36 Hours in Big Bear Lake, California: An Off-Season Day Trip
Seasons of Big Bear
Though a drought-prone state, California still has its fair share of inland water attractions and sights. This past June, my boyfriend and I took a day trip to explore one of those inland water attractions, Big Bear Lake.
Nestled in the San Bernardino Mountains, this small seven-mile lake draws visitors year round. Big Bear has two peak seasons, winter and summer. During the winter peak, December through February, Big Bear is known for its cabins and skiing. Once the snow melts away and the spring brings along beautiful flowers and greenery, the lake becomes the focus for locals and visitors alike. The summer peak season for Big Bear runs July 1st through Labor Day.
Regardless of the season, Big Bear offers a quaint and easy to navigate Downtown, called "The Village", with shopping, bars, restaurants and a movie theater. Staying true to its name, Big Bear is littered with statues, carvings, and pictures of bears you will not be able to keep count of.
Lodging in the Off-Season
As a Southern California resident, I have year-round access to many of the cities and places that attract tourists to the Golden State. This allows me the convenience of visiting places during their off or low season to save money and potentially avoid the overcrowding that can occur during a peak. As a general personal preference when traveling, I enjoy spending the night wherever I am taking a day trip to, especially in California. I have come to accept that driving from one place to another in California often takes longer than you would anticipate. Traffic can easily suck the energy out of you, serving as a buzzkill before you even begin your small getaway. If possible, make your day trips a true 24 hours to better enjoy and explore as much of your getaway as you can.
The biggest benefit to visiting Big Bear in the summer off-season is the variety of inexpensive lodging. I recommend a simple Google search with the keywords, "Big Bear cabins" or "Big Bear hotels" to find lodging. If you enjoy using Airbnb, you will find that searching "Big Bear Lake" as your destination produces a range of charming homes and cabins. Both Airbnb and Google can help you find options for solo travelers, couples, or groups.
Google led me to find the very affordable, adorable, and family managed Oak Knoll Lodge & Cabins. The property consists of 15 cabins that range in occupancy size and amenities offered. When traveling to the mountains, I enjoy the aesthetics and coziness of staying in a cabin, so I was thrilled to find this spot at such a reasonable price (under $90). One great amenity included in most of the cabins at Oak Knoll Lodge & Cabin is the kitchenette area and full-size fridge. Though Big Bear offers plenty of eateries to try, the option to cook your own food or store snacks and leftovers is always a plus when traveling.
Exploring the Village
Once we checked-in and settled into our cabin, my boyfriend and I immediately went to explore the downtown area known as The Village. Our first priority was grub as we were pretty hungry from the drive to Big Bear. Due to spotty cell phone service, we were unable to Yelp or Google potential places to eat. Instead, we decided to be adventurous and walk around downtown until we found a restaurant that appealed to our appetite. Though The Village was a walkable 1.3 miles from our cabin, we utilized the ample and free public parking located behind the downtown's visitor center.
If you check The Village's directory, you will find 26 places to eat. Every couple of steps you take in the small downtown area, you will easily find food or shopping. For lunch, we elected Fire Rock Burgers and Brews for some specialty burgers. I picked my lunch entree solely off the fact that my burger came topped with mac and cheese and barbeque sauce. Though the food was good, we wish we had made it a few more steps down the sidewalk to try the highly rated 572 Social Kitchen and Lounge.
Once our hunger was satisfied, we were able to walk downtown leisurely, instead of on the hunt for food. If you are more of a planner or like to know what is in the area, the Visitor Center is a great stop to get more information and a map of Big Bear and all there is to do. At a leisurely pace, the entire downtown area loop takes less than 20 minutes to walk because of its small size. However, a loop around downtown is full of diversions when you have art galleries, souvenir shops, and clothing boutiques that will attract your attention.
Nighttime in the Village
As we explored the downtown area, it was easy to note the bars and sole club, AV Nightclub. If you are 21+, plenty of bars offer live music or pool to enjoy with a drink in the evening hours. Keep in mind that Big Bear is relatively rural, making common luxuries like the rideshare apps Lyft and Uber sometimes inaccessible. Cell phone reception is very spotty in this mountain town. Even if you get the app to work, you may discover there are no available drivers in your area. Thankfully the original rideshare, taxis, are accessible and active in the downtown area, so you will have a safe way to get back to your lodging.
Though the nightlife appeared to be picking up as shops closed down for the evening, my boyfriend and I opted to go to the local theatre to watch the newly released film, Wonder Woman. Between the drive up to Big Bear, and our afternoon exploration of the downtown, we decided a relaxing evening with a movie and rest was plenty entertaining for us.
Kayaking on Big Bear Lake
With a full night of rest, I was ecstatic to wake up the next day to go explore the lake. Even before arriving in Big Bear, I was set on enjoying the lake by participating in some type of water activity. Thankfully our cabin offered wifi, so we utilized Google to explore the variety of lakeside activities we might enjoy. Surrounding the lake are plenty of little shops that offer a variety of rentals like that of kayaking, paddle boarding, paddle boats, fishing gear, and bikes. Even without access to wifi and Google, a simple drive along Big Bear Boulevard will lead you to find shops offering any lake activity you could possibly be interested in. The large signs advertising these activities are hard to miss.
We ultimately picked a random rental shop next to Boulder Bay Park for a kayak rental for two that ran us thirty-five dollars for an hour. True to its name, the park offers access to a part of the lake where an island of boulders sit, beckoning your exploration. Thanks to our kayak rental, we were able to kayak from the shore the few feet needed to arrive at the edge of the island of boulders, where we enjoyed climbing the rocks and getting a higher view of the area. Though June may bring to mind thoughts of warmth and summer, in the mountains of Big Bear you need a jacket or sweater to protect you from the cool lake breeze and 60-degree weather. While kayaking the water, I sported a sweater and jean jacket to keep warm. Kayaking across the small area closest to Boulder Bay gave us spectacular backyard views of the houses that are lucky enough to be right on the lake.
For a small area like Boulder Park, a 30-minute kayak rental will suffice, but we enjoyed taking our time rowing and sometimes just floating on the lake and enjoying the experience. If you like to swim (mind you the water is chilly in June), Boulder Bay Park is one of the many access points to enter the lake for swimming, as boats are not allowed in this area. If you prefer to simply enjoy the view of the lake, there is a fenced dock for you to walk or picnic tables to sit down and enjoy a meal or snack.
36 Hours in Big Bear
After a slight workout from kayaking, we ended our Big Bear adventure with ice cream in the Village Sweet Shoppe. For a Sunday, we were surprised to encounter such a busy and bustling downtown. Even in the off-season, Big Bear attracts people to come explore its small but lively town. Big Bear's summer off-season was a beautiful day trip, so I can only imagine what it might have to offer during the peak of a snowy winter or warm summer.
Have you ever been to Big Bear?
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© 2017 Nilza Santana-Castillo