There are so many things to love about Big Bear in the winter—here’s everything to see and do when you have just a few days to get away
Thanks to all the rain LA’s received recently, the nearby mountains are covered in snow (just take a look to the east and you’ll see those white-capped mountains in all their glory). And while there are plenty of places to play in the snow for the day near LA, what if you want to spend a couple of days frolicking in the snow? The best answer for LA residents? Big Bear Lake, CA. This mountain town reliably and consistently receives more snow than its San Bernardino National Forest neighbors thanks to a higher elevation (and head’s up, they just received another 21″ thanks to last week’s rain). From where to eat, where to play, and where to stay in Big Bear Lake, your 48-hour guide is here.
Where Is Big Bear, CA?
Located in the San Bernardino Mountains along the south shore of Big Bear Lake, and surrounded by the San Bernardino National Forest, Big Bear is 98 miles northeast of DTLA. Driving to Big Bear is a fairly easy drive, but in the winter, it’s best to take your time—especially if you’re unfamiliar with the curvy roads perched on the edge of the mountain. There are three ways to drive to Big Bear Lake and it’s best to check Caltrans for the latest up-to-date information about which routes are open, clear, and which routes you should avoid.
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Do I Need Chains for Big Bear?
The short answer to if you need chains for Big Bear? Yes. Some sites state that chains are required to be carried in your vehicle from November 1-April 30. Your best bet is to purchase them, have them with you for your trip, and return them if you don’t use them. According to Caltrans, “You must stop and put on chains when highway signs indicate chains are required. You can be cited by the California Highway Patrol and fined if you don’t. You will usually have about a mile between ‘Chains Required’ signs and the checkpoint to install your chains.”
There’s nothing that can ruin a trip faster than not being adequately prepared—and while the main roads may be clear, once you turn onto snow and ice-covered side roads and attempt to drive up or down those slippery slopes, you’ll see very quickly how useful those chains will come in handy—and be extremely happy you brought them with you.
Is There Snow in Big Bear & When Does it Snow in Big Bear?
Ah! The million dollar questions—or if you’re on the LA Mommies Facebook Group—the most frequently asked question whenever there’s a whiff of snow in the news. Unfortunately, you’ll have to check the weather to see if it is snowing in Big Bear but snow generally stays on the ground—especially on Snow Summit and Bear Mountain—and at higher elevations. As long as it’s cold, you’ll more than likely find snow when you’re there.
PS: Big Bear just received 21″ of new snow last week and 100% of trails are open at Big Bear Mountain Resort (BBMR) who operates both Snow Summit and Bear Mountain.
Things to Do in Big Bear in Winter: Your 48-Hour Itinerary
Now for the fun part! Big Bear can be as chill or active as you like. Go out in The Village of Big Bear at night and you’ll experience a downright magical and lively destination. Want to tuck into your rented cabin and get cozy by the fire? You can do that too!
What to Do in Big Bear on Day One:
- Drive to Big Bear from Los Angeles
- Check Into your Cabin via Big Bear Vacations
- Dinner at Hacienda
The drive to Big Bear, from LA, is pretty straight-forward and, slightly less harrowing than the climb to Lake Arrowhead but do pay attention to the time of day you are leaving. A fairly simple, 1.5 hour drive can quickly turn into 3+ hours—not fun for anyone, especially with kids.
Stop at Big Bear Vacation to grab your check-in information for your cabin rental. Big Bear Vacations is the longest running rental home agent in Big Bear and offer a variety of stays—from lake front cabins to pet-friendly lodges, they definitely have something that will fit your family’s needs.
Good to Know: Check-in time for Big Bear Vacations is 4 p.m. so if you find yourself in the area before check-in time (a good plan anyway), there’s plenty to explore in The Village. Riddle Routes and Urban Adventure Quest offer smartphone-led walking tours of The Village. Solve the clues to move from one destination to the next and learn a little Big Bear history along the way. Super fun for families and groups—and you’ll get a great overview of The Village (and can scope out restaurants, shopping destinations, and where to go for dessert).
If you’re in The Village for lunch, we recommend: Royal Thai for authentic Thai food or Sweet Basil Bistro for seasonal Italian fare.
Dinner: For a super casual, family-friendly dinner, head to Hacienda Grill. This family-owned and operated Mexican is lively, spacious, and delivers belly-satisfying options like Carne Asada, Chile Verde and fajitas. Definitely a must and is sure to satisfy even the pickiest of eaters.
41787 Big Bear Blvd.
Big Bear Lake
What to Do in Big Bear on Day Two:
- Breakfast at Amangela’s
- Skiing & Snowboarding at Snow Summit
- Dinner at Santana & Mavericks
8:00 a.m.: Amangela’s, a counter-serve breakfast spot, specializing in bagels, is fantastic way to start the day (and fuel up) before heading to Snow Summit. The order-and-go style is essential for getting to the mountain early to ensure close-to-the-mountain parking, as well as get a jump on the tickets and rental queue.
For the adults, we recommend The Breakfast Bagel—you get your choice of bagel, served withe eggs, cooked with red onion, bell pepper, cheese, and your choice of meat—ham, bacon or veggie sausage.
For kids, they have plain bagels and cream cheese and peanut butter and jam or, for more adventurous tykes, bagels a la carte incuding onion, everything, sesame, cheddar, cinnamon raisin, blueberry and multi-grain.
Don’t forget the coffee and hot chocolate!
8:30 a.m.: Head to Snow Summit—just a 7 minute ride down the road—to get your lift tickets, your gear, and get ready for a fun day skiing on the mountain.
What’s the Difference between Snow Summit and Bear Mountain?
While the two resorts are related and are owned by the same company (Big Bear Mountain Resort or BBMR), there are some differences between the two snow destinations. Snow Summit is widely thought to be the more family-friendly, traditional ski and snowboarding mountain while Bear Mountain is known for it’s trails and adventurous half-pipes and terrain parks for those looking for freestyle skiing and snowboarding.
But you don’t have to choose between the two mountains! BBMR and Ikon Passes are valid at both locations, including night sessions at Snow Summit and there is a convenient and free shuttle that can take you between the two.
Good to Know: BBMR partners with USARC, a non-profit that provides year-round recreational activities for people with physical and cognitive disabilities.
Where to Eat at Snow Summit
There are a number of places you can refuel for lunch or mid-day snacks on the mountain. The apres-ski life is alive and well at this mountain resort. For bbq, visit Bighorn Smokehouse—located at the Base near Chair Lift 1 and touted as some of the best bbq in Big Bear Lake.
Ironwood Coffee is where you can grab specialty coffee drinks and hot chocolate.
Located slopeside at the bottom of Chair 2, Timber & Slice serves slices of pizza (without having to head down to the base of the mountain).
And for a lunch with a brag-worthy view, head to Skyline Taphouse—Big Bear’s only mountaintop restaurant where you can dine on soups, sandwiches, salads, and wraps along with an outdoor BBQ full bar. The best part though? The must-see views of San Gorgonio Mountain—Southern California’s highest peak at an elevation of 11,503 feet. Take Chair 1 all the way to the top.
Good to Know: Weekend visitors can also enjoy the all-new waffle station, serving both sweet and savory versions of the classic.
6 p.m: Time for dinner! For specialty crafted cuisine, head to Santana & Mavericks in The Village. During the summer, this hot spot has epic views of the lake thanks to its lake-facing outdoor patio but in the winter, the inside is just as fun thanks to a cozy vibe that serves “a little bit of everything.” So if one person is in the mood for Italian while another wants French? It’s all here.
What to Do in Big Bear on Day Three:
- Check Out of Your Cabin from Big Bear Vacations
- Breakfast at Country Kitchen
- Go to Big Bear Snow Play
9:00 a.m.: Check-out time from Big Bear Vacations is 10 a.m., so might as well pack up the car, grab breakfast at Country Kitchen before heading over to Big Bear Snow Play for some epic snow tubing fun.
Country Kitchen is a cute, local diner that serves ample breakfast portions and hit-the-spot coffee. Kids will love the waffles, while ‘The Best Pancakes in Town’ lived up to their moniker.
10:00 a.m.: For epically fun snow play near LA, Big Bear Snow Play is where it’s at thanks to being the largest tubing hill in Southern California but also because they have special magic carpets that carry you and your tubes up the hill so you can save your energy for screaming your head off as you barrel down the snow-packed tubing hill.
Good to Know: Big Bear Snow Play is sometimes open for after-dark tubing sessions on the weekends and during the holidays—so picture the classic snow tubing fun but with colored lights. Save this note for later—Big Bear Snow Play is also an all-year-round recreation destination with activities like go-karts, multi-level ropes course, and a zipline.
Related: What to Do in Big Bear during the Summer
What to Do in Big Bear Lake with Kids during the Winter that Isn’t Skiing or Snowboarding?
- Nature walks through the Big Bear Discovery Center
- Try snow shoeing with the family
- Visit the Big Bear Alpine Zoo
- Go ziplining—yes, even in winter. Action Tours operates year round.
- Visit Gold Rush Mining Co. and pan for gold, dig for fossils, and explore a cosmic cave.
This trip was paid for by Visit Big Bear, but all the opinions and photos, unless otherwise noted, belong to the writer.