15 Amazing Things to Do in Big Bear – Summer Edition

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Often only thought of as Southern California’s place to play in the snow, there are a ton of great things to do in Big Bear throughout the year. As the heat of the summer sets in, Big Bear is the perfect escape. Nestled high in the San Bernardino mountains on the banks of a lake, Big Bear offers cooler temperatures during summer. Located less than two hours from Los Angeles, Big Bear offers a multitude of outdoor activities, water sports, mountain biking and more for the perfect summer vacation.

From water activities to exploring the beautiful scenery, Big Bear is an outdoor lovers dream. I recently had the opportunity to visit Big Bear again to rediscover more about the summer offerings, and I have to say that I was pretty excited with everything there is to do, especially for families. It really is the perfect family vacation destination.

Read on for why Big Bear needs to be on your summer travel list. 

Where is Big Bear Lake, California

One of the reasons Big Bear Lake is such a family friendly hotspot in southern California is how accessible it is. Located less than 2 hours from Los Angeles and less than 3 hours from San Diego, in the San Bernardino National Forest, Big Bear is both our winter and summer playground. In winter months, families will head up for snow tubing and skiing, while summer is all about getting on the trails and out on the water. It is the perfect place to escape any time of the year. 

While there is an airport in Big Bear it is only an option for those with private plane access, driving is the preferred method.

15 Amazing Things to Do in Big Bear Summer Edition

While winter holds a special place in our hearts in Big Bear, what we really love is all the things to do in Big Bear in summer. There are so many amazing things to do in the heart of the San Bernardino national forest during the warmer months that it warrants several visits throughout the seasons! Big Bear Lake really is the ultimate in providing year-round activities.

Big Bear Discovery Center

Big Bear in summerThe Big Bear Discovery Center is the perfect afternoon retreat for families looking to learn more about the local area. With indoor and outdoor exhibits, families will enjoy checking out the stuffed animal exhibits inside as well as the hands on play area outside in the Nature Discovery Zone. The new outdoor adventure space is designed for children 2-7 years old and their families to explore and reconnect to nature. The Discovery Center is also where you can purchase your Adventure Passes allowing easy parking access throughout the mountains. Pick up trail guides and chat with volunteer docents about the area’s local plants and animals before heading out.

Captain John’s Boat Tour

Big Bear in SummerOne of the best ways to enjoy Big Bear during the summer season is to get out on the water. There are a variety of activities available for active families, but one of the best ways to passively take in the surroundings is through a boat tour.

Captain John is a legend in Big Bear. He is one of those people that you can sit and listen to for hours. He has been conducting tours of the lake since the late 1970s, witnessing famous people come and go through the different homes surrounding the lake. And he has all the gossip ready to share! Tours are about an hour and a half, costing only $20 per person. Tours leave most days at 12 pm, 2 pm, and 4 pm. Call ahead ((909) 366-5109) to make sure a boat will be heading out. This is a great way to get acquainted with the lake, the different areas surrounding it as well as the history of the people and animals who call Big Bear home. If you like live music, ask him where he is playing that night. He’s a pretty amazing ukulele player!

Hiking is One of the Best Things to Do in Bear Bear

Big Bear
Photo via Flickr

One of our all time favorite things to do in Big Bear during summer is hike. There are a lot of great family friendly hikes in the Big Bear mountains, including opportunities to get out on the famed Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). While there are a ton of options in and around town to see bald eagles, go rock scrambling, and just hike through majestic alpine scenery, one of our favorites is Castle Rock Trail. The 2 mile trail offers incredible scenic views of Big Bear Lake from the top, as well as plenty of opportunities for the littles to practice their rock scrambling skills! The climb isn’t for the faint of heart though as some of the trail is very steep. The steep section so very short though, so don’t worry! The western side of the trail at the top offers the least challenging way in getting all the way to the top.  This is a beautiful hike, only minutes off of Hwy 18, making it super accessible. There is VERY limited parking, so go early, late or plan to walk a bit on the side of the road to reach the trailhead.

If you need something a bit more mellow, head for the Woodland Trail, which is an easy 1.5 mile stroll.

Another great path for visitors is the Alpine Pedal Path, which is an asphalt path that goes along the north shore of Big Bear Lake. It’s accessible for hikers, skaters, joggers and even strollers! Park at Juniper Point or Meadows Edge. 

For those who feel nervous to hike on their own, there are some really great family friendly guided hiking tours that take you out on less visited paths, teach you about the area and showcase some of the most beautiful views around!

Big Bear Alpine Zoo

One of the great things to do in Big Bear : Summer Edition is to visit the Alpine Zoo.Another great family friendly activity in Big Bear is the Big Bear Alpine Zoo. I had heard of this zoo on my previous visits but wasn’t sure it was worth the time to devote to it. Now I know, that it definitely is! We had such a great time exploring the small zoo that is filled with rescued animals. Primarily, the Big Bear Alpine Zoo operates as a rehabilitation facility for injured or orphaned wild animals. More than 90% of the animals they treat are returned to the wild, with those who are unable to survive on their own staying permanently at the zoo. It’s a fantastic experience for all ages.

Where else do you get the opportunity to see real mountain lions, snow leopards or wolves up close? We wholeheartedly recommend taking the time to visit. Adults and the kids will love it, I promise!

Kayak at Boulder Bay Park

Boulder Bay Park in Big Bear Lake is a great park with lots of attractions including huge dock for fishing  and the view is spectacular. This is also a good place to get out the kayak or canoe to check out the various islands made entirely of boulders.  In the winter the Park is a popular place for snow play, but during summer you will find this place hopping with picnics and families just relaxing by the waterside.

There are a ton of options for places to rent a kayak or stand up paddle board located all around town. Our recommendation is to always go out early in the day as the wind picks up in the afternoon making the water much choppier, not to mention the water gets rougher with jet ski and other boats flying around!

Scenic Sky Chair at Snow Summit

big bear in summerI’m a total chicken when it comes to heights, but the ride up the scenic chair lift at Snow Summit was worth the butterflies going crazy in my stomach! During the summer, the chair lift takes visitors up to the top of the mountain through peaceful sounds and smells of the forest. This is the best way for mountain bikers to get their thrills. Take the lift up and ride down!

The ride up takes about 10 minutes, which is perfect for families with small kids. There is a restaurant at the top where you can grab lunch or a drink while soaking up the view. You can potter around at the top for a while or check out the Mountain Top Trail Loop. You can then take the chair lift back down or hike down on one of the trails.  I prefer walking down as you really get the chance to take in all of the beauty of the lake and town below. A few of the ski resorts in town offer great summer activities on the mountains worth exploring. 

Go Off Roading with Big Bear Jeep Experiences

One of the coolest adventures you can do in Big Bear is to go off-roading. I only learned about these amazing off roading trails when I participated in the Highlander Backpacking Adventure here where we were relegated to these steep rocky trails!  While hiking them wasn’t fun, going in a jeep would be a blast! 

With Big Bear Jeep Experiences, you hire a Jeep and drive it yourself – with the aid of an experienced guide and off-roader guiding you through a two-way radio system. You will learn how to drive these roads, while also learning more about the local environment. You can choose from more challenging routes or easy going rides if you are with your family. 

If you aren’t interested in driving your own jeep, there are still some cool jeep off road guided tours you can take in the area. 

Camping in Big Bear in Summer is Amazing

Big Bear in Summer with Kids

One of the best ways to experience Big Bear is by camping. While throughout the rest of southern California, it’s tough to find camping spots that aren’t roasting hot, due to the altitude here, Big Bear is great from around April to September.  There are a multitude of sites like Hanna Flats and Serrano Campground that offer a great time.

We personally love Serrano Campground because it is in the middle of the Alpine Pedal path and close to one of our favorite hikes – the Cougar Crest Trail (which meets up with the PCT).

For more on camping in and near Big Bear, check out our post on all the best camping in southern California.

If camping isn’t your thing, there are a ton of adorable vacation rentals scattered throughout the mountain offering the opportunity for a nature escape but with the creature comforts of home. See below for our hotel recommendation as well as a search for everything that is currently available in the area.

Alpine Slide at Magic Mountain

We haven’t been yet, but have heard great things about Alpine Slide at Magic Mountain for an exhilarating ride down the side of the hill. This looks like it would be amazing for kids and adults looking to be kids for a few minutes! If you go, let us know how it is!

Big Bear Funplex

If you are looking for some indoor fun, check out Big Bear Funplex for bowling, miniature golf and laser tag. This is perfect place to go for a rare rainy day or during the middle of the day when it’s too hot out to be hiking around. There are so many fun things here that you will easily be able to spend an entire day here!

Get an Adrenaline Rush with Ziplining in Big Bear Valley

For those of you looking for a serious adrenaline rush, zip lining is calling you. In Big Bear the place to check out for ziplines and adventure is Action Tours. They offer zipline tours, tree rope climbs and so much more. You can check out this super fun tour that offers several zip lines and a suspension bridge too!

Checkout the Views by Horseback

For those of you wishing for a quieter way to explore the mountains, Baldwin Lake Stables offers wonderful horseback riding tours throughout the area that are great for the whole family.

Regardless of what you end up doing, a holiday in Big Bear will leave your family rejuvenated, relaxed and most importantly cooled down in the hot summer months!

Planetarium Projector Museum

One of the coolest hidden gems in town is the Planetarium Projector Museum. This is the place to go if you have a star loving kid or a tinkerer in the family. This museum is home to the world’s largest collection of planetarium projects. I mean really there is something for everyone out in the world isn’t there!

These massive projectors are dome shaped and make for an impressive view. The owner will be happy to show you how things work. This museum does travel, so make sure to check in advance to see if it is town for your visit. 

Go Axe Throwing

We first tried out Yosemite Axe Throwing in Bass Lake and have been hooked every since. Owned by the same folks as the one in Bass Lake, this is a fun family activity after hiking all day or cruising on the jet skis in the lake! Seriously if you have never been axe throwing, put this on your to do list. You will love it. 

Explore Big Bear Lake Village

The main drag in Big Bear Village is super cute and filled with shops, ice cream parlors and delicious restaurants. After a long day hiking, this is the best place to come to enjoy some food and a vibrant atmosphere. One of our favorite stops is the North Pole Fudge & Ice Cream shop which has mini ice cream cones. It is the perfect tiny after dinner treat! As you cruise around the village, this is the perfect time to pick up any souvenirs of your Big Bear family vacation. 

Where to Stay in Big Bear

One of the biggest questions in planning a Big Bear trip is where to stay? There are a TON of Airbnb and VRBO type places to rent here. In fact if you start to look around, you will see individual rental signs on almost all properties. For us, we always go with cost and during our most recent visit, we loved our stay at Lagonita Lodge. It was very much like staying in an Airbnb rental since we had our own kitchen, a living room and a bedroom, but we didn’t have to pay all of the cleaning fees associated with VRBO type places. It just made much more sense for our week long trip.

To see what other options are available, check out this map below which has accomodation options from apartments to hotels, with up to date prices!

Places to Eat in Big Bear Village & Surrounding Area

There are so many great places to eat in Big Bear that you will be spoiled for choice. Even with all of our visits, we haven’t been able to try all of the places on our wishlist. Below are some of our favorites as well as some we have yet to check out, but that our friends who live there say we must try!

Grizzly Manor Cafe

For the best breakfast you can find in town, Grizzly Manor Cafe is one of best places to go. Expect a line on weekends, but it is worth the wait. This classic diner food will serve up fluffy pancakes, perfectly crisp bacon and eggs to order just like it should be… no matter how busy they are. 

Maggio’s Pizza

Maggio’s Pizza is located in a shopping center a bit away from the main village near the Von’s. This family owned restaurant is always packed, but the energetic staff will get you in and out as quickly as they can. I loved the feel that it was a locals place where everyone knew everyone else.  Pizza was fantastic, massive and a great price. We ate it, but you can also order for take away. 

Get the Burger

Get the Burger is still on our to do visit list as they were closed on our last visit. But I will say my friends who live in town say it’s the bomb and a must visit while in town. If you go let me know what you think! Apparently the pickle fries are great as are the sweet potato fries. Again this place is popular with the locals, so plan to wait a while for your food or to get a table if its busy or  a weekend. 

Pickle’s Pie Shop

Pickle’s Pie Shop is located in Big Bear town, 10 minutes from the village and is well worth the drive and wait. They make all of their pies from scratch and source their ingredients locally. Pies on offer include crumble, special treats and savory. Check out their Facebook page to see what flavors they have during your visit as it changed daily. If you visit the shop you can choose slices or whole pies. While ordering in advance, you will need a full pie. 

Pies sell out quickly every day, so get there early or make sure to pre-order.

Fire Rock Burgers

Located right in the heart of Big Bear village, Fire Rock Burgers & Brews is great for the entire family – both kids and adults will enjoy themselves. The music is fantastic as is the food. We loved our chicken burgers, fries and the mac and cheese. 

Have you been? What are your favorite things to do in Big Bear – summer or winter?

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