This post was most recently updated on October 7th, 2016
Big Bear Lake, California, is both a mountain lake and the city on its south shore. While it is famous for its two ski resorts — Snow Summit and Bear Mountain — Big Bear Lake is actually a four-season getaway location. It appeals to families, solo travelers, and couples. That’s why it came up on my radar…
With a wedding anniversary on the horizon, I started looking for a location within a few hours drive from San Diego. I checked out Groupon for deals, because who doesn’t like to save? Bingo! Under “Getaways”, I found nearly half-price rooms at The Lodge at Big Bear Lake. From their photos, it looked very much like a typical ski resort with pine wood decor and exposed beams. With an outdoor swimming pool and proximity to the lake, I figured it was going to be a great summer location as well. Oops! I almost forgot to mention I purchased the Groupon voucher by going through the Ebates shopping portal, and that saved me another $15.00!
My next step was to do a little research on the Big Bear Lake travel website. It’s well organized with event calendars and a very comprehensive list of everything there is to do at Big Bear Lake. There’s even a list of free/affordable things to do. I wanted to do something unique to the area — and maybe even try something I’d never done before. There are helicopter rides, zip-lining, off-roading, and kayaking. But I also wanted this getaway to be relaxing. Heaven knows we all need that sometimes! I went with a calmer itinerary…
The drive from San Diego to Big Bear Lake takes about 2 hours and 45 minutes with moderate traffic. Once you leave the valley floor and start climbing the mountain, it is a beautiful drive. There are lots of pull-outs on Highway 18, and I suggest you use them to get some great photos!
(Click on any photo to enlarge)
When we arrived at 3:30 pm, it was about 80 degrees and I was tempted to jump right in the pool at The Lodge at Big Bear Lake. We checked in and I just happened to mention we were celebrating our 31st anniversary. (Okay. Intentionally mentioned it) That scored us a complimentary room upgrade from a standard room to a front-facing king room with balcony. It never hurts to ask! We were very pleased with our accommodations, and we do recommend this hotel, especially for families and couples.
Choosing a restaurant
We read Google reviews and opted for the top-rated restaurant in Big Bear Lake village: the Peppercorn Grille. It was only a few blocks from the hotel, so we walked. The village is quaint — with lots of carved wooden bears, hanging flower baskets and pretty lampposts, alpine-themed shops, outdoor firepits, and outdoors-y street names like Pine Knot Ave and Beaver Lane. We like to eat dinner early, so we rarely need reservations. We loved being able to walk in at 5:00 pm and be seated immediately. We chose outdoor seating because it had such a pretty view of the village.
Harmony was our waitress, and she was very personable and friendly, while giving us great recommendations, too. We both had the cream of asparagus soup and while it didn’t look amazing, it was very good. The asparagus was tender and flavorful! I ordered a warm spinach salad with grilled salmon — absolutely mouth-watering…and my husband chose their special — a jerk-encrusted halibut with sweet potatoes, a fruit compote, and vegetables. He likes “spicy”, and he loved it! After Harmony learned it was our anniversary, she brought us THE most heavenly chocolate lava cake I’ve ever had. With a heart!
I was enticed by the Big Bear events calendar that advertised a new musical opening in Big Bear Lake the day we arrived. Touted as family-friendly and humorous, we bought tickets and looked forward to enjoying a fun musical. The venue was very nice, and we were able to score great seats for only $19 each! The musical was “Take Me Along!” by Bob Merrill. We settled in, expecting to really enjoy our evening of theatre, but after the first few entertaining scenes, the plot turned south.
This may just be us, but when the main character proposed to the love of his life and promised to stay sober, then went to a fraternity-type event and came home drunk, we weren’t impressed. And when a young pre-college boy is convinced to go visit a known hangout for prostitutes, we failed to see the humor in it. This wasn’t family-friendly in our opinion, and we left during the intermission.
After returning to our hotel room, we decided to take advantage of our balcony (and comfortable deck chairs) to watch the stars and enjoy the cooler night air. We were even able to use the fireplace in our room for ambience since it didn’t radiate any heat!
Saturday morning breakfast
Included with our Groupon hotel special was breakfast for two in The Lodge’s in-house restaurant, Stillwells. They had a wonderful buffet set up that included fruits, potatoes, sausage & bacon, eggs, toast, oatmeal, muffins, juice, and more. The receipt we were given showed our complimentary breakfast at a $30 value for two. I might have avoided a $15 breakfast if I’d had to pay for it, but the food was excellent, and I was grateful to start out the day with a hearty meal!
Urban Adventure Quest Scavenger Hunt
Time for the first thing on our agenda: an Urban Adventure quest. Have you ever done this?! It’s such a fun way to explore and learn more about the place you’re visiting! Because you can just log in to their website with your smartphone (via an internet connection), you can do it any time, on your own schedule, and go as fast or as slow as you like. We opted for earlier in the day before it got too hot. It was estimated to take 1 1/2 hours, but we actually completed it in an hour and 15 minutes. We started at the Visitors Center, which was right behind our hotel. The scavenger hunt really kept us on our toes!
We counted the number of times a trail crossed a highway, looked for address patterns, and figured out word clues, all the while learning interesting facts about Big Bear Lake. We were introduced to parks, memorials, murals, shops, and scenery we would have missed if we hadn’t participated in this quest. I highly recommend you try it too.
Want to try it too?
Here’s the link for the Big Bear Lake quest, and if you go to the Big Bear tourism website, you can use their promo code for 20% off. Now that we’ve done this for Big Bear Lake, I want to try it for San Diego next! Urban Adventure actually has quests for over 35 cities across the US — sometimes multiple options for cities like New York City or Seattle.
Exploring some more
After the quest, we had a few hours till our next item on the agenda, so we decided to drive around the neighborhood a bit and get the bigger perspective. We also thought we might grab some lunch, but that breakfast really filled us up. We topped off with ice cream at a local market near this beautiful park:
Saturday afternoon — a highlight of the day
The Big Bear Queen — a compact paddlewheel boat cleverly designed to be able to navigate the shallow inlets of Big Bear Lake. We booked a tour for two for the 2:00 pm sailing. Although the Big Bear Queen operates daily at several time slots, only the 2:00 pm sailing is guaranteed. The price? $20 per adult for a 90-minute tour. Totally worth it! Captain Chris knows so much about Big Bear Lake, its history, and the surrounding community. He shared lots of fun stories and interesting trivia with us, too. We saw celebrity homes, a solar observatory, islands, the dam, campgrounds, historic buildings, and much more! The weather was perfect for a boat tour, and it turned out to be a great way to spend an afternoon.
After our boat tour, we drove all the way around the lake and stopped at the dam where you can get out and take a few pictures. We passed by lots of summer cabins and beautiful campgrounds as well as picnic areas, parks, and resorts. But what you see the most of is forest, sky, and lake!
Another Dinner Review
Time to head down the mountain. Just one more stop to make…at the restaurant that claims it serves the best burgers on the mountain. Deep Creek Drive-In is in Running Springs, right on Highway 18. It doesn’t look like much, but the service is fast and friendly, and the food is fantastic! Scrumptious onion rings, and incredible hamburgers with lots of options on the menu. Mine included Canadian ham, and my husband’s was a double-decker cheeseburger. So good! They serve American and Mexican food and are open for breakfast, too. I’m guessing they’re right about having the best burgers!
It was hard to leave the mountain and make our way back to San Diego. But as we drove, we had lots to talk about — all the fun facts we learned on our scavenger hunt and the boat tour! Big Bear Lake did not disappoint us at all. It was a wonderful weekend!
- Urban Adventure Quest hosted our Big Bear Lake scavenger hunt — thanks so much!
- If you purchase anything through the Groupon link, I’ll receive a $10 credit on Groupon. You can join and refer your friends, too.
- If you purchase anything through the Ebates link, I’ll receive $5…and you will receive $10. You can then refer your friends, too, for the same..
- We appreciated the $2.00 discount Captain Chris gave us off the Big Bear Queen boat trip.
The best part about this article is that you can download it free and take it with you. Just go to this link at GPSmyCity; if you pay a small fee to upgrade, it will become a GPS tour guide. Then you can view it without internet or data charges! I’ll get a few cents, and you’ll enjoy a great trip to Big Bear Lake!