Craving an easy little getaway but also a little weather to boot? Just 90 miles east of Los Angeles (and Orange County) lies the town of Lake Arrowhead, CA tucked 5106 miles above sea level in the San Bernardino Mountains. In the fall and winter there’s a chill in the air and if you are lucky, snow on the ground. This destination not only checks all the boxes (and then some) of a great family trip, the real secret of this tiny town? It’s great all year long. Seriously. Check out all the must-dos and see for yourself why this spot should be on your must-visit list, no matter what time of year.
Loving Lake Arrowhead
Unlike its neighbor Big Bear to the east, Lake Arrowhead is a private lake in the San Bernardino Mountains that limits access to its shores and water. One of the best ways to get up close and personal? Stay at the lakefront hotel Lake Arrowhead Resort and Spa that not only has enviable views of the lake, it also has its very own beach, heated pool and hot tubs and is within walking distance of the Village (more on all of that below).
What to Do
SkyPark at Santa’s Village: After being closed for a number of years after the 2003 fire that ravaged the region, it was re-opened as an adventure-plex with the goal of becoming SoCal’s leading mountain biking destinations. And while they may have achieved bragging rights for the two-wheeled enthusiasts, this place is the diggity-bomb for kids of all ages, even for those that don’t mountain bike.
What we love about SkyPark is that it caters to every age (don’t get confused by the Santa part—it is not just a destination for all things Christmas). There is something for everyone, including the adults. Unlike other theme parks, guests are invited to be active as they make their way through the property (and back again) rather than be a passive participant.
Try the 600′ zip line that careens you through the air, 30′ above the forest floor (exhilarating!). Climb “Frozen Falls” a 30′ outdoor climbing structure that looks like an ice wall or try the indoor climbing room if the kids are too nervous. Try your hand at archery and jump on “Blitzen’s Bungee” which is a bungee-assisted trampoline.
Little kids can balance mountain bike, hike the trails, climb a spider-web and tree house structure, use the miniature zipline, the whole family can ride the Northwoods Express train ride, and then there is ice skating in the winter and roller skating in the summer. And if that isn’t enough, there are entertaining shows in the pavilion—we caught Whacko the Magician that had the crowd both in awe and roaring with laughter.
During Dec., the park goes into hyperdrive celebrating all things Christmas and what’s not to love about a little nostalgia in all its dressed up holly? This is where you’ll catch Santa and Mrs. Claus in their house for the perfect photo op, you’ll see loads of characters in dress-up walking around, you can decorate Christmas cookies and ornaments and even send a letter to Santa. And of course, hit up the Gingerbread House for yummy sweets and treats—don’t forget the hot chocolate!
The atmosphere here is so chill and fun and with so many characters walking around like Arrow, the resident dog, Celwyn Claus (Santa’s brother…who knew?), a couple of princesses, and this life-sized gingerbread man, that if you don’t want to stand in line and meet Santa, you’ll still walk away feeling all that cheerful joy that the season has to bring.
Where to Eat
There are a couple of dining options on the property. For barbecue, hit up Gatherings or for more kid-friendly options, St. Nick’s Patio is the go-to with fun burgers named after the reindeers that head up Santa’s sleigh like The Dasher and The Prancer.
This time of year can get crowded due to the draw of Santa (although here’s a hint: he walks around in his more casual gear in the summer too!). Rather than wait in line for food, we lucked out hitting a hot dog stand that also served burgers so we didn’t have to wait in line and enjoyed our lunch at an outdoor picnic table. And speaking of summer…If you do come here in the warmer months, take a quick look at their calendar to try and catch some of the fun concerts and special events they have in Jun., Jul. and Aug.
Good to Know
You can easily spend four or more hours here, there’s that much to do, experience and see. Especially since every activity is included in the admission price (minus a couple of activities like panning for gold) so if your kids want to bungee until their legs can’t bungee any longer, they are more than welcome to.
If anyone in your group is set on zip lining, we recommend you go there first as it’s one of the more popular activities and the line can back up waiting for everyone to suit up and walk to the tower to begin their zip. #soworthitthough.
Hours: Sun.-Thurs. 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. 10 a.m.-8 p.m.
Cost: Kids (4-12) $58; Adults $68
28950 Hwy. 18
Where to Stay
Lake Arrowhead Resort and Spa is located along the shores of Lake Arrowhead and has amenities galore that families will love and appreciate. Originally built in 1982, the property has an old-world feel to it that is welcoming from the moment you walk through the doors. The beauty of this hotel is the access you can get to Lake Arrowhead. Like it was noted earlier, Lake Arrowhead is a private lake and typically you need to be a member of the Lake Arrowhead Association or be a guest of someone who is to dip those toes in the crystal blue water.
Of course, dipping anything in the lake water during the winter months would be crazy (although I’m sure there is some sort of polar bear club that does just that) but Lake Arrowhead Resort and Spa still offers a couple fun water-based options, even when the temperature dips below 70 degrees. Save time in your weekend to visit the heated pool and two hot tubs. Both offered enough toasty warmth to make getting into a bathing suit an easy thing to do.
During the summer, there’s even more to do like fishing off the dock, guided kayak tours, guided lakeside walking tours, board games and movie nights. Ping pong, horseshoes and glow in the dark cornhole poolside along with glow volleyball on the beach (we also spotted a fire pit!) are also on deck. They also operate their own private pontoon boat for lake tours Apr.—Oct.
But honestly, there is plenty to do at the resort in Dec. from cozy fireside tic-tac-toe to exploring the walkways and trails around the property, the kids will be thrilled and entertained (not to mention being pretty tired from a day spent at SkyPark). Returning the resort and relaxing was the best at the end of the fun-filled day.
photo: Lake Arrowhead Resort and Spa
There is a $20 resort fee but guess what? This gives you access to the spa’s amenities like the whirlpool, sauna, an experience shower, the gym and fitness classes.
But if you really want to take it up a notch, tell your partner you’ll be back in an hour and book the spa’s signature treatment called the Spa of the Pines Signature Massage, a combination of bodywork incorporating Swedish, Deep Tissue, Shiatsu, Thai and Reflexology. You’ll walk out feeling like a brand new person and wonder why you ever wasted any money on sub-par massages in the past.
Eats within Reach
If you are looking for pastries and coffee, hit up Aromas located just outside the lobby but for real meals, check out Bin 189. They offer breakfast, lunch, and dinner and while the reviews gush over the view, we’re gushing over the kid-friendly accessibility despite the fine dining atmosphere.
We were surrounded by kids at every table and loved how friendly and accommodating the staff was throughout the entire meal. They brought out pasta just how the kids embarrassingly like it (plain, bone dry with no flourishes of decorative herbs) and the watermelon margarita was spot on. The lodge-inspired decor is fun—antlers hang from the ceiling and birch wood line the walls that add to the dining experience that we’ll gladly experience again. Next time, we’ll stop at the oversized fireplace for dessert to enjoy the space just a little bit longer. And don’t forget to hit happy hour that happens daily from 3 p.m.-6 p.m.
Pro Tip: Make a reservation to avoid any hangry meltdowns or dinner disappointments.
Bin 189 Hours: Daily from 7 a.m.-12 a.m.
Rates: Rooms start at $180
27984 Highway 189
Lake Arrowhead Village, also just known as ‘The Village‘ is a mix of local retail, dining as well as well-known food chains and shopping outlets. You can walk from the resort to the Village in under five minutes and do a little retail damage at the Coach Outlet, Pendleton or at Mr. G’s Toy Shop for the kids.
There is usually an event happening on or near center stage all year long but for those that are fans of Oktoberfest, this is the place to be.
Insider Tip: Lake Arrowhead’s Oktoberfest actually starts in Sept. and runs through the end of Oct. The village really turns up the celebrations with themed music, beer, and food.
Looking for a children’s playground? At Sunset Park, there is a climbing structure and swings with another great view of the lake.
After all that shopping and running around, walk along the lake, look out for the ducks and grab a seat on the Lake Arrowhead Queen boat tour, an hour-long ride around the lake where you’ll get a little history and get a good view of the lakeside estates owned by the rich and famous.
Boat Hours: Opens 11 a.m. with weekly departures at 11, 12:30, 3:30 and 5 p.m. Weekends, every hour on the hour 11-6 p.m.
Cost: Kids $14; Adults $18.50
28200 Hwy. 189
photo: Craig R. via Yelp
Where to Eat in the Village
The Lakefront Tap Room Bar and Kitchen: In the mood for craft brews, burgers and killer lake views? Head here for lunch or dinner. The kids will be entertained by all the happenings on the lake and you’ll love the food (for both you and the kids) and the laid-back atmosphere. We recommend ordering the Brauhaus Pretzel to share as an appetizer while you get comfortable and figure out your meals.
28200 Hwy. 189
photo: Shop Road Trip
A Must Stop Shop
Shop Road Trip: All adventures must come to an end but before you leave, head to the eastern shore of the lake to Shop Road Trip (about an 8-10 minute drive from Lake Arrowhead Resort and Spa). One of the coolest shops in the San Bernardino Mountains, this classic A-Frame house is filled with California-centric gifts, decor and vintage goods and is the place to go to pick up one-of-kind items, products from local artists and hard to find pieces that combine a mid-century look with an adventurous vibe.
Things to Know Before You Go
The drive up to Lake Arrowhead is steep and winding. Once you turn onto Hwy. 18, it’s only about 15-20 minutes to the top (to keep it all in perspective) but those with car sickness or car sick kids, be prepared. If you can stomach it, check out the stunning views along the way or even stop and get out of the car since there are some spectacular pull-off spots that will give you a chance to regroup. We promise, once you are surrounded by the trees and see the lake, you’ll immediately forget those winding roads.
Lake Arrowhead Resort and Spa is running all sorts of specials for the winter, check out a few of them below:
Let It Snow! (Available through Mar. 31): The package includes: accommodations for two nights at Lake Arrowhead Resort and Spa, two ski passes at Snow Valley Ski Resort* and fireside hot chocolate back at Lake Arrowhead Resort. *Additional ski lift tickets available for purchase. Starting at $302 for two nights, based on availability.
Alpine Family Adventure (Available through Mar. 31) This package includes accommodations for four at Lake Arrowhead Resort and Spa, four tickets to nearby SkyPark at Santa’s Village, discounted bike rentals and transportation to SkyPark for four, s’mores on the beach with a private s’more butler and a welcome s’mores kit. Starting at $305 per night, based on availability. Valid Wed. through Sun. only.
No Snow No Problem (Available through Mar. 31) This package includes accommodations for two for one night, two adult tickets to SkyPark at Santa’s Village, dinner for two including one appetizer to share, two entrees and desserts and one bottle of cabernet sauvignon. Package price is $388 per night, based on availability. Valid Thurs. through Sun. only.
Reservations can be made by calling 877-829-2429 or by visiting www.lakearrowheadresort.com.
Editor’s Note: This hotel and adventure experience was paid for by Lake Arrowhead Resort and Spa, but all opinions belong to the writer.
Photos by Andie Huber unless noted otherwise.
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