The best things to do in Big Bear, California, including where to eat and stay.
Big Bear Lake is everything I love about California.
If you get bored of Los Angeles sunshine, jump in the car and drive to a winter wonderland, just a couple of hours away.
In the summer, find cooler weather at elevation when the valleys are baking. In fall, Big Bear Lake has all the beautiful autumnal colors you could want.
Big Bear is best known for its winter sports, such as skiing and snowboarding, but there are plenty of fun activities in Big Bear Lake for everybody during any season.
Try an off-road jeep tour, see the mountains from the sky in a helicopter, or test your nerves on a ropes course or your wits in an escape room.
Many of the activities in Big Bear Lake are available year-round, like zip-lining or horseback riding.
Others, like mountain biking and skiing, are seasonal. Either way, there’s always something going on in this fun mountain town.
Big Bear Lake is only two hours drive from Los Angeles and just under three from San Diego, making it the perfect weekend getaway from popular Southern California cities.
Have I convinced you yet that this is a spot worth exploring? If so, this is my full bucket list guide to the best things to do in Big Bear Lake this year.
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Map of Things to do in Big Bear Lake
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Top Things to do in Big Bear
Explore Big Bear Village
Big Bear Village is the lake’s hub, where you’ll find restaurants, bars, and shops to explore.
This is where seasonal festivals are celebrated, like the Christmas tree lighting or turkey trot, which are some of the best things to do in Big Bear in November.
As you’d expect, there are plenty of places to grab a bite to eat or fuel up on coffee, but Big Bear Village also has some interesting stores to browse as well.
If you’re wondering how to get that glam-rustic look, head over to O Koo Ran, which has everything you need to stay stylish in the mountains. There’s a good selection of gifts there too, including the most adorable kids’ clothes section.
Or head over to Earth’s Elements, to admire their collection of crystals, incense, and singing bowls to help your meditation or yoga practice.
Prefer food-based gifts? Barrel 33 caters to all your wine, wine accessories, and even wine-barrel furniture needs. Check out their Paint and Sip nights for a fun evening activity.
Enjoy all the Snow Sports in Winter
Skiing & Snowboarding
Big Bear Lake is best known as a skiing and snowboarding destination during the winter months.
If you want to shred the slopes, head over to Big Bear Mountain Resort, which operates two ski areas: Bear Mountain and Snow Summit.
Bear Mountain has the biggest beginner area in Southern California, so it’s popular with first-timers. The resort also has 12-foot and 18-foot half-pipes, making it a hit with snowboarders trying out tricks.
Snow Summit offers more traditional runs, attracting skiers over snowboarders.
Families love the more relaxed vibe of this sister resort. Illuminated night skiing is also available at Snow Summit, which can be an exhilarating experience.
One ticket allows access to both areas, so you can try both sides in one trip.
Not a fan of skiing? I hear you, it’s not my cup of cocoa either. Fortunately, there are plenty of other things to do during winter in Big Bear, like snowshoeing.
One of the best places to try snowshoeing is through the tranquil snowy San Bernardino Mountains.
Rent a pair of snowshoes, grab a map from Goldsmith’s Ski and Board Rentals, pack a hearty picnic, and head out into the forests for a peaceful trek.
There are several trails around Big Bear Lake where you can enjoy cross-country skiing, one of the most popular snow activities in Big Bear.
Rim Nordic, in the San Bernardino Mountains, offers miles of machine-groomed trails to explore. It’s the only cross-country ski area in Southern California.
Tubing and Sledding
Gliding down a slope in an inflatable is too much fun to leave to the kids. Try Glow Tubing at Big Bear Snow Play when the sun goes down, for an adrenaline-inducing night ride.
Or stick to the daytime when it’s warmer, at Big Bear Snow Play, Alpine Slide, and Grizzly Ridge.
All of these places offer Magic Carpet rides to the top of the mountain, so you can save your energy for the slide.
If you have your own sled or tube, you can instead head over to Aspen Glen Picnic Area, about a 15-minute drive outside of Big Bear Village in the San Bernardino National Forest.
You’ll need an Adventure Pass to park, which costs $5 and can be purchased from the Big Bear Lake Visitor Center.
Fly through the Sky on a Zipline
Feeling adventurous? Fly through the San Bernardino National Forest at speeds of up to 35mph on a zipline course with Action Tours.
A course takes approximately three hours and includes an off-road vehicle ride into the mountains, nine zip lines, and a suspension bridge crossing.
You can record the whole experience by renting a Go Pro and capturing the stunning views of Mt. San Gorgonio as you ride. The zipline is open all year.
Get Your Adrenaline Pumping on a Ropes Course
The Big Bear Ropes Course at Big Bear Snow Play is an aerial adventure through 37 obstacles spread over 6,400 square feet.
Test your skills on two levels, 12 to 35 feet in the air, as you climb around the course.
The ropes course is available to anyone over 42”, although those under 48” must be accompanied by someone who’s at least 18 years old to participate.
The Big Bear Ropes Course is open year-round, although it closes in bad weather.
Connect with Nature with Horseback Riding
Another year-round activity is horseback riding. From beginner to advanced, anyone can enjoy a taste of the Old West on a guided tour of the beautiful San Bernardino Mountains.
Baldwin Lake Stables offers one, two, or three-hour rides through the national forest, either as part of a small group or as a private tour.
Sunset tours are also available. On the longer rides, you can head out on the famous Pacific Crest Trail.
Relax on a Paddlewheel Lake Cruise
Board the Miss Liberty, a traditional paddlewheel boat, for a 90-minute, narrated tour of Big Bear Lake for a chilled afternoon or sunset cruise.
Learn about Big Bear history dating back to 1845, local folklore, and even celebrity sightings on the cruise, as you admire the views from the shaded deck.
Beer, wine, champagne, and other refreshments are available from the heated salon downstairs.
This boat trip is a great opportunity to learn about the area, and it conveniently departs from Big Bear Village.
Enjoy Big Bear Lake
Getting out on the lake is one of the top things to do in Big Bear in the summer.
Whether you enjoy a peaceful paddle in a kayak, find your balance on a stand-up paddleboard, or zip across the water on a jet ski, you can do it at Big Bear Lake.
There are six marinas across the lake where you can rent boats and equipment, open during the spring, summer, and fall seasons.
Further to the west, Pleasure Point Marina offers pedal boat rentals, which are perfect for families with small children who want to get out on Big Bear Lake.
On the North Shore, check out Paddles and Pedals, for both on-lake rentals and bicycles to explore the trails around the water.
See the Bears at Big Bear Alpine Zoo
Visit Big Bear Alpine Zoo, a rehabilitation center and sanctuary for local wildlife. It’s the perfect opportunity to see the bears the mountain was named for.
The zoo also shelters bobcats, deer, coyotes, bald eagles, mountain lions, and many other animals. You can visit all year, as the zoo is open daily, only closing during snowstorms.
Big Bear Alpine Zoo initially opened as a place to care for injured wildlife before releasing animals back to the wild, and it still performs that important function today. Admission fees to the zoo help fund this mission.
You can bring your own picnic or buy snacks at the Big Bear Alpine Zoo gift shop.
Play a Round of Golf
Bear Mountain Golf Course offers a nine-hole course open to the public from May to October.
The golf course also features a driving range with a 300-yard driving area, where you can warm up before your round.
Bear Mountain Golf Course has rolling hills, a tree-lined fairway, and breathtaking views of the San Bernardino Mountains.
It’s certainly a unique experience to play golf at 7,000 feet, so book your tee-off time online to guarantee your spot.
Feel the Rush at Big Bear Speedway
Strap in and put your pedal to the metal at Big Bear Speedway, a go-kart racetrack at Big Bear Snow Play.
Open during the summer season from mid-April to mid-October, racers speed around the track in RT8 Sodi Karts.
These are quick karts with nifty safety features such as remote shut-down and anti-roll tech, so you can fling your ride around fearlessly.
You’ll need to be at least 14 years old to drive your own cart, but kids at a minimum height of 40” can ride in a double kart with an adult.
Visit the Big Bear Discovery Center
Make the Big Bear Discovery Center one of the first places you visit in Big Bear to get all the information you’ll need to make the most of your stay at the lake.
Big Bear Discovery Center is the biggest visitor information center in the area. Ask staff about Big Bear attractions, the best places to eat, and how to make the most of your stay at Bear Lake.
You can also pick up maps, an Adventure Pass, or National Forest Permit here.
The center also hosts exhibits, talks, and eco-tours for visitors who want to understand more about the surrounding area.
Kids will love the Nature Discovery Zone, an outdoor, hands-on museum where they can learn about nature while having fun. It’s open to children aged two to seven, five days a week.
Big Bear Discovery Center is free and pet-friendly.
Free Things to do in Big Bear
There are trails all around Big Bear Lake for all abilities.
The most popular hike is the Castle Rock Trail, a 2.4-mile roundtrip hike through San Bernardino National Forest that goes past a seasonal creek.
This trail starts one mile east of Big Bear Dam on Highway 18 and you can park at the turnout near the trailhead.
If you have young kids, try the Woodland Interpretive Trail, an easy 1.5-mile loop with 16 posted stops detailing the geology, history, and wildlife of the area.
Note that you’ll need an Adventure Pass or America the Beautiful Pass to park at the trailhead.
Otherwise, Boulder Bay Park is another popular spot on the lake for hiking and has a play area for kids. There are trails and great views of the lake around the park.
You can find details for these trails and more at the Big Bear Discovery Center.
Head to the Beach for a Swim in the Lake
Enjoy some classic summertime fun at the lake with an afternoon of sunbathing, picnicking, and swimming.
Big Bear is an alpine lake so it remains pretty cold, even in the Southern California summertime, but let’s call it “refreshing”.
The only beach with lifeguards at Big Bear Lake is Ski Beach at Meadow Park. There’s a small fee to get in but entry includes the use of the giant inflatable slide, so I’d call it worth it.
If you’re after a more natural swim experience, try China Island, where you can swim around granite boulders – and jump off too, if you’re that way inclined.
There’s another nice beach just east of Big Bear Dam, the size of which depends on the lake’s water level.
And lastly, East Boat Ramp is a free beach that’s popular with families as there are bathroom facilities.
Swimming from boats is also permitted but you should always wear a life jacket.
It’s also good to remember to stay within 50 feet of the shore or 20 feet of a private dock, and don’t underestimate the cold water. Even in the summer, the snow-fed lake stays under 70 F.
Hit the Trail on a Mountain Bike
Mountain biking is one of the top-rated Big Bear summer activities.
In the summer, the ski resort of Summit Mountain becomes a mountain biking playground. Ski lifts transform into bike lifts, and ski runs become riding trails when the weather warms up.
As with skiing, there are runs and terrains for all abilities, and if you don’t have your own gear, you can rent everything you need.
There are even mountain biking lessons available for first-timers or those who would like to improve their skills.
But it’s also not necessary to buy a lift pass to enjoy mountain biking. Many of the Big Bear Lake hiking trails are open to cyclists as well.
Try the popular Skyline Trail, a 15-mile loop that takes you through the San Bernardino National Forest to the top of Snow Summit.
Or try Hanna Flats Loop, a route in nearby Fawnskin with a mixture of paved roads and single-track dirt trails.
Spend the Day Fishing
Aside from the cost of a fishing permit and your gear, fishing is free from the shores of Big Bear Lake.
The lake has healthy populations of rainbow trout, largemouth bass, channel catfish, and panfish.
If you’re looking for a good spot to fish from the shore, try Juniper Point, Gray’s Landing towards the dam, North Shore Landing, or Stanfield Cutoff.
You can launch your own boat for free at any of the public launches, although you’ll need to purchase a Lake Use permit.
Guided fishing charters are also available if you don’t have your own boat (yet).
Unique Things to do in Big Bear
Discover a Hidden Gem at Gold Rush Mining Adventures
Hunt for your own gems like a real 49er at Gold Rush Mining Adventures. Practice panning, sluicing, and polishing precious stones at this fun interactive gift store.
Kids who are into Minecraft will love to try “real” mining and the crystal-filled store is fun to browse. Staff will be happy to help you find your birthstone or numerology gemstone.
Check out the free ghost town at the back, it’s perfect for some fun pictures.
Go Bobsledding on Alpine Slide
Hurtle down the mountain on Southern California’s only authentic bobsled ride, the Alpine Slide at Magic Mountain.
Open year-round, it starts with a scenic chair ride to the summit. You then get an individual sled, which you ride down a quarter-mile-long track.
There’s a brake you can use to control your speed, which you’ll need around the twists and turns. Riders on Alpine Slide must be 36” tall and kids under 48” must ride with an adult.
Explore Big Bear with a Scavenger Hunt
Make learning about local history fun with a scavenger hunt around Big Bear Village. Clues are delivered to your smartphone and you solve them at your own pace as you explore the town.
Both scavenger hunts are designed for teams of two to four people, so grab your friends and family and challenge yourselves to a Big Bear Lake walking tour with a twist.
Go Off-Roading on a Big Bear Jeep Experience
Ever wanted to try your hand at off-road driving? Book a Jeep tour from Big Bear Jeep Experience.
You’ll be driving the car yourself on dirt tracks and over obstacles through Big Bear Lake’s rugged terrain.
Although you’re in the driver’s seat, experienced guides are in contact over the two-way radio. Your guide narrates the journey with local history, wildlife facts, and off-roading tips.
When you come across a tough spot, your Big Bear Jeep Experience guide can help you through with real-time advice. It’s a fun way to explore the area and learn something new along the way.
Admire the View with a Helicopter Tour
See Big Bear Lake and the San Bernardino Mountains in a whole new way by taking a helicopter tour.
Helicopter Big Bear operates from Big Bear Airport and takes bookings in advance or walk-ins, depending on their schedule.
If there’s something you really want to see, let the pilot know during the booking process and they can try to accommodate you.
From the air, you’ll see the San Bernardino National Forest, snow-capped mountains, and the Mojave Desert, all in one flight.
There are several different tours available, from short seven-minute tasters to 45-minutes of flight time.
Roll a Strike at the Big Bear Bowling Barn
Take the family bowling at the neon-lit, 16-lane Bowling Barn. Aside from bowling, the Bowling Barn has a large games arcade, full-service snack bar, and a laser maze.
If there’s a game you can’t miss during your Big Bear Lake weekend, head to The Alley Oops Sports Bar at the same location.
Settle in on the comfy couches to watch your team on the big screens while indulging in your favorite game snack.
Explore Big Bear Valley Historical Museum
With nine restored historical buildings, one million artifacts, and two acres, Big Bear Valley Historical Museum is the ideal place to discover more about the history of Big Bear Lake.
The museum often has live demonstrations of blacksmithing and other historical activities. Kids will love gold panning and can take home any pyrite they find.
With an entrance fee of just $5, this is a cheap and educational outing. Big Bear Valley Historical Museum is open all summer.
Walk Around the Stanfield Marsh Wildlife and Waterfowl Preserve
Take a stroll down the boardwalk across the marsh at Stanfield Marsh Wildlife and Waterfowl Preserve.
The park is a glimpse into the past before the dam was built in 1884 and the lake was created.
It’s a serene spot on the edge of the lake where you’ll find ducks, herons, osprey, and pelicans in their natural wetlands habitat.
Start at the wooden gazebo beside the car park, where you’ll find information boards about the preserve.
Set off for your walk across the first boardwalk, then cross to the next bridge. At the end of the second boardwalk, you’ll need to turn back again.
Originally, there was a plan for a third section to make a loop, but the funding apparently ran out, creating a bridge to nowhere.
Go at sunset to see the sky lit up and to have a better chance of seeing wildlife. This is also one of the best things to do with dogs in Big Bear, provided the leash stays on.
Grab a Drink at Murray’s Saloon & Eatery
Murray’s is the legendary watering hole of Big Bear Mountain where locals and weekend warriors bond over karaoke and beer.
The owners have classed up the joint in recent years (there are no longer bras on the ceiling), but Murray’s retains its dive-bar soul.
The kitchen is open as long as the bar is, and Murray’s is the only place in town to score a burger at 2 am.
If you’re looking for fun things to do at night in Big Bear, Murray’s is the place to go.
Speaking of burgers, the food here is super tasty. Murray’s knows exactly what their customers want after a day of hiking, skiing, or boating.
Stop by for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, there’s always something sizzling on the grill.
Do a Gold Rush-Themed Escape Room
Immerse yourself in an Old West-themed escape room experience, as you work together to solve a mystery and bring justice to a lawless town.
If you’re looking for unusual things to do in big bear, Big Bear Escape Room offers a gold rush twist on the escape room phenomena with its hour-long adventure, Holcomb’s Lost Gold.
Between two and eight players can participate in the award-winning game, finding hidden clues and solving puzzles to win.
If playing cowboys isn’t your thing, try the Search and Rescue game, and test your mystery-solving skills with your team.
Where to Eat & Drink in Big Bear
- Teddy Bear Restaurant
- Old German Deli
- North Shore Cafe
- Fire Rock
- Peppercorn Grille
- Himalayan Restaurant
- Nuevo Vallarta Grille
- The Pines Lakefront
- 572 Social Kitchen and Lounge
- Murray’s Saloon and Eatery
- Big Bear Lake Brewing Company
Where to Stay in Big Bear
Best Time to Visit Big Bear Lake
Big Bear Lake is a four-season resort, so pick your dates based on the activities you want to do.
Some activities are only available in one season, but there are plenty of places that are open year-round.
If you don’t care about skiing or snowboarding, one of my favorite times to visit Big Bear is in the fall, especially around September and early October.
This is when you’ll be treated to stunning fall foliage, most attractions are open, and the weather is still nice enough for outdoor activities.
Tips for Visiting Big Bear Lake
- If you’re visiting in the winter, prepare for snow and ice on the roads. Bring tire chains, and know how to use them.
- Summer weather can be dangerous too – when the temperatures soar, make sure you have plenty of water with you.
- Swimming and boating are fun, but to be safe, always wear a life jacket. Borrow one for free at the east or west public boat launches.
- You can ski for free on your birthday in Big Bear! Provide proof of ID at Big Bear Mountain Resort for a free lift ticket. If you were a summer baby, you can celebrate with a free bike lift ticket, scenic chair ride, climbing wall entry, or a round of golf.
What to Pack for Big Bear Lake
If you’re traveling in the winter months, snow chains are also a must! The highways are regularly plowed, but sometimes the weather wins out. If you’re stopped without them, you’ll be forced to turn around in some cases.
Generally speaking, cars with winter tires and all-wheel or four-wheel drive capability will not need to carry snow chains but everyone else should take a set.
A cooler, a reusable water bottle, a travel purse, a daypack with a hydration bladder, comfortable walking shoes, and binoculars (if you’re into bird and wildlife watching) are all useful items to take on a mountain vacation as well.
FAQs About Big Bear Lake
How many days do you need in Big Bear?
You could go for a weekend or the whole season. I would recommend a three-day weekend to make the most of all the fun things to do in Big Bear.
Is the drive to Big Bear difficult?
You’ll be driving up a mountain, so expect winding roads, single lanes, and sheer drops on one side (there’s a guard rail).
During the winter, snow and ice at high elevations make driving more dangerous. On weekends, you can expect traffic, especially on a Friday afternoon.
If you’re concerned about the road, take Highway 38 instead of Highway 330. It’s a longer route but with fewer turns.
Are there bears in Big Bear?
Absolutely, although consider yourself lucky if you see one. Sightings are rare on Big Bear Mountain, despite the name.
California black bears are not considered dangerous in the way grizzlies are, although you should still keep a respectful distance. They’ve been known to attack people if they feel cornered.
Can you swim at Big Bear Lake?
You can swim at Big Bear Lake from the shore or from a private dock. Just note that aside from Ski Beach, there are no lifeguards and the water is cold.
Is Big Bear Lake free to access?
The public beaches and launches at Big Bear Lake are free to access, although you may have to pay for parking or a Lake Permit if you’re taking a boat out.
Get your FREE California Travel Planner – including printable checklists and my favorite two-week itinerary for the state.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sarah McDonald is a travel writer based in the Bay Area. She writes for the national parenting website Red Tricycle and on her own family travel blog, Tiny Trailblazers. She loves exploring California’s outdoors and has a weakness for a national park gift shop.
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