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Believe it or not, it does snow in Southern California! Located just 2 hours from Los Angeles, Big Bear is Southern California’s alpine winter wonderland. What is there to do in Big Bear? Of course, there is skiing, but there are actually so many more things to do in Big Bear in winter! From snow tubing and snowshoeing to a relaxing massage in your cabin, discover why your family should spend a wintry weekend in the mountain resort town of Big Bear.
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Things to do in Big Bear in Winter
Ski and Snowboard at Bear Mountain and Snow Summit
Big Bear is home to two major ski resorts, Bear Mountain and Snow Summit, both operated by Mammoth Mountain Resorts and both included with a single lift ticket (a shuttle runs between the peaks). Between the two mountains, a single lift ticket includes 200 acres of terrain park, 63 trails, more than 50 skiable miles, 26 lifts, 18 bars and coffee stands, 16 restaurants, 4 half pipes, and more than 100 jumps!
What I love about Snow Summit and Bear Mountain is that both resorts are incredibly family friendly. They recognize that a good portion of their skiers are beginners or experienced skiers with children, and really take extra effort to make sure that everyone has a great day on the slopes.
The Bear Mountain Resort Adventure Academy is designed to make the whole “getting on the slopes” process easier for families. Here, children can be quickly fitted for their skis or snowboards. This is also where kids age 4-12 can take lessons with their peers. The academy offers full and half day lessons, with a focus on fun.
Night Tubing at Alpine Slide at Magic Mountain
If your family’s idea of snow play isn’t skiing and boarding, rest assured that there many things to do in Big Bear with kids. With three tubing locations, including the Alpine Slide, Big Bear Snow Play, and Grizzly Ridge Tubing Park at Snow Summit Ski Resort, kids can enjoy a rush of adrenaline with little to no learning curve. Night tubing at Alpine Slide at Magic Mountain is an experience you definitely don’t want to miss.
After battling the Los Angeles traffic and making our way up the mountain into Big Bear Lake, some time in the fresh mountain air was just what we needed. After 7pm on a Friday, there were very few people at the park. We could easily grab a tube, ride the magic carpet up the hill, and then slide down over and over again. It was so much fun! The atmosphere was casual and mellow, a stark contrast to the long lines that visitors can often experience during the day. Note: the Soaring Eagle will open up at night, you just have to ask.
Daytime Fun at Alpine Slide at Magic Mountain
Big Bear’s Alpine Slide at Magic Mountain is a family fun park filled with several different activities. One of the most popular activities is the alpine slide, which is part outdoor slide, part coaster. Riders take a ski lift up the mountain and then climb aboard their sleds (one or two people per sled) and the ride is down the mountain on a track. The speed can be controlled by the rider, making it fun for speed demons or slowpokes.
The Soaring Eagle is another fun attraction at the park. It is similar to a zip line, except the riders sit in chairs. Riders can sit side by side as they fly along the 500-foot track at 28mph. Other attractions include a small go-kart track and a small mini-golf course. Daytime tubing is offered on a manicured tube hill with a magic carpet.
Important note: We went to Alpine Slide at Magic Mountain twice. Once on a Friday night and once on a Sunday at midday. The crowds on Sunday were massive. There was a 30-minute wait just to sign a waiver to go on any of the rides. The evening was far less crowded and much more fun, but the alpine slide was closed. If you do want to visit during the day on busy weekends, definitely arrive when the park opens.
Snowshoe Tour at the Big Bear Discovery Center
Don’t ski but looking for something fun and outdoorsy to do? Try a snowshoe tour at the Big Bear Discovery Center! These tours take place December through the beginning of March (winter weather permitting) on Saturdays and Sundays from 9-12 and from 1-4. These tours are for snowshoers ages 8 and up and beginners are welcome. A naturalist will lead the tour through the pine forests of San Bernardino National Forest. Advance reservations are needed and the cost is $30 for adults and $20 for kids 8-12.
Beyond snowshoeing, the center services as a visitor center for Big Bear and offers several other fun activities year round. There are nature walks, nature crafts, and educational interpretive programs. There is also a Nature Discovery Zone, geared towards kids 2-7, with 9 interactive play areas.
Visit the Animals of Big Bear Alpine Zoo
Located across the street from Bear Mountain Resort, the Big Bear Alpine Zoo is a great place to spend some time with rescued wildlife. The zoo is small but is well known for treating and releasing sick, injured, and orphaned animals from across the region. Those that are too injured to be returned to the wild are given a permanent home in the zoo. Besides California natives such as bobcats, coyotes, black bears, and mountain lions, the zoo is also home to exotic species like Snow Leopards and gray wolves. There are several birds of prey housed at the zoo, including snowy owls, vultures, and the iconic bald eagles.
Hit the Trail
Hiking opportunities abound in Big Bear, making this one of the great winter activities in the region. There are plenty of family-friendly hikes that kids can venture on, even in the winter time when conditions are right. The Woodland Trail is a must for families. Its 1 1/2 mile loop is lined with interpretive markers that teach kids about the botany, wildlife, and geology of the area. The Nature Discovery Trail behind the Big Bear Discovery Center is even easier. At .5 miles and little elevation gain, the trail features beautiful views of Big Bear Lake and Mt. San Gorgonio.
Enjoy Some Time by Big Bear Lake
Big Bear’s beautiful lake is not to be missed. Winter in Big Bear means icy shores and Instagrammable views. There are several places to play at a park along the shore or simply walk along the shore. Boulder Bay Park is an ideal place for a picnic. Kids love climbing on the boulders and the waterfront location is perfect for pictures.
Get a Massage
Some of us don’t ski or snowboard. I stopped skiing after back surgery, but my husband and kids still love the sport. I do love watching them come down the slopes but sometimes, Momma wants a treat. Cindy of Longevity Massage in Big Bear will come to your cabin and melt away all the stress and tension you have been carrying. Her rates are very reasonable and she offers a variety of massage treatments. She brings massage equipment, music, and essential oils.
Stroll Big Bear Village
For a more relaxing adventure through Big Bear, don’t miss a stroll through Big Bear Village, filled with row after row of unique specialty shops, candy stores, bakeries, coffee houses, and great eats. There are also horse-drawn carriage rides through this charming, Bavarian-style village. The stores in the Village offer everything from ski apparel and clothing to must-visit gift shops. Our favorite retail options include:
- Superhero Toys N More, where every comic book and video game character come alive
- The Toy Galley, where you are certain to find unique games and activities for all ages
- The Village Sweet Shoppe, home to every type of candy and sweet treat imaginable!!
- Craft To Treasure, where you can pop in for a crafting/art class year-round
- Ben & Jerry’s, because there is no such thing as “ice cream weather”!
- Stupidiotic, the original silly store of laughs & gaffs that are so dumb they are hilarious (so popular that two locations have branched out to Vegas!). Note, some items in here aren’t appropriate for kids, so use your judgment with littles. Most will go over their head if it is questionable.
- North Pole Fudge & Ice Cream, an obvious choice for a vacay treat!
For more winter-fun in Big Bear, consider horseback riding (kids will love the ponies and petting zoos!) at Baldwin Lake Stables & Petting Zoo or Big Bear Equestrian Center. Craving an adrenaline rush? A year-round zipline course is offered at Action Zipline Tours. Indoor activities, including bowling, movie theaters, ice skating, and laser tag, keep families having fun together even when the temps get too cold for little ones.
Where to Stay in Big Bear Lake
Cabins are one of the best options for families. Destination Big Bear rents cabins in all different sizes and prices points. They have great hours for registration and rental packet pick up (because we all know that sometimes Southern California traffic gets us to places later than we would like), and their rental location is right in the heart Big Bear. We found our 4 bedroom rental to be spacious and comfortable, the perfect size for our family. The kitchen supplies were a bit bare bones so check with the rental office ahead to get a clear idea of what your cabin offers and what you will need to bring.
Big Bear boasts an assortment of hotels, motels, and lodges as well. Trekaroo Editor, Katie Bodell, stayed at Big Bear Frontier and loved its central location (they were able to walk to both the Village and the lake), the chance to spread out in three bedrooms, the full-size kitchen, the outdoor BBQ, and the opportunity to warm up each evening by the fire.
Read her full review of Big Bear Frontier.
Where to eat in Big Bear Lake
Visitors to Big Bear won’t want for a great meal. Dining options, from quick bites to artisan eats to fine dining, are offered throughout the region.
Nottinghams Tavern is a great option for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Breakfast highlights include a variety of benedicts, omelets, waffles, and french toast. Later in the day, the restaurant serves up steaks, pasta, burgers, and salads in a casual and family-friendly atmosphere. Definitely, don’t miss the pickle fries which are some of the best we have ever had. When the weather is nice, bring your pooch and let him order something off the doggie menu.
Fans of Big Bear’s local favorite, Peppercorn Grille, will be excited to dine at Oakside, a new restaurant by the same owners Mike & Julie Hastings. Oakside features delicious California cuisine in an upscale setting. Be sure to make reservations or use your wait time to explore the Village; the wait can nearly two hours for a Saturday night table.
Also located in the village are two hip eateries worth a visit: 572 SOCIAL and Big Bear Lake Brewing Company, both featuring trendy menus, live entertainment, and delicious eats. We loved the small plate offerings at 572 SOCIAL, which allowed our group to taste and share small bites as a family. The kids’ menu, filled with regular offerings like mac n’ cheese, burgers, chicken, and pizza, made our littles quite happy.
Big Bear Lake Brewing Company is a great option for moms and dads looking for unique craft beer to supplement a meal. They don’t have a dedicated kid’s menu, but kid-friendly favorites, including burgers, wings, and fries, will likely suit your family well.
Breakfast lovers shouldn’t miss a meal at Grizzly Manor Cafe. The lines outside and Travel Channel awards are legit. And you’ll love the laid-back, funky vibe inside just as much as the menu.
Related: Visiting Big Bear Lake, California with kids in the Summer?
Disclosure: I was hosted by the Big Bear Visitors Bureau for the purpose of this review. I appreciate the hospitality but all opinions are my own.
Lead image by: Big Bear Visitors Bureau