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For some reason, our Santa Monica beach family always went looking for snow and winter fun in Big Bear Lake, never Lake Arrowhead.
In the summers, it was always back to Big Bear, to try our luck at fishing, which never seemed to change.
I wasn’t the adult, back then, making the decisions of where to take my family but now that I have a little more control, I wonder. Lake Arrowhead is actually about a half-hour, or approximately 20 miles, closer to where we started our road trip. That translates to a half-hour less windy mountain road travel and a half-hour less of having to deal with my pesky little brother in the backseat of our car and, today, my two fighting boys.
Where To Stay
Until my husband, boys and I were invited to explore Lake Arrowhead, we had never made the short journey. So, we were a bit curious and definitely excited.
The centrally located, Lake Arrowhead Resort and Spa, is a comfortable and luxurious hotel to spend a weekend or holiday break. Our room had two queen-sized beds, a balcony overlooking the lake with evergreens and glimpses of rust and golden oaks surrounding it. We discovered the Lake Arrowhead Resort and Spa is dog friendly, so we thought fondly of our Golden Retriever waiting with friends back home. The whole town is very dog friendly and we saw many tongues dangling from four-legged friends who brought their own fur! Snow was still a whispered promise when we visited right before Thanksgiving but it was still cold. However, there was no way my boys were passing up a heated pool and hot tub. It didn’t matter that it was outdoors. They must have an ultra-thin, internal layer of whale blubber to insulate them.
We love to use TripAdviser when booking our stays. TripAdviser will search for the best deal from all the online booking sites and you can read about the amenities each hotel offers plus feedback from previous family’s stays in case the one we stayed in isn’t a good fit for your family.
What To Do
We did see snow plows on the sides of the road, ready for action, for when the hoped for white powder arrived. For actual snow fun, near the hotel is Snowdrift Snow Tubing, SoCal’s largest and longest operating inner-tube park.
Skiing / Snowboarding
Also, about 27 miles up the mountain is Big Bear Mountain Resort, which combines super fun trails at Snow Summit and Bear Mountain ski resorts for both beginners and advanced show-offs. This is where we go when we visit Big Bear to ski. Snow Valley is closer at about 14 miles from the hotel and great for beginners.
When you’re done adventuring with the kids, snow or no snow, don’t miss the Lake Arrowhead Resort and Spa’s 8,000 square foot Spa of the Pines, where treatments utilize essential oils specific to a client’s needs. My therapist offered four blends and I chose the one called Revive. My Signature Massage included hot stones that rolled my stress away and broke down all my knots. Finally, after she insisted our session was really over, I drifted to the post-treatment relaxation room, which was mostly windows that opened to green swirls of forest and calm lake.
Where to Eat
For dinner, onsite restaurant, BIN 189, has one of the best charcuterie platters we’ve ever tasted.
Also, their guacamole was so fresh, we swore they must have had avocado trees growing in their basement. Their crispy, homemade tortilla chips were the perfect compliment. BIN 189 takes pride in locally sourcing their food and choosing vendors that don’t use GMOs. The boys loved their chicken fingers and Caesar salads and mommy loved the bites she snuck from them.
Also, a huge bonus, the restaurant allowed my husband and I to split our two main dishes, the Alaskan Halibut and Campbell River Salmon, so we were able to enjoy the full experience of each dish, instead of just partial bites.
We decided room service with a view of the lake was the perfect way to start the next day.
After, we took a 10 minute drive to Skypark at Santa’s Village, which is a combination of holiday tradition and mountain thrill. Depending on the ages of your family and level of thrill they’re seeking, there’s enough variety of activities to keep you entertained for a couple days.
Snow Quest is a scavenger hunt with a tube of magic glitter and a crystal as the final reward but the real payoff are the activities along the way that are easier to discover if you’re being guided by a game. We found the Magic Tree Bouldering Room where the boys practically skipped through the small, extended plastic pieces set into the walls, while mommy was reminded of her age from trying (see video below). Then, the boys raced against others on oversized bikes, with snow tires, along a winding track, shot arrows into bales of straw at Serrano Archery Range and flipped their hearts out at Blitzen’s Bungee. Zipliners sped overhead and North Pole characters beckoned with homemade treats everywhere.
We saw kids riding the free balance bikes hanging on the wooden rails outlining the park paths and adults jumping mountain bikes on professionally designed trails. The bikes are available to rent from a pretty fancy looking shop. There’s also a frozen pond for ice skating, though it wasn’t quite frozen while we were there. There are trails to hike for next time and fly fishing clinics to learn how. Restaurants and elf-filled variety shows offered a little rest between all the fun.
Lake Arrowhead Village
Back at the resort, a 10-minute walk will take you to Lake Arrowhead Village.
There, you’ll find 50 lakeside shops, restaurants and galleries to explore. We tried dinner, our second night, at The Grill at Lake Arrowhead & Sushi Bar. It was the sushi that was the draw but, we disappointedly learned, they don’t serve sushi on Mondays or Tuesdays. Still, we found plates that came close enough, like the Thai Seared Tuna Salad with Noodles, which was slightly peanutty and so good. Also delicious was the Poke Salad, though they had run out of rice the night we went.
To make up for it, our waitress offered us a free dessert, which was more than enough.
Since there was so much to see at the Village, we went back the next day and ate breakfast at Belgian Waffle Works, which was worth every carb and gram of sugar, explored some of the shops and got a closer look around the lake with an Arrowhead Queen Boat Tour.
Depending how the traffic gods are feeling, Lake Arrowhead is a two-hour drive from the Los Angeles area. Leaving the city fumes behind, you ascend into unfolding hills, a crisp, thin veil of air envelops you with scents of firs, pines and spruce. Here are the best activities to do there with kids.
Captain Don showed us many celebrity homes around the lake and confided stories of famous people who’ve lived, loved and played on the shores of this pretty private lake. One funny story we heard was about the habits of raccoons, who seek shelter during the winter months inside the tented boats, docked under canopies. The raccoons find their way inside and start families. So, in the spring, owners have to chase them off by blaring rap music! Toward the end of the tour, Captain Don let the kids drive the boat, which made them feel very special, especially when he let them wear his hat.
After our ride, the boys found the arcade inside the Lake Arrowhead Deli, Pizza and Arcade which was fun for everyone because it was the first time we got to play pinball with them, which they’d never seen. Also fun in the Village, but only on weekends during winter, is Lollipop Park, where kids can ride a carousel, bumper cars and, of course, eat lollipops! We missed this since we came during the week, in the early winter, but now that we are Lake Arrowhead veterans, we can’t wait to try out the kayaking and waterskiing available in the summers and who knows? Maybe I’ll have better luck fishing in Lake Arrowhead than I did in Big Bear. Certainly can’t be worse.
Lake Arrowhead is about a two-hour drive from Los Angeles via the US 101‑S and CA 60‑E or the US 101‑S and I 10‑E