Thinking of heading to Southern California for some sunshine? Go beyond the golden beaches and cobalt seas and make your way to Big Bear. This four-season mountain lake escape is not only beautiful – it’s a haven for fishing, hiking, snowboarding, and skiing. And it doesn’t stop there – these are just a few of the wealth of things to do in Big Bear, California.
Surrounded by the San Bernardino National Forest, Big Bear rests on the banks of Big Bear Lake and is a haven for outdoor recreation. From the world-class Bear Mountain Ski Resort to the fish-filled lake and the myriad hiking trails through the forest, you could spend days enjoying the natural terrain.
If you prefer more docile activities, the Big Bear Discovery Center offers a wealth of information on the region, and Big Bear Lake Village is lined with boutiques, gift shops, restaurants, and bars. There are also plenty of breathtakingly beautiful spots around the area for camping and picnicking.
So many activities, so little time? Don’t miss out on anything with this comprehensive guide to all the best places to visit in Big Bear, California!
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Big Bear Lake
Nestled on the banks of Big Bear Lake in the heart of the San Bernardino Mountains, the charming town by the same name is an all-season playground for outdoor enthusiasts.
The spectacular landscapes and untamed wilderness around Big Bear Lake make this beautiful California mountain town a popular filming location for Hollywood producers. But there are also tranquil hideaways where you can lose yourself in the beauty of the mountains.
Enjoy a wealth of outdoor activities around Big Bear Lake throughout the year. Hit the slopes for skiing and snowboarding at the Big Bear Mountain Resort, or have some snow tubing fun at Grizzly Ridge Tube Park. When the snow melts, the real fun begins.
Hike or mountain bike the challenging trails that crisscross the mountains. Spend lazy days boating and fishing on the turquoise blue waters of the tranquil Big Bear Lake. Take a mile-long ride to 8,200 feet on Snow Summit’s Scenic Sky Chair.
Picnic beneath the towering pines at Bluff Lake Reserve and marvel at the beautiful scenery. Explore the deluxe boutiques, kitschy gift shops, and stylish home décor stores in the charming Big Bear Lake Village. Take a trolley ride around town and take in a performance at the Pickleville Playhouse.
Boulder Bay Park
Set on the Southwest shore of Big Bear Lake, Boulder Bay Park is a picturesque park with picnic lawns and spectacular scenery. Boasting panoramic views of the surrounding mountains, this lovely little corner of Big Bear is a perfect spot for some fun in the sun.
At Boulder Bay Park, you can enjoy fishing, canoeing, and kayaking on the lake or hike one of the many lakeside trails that wind their way into the forest. Pack a picnic lunch and relax in a shady spot near the water while the kids splash in the shallows.
You can also listen to live music at the bandstand when Boulder Bay Park hosts occasional concert series. Don’t forget to take your camera, as the scenery is simply stunning at any time of the year.
Alpine Slide at Magic Mountain
We all wanted to hit the slopes after seeing the Jamaican team make magic in Cool Runnings —and now you can! Jump on a bobsled at the Alpine Slide at Magic Mountain and hit the slopes for an adrenalin-rushing experience.
This world-famous Alpine Slide at Magic Mountain is open year-round, so you can zip down the mountain in the snow or the sun! A scenic chair lift ride will take you to the top of the mountain, floating over the San Bernardino National Forest below.
Two quarter-mile-long tracks disappear down the mountain with a vertical drop of 600ft (183m). Choose between the fast or slow track, hop on your bobsled, and hang on for your life!
You control the sled speed by twisting and turning on the track but be prepared for speeds of up to 30 miles per hour—it could be the fastest 1:45 seconds of your life!
Big Bear Alpine Zoo
Meet some of California’s local wildlife at the Big Bear Alpine Zoo. Unlike other zoos where the animals are merely on display, the Big Bear Alpine Zoo is a rehabilitation facility for injured and imprinted indigenous wild animals. The rescued creatures are given safe sanctuary while they heal and are either placed back in the wild or given a permanent home at the zoo.
Most of the residents at the Big Bear Alpine Zoo come from the surrounding San Bernardino Mountains. The sanctuary provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see wild animals like grizzly bears, wolves, and bobcats. Take a guided tour around the zoo and learn about the delicate balance of nature from expert rangers.
Watch a presentation about the chosen animal of the day, from bears to bald eagles, and find out everything there is to know about them. Stick around for feeding time when the animal keepers put out lunch.
Big Bear Discovery Center
Find out everything about Big Bear, CA, under one roof at the Big Bear Discovery Center. Located near the lake’s north shore, the center is a one-stop shop for all the information you need about the California mountain town.
Check out the exhibits on the ecosystems and wildlife of the surrounding San Bernardino National Forest. You can also find maps of the region at Big Bear Discovery Center and attend presentations in the outdoor amphitheater. Take the kids to the Nature Discovery Zone for a fantastic interactive experience.
The Big Bear Discovery Center hosts an array of activities throughout the week that encourage visitors to be responsible caretakers of the San Bernardino National Forest. Watch out for eco-tours, nighttime interpretive programs, and outdoor concerts.
Don’t forget to pick up an Adventure Pass, which you’ll need if you want to park at any of the trailheads.
Rotary Pine Knot Park
Rotary Pine Knot Park is a lovely little park on the banks of Big Bear Lake with a playground for the kids and beautiful lake views. Grassy lawns and large, shady trees make this a perfect spot for a picnic.
Several benches are dotted throughout Rotary Pine Knot Park, where you can relax and soak up the views. Rafts of ducks call the park home and love to be fed—be sure to take some seeds with you.
Pine Knot Trail
Up for a challenging hike in the forest? The Pine Knot Trail is a seven-mile-out-and-back trail that winds its way through the forest to Grand View Point. Considered a moderately challenging route, it’ll take about three hours to complete. It’s a popular trail, though, and you’ll see plenty of fellow hikers along the way.
The Pine Knot Trail begins in the Aspen Glen Picnic Area on Mill Creek Road, and you can park here with an Adventure Pass. The hike ascends fairly steeply to 1,230 feet, where you’ll enjoy spectacular views of San Gorgonio Mountain and Big Bear Lake.
Dogs are welcome, but the Pine Knot Trail is popular with mountain bikers and horseback riders, so they’re best kept on a leash. Keep an eye out for bears and snakes!
Stanfield Marsh Wildlife and Waterfowl Preserve
Hailed as one of Big Bear’s most beautiful parks, the Stanfield Marsh Wildlife and Waterfowl Preserve is an oasis of lush marshlands teeming with life. Established in 1884, the 150-acre preserve was created to emulate what Big Bear Valley would have looked like in the past.
A predator-free habitat island in the middle of the marsh protects some 40,000 indigenous plants for nesting habitat and a variety of waterfowl species. Take a stroll on two boardwalks that wind around the incredible habitat and marvel at the myriad species of waterfowl and wildlife that call the park home.
Pop into the little wooden gazebo at the start of the boardwalk to get information on Stanfield Marsh Wildlife and Waterfowl Preserve, from how it was created to the animals that reside in it. Find a bench and spend some time soaking up the beauty and tranquility.
San Bernardino National Forest
Spanning over 800,000 acres from the desert floor to the snow-capped peaks of Southern California’s mountain ranges, the San Bernardino National Forest is a shining jewel in The Golden State’s crown. Whether you are delving into the rich history of SoCal or planning an outdoor adventure, the iconic forest has something for everyone.
Home to five designated wilderness areas, the San Bernardino National Forest is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. From hiking and horseback riding to mountain biking and hunting, the forest provides a wealth of recreation year-round. Dozens of scenic trails crisscross the forest; you can spend as little as a few hours or as much as a few days exploring the dense wilderness.
Big Bear Mountain Resort
Hit some of the best ski slopes in Southern California at the Big Bear Mountain Resort. Located just minutes from the south shore of Big Bear Lake, the world-renowned resort is home to two famous mountains: Bear Mountain and Snow Summit. Less than three miles from one another, each peak has unique attributes that create some of the best skiing and snowboarding conditions in the U.S.
For untouched backcountry and rugged canyon terrain, Bear Mountain is the peak of choice. You’ll find hardcore snowboarders working the boxes, pipes, rails, and walls in 19 different terrain park areas.
For a more old-school, traditional ski resort vibe, head to Snow Summit. Ideal for families with kids, there’s a range of ski slopes for all levels and a dedicated area for snow tubing. Lift tickets can be used at either mountain, with free shuttles taking you back and forth between the resorts.
Alpine Pedal Path
Swop your hiking boots for cycling shoes and hit the Alpine Pedal Path for a beautiful ride. Stretching between the Big Bear Solar Observatory and the Stanfield Cutoff, the 3.2-mile bike trail meanders along the lake shore, offering spectacular views. You can also ride the Alpine Pedal Path to the Big Bear Discovery Center.
The relatively flat route and beautiful vistas make the Alpine Pedal Path one of the most popular trails around Big Bear. It’s usually packed with both cyclists and walkers soaking up the scenery on sunny afternoons.
Big Bear Valley Historical Museum
Get a glimpse of life during the Gold Rush in the Wild West and pan for some gold at the Big Bear Valley Historical Museum. Set on Green Way Drive in Big Bear, the museum celebrates the rich history of the town and the evolution of Big Bear with an incredible collection of artifacts and interactive exhibits.
Nine antique buildings house fascinating exhibits that tell the story of life in the region spanning from the Golden Age of the 1920s to the Great Depression. Wander through cabin rooms and covered wagons and discover the history of Big Bear Valley and how Big Bear grew from a sleepy alpine town to a charming mountain ski town.
Enjoy a guided tour of the Big Bear Valley Historical Museum and try your hand at panning gold. Take a step back into the Wild West to practice your lasso skills and watch expert blacksmiths plying their trade as they did in bygone days.
Big Bear Solar Observatory
Not all observatories study stars, and the Big Bear Solar Observatory is one of them. Located on the north side of Big Bear Lake, the university-based solar observatory was designed to study the activities of the sun.
Why is the observatory based in Big Bear? It was found that the high altitude and presence of water in the lake were ideal for solar observation. For those in the know, the Big Bear Solar Observatory is operated by the New Jersey Institute of Technology and has a 1.6-meter clear aperture Goode Solar Telescope with no obscuration in the optical train.
Castle Rock Trail
The Castle Rock Trail is another popular hike to try around the Big Bear Lake area. Although heavily trafficked, this 2.6-mile out-and-back trail is a must. If you head out early enough, you may be able to avoid some of the crowds.
The hike to Castle Rock is considered short and sweet but tough, climbing to around 600 feet. But once you reach Castle Rock it’s worth it for the views. You’ll have fantastic panoramic vistas of Big Bear Lake and the mountains surrounding it.
Dogs are welcome and can run off-leash in some areas.
Big Bear Lake Brewing Company
There’s nothing like an ice-cold craft brew after a long hike, and the place to get one is Big Bear Lake Brewing Company. Situated on Stone Road in the heart of Big Bear, the locally-owned brewery produces a range of classic craft beers.
You’ll find some firm favorites on the menu at Big Bear Lake Brewing Company, like Hazy IPA Pale Ale, alongside unusual blends like the Hazy Pumpkin Nights made with roasted pumpkin mash. Pair your crafts with classic pub grub and grab a table on the outdoor patio to watch the world go by.
Teddy Bear Restaurant
You can’t help but hum, ‘if you go down to the woods today, you’d better go in disguise…’ when you enter the Teddy Bear Restaurant. Set in a cozy wooden cabin (yes, the parallels are uncanny), the small restaurant has a warm and welcoming atmosphere.
Opened over 63 years ago and still going strong, Teddy Bear Restaurant is all about homemade with love. The menu features made-from-scratch dishes using recipes that have been passed down from generation to generation.
Don’t expect quinoa salad to be on the menu – it’s all about comfort food at Teddy Bear Restaurant – from the homemade chicken pot pies to the piles of buttery mashed potato. An old-fashioned malt shake is a must!
Big Bear Coffee Roasting Company
Are you a java aficionado? Do you know your Cortado from your Crema? If so, then you’ll love the Big Bear Coffee Roasting Company. The locally owned coffee emporium serves a wide variety of freshly roasted and expertly blended coffees, from house roasts to origin blends and more.
Beans are roasted in-house at the cozy little store on Big Bear Boulevard, and heady aromas float in the air. You can choose your beans and have them roasted while you wait or buy ready-to-go packages to take home.
Order a freshly brewed cup of your favorite bean, grab a table on the outdoor patio, and watch the world go by.