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Whether it's a weekend getaway or a day trip, Truckee provides a delightful destination for experiencing autumn's splendor.
A Perfect Summertime Alpine Vacation: Big Bear Lake
by Carmel L. Mooney

Recently we fell in love…with Big Bear Lake that is, one of California’s most majestic and magical Alpine resort destinations.

Big Bear Lake exudes a warm, welcoming feeling the moment you arrive and drive around the seven mile long sparkling lake with its miles of open shoreline peppered with towering pines and granite outcroppings.

Located at 7,000 feet in the San Bernardino mountains, this historically rich town and its environs create nothing less than the perfect spot to recreate and enjoy outdoor activities.

At first glance, one might reminisce of days gone by when Tahoe was a small but thriving town, unrushed, pristine, and welcoming. A similar flavor is experienced at Big Bear Lake. The town and lake could easily be a distant relative to Lake Tahoe, but it is so much more and so much less. Less crowds, less traffic, less cost, less noise, more warmth from the locals and unsurpassed hospitality create an idyllic mecca at Big Bear Lake that larger cities like Tahoe, Truckee, or Donner cannot achieve.

When you meet the locals at Big Bear Lake you’ll immediately note that they offer a warmth and urgency to share the vast treasures that their area offers. A sense of pride is evident and they have every reason to be proud of the town they share with guests. You’ll surely love the relaxed pace you feel around town as locals comment that life unfolds on “Big Bear Time.”

We stayed at a beautiful and spacious family vacation home, just blocks from the lake, in a gorgeous wooded neighborhood where the view from the deck and spa were nothing less than magnificent. Our host Cathy Weil who also owns a lovely local bed and breakfast was yet another gracious and friendly local who offered hospitality and pride of her hometown of Big Bear Lake.

Big Bear Lake
Big Bear Lake Visitor's Guide
Events in Big Bear
Nottinghams Restaurant
Moonridge Animal Park
Alpine Slide at Magic Mountain

At the Alpine Slide at Magic Mountain, we encountered Southern California’s only Alpine Slide, a luge of sorts where one takes a chair lift to the top of the mountain only to descend in a personal lever-controlled toboggan like slide down a thrilling contoured track. Miniature golf, go karts, water slide and even more fun awaits visitors at this unique fun park.

Another enjoyable adventure was a guided fishing trip with Fish Big Bear Charter Service. In less than an hour we pulled up a half dozen gorgeous rainbow trout. With the success rate on Big Bear Lake, even the littlest anglers are sure to get a thrill.

A favorite of our visit was a Big Bear Discovery Center Canoe Tour where our knowledgeable tour guides met us at the fascinating Big Bear Discovery Center before taking us out in canoes to explore the flora and fauna of the lake. We learned fascinating history and also all about the nature of Big Bear Lake while curious ducks, coots, and heron decorated the majestic beauty of the water while we paddled. It was serene, educational, and a pinnacle of our trip.

Travel ideas at Big Bear Lake include hiking

Another gem of Big Bear Lake is their unique Moonridge Animal Park. The only Alpine Zoo in the nation specializing in alpine wildlife, it’s home to 150 orphaned or injured wildlife. We loved watching the grizzly bear family, mountain lions, bob cats, foxes, and especially the bald eagles eating their fresh dinner of rodents. A highly educational zoo, feeding tours, and animal presentations are conducted daily.

We were captivated by an exciting backcountry exploration tour we took with Big Bear Off Road Adventures. Our host showed us from our off-road vehicle parts of the Pacific Crest Trail that only the most experienced hikers would normally see. We toured gold mines, tailings, mining cabins and grave sites from the state’s second biggest gold rush where nearly two centuries ago, more than 2,000 people once lived in a booming mining town.

Big Bear Lake will leave you wanting for nothing when it comes to culinary delights. Our favorite lunch was at Jasper’s Smokehouse and Steaks. Home of the Live Wood Fired Smoke Pit, they serve their specialty BBQ sauces on the side to compliment rather than camouflage the highest quality meats they serve in all their dishes. All but one dessert are made on site and you will love the literally delectable gourmet melt-in-your-mouth specialties. You absolutely must save some room.

One of the town’s best known spots for dinners is Nottingham’s Restaurant & Tavern. The chicken Florentine was cooked to perfection with al dente vegetables and a house special of cream cheese potatoes. Stuffed salmon served with a light sauce of peppers, crab and shrimp was heavenly and the lobster bisque is some of the best we had ever tried with large chunks of succulent lobster in almost every bite.

If a friendly restaurant with a beautiful, relaxing, authentic, Italian ambiance is up your alley, nothing could fit the bill better than Sweet Basil Bistro. The waiter and chef team met in culinary school and cook from the heart, which is evident in every dish and side dish served. Everything was aesthetically pleasing and nothing less than perfection to the palette. Steaks, pastas, desserts, soups, salads, and antipasti offer beautifully prepared and presented treats.

Big Bear Lake offers so much more from skiing in the winter to golfing in the spring and summer; it truly is an all season alpine destination. Many movies have been shot in the beauty and splendor of Big Bear Lake: Bonanza, Heidi, Lassie, High Sierra, and Last of the Mohicans.

Whether you go there for a week vacation like I recommend, or stop there for a few days on your way to Disneyland or any other Southern California vacation, Big Bear is a magical gem and a must do, must see vacation experience.

From breathtaking vistas that rival Yosemite to serene sparkling alpine lake waters like Tahoe, Big Bear has it all---and more!

Carmel L. Mooney is a travel columnist, author and radio talk show host. Learn more about her at her website,


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