By Rachel Schnalzer, Los Angeles Times
There are many sides to Big Bear, a winter sports destination nestled in the San Bernardino National Forest. The mountain town is home to some unusual offerings — a Wes Anderson-themed cabin (available to rent) and a sail-able pirate ship, to name just two — in addition to the fresh powder that keeps travellers coming back.
With the omicron variant of the coronavirus continuing to spread, make sure to wear masks and social distance from other travellers when you visit. In addition, give the winter driving advice from the city of Big Bear Lake a close read before making a trip.
Ski and surf in the same day
When I moved to California, I heard a few common refrains from friends and family members: “You’re going to see so many celebrities!” “Won’t you miss seasons?” and, my favourite, “I hear you can ski and surf in the same day.”
For better or worse, none of these statements have come true for me — I didn’t find myself missing freezing rain and black ice, and if I walk past celebrities with any degree of frequency, it’s lost on me.
I also haven’t surfed and skied (or, in my case, snowboarded) in the same 24-hour window. But it’s on my list.
Big Bear presents a good opportunity for achieving this Golden State milestone. Although many skiers and boarders may opt for Snow Summit or Bear Mountain ski resorts, Times travel writer Christopher Reynolds recommends hitting up Snow Valley in Running Springs — 10 miles closer to the coast — if you’re hoping to make it back in time for a sunset surf.
I won’t pretend to be an expert on L.A. surf breaks but in my limited experience, the waves off Bay Street in Santa Monica are generally mild — and so are the surfers you’ll usually find there. Parking is ample too.
The Bay Street beach and Snow Valley are roughly 100 miles apart, but the time it takes to get from one to the other can vary dramatically. Try to time your snow-to-surf adventure to avoid heavy traffic.
Embrace offbeat Big Bear
Whether it’s Salvation Mountain in the desert or Confusion Hill amid the redwoods, you’re never far from a generous helping of eccentricity in California. Big Bear is no exception.
If you enjoy embracing the strange during your travels, here are a few places worth checking out in Big Bear:
- The Big Bear Lake Pirate Ship: Due to its role in the 1981 film Time Bandits, this ship is a piece of Hollywood history. It was used for tours in Los Angeles and Newport Beach before it found its home in the mountains. Tickets for a 90-minute cruise aboard the pirate ship are $29 for adults, $27 for seniors and $21 for kids ages 3 to 15. Expect cheesy jokes and sweeping lake views.
- Castle Wood Cottages: Care to sleep in a fairy-tale forest or crystalline cave during your trip to Big Bear? For us mere mortals, approximations of these settings can be found at Castle Wood Cottages. Or opt for another delightfully over-the-top themed room (the King Arthur suite, anyone?). Rates in winter start at $179.
- Grizzly Manor Cafe: Maybe I’ve seen too many episodes of “Twin Peaks,” but there’s a special place in my heart reserved for quirky diners in mountain towns. Reynolds mentions Grizzly Manor’s “big portions and irreverent attitude” in his roundup of the 40 best winter experiences in California.
Slow down on a snowshoe trek
What with zipping down ski runs and signing up for activities such as bowling and escape rooms, it’s all too easy to end up with a packed schedule during a weekend in Big Bear.
That’s why it’s important, I think, to intentionally slow down — in any destination you visit but especially in places such as Big Bear that offer so much natural beauty.
Snowshoeing is a great way to take it slow and appreciate your surroundings. Visitors can join a naturalist-led snowshoe trek in the San Bernardino National Forest organized by the Southern California Mountains Foundation. During tours, a naturalist explains how the native plants and animals adapt to colder temperatures, allowing participants to gain a deeper understanding of the nature surrounding them.
Tours are held Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon through March 26, though they are subject to change based on snow conditions. Tickets — which include snowshoes, trekking poles, a snack and water — cost $30 for adults and $20 for children ages 8 to 12. Reservations must be made in advance.
Where to stay
The Castle Wood Cottages are just the tip of the snowcapped iceberg when it comes to memorable stays in Big Bear. The Big Bear Lake website, which offers plenty of links to vacation homes available to rent, is a good place to begin your search. Here are some options that stand out:
- Midnight Moon Cabins: These cabins, included in Reynolds’ best winter experiences list, ooze “modern mountain” vibes. They start at $499 per night.
- Oak Knoll Lodge: A stay at Oak Knoll Lodge is a step back in time. According to the lodge, most of the cabins were constructed during the 1920s. Rates start at about $265 per night during the winter.
- Camp Gold Dust: Calling all Wes Anderson fans. Complete with Boy Scout uniforms and a usable cassette player, this retro Airbnb will transport you straight to Camp Ivanhoe. “‘Moonrise Kingdom’ is our North star,” the listing says. It costs around $350 per night, though this rate may fluctuate.
- Noon Lodge: The old-school camp vibes continue at Noon Lodge, where a cluster of cabins makes for a fun spot to stay with a family or group of friends. Rentals start at $156 per night.
Plan your adventures throughout the West Coast at westcoasttraveller.com and follow us on Facebook and Instagram @thewestcoasttraveller. And for the top West Coast Travel stories of the week delivered right to your inbox, sign up for our weekly Armchair Traveller newsletter!