Sure, you’ve hit Big Bear for epic skiing and snowboarding. The winter scenery and activities can’t be beaten. But in the summer and fall, it may be even better. When it’s warm you can mountain bike, Eurobungy, take part in all kinds of water sports and explore the museums, local history, animals, and hiking. Here’s how your family will fall in love with Big Bear this fall.
Play & Explore
Tram to the Top
Experienced world travelers have a secret tip: when you get to a new destination, the first thing you should do is go to the highest point and look down, getting a lay of the land and a sense of the space. In Big Bear, this means your first stop, winter or summer, should be Snow Summit. Get tickets to the top (8,200 ft.), which lets you ride the scenic sky chair with sweeping views of the surrounding mountains, lake, and forests. Stop at the top for lunch, hiking (start with the simple 1-mile loop, or branch out on longer trails if the kids are up to it) and searching for the tiny frogs that live in puddles along muddy trails. More adventurous? Don’t forget to try the rock climbing wall and Eurobungy at the base.
Mountain Bike to the Extreme
At the base of Snow Summit, extreme sports fans as young at 5 can get gear 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 actually end up saving you money on bike rental, gear and sky chair tickets.
Paddle on Lady Liberty
You can’t visit Big Bear Lake without visiting the lake, and a gorgeous and relaxing way to do that is taking Lady Liberty for a 90-minute tour of the lake. The paddle boat takes you back to the feeling of Mark Twain’s Mississippi, as you drift along, snacking or sipping champagne while the captain regales you with tales of the local history, famous denizens, and favorite activities near the lake. Kids may even get a turn at the wheel.
Gold Rush Mining Adventures
The most gold mines in Southern California were just north of Big Bear Lake in Holcomb Valley. With a gold rush that (for a time) rivaled the one up north, there’s a lot of golden history in this part of the state. Kids can honor that history with a gold and gem panning adventure at Gold Rush Mining Adventures. No tiny flakes here; kids are each given a special bag to pan from and go home with a wide assortment of stones, along with a booklet that helps identify them. Choose from a slew of adventures from simply breaking open geodes of all sizes to find what’s inside, to mining or harvesting pearls in the Mermaid Grotto.
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 and arctic fox-only animals that should be living in this ecosystem and only animals who can no longer live on their own in the wild. Try to stop by at noon, for the daily animal presentation in the amphitheater. In October, you can come at night for a Flashlight Safari!
Big Bear Historical Museum
This little museum is well worth a visit, as you learn all about the local history from the gold rush day to logging and cattle ranching. Kids will love panning for gold (be sure to buy a small vial to keep the flakes in, for $.50 at the gift shop) and the blacksmith demonstration. But the most fun, and Instagram worthy, for the whole family, are the historical buildings, all furnished and looking ready for you to live in. There are Serrano Native American homes, a saloon, a schoolhouse and even an old outhouse (a two-holer). The museum is open weekends through October, check the website before visiting as they are open on some Monday holidays and most Wednesdays, too.
Big Bear Discovery Center
Now that you’re up to speed on the history of Big Bear, you can learn more about nature and wildlife in the area today. At the Discovery Center, you can talk with a ranger and learn which hikes are perfect for your family, see (preserved) animals that call the San Bernadino Mountains home, take part in weekly crafts, nature walks, story times and campfire programs. Check the schedule to see what activities are offered when you’ll be visiting. And kids (it’s best for toddlers and preschoolers, though big sibs through about 8 or 9 will still have fun) adore the outdoor Nature Discovery Zone play area.
Action Zipline Tours
If mountain biking on big mountains isn’t enough excitement and your kids are 8 years old (and weigh 75 pounds) your family can take an exciting zip line tour through the tall trees. The three-hour tour (which is $120/person) includes an off-road ride in safari jeeps, a choice of 9 ziplines down the mountain and a suspension bridge with gorgeous views. Not for the faint of heart or a tiny tot, but an amazing and memorable family experience for thrill-seeking big kids. And fall is the perfect time to do it when it’s not too hot and not too cold.
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, boating, take a ride on an alpine slide or water slide.
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 arcade, bowling alley or movie theater in the village, which almost always is showing the latest family flick.
Hands down, if you’ve got kids, they want to eat at Saucy Mama. 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.
Admittedly, there’s no kids menu here. But it’s probably the best dinner option in Big Bear, and with people watching on the patio where kids can be themselves, and a slightly upscale spot where parents can relax over a glass of wine and excellent crab cakes and steak salads, kids will be thrilled with the pizza or burger options and you’ll be happy with the very reasonable prices for good (non-bar) food.
Amangela’s Sandwich and Bagel House
For breakfast or lunch on the go, this is your go-to With house-made bread, the sandwiches are tasty and super filling, perfect for packing for a hike or in the car. Bagels make every kid happy for any meal of the day (or kids meals delight them with corndog, PB & J or sandwich half along with a side and a cookie), and this convenient location in the middle of the village, that also serves fresh fruit smoothies and veggie/gluten free options is a place you’ll find yourself returning to over and over.
Sometimes it is possible to OD on burgers and pizza. Always a possibility when you’re vacationing with kids, who are away from their usual foods, and never more so than when you’re in a small vacation town, where options can be more limited. That’s why discovering the Himilayan Restaurant feels like a gift. 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 chowmein noodles. But you also might find them sneaking too many bites of your curry, masala and vindaloo.
Sweets & Treats
North Pole Fudge & Ice Cream Co.
Mmmmm. The line out the door tells you that it’s worth the wait for fudge, caramel apples, ice cream in amazing dipped waffle cones (or hot chocolate if the temp has dipped). You can see in the back room that the fudge is made here, and it tastes homemade and delicious. (The chocolates are homemade too!) Save 10% if you bring your Saucy Mama receipt. (And since these are the top two spots in town according to kids, you probably did just eat there!)
The Copper Q
Because it’s not morning until parents have coffee. So wander over to The Copper Q for coffee, fresh baked pies, scones and quiche for breakfast or a mid-afternoon pick me up, and try and catch one of their fun cooking demonstrations. Kids love the waffles on a stick and home made marshmallows in the hot chocolate, and you’ll love getting some gourmet jams, sauces and popcorns to bring back to your cabin (or LA!).
Black Fox Trading Company
After you try on the top hats and cowboy hats, ooh and aah over the stuffed animal puppets and Native American dolls, head straight to the back of the store where there’s an alcove of a magic shop. The old timey dressed magician will happily perform tricks and you won’t be able to resist maybe getting a card trick or three. And maybe those make them yourself moccasins.
Yes, you will love shopping here for house made soaps, essential oils and bath bombs.
The Toy Galley
Beware! Don’t enter this pirate themed toy store if you have anywhere you need (or want) to be for the next hour or so. The great selection and friendly staff will have your kids wanting to move in. So maybe this is actually on our list of places to avoid? Or perhaps one parents stays here with the kids, while the other (who still collects action figures) makes their way to the other toy store down the street, Typhon Toys & Collectibles, which has one of the largest comic book and movie collectibles we’ve seen. You may lose any Comic-Con devotees here for a while.
Stupidiotic Factory Outlet
Seriously, you will have to have a slightly quick hand here, as some of the greeting cards are inappropriate for kid eyes, but they’ll be so entranced with the gag gifts and novelty items (dehydrated water and air guitar strings will have them scratching their heads, while they may actually want handerpants and fork chopsticks) they won’t even notice… And you can stock up on gag gifts for a lifetime.
The Lodge at Big Bear Lake
This Holiday Inn has everything you need when traveling with kids: it’s has all the amenities of a big hotel (big staff, restaurant & room service, modern beds, and TVs, reliable WiFi- which is no small thing in the mountains), convenient (you can walk to the Village and lake, even with kids who don’t like walking), there’s a pool and spa and it’s very reasonably priced.
Cozy Hollow Lodge
If you’re looking for a cozy cabin getaway, look no further. With a play area for kids and 14 cabins to choose from (some with a full kitchen, some with fireplaces, and several with spas) it’s the rustic (but not too rustic) getaway of your dreams.
Big Bear Frontier
The frontier offers hotel rooms, but we prefer the cabins that accommodate up to 12 people (especially if you’re planning a family reunion or birthday party!) at this property that’s right on the lake. An easy walk to the village, this is also a very pet friendly spot, in case you’re bringing the 4 legged family members along.
One last suggestion, if you’re spending more than a day or two, or traveling with friends or extended family, is to consider renting a cabin of your own. At bigbearcabins.com you can find private cabins and homes to rent (many with fireplaces and Jacuzzis) that accommodate from your family up to over 16 people.
Any fall day is beautiful, but keep an eye out for these special festival weekend events.
What’s your idea of a perfect family getaway weekend? Extreme sports, leisurely hikes, museum poking or resort relaxing? We’d love to hear what your family likes best in the comment section.