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Looking for the perfect quick family vacation this weekend? This Big Bear Travel Guide and list of Big Bear Family Activities will show you why you need to visit this beautiful place with your family ASAP if you're in the Southern California area!
Big Bear Lake is an adorable mountain town a few hours drive from Los Angeles and San Diego nestled in the san bernardino mountains. Last weekend, we decided to escape the city and beaches of San Diego and to trade it in for fresh air, trees, snow and time as a family. The town of Big Bear is big on charm, low on traffic, and PERFECT for relaxing family vacations (in either the summer or winter).
It was the perfect place to enjoy some down time, some hikes, bike rides and lazy mornings on the porch, and even some awesome mountain wildlife (plus some killer food).
Big Bear Family Activities
We headed up to Big Bear from San Diego on a Friday afternoon. First lesson? Best to leave earlier on a Friday, the two hour drive took four hours in traffic (the best time to leave for a weekend trip from either San Diego or Los Angeles is probably between 9 am and 11 am….hopefully you'll miss rush hour and afternoon traffic)!
A few things to know about the drive up: the last hour or so is a VERY windy mountain road. Prepare if there is snow (chains are usually required between November and April) or you have a car sick prone passenger (you may want motion sickness medication if nausea happens frequently).
There are a number of places to stop along the way during that last hour, and turnouts every few miles. We didn't see a ton of gas stations, and the ones we saw were PRICEY….so best to fill up your tank before heading up the mountain. Ideally, you'll want to arrive at least an hour before dark. There aren't a TON of streetlights (this is a small mountain town after all).
Where to stay in Big Bear:
Every time we've visited Big Bear, we've done a cabin. This last trip we stayed in a newly remodeled cabin in Moonridge (a great location). We could walk to a ton of activities and it was a VERY short drive to the Village. This ADORABLE cabin was just a few minutes drive from Big Bear Lake Village, roomy, and ideal for traveling with kids.
It had a big porch for sitting and watching Lydia play while drinking a cup of coffee, a fireplace, and a great layout. Plenty of room in the living room to enjoy the board games they provided, and even a kids' table upstairs! Bonus points? They had kids plates, cups and silverware, so our family pancake session was a million times easier!
We are planning to come back in the summer for a lazy week at the lake, and the home is big enough to bring another family along. We LOVED it!
Where to eat in Big Bear:
Cochina De Mexico: Looking for casual mexican food? Cochina de Mexico is close to town, and delicious! I wouldn't suggest eating there, it's VERY small and more of a take out spot…..but the street tacos are AMAZING!
Teddy Bear Restaurant: When I asked on Instagram stories for restaurant recommendations, a TON of you suggested the Teddy Bear Restaurant…..and it was our favorite meal of the trip. This local spot was established in 1944, and while it may have moved up the street slightly……that old fashioned charm is still present. From pie to classic American food, they have it ALL. Our preference? The all day breakfast. We've visited this classic diner style spot every time we've come to Big Bear Village, and it does NOT disappoint. There's something special about fancy breakfast for dinner. FYI: this is a cash only establishment (they do have an ATM in the lobby area). It can get busy on weekends or during snow season…..so plan accordingly for this popular place!
Amangela's: Looking for fancy coffee drinks? Amangela's is SMACK dab in the middle of Big Bear Village, and their drinks are DELISH. They even have a peppermint patty grown up drink, and trust me after a day of snow play or a day on the lake…..you'll want one! We've visited Amangela's twice now. Our first visit years ago we got coffee drinks, but this last trip, we went for lunch. HIGHLY recommend. They've got bagels, bagel sandwiches, regular sandwiches (with some amazing gluten free bread) and smoothies. Plenty of indoor and outdoor seating and some really good hot chocolate!
The Coffee and Tea Exchange: Want to pick up breakfast sandwiches? Pastries? Morning coffee? The Coffee and Tea Exchange was super close to our cabin and the breakfast sandwiches were HEAVEN (plus they make stellar lattes).
North Pole Fudge and Ice Cream Company: Looking for a special treat to bring home? Or back to your cabin? Trust me on this one. North Pole Fudge (located on the main road in the Village) is AMAZING. They have tons of homemade chocolate treats, and the prices are stellar. You can get ice cream in the warmer months and candy year round.
Things to do in Big Bear:
Big Bear Snow Play: Of course, the weekend WE went to Big Bear the first time……there was no snow. You have to laugh, after MONTHS of telling Lydia there would be snow, there wasn't. Luckily Big Bear Snow Play saved the day. It has sledding hills, tubes for snow tubing, and plenty of space for snowball fights.
Tip: get there EARLY, it's crowded by midday! If you're going in the winter, this is a great option for Big Bear family activities.
Big Bear Village Bear Scavenger Hunt: Big Bear Village is home to a TON of wood carved bear statues. Lydia loved walking around the town trying to find them ALL. It was perfect entertainment while we sipped on afternoon lattes, and enjoyed the mountain air.
If you're trying to get the wiggles out after a drive or looking for quick fun things before heading out of town, this is a perfect option (also a good idea if you're waiting for a table at dinner).
Alpine Zoo: The Big Bear Alpine Zoo is small, and perfect for young kids. It houses rescued mountain wild animals, and does a great job of talking about animal rescue and treatment of wild creatures. We visited this safe haven for the first time during this last trip, and oh wow did I underestimate how cool this place was!
It's one of the best things we did on our trip! We saw mountain lions, grizzly bears and black bears, snow leopards, gray wolves and foxes, bald eagles and tons of birds. There's also a small playground and rock climbing wall for kids. The Alpine Zoo is $15 per adult and $10 per child (2 and under are free). I'd plan on spending about 90 minutes to 2 hours there.
Alpine Pedal Path: Want to see the San Bernardino National Forest close up? Hiking or biking is a great way to do that. This time we brought our bikes with us, and we decided to do an easy trail ride. This is an easy whole family ride and one of my favorite Big Bear family activities, paved the whole way and fairly flat.
We circled around the lake, and through the trees. For nature lovers, we saw a ton of birds in their natural habitat and for those who want to stop? There were benches and picnic tables along the way. This is one of the best places I've seen for starting bike riders, Lydia enjoyed it and was easy enough for her to feel comfortable.
Have you visited Big Bear? What are YOUR favorite Big Bear family activities?