The town of Big Bear Lake may be Southern California’s favorite snow destination in winter, but this small community has a lot going on in summer, too. An easy drive from San Bernardino, CA, Big Bear is at a respectable 6752 feet in elevation, making it a legit mountain destination for families, with pine forests, wildlife, and plenty of hiking and biking. Here’s what to do and where to stay in summer in Big Bear with kids.
Spend time on the lake with a local:
Big Bear may be a tourist town, but it’s also a thriving year-round community that draws unique individuals to the mountain lifestyle. You can often find these residents at local watering holes (read on for a list), but the best way to tap into this great resource if you have kids in tow is to get out on the lake with Captain John. Captain John’s marina is located on the ‘quiet’ side of the lake in Fawnskin, right on North Shore Drive. He offers paddle boarding and boat rentals, but also guided tours of the lake in his own Duffy boat, which I highly recommend. Yes, you can sail with John himself, who has lived in Big Bear for decades. John is a wealth of knowledge about the area, and gives a great overview of the lake’s history in a way that will entertain everyone. Boat tours are approximately $20 per person, which is a great deal for what you get. Bonus: after or before your boat trip, play a round of frisbee golf on-site, for free!
Play on Snow Summit:
During winter, Snow Summit and Bear Mountain (now under the umbrella of Mammoth Mountain) provide a great place to teach kids how to ski. In summer, Snow Summit is the place for hiking, mountain biking, and chair lift rides. Lift tickets are available for single trips (for hiking down or simply eating a meal at the on-mountain restaurant), or available per day, for lift-served mountain biking.
Snow Summit has a full-service bike rental shop with Trek bikes designed specifically for single track mountain biking trails, which also rents out helmets and pads. Once on the lift, there are several gravity-based single track trails to choose from. Coming down the face of the mountain, the trails are intermediate and advanced (blue and black), but a green to blue option is available along Skyline (turning left at the top). If you’re a beginning mountain biker, get a lesson and ask about the skill builder park, a smaller track set up near the base area for practicing on terrain and features. Freeride and downhill bike rentals start at $68 for three hours for kids and $93 for adults (all day rentals also available), and lift tickets are $44 and $27 (child).
As an intermediate mountain biker, I loved the blue trails, both for the challenge of the terrain and the wooded, mountain setting. We stayed cool in the forest, and experienced mostly downhill with only a few climbs (all the better for stretching out the run). It took us the better part of an hour to come all the way down (with frequent breaks). Some of Snow Summit’s trails are actually ‘adopted’ from the forest service, which means they’re open to anyone to bike up and down without a lift ticket. If you have your own bikes with you and want a workout, ask for directions to the bottom of the forest service trails.
Downhill and uphill hiking are, of course, available at Snow Summit, but many additional options are easily accessible from Big Bear. The Wonderland Trail nature trail is only 1.5 miles (loop) with 20 posted stops.Use it as a self-guided tour to learn about the botany, geology and wildlife of this area. If you’re looking for longer trails, check this resource. If you have young kids, the Discovery Center is a great pit stop, with a nature ‘classroom’ of its own where kids can learn about animal species and ecology, plus an indoor area staffed with knowledgable volunteers. Note: this center is closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
Big Bear Alpine Zoo:
I never recommend a zoo unless I’ve checked it out personally and feel it cares properly for its animals The Big Bear Alpine Zoo has a misleading name, because it’s actually a rescue center for animals who cannot live in the wild due to injury or other situations. The staff is caring and knowledgable, and the small zoo is filled with shaded, well-maintained enclosures with grizzly bears, black bears, dear, raccoons, bald eagles, mountain lions, wolves, foxes, and many other animals. Plan to spend about an hour here! Admission is $12 for adults and $9 for kids, and you can know it’s going to a good cause.
Where to stay:
You can’t do Big Bear Lake justice in just a day. Plan to spend a long weekend in Big Bear with kids at The Lodge at Big Bear Lake. This hotel offers pretty standard rooms and a decent outdoor pool, but wins in our book because of the excellent made-to-order included breakfast at the attached restaurant. It’s also located in the heart of town, so families can easily walk to restaurants and shops.
Where to eat:
Like many small mountain towns, Big Bear Lake has many options for families. Throughout the walkable downtown core, you’ll find plenty of candy and ice cream shops, coffee shops, and restaurants. The best, according to us:
The Pines: for fine dining on the lake (date night, maybe?) The Pines takes great pride in its menu and has multiple specials per night. Locals tell us you could return many times before ever ordering the same thing twice. The Pines frequently has live music as well. 350 Alden Rd, Big Bear Lake
Big Bear Lake Brewing Company: This brewery is located right downtown and has indoor and outdoor seating. We recommend Mom and Dad order a beer flight to share, and everyone will love the burgers and salads. If the kids get restless, you can show them the brewing room (open to walk into). 40827 Stone, Big Bear Lake
Moonridge Coffee Company: Moonridge Coffee is located near the zoo, and is a charming and cozy coffee shop run by owners originally from Sisters, Oregon. 42646 Moonridge Rd, Big Bear Lake
Grown up bars recommended by local Captain John:
I promised to list a few watering holes recommended by Big Bear local and boat captain John. When you go on a boat tour, ask him for his recommendations yourself, but these are a few ideas he gave me. Bonus: Captain John plays music at many of these venues on various nights of the week, sometimes with his local friend and musician Art Harriman.
Whisky Dave’s: 40740 Village Dr, Big Bear Lake
Captain’s Anchorage: 42148 Moonridge Way, Big Bear Lake
Murray’s Saloon: 672 Cottage Ln, Big Bear Lake
Big Bear Lake is easily accessible from all points in Southern California. It’s one hour from San Bernardino on Highway 330 to Highway 18.
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As I disclose whenever applicable, I experienced Big Bear Lake as a guest of the destination, for the purpose of review. All opinions are my own.