Why Big Bear Is a Favorite Family Vacation Destination

Sure, you’ve heard of Big Bear for day tripping or weekend jaunts from LA for skiing and snowboarding and sure, the winter scenery and activities can’t be beat. But, here’s an in-the-know secret: the summer (and fall) may be even better. From mountain biking, water slides, rescue animals, hiking and of course, getting out on the lake, there’s so much to do with your kids, you won’t be able to do it all over a weekend. Check out all the cool things you can do below and plan on making lots of return trips.

How to Get to Big Bear

Just a 100-mile drive from Los Angeles and you'll find yourself over 6700 feet above sea level, surrounded by the San Bernardino National Forest. Most of the drive is benign, just a flat, straight road headed east. That is, until you get to the 330 N. exit where you'll begin a gradual climb to get to the top of the mountain. Those with car sickness or car sick kids, be prepared—but remember, it's totally worth it. The views along the way are stunning (if you are brave enough to look) and once you get to Big Bear, surrounded by the pine and oak trees, you'll immediately forget those winding roads.

Play & Explore in Big Bear

Good to Know: Snow Summit and Big Bear Mountain are sister resorts that operate under the same management company called, Big Bear Mountain Resorts. In addition to serving as two of SoCal's top ski and snowboard destinations, in the summer months Snow Summit is home to the Summit Bike Park and basecamp activities for family fun.  Bear Mountain is also home to a 9-hole golf course.

Scenic Sky Chair Lift to the Top
Undeniably, the main attraction in Big Bear is Big Bear Mountain Resort. But what an unexpected surprise to be able to explore this mountain sans skiis! Take the chair lift to the top (open daily through Labor Day and then switches to weekends only through Oct. 10), where you can take in the sweeping views of the surrounding mountains, lake, and forests. Once you've reached the top (8200 feet), grab some lunch from Skyline BBQ, go on an easy hike (start with the simple 1-mile loop, or branch out on longer trails if the kids are up to it) or be super adventurous and hike (or bike!) your way down. Insider Tip: Make advance reservations to reduce wait times.

Mountain Bike to the Extreme
Speaking of biking, this mountain resort hosts extreme sports fans as young 5 who can get all the gear (helmet, pads, and bike) and take the tram to the top to explore over 60 miles of mountain bike trails. If no one in your family has mountain biking experience outside the city, you can take a lesson, which will also end up saving you money on bike rental, gear and sky chair tickets. New this year: Full Throttle—where kids can ride STACYC™ Electric Bikes with a dedicated course at Summit Bike Park.

If chair lifts and mountain bikes aren't your thing, there is still a ton of family-friendly activities on the mountain. There is a climbing wall, a Euro Bungee, zip lines and summer tubing. 

880 Summit Blvd.
Big Bear Lake, CA
Online: bigbearmountainresort.com

Big Bear Alpine Zoo

This rehabilitation facility is less of a typical zoo and more of an animal sanctuary, as it saves and cares for injured, orphaned or imprinted wild animals. Kids can learn about the local wildlife and see bald eagles, wolves, black bears, bobcats, snow leopards and an arctic fox that was found on the rooftop in Beverly Hills! In Oct., you can come at night for a Flashlight Safari!

747 Club View Dr.
Big Bear Lake
Online: bigbearzoo.org

More Outdoor Fun
Big Bear is the fishing capital of Southern California, so if you’ve got young anglers, be sure to take them out on the lake. You can also hike, go horseback riding, or boating.

More Indoor Fun
If the nights are nippy in the fall, you could snuggle up in your cabin with some cocoa. Or you can hit the bowling alley (where kids bowl free!) or movie theater in the village, which almost always is showing the latest family flick.

Alpine Slide

water park big bear slides
Andie Huber

The best value for your buck and guaranteed hours of fun is The Alpine Slide at Magic Mountain. There are two waterslides, a bobsled track (kids 2-6 and under 48" ride for free on an adult's lap), go-karts, mini golf and a snack bar. Don't be surprised if you spend over half the day here bouncing between the various activities.

800 Wildrose Lane
Big Bear Lake
Online: alpineslidebigbear.com

Paddles and Pedals

big bear lake
Andie Huber

As the name suggests, the outfitter offers bikes, kayaks and stand up paddle boards for rent. Located on the northern shore and the only outfitter to have direct access to the path to the lake, they have single, double and triple kayaks which means even the little ones and dogs can come along for the ride. We recommend going on non-breezy days (easier to navigate when you don't have to fight the wind).

40545 N. Shore Lane
Big Bear
Online: bigbearpaddlesandpedals.com

Ahoy Mateys!

Teresa A. via Yelp

Another way to get on the lake? Take a trip on a replica of a Spanish Galleon pirate ship (1/3 scale) for 90-minutes. Expect a fun bit of history, some entertainment, pirate shenanigans, good old fashion swashbuckling and a treasure chest surprise for kids.

Good to Know: There are no refunds and the boat may return to shore if rain or inclement weather occurs. Make reservations ahead of time to reserve your spot.

398 Edgemoor Rd.
Big Bear Lake
Online: bigbearhollowaysmarina.com

Where to Eat in Big Bear

pizza big bear
Andie Huber

Saucy Mamas
Hands down, if you’ve got kids, then go eat at Saucy Mamas. This popular pizza joint in the middle of the village has a great atmosphere for rowdy families, a good kids menu (not that you need an option past pizza!), a few salads and pasta options, and darn good pizza. If you’re here on a weekend, be sure to get your name on the list for a table a good 45 minutes before you think your kids will be ready to eat. There’s always a wait.

618 Pine Knot Ave.
Big Bear
Online: saucymamaspizza.com

Oakside Restaurant
After a day of splashing, riding, hiking and biking, it's nice to clean up and head to town for an upscale dinner that (YASSS) caters to kids. Grab a patio seat and enjoy the live music and the people watching while you relax with a glass of wine or one of the many craft beers. The kids can have the usual (burgers, pizza, chicken fingers, pasta) and you can dive into a poke bowl, steaks, salads or a truffle grilled cheese. Definitely make reservations otherwise you'll most likely have to wait to eat at this popular spot.

40701 Village Dr.
Big Bear Lake
Online: oaksiderestaurant.com

Amangela’s Sandwich and Bagel House
For breakfast or lunch on the go, this is your go-to. Bagels make every kid happy for any meal of the day and this conveniently located spot in the middle of the village also serves fresh fruit smoothies and veggie/gluten free options.

40729 Village Dr.
Big Bear Lake
Online: amangelas.com

Himalayan Restaurant
Recommended by everyone and touted as "worth the drive from LA for the best Indian food around," the Himalayan Restaurant is a gem of a restaurant. The Indian and Himalayan specialties are delicious, and even the pickiest kids can happily fill up on naan and items from the “Baby Plates” which include fried rice and house-made chow mien noodles. But you also might find them sneaking too many bites of your curry, masala, and vindaloo.

672 Pine Knot, Suite 2
Big Bear Lake
Online: himalayanbigbear.com

There are two breakfast joints in town that are worth seeking out but you need to get there early (like before 8:30 a.m.), otherwise, you'll end up waiting 45 plus minutes for a table (a vacation fail in any parent's book). So take advantage of early risers and head to one of these hot spots for hot cakes, hot coffee and more first thing in the morning. PS: They are both cash only.

Teddy Bear Restaurant
583 Pine Knot Blvd.
Big Bear Lake
Online: teddybearrestaurant.com

Grizzly Manor Cafe
41268 Big Bear Blvd.
Big Bear Lake
Online: grizzlymanorcafe.com

Sweets & Treats in Big Bear

Andie Huber

Ben & Jerry's
Always a family favorite, this iconic outpost is located in the village and will give your kids that much-needed energy boost after a long day of playing in the water and sun. Go for the sprinkle dipped waffle cones...you're on vacation!

652 Pine Knot Ave.
Big Bear Lake
Online: benjerry.com/bigbearlake

North Pole Fudge & Ice Cream Co.
Worth the wait for fudge, you can see that the fudge is made on the spot and is better than your taste buds can imagine.

618 Pine Knot Ave.
Big Bear Lake
Online: northpolefudge.net

The Copper Q
Stop here for coffee, freshly baked pies, scones, waffles on a stick and homemade marshmallows in the hot chocolate, you can also pick up gourmet jams, sauces and popcorns to bring back to your cabin (or LA!).

645 Pine Knot Ave.
Big Bear Lake
Online: copperq.com

Where to Stay in Big Bear



Modern A-Frame: With a mix of mid-century modern and Scandinavian style, this cozy A-frame on the north side of Big Bear Lake is the perfect retreat to the mountains. Soak up the sunshine from the large deck or watch the snow fall while you snuggle up beside the wood-burning stove. Whether you head out for a hike in the nearby National Forest or just enjoy the mountain views from the loft reading nook, this peaceful cabin will feel worlds away from the bustle of city life.

Sleeps: 5 guests 
Cost: $186/night
Online: airbnb.com/rooms/20875230

Golden State Cabin: Escape to the mountains of Big Bear to ski Snow Summit or just soak in a little winter SoCal-style. Either way, the Golden State Cabin is ideal for a cozy winter family getaway. Located minutes from the lake, slopes and village, this renovated cabin has modern decor, fireplace and a hot tub to enjoy après-ski or snowboard. Two comfortable bedrooms make it perfect for families with a king-sized bed and plush robes in the loft and bunk beds for the kiddos in the second bedroom. 

Sleeps: 4 guests 
Cost: $250/night
Online: airbnb.com/rooms/36889548

The Lodge at Big Bear Lake: This reasonably priced Holiday Inn has everything you need when traveling with kids: it’s has all the amenities of a big hotel, walkable to the Village and lake plus a pool and spa.

Online: thelodgeatbigbearlake.com

Special Events & Festivals in Big Bear

Andie Huber

Keep an eye out for special festival weekend events. We caught the Cranks N Crafts Beer & Bike Festival at the base of Snow Summit and it was a blast! 


Good to Know: Sunblock and hats are a must for everyone as you are at least one-mile closer to the sun. The air is also super dry so load up on chapsticks, hand lotion and a saline nose spray isn’t a bad idea. Bloody noses aren’t uncommon in the dry mountain air.

Note: This trip was paid for by Big Bear Visitor’s Bureau, but all opinions expressed here belong to the writer. 

feature image: Kerry Cushman

To see what Red Tricycle Editors are up to this month, follow us on Instagram!

—Andie Huber


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