these fine establishments show for their furriest of patrons an outpouring of love.

Visit the brewery.

And speaking of pours—see what we did there?—take a break from nature with a locally made chocolate porter from Big Bear Lake Brewing Company, which, as the mountain heat rolls through in summertime, is nothing if not ice cold, cocoa-y perfection.

Big Bear, it’s official. In the completely irrelevant game we made up now to end this post, you get five hundred points and win.