From waterskiing to snowboarding, the twin towns of Big Bear Lake and Lake Arrowhead offer a wealth of high-altitude fun and some off-season entertainment to boot.
Pine-swathed peaks, glinting lakes, idyllic mountain villages—the sister alpine towns of Big Bear Lake and Lake Arrowhead seem a world away from the glamorous beaches of Los Angeles, a drive of less than 2 hours west. Located in the San Bernardino National Forest off the Rim of the World Highway (Route 18), these small burgs offer a bounty of outdoor activities for every season, including some charming festivals.
Nature takes center stage here, but there are a few surprises, too. Big Bear Lake showcases indie flicks each September at its International Film Festival. The town embraces Oktoberfest with gusto, so bring your stein to the highest beer garden in the country (6,750 feet) and watch live Bavarian musical acts clad in lederhosen. Adrenaline seekers should check out the Alpine Slide at Magic Mountain—the twisting quarter-mile bobsled course is open year-round. When the weather is warm, it’s all about trout fishing, hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding.
Not to be outdone, the storybook Lake Arrowhead Village puts on a worthy Oktoberfest as well, having the largest German-brew selection of any celebration south of Santa Barbara and a typical smorgasbord of bratwursts and supersized laugenbrezel (traditional pretzels). In June, the Annual Antique and Classic Wooden Boat Show pays homage to skiffs that date from the 1930s. If you’re clamoring to get out on the water, McKenzie Water Ski School has been the go-to stop for lessons since 1946.
HIT THE SLOPES
Southern California doesn’t evoke images of powdery slopes, but Snow Valley, Snow Summit and Bear Mountain harbor an abundance of ski runs that span all skill levels. Snowboarders camp out at the latter, doing their best Shaun White imitations on the 580-foot superpipe, the only one of its kind in the area. Those who prefer to keep their tips on the ground head to Rim Nordic, which has 10 miles of groomed trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
While every resort has its own culinary offerings, those preferring to eat in the villages should fuel up for a day on the mountain at Belgian Waffle Works, situated on the banks of Lake Arrowhead. Its doughy golden staple comes in 17 versions made with different ingredients, from sliced peaches to Oreo cookie crumbs, and the biscuits and gravy is genuine down-home comfort food. For an early dinner, Madlon’s, in Big Bear Lake, serves a sophisticated menu in a replica of a gingerbread house. Don’t miss the garlic escargot and dry-aged porterhouse steak.