Every year for my birthday, I feel a calling to head to the mountains and really lean in to fall: cozy cabins, hikes through changing leaves, flannels and pumpkin spice. Over the past few years, I’ve done a good job about exploring fall locations all over the country, from the Catskills, to Tahoe, to Vermont. This year – with COVID travel restrictions – we opted to stay closer to home and that pretty much limited our mountain destination to just one: Big Bear Lake. As a relatively new Californian, I’ve heard a lot about the town of Big Bear Lake in the San Bernardino National Forest, but had yet to visit myself before last month.
Big Bear Lake is located 100 miles due east of Los Angeles, and 150 miles northeast from San Diego. Without traffic, it takes about 2 hours to get to Big Bear from LA, a little less from Palm Springs, and about 3 hours from San Diego. What I found most surprising was the altitude – at 6,000+ feet, the last 40 miles or so of the drive are spent slowly climbing up into the mountains on very windy roads and hairpin turns.
WHERE TO STAY
Big Bear is known for rustic accommodations. The hotels here are basic and there are a lot of little cabin rental properties that cater to tourists. Given this, and the fact that we brought our pup with us for this trip, we opted to do something I rarely do, stay in an Airbnb. I have nothing against Airbnb, but as a travel advisor, I am typically keen to test out top hotels to recommend to my clients. I also find that home rentals are often great for larger groups, but can be tricky to find something trendy and economical for just one couple. However, after much searching and using flexible weekday travel dates, I found the cutest West Elm-inspired A-frame in Big Bear City. Complete with a wood-burning stove, loft bedrooms, a back deck with gas fire-pit and many a Netflix-enabled TV – the cabin had every amenity we could have wanted. The only downside was the location of the Airbnb which was in Big Bear City, about 15 minutes’ drive to the village of Big Bear Lake where the majority of restaurants and shops are located. But ultimately it wasn’t too far and we really loved how cozy our stay was in this quaint cabin.
WHERE TO EAT
One thing I love about staying in a home rental is having my own kitchen. So, unlike most trips, we didn’t eat out for every meal. But when we did, we found some really delicious food:
- Dank Donuts – great homemade donut spot
- Himalayan Restaurant – authentic Indian & Nepalese spot that’s been a staple of Big Bear Lake village for many years
- Fire Rock Burgers & Brews – Local beers and innovative burgers! They even have beer floats. A perfect lunch spot post-hike.
WHAT TO DO
We enjoyed plenty of time cozied up in our cabin, warming up by the fire or catching up on Netflix shows, but we also did some fun outdoor activities:
- Hiking the popular Castle Rock Trail – great views of the lake, steep but short so its popular for families and dog friendly; get there early as parking is limited.
- Strolling through Big Bear Lake Village – great dining, some shopping and several candy spots
- Watching the sunset at Boulder Bay Park
WHEN TO GO
Big Bear Lake, like many mountain destinations, is great to visit the majority of the year. In the summer, you can enjoy activities on the lake (kayaking, canoeing) and hiking; in the fall, there is beautiful foliage and in winter, travelers enjoy the ski mountain and other snow-based activities. Just be careful with the altitude and drink lots of water when visiting from sea level.