When Southern Californians want to get out of the big city, they head to Big Bear, SoCal’s closest alpine playground. In summer, you can go fishing or boating on the lake or go hiking in the pine-scented forest. But with plenty of winter sports like skiing, snowboarding, tubing, and fat-tire cycling, Big Bear really shines as a winter destination. The ski areas are equipped with snow-making equipment, making Big Bear one of the more reliable ski areas you can fly to, both in terms of good weather and plenty of snow.
The ski area now called Snow Summit opened in 1952, prompting many Angelenos to take up the winter sport. Later, a second resort, Bear Mountain, opened just two miles away from Snow Summit. In 2013, both resorts were purchased by the owners of Mammoth Mountain, but still retain their original names. Lift tickets are good at both resorts, each is less than five miles from the airport, and they have 15 restaurants. Snow Summit offers 14 lifts, including two high-speed quad chairs that provide access to 31 trails, 240 skiable acres, and a tube park, all covered by snowmaking equipment in case nature doesn’t provide. Snowboarding is big here, and they offer classes, a kids’ camp, and regular ski lessons. Bear Mountain has 12 lifts and 198 developed acres, including two half pipes and a beginner pipe; 550 additional acres are undeveloped and provide natural terrain. There’s also a Grizzly Ridge Tube Park with a lift and groomed lanes, one website for all.
Up Moonridge Road just south of town you’ll find the Big Bear Alpine Zoo, where you can see (often up very close) mostly animals native to the local area, including gray foxes, mountain lions, and black bears, but also grizzlies, snow leopards, and wolves. Speaking of wildlife, scan the trees around Big Bear Lake for wintering bald eagles. Learn more about the surrounding San Bernardino National Forest and its wildlife at the U.S. Forest Service Big Bear Discovery Center, on the north side of Big Bear Lake, near Fawnskin. Half a mile west of the Discovery Center, the Big Bear Solar Observatory is one of the world’s preeminent facilities that studies the sun; tours are offered spring through fall. At the Pine Knot Marina, you can rent a boat spring through fall or cruise Big Bear Lake on the 64-foot paddlewheeler Miss Liberty year-round.
The Cave is a state-of-the-art, yet intimate rock concert and entertainment venue that also provides gourmet sandwiches and local craft brews on tap. Jayme and Tracy Nordine’s Grizzly Manor Café has been Big Bear’s most popular breakfast spot since its opening in 1992. The Nordines also own Grizzly’s Bear Belly Deli & Cafe, on the way to Bear Mountain Ski Resort and known for Big Bear’s best sandwiches. Fine dining and lakeside views make Evergreen Big Bear’s favorite romantic restaurant. Paoli’s Italian Kitchen is the place for antipasto salad, deep-dish pizza, or chicken Marsala. The tiny North Shore Café turns out fine entrées like steaks and seafood, plus burgers, sandwiches, and breakfasts.
There’s something about a winter trip to the mountains that makes a cabin sound delightful. Fortunately, Big Bear offers a huge variety of rental cabins, most south or east of the lake. Apples Bed & Breakfast is less than two miles from the ski resorts, while the Inn at Fawnskin, on the lake’s quiet, north side, gets our vote for coziest place to stay. Other convenient accommodations include Lagonita Lodge, and the Bear Creek and Wolf Creek resorts.
At Big Bear you won’t find ultra-luxe hotels, restaurants, and shops like those at Aspen, Vail, or Park City, but you also won’t get the high prices. From a pilot’s perspective, the terrain, while high, doesn’t approach that of the Rocky Mountains, or frequent cloud cover you get in the Cascades. See why Big Bear is the SoCal pilot’s alpine haven.
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