Everyone I know speaks highly of Big Bear. If you live in LA, it’s where you go to get away. Church goers attend retreats there. Big time television producers have their second and third homes there. Some athletes even rent cabins and go there to train. Me? I just wanted to stop choking on polluted air in Los Angeles and get away for a weekend.
You know that saying that goes something like, Los Angeles is the only place where you can go snowboarding and surfing in the same day? It’s a lie. First, you can’t go snowboarding in LA. The nearest “real” mountain is two hours away. Second, what about the rest of California? Surely there are other beautiful places with mountains and the Pacific in close proximity of each other. Typical Los Angeles arrogance, thinking they’re so unique. Anyway, that’s how I learned about Big Bear- as one of the few snowboarding mountains only two hours away. Then I learned it’s a great place to visit in the summer too.
The drive there is actually really enjoyable. Once you get about an hour out into the San Bernardino area, the scenery really changes. The road starts to wind and get really steep as you drive into the mountains. Palm trees turn into pine trees, and you only see a house or building every mile or so. The higher you go, the better the view becomes. You hug some of these turns and realize that feet away from you are giant cliffs that lead into valley down below, or giant cliffs that could lead to your death with one wrong move. Either one.
Once you get into Big Bear, you don’t really feel like you’re high up in the mountains, but you definitely feel like you’re away from the city- less annoying people and more space. For me, it reminded me so much of northern Michigan. The air is clean, the giant lake sparkles, and nature greets you everywhere you look.
What I especially liked about Big Bear was how diverse the different areas of the lake were. On one side you have the city, with the touristy village. Then on another side you have your public beaches. Then on the other side is the residential road with houses and cabins that takes you right next to the calm water. It’s a nice drive around the lake. I would know. I got lost looking for a hiking trail and had to drive around it three times.
It probably wins awards for village you’d most likely see in a snow globe. Or in a propaganda video. It’s beautiful. Meticulously taken care of, clean, and it has lots of parking. If you’re going to Big Bear, you have to check out the village. The main area is a small street that’s ideal for spending a few hours in. There’s basically only one building for everything you need – ice cream, post office, theater, souvenirs, etc. However, there are a handful of restaurants in the front. Grab an ice cream cone and take a walk down its perfect sidewalk.
I went hiking on the Castle Rock trail. It’s tough to find, but well worth it if you do. Big trees, giant boulders, and one hell of a view at the top! Once you get close to the top, the trail stops being a trail and turns into a boulder climb. It gets kind of dangerous if you don’t have good balance. There was a family in front of me that wasn’t too athletic (think multiple Augustus Gloops from Willy Wonka), but they were leaping from rock to rock and climbing over one another as though they wouldn’t die if they missed a step. Crazy.
THE FOOD AND DRINKS
I’m a big fan of dive bars. If I’m in a fancy bar or restaurant I usually don’t know what to do with myself and end up punching someone. The great thing about small towns, like Big Bear, is they usually have plenty of dive bars. It’s fun to see who are the locals are and who are the tourists. I went to a small one not too far away from the village. It was the perfect dive bar. Dollar bills on the wall, license plates on the ceiling, and business cards in the bathroom with the faces of the people currently sitting at the bar. It couldn’t have been better!
I can’t be certain because it was my first time at Big Bear, but it looked like there were only a few big public beaches around the lake and then a lot of smaller “private” ones. The public ones were nice- people were paddle boarding, swimming, and kayaking. But what I really liked was that you could stop off on the side of the road, almost anywhere, and make your own private beach. No one was around. Just you and your thoughts… and a random pirate ship passing by.
I didn’t spend a lot of time at Big Bear, but I definitely see why people love it. Angelinos go crazy if they see real, green grass and a tree that isn’t a palm tree. I think that’s the appeal of Big Bear for them. It’s real life. No billboards, no glamorous parties, no chronic traffic problems (you can park for free on the side of the road at Big Bear!!!), no rat race. For a few days everyone is just living. And relaxing. And enjoying. And appreciating the good things in real life. And then not too long after, they drive back to LA… and turn back into their miserable, narcissistic-selves.
Big Bear, you were great!
I made this short video when I was there. If you like it, please consider subscribing to my channel. I just created a YouTube account and would love your support!