Big Bear Lake Courtesy of Big Bear Visitors Bureau

Big Bear Lake

This time of year, we’re good with fog, clouds, and rain, and, yes, a few jealous pangs that come from seeing pictures of friends or family in other parts of the country frolicking around in gently falling snow.

But only a few pangs, because we know it’s not worth it to drive around in snow for months each winter just to have that one cool picture.

Not when Big Bear Lake is only three hours away, it’s not.

We can experience an enchanted snowy vacation when the mood strikes, and then come back and enjoy the perks of living in the San Joaquin Valley the rest of the year.

Photos courtesy of Big Bear Visitors Bureau
Photos courtesy of Big Bear Visitors Bureau

Big Bear has that classic California mountain resort town vibe…if that is such a thing. (If it isn’t, we’re making it one.) Surrounded by the lush San Bernardino National Forest, the town has a population of just over 20,000 full-time residents, which obviously increases during summer and winter tourist seasons.

Fun fact! The area has been known as “Yuhaviat” for more than a thousand years—a Serrano Native American word meaning “Pine Place,” which makes total sense if you’ve ever been.

The name “Big Bear Lake” came from, well, a big grizzly bear that Benjamin David Wilson and a posse of his men saw, roped, and took back to their camp in 1845. They happened to be near a lake, which Wilson then christened “Big Bear Lake.” That lake is now ironically known as Baldwin Lake (at the east end of the valley) and what we now think of as Big Bear Lake was actually man-made. True story.

In February, average temperatures will hover in the 50s during the day and sink into the mid 20s at night, so bring your thermals, sweaters, and parkas. Come March, things will get warmer, naturally, but it will still be cooler than Bakersfield. Plus, you’ll want to make sure to check the road conditions for your trip—with snow on the road, it can be dangerous if you’re not experienced or don’t have all-weather tires (or chains). And, keep in mind that as much as we want to be omniscient, because of ever-changing weather patterns, we have no idea if snow will still be falling this time of year (even though it historically does), so keep an eye out on the forecast.

Wojciech Gajda/Thinkstock
Wojciech Gajda/Thinkstock

But what to do when you arrive? You’re not just going so you can experience the cold weather, right? You want build a snowman, maybe go snowshoeing or skiing, or cultivate a mysterious new “winter” persona that you can test out on other Big Bear guests at shops, restaurants, and bars. Hey, it’s what we’d do.

Start by touring Big Bear Village

This charming area recently went through some renovations. Not that the place was ever outdated—we’re talking heated sidewalks and seat walls, plus the addition of outdoor fire pits, new lighting, decorative street crossings and signs, and new landscaping to give guests the complete feel of an alpine resort town. In the Village, you’ll find all the shops, eateries, and entertainment you could want during your weekend.

Courtesy of Louis Weiner
Courtesy of Louis Weiner

There are galleries filled with works from local artists, boutique trinket shops, one-of-a-kind quirky craft stores, and of course the famous Brown Bear Gift Shop that has been open since 1924, where you can find the perfect memento to remember your getaway! There are clothing stores and furniture stores and practically a store for any need you could have. But really, the whole point of being in Big Bear Village is to enjoy the atmosphere, which during the winter months has been described as “resplendent in winter white; the forest blanketed in fresh powder; the azure lake rimmed in snow—it’s magical here in Big Bear Lake and there are plenty of activities to enjoy.” Even into early spring, there will be snow on the mountains.

So in between moments of shopping, grab a bit of food, and just relax. The Village is spotted with restaurants, pubs, ice cream parlors, and candy shops.

There’s classy Nottinghams Restaurant, where you can get steak and seafood; the Himalayan for fresh Indian and Nepalese dishes; Sweet Basil Bistro for savory Italian; and the newly opened Big Bear Lake Brewing Company, serving craft brewed beers and perfectly paired pub favorites like fish and chips, burgers and sandwiches, and heartier dishes like grilled salmon.

Photo by Dan McKernan
Photo by Dan McKernan

The Village area also offers a number of popular lodges and inns for your weekend getaway, many with beautiful views. But it’s Big Bear! You can also get a group together and rent a cabin in the mountains, or reserve a lakeside room at a resort lodge, hotel, or bed and breakfast. Just depends on the type of accommodations you want—elegant and all-inclusive or charming and rustic.

If you’re planning on doing more in the snow than making snow angels, snowmen, or having a good snowball fight, Big Bear Lake is home to southern California’s two premier ski resorts. Snow Summit is perfect for everyday skiers and riders looking for a laid back winter playground. And “The Park” at Bear Mountain can accommodate first-time snowboarders and skiers to freestyle experts. It’s the only mountain resort in the U.S. devoted almost entirely to freestyle terrain. But if skiing and snowboarding isn’t your thing, you can still venture onto these snowy peaks and experience their beauty in other ways.

Lots of travelers head to Big Bear for snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, back-country off-roading, horseback riding (which in the winter is absolutely breathtaking), sledding, and downhill inner tubing.

Pack a picnic and snowshoe across the picturesque mountain landscape, the smell of pine around you, the fresh powdery snow sparkling in the sunlight, and encounter deer and foxes as you move through the woods. We have many things here in Kern County—but that’s an experience you won’t be able to get elsewhere, so take the opportunity!

We recommend you inner tube down the snow packed slopes at least once while in Big Bear.

Two parks are open daily for tubing fun: Alpine Slide at Magic Mountain and Big Bear Snow Play. Each place also makes it easy to get up the hill with a Magic Carpet ride (also known as a moving conveyor belt) to the top. There’s also night tubing at Alpine Slide at Magic Mountain for those interested on Fridays and Saturdays!

If winter sports aren’t your thing, there are lots of other activities to try. There are spas for pampering and massages, helicopter flights for sightseeing, laser tag and arcades, bowling, ziplining, the zoo, and more.

Big Bear Lake Courtesy of Big Bear Visitors Bureau
Big Bear Lake
Courtesy of Big Bear Visitors Bureau

The Gold Mine Gift Emporium taps into the area’s rich geologic history—not only is it a gift shop filled with minerals, gems, fossils, geodes, jewelry, dinosaur artifacts, and dig kits, but kids of all ages can discover real gold by purchasing a panning kit (paydirt included) or just the paydirt itself and pan for riches at their mining sluice, water flume, or dry sifting boxes.

Snow sports, shopping, and new food aside, even if you just want to sit around and sip wine or hot cocoa by the fire and watch the snow fall for a weekend, Big Bear Lake is waiting. It’s the perfect winter getaway for those of us craving a little of that white stuff without giving up what we love about home.

For more information on where to stay and what to do in Big Bear Lake, visit BigBear.com or call 1-800-424-4232.

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