When you picture relaxing in California, it’s likely an image of your crew lounging on a sunny SoCal beach or sipping wine in Napa’s vineyards. But there’s another spot with laidback way of life: the California mountains.
Nestled up at an elevation of nearly 7,000 feet, Big Bear is a great place for the whole gang to gather for some rest and relaxation. From the scenic lake to the quaint mountain town, there are plenty of ways to unwind as a group.
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Dine & Drink
One of the best things to do in Big Bear is eat. There are numerous restaurants to satisfying your cravings. Whether it be early morning or late at night, you’ll find somewhere for a big meal or a light snack.
For breakfast, a great option is Grizzly Manor Café. You’ll feel right at home in this spot, which perfectly encompasses the vibe of the California mountains. The tiny eatery, with the tagline “Send more tourists…the last ones were delicious!”, serves up traditional American platters. Fill up on eggs, bacon, pancakes, French toast, biscuits and gravy, waffles or a variety of specialty dishes.
When lunchtime rolls around, head to the Big Bear Lake Village, where you can also shop for everything from clothing and home décor to gemstones, lotions, books and toys. We opted to dine at 572 Social Kitchen & Lounge, a fabulous spot with a massive outdoor patio to accommodate even the biggest of groups. An extensive menu offers plenty of choices. Some specialties are the wings, crafted with house-made 572 Sauce; the ahi poke tacos; the Cali Burger and the pizzas. There is also a lengthy wine and cider menu for drink options. Once you’re done with lunch, it’s just a short walk to Ben & Jerry’s for milkshakes or ice cream cones.
Then, in the evening, nestle perfectly into the California mountains with dinner at family-owned Sweet Basil Bistro. This authentic Italian spot offers delicious comfort food with a varied menu, nightly specials and wines from Europe. One wall is painted with a scenic fresco of Tuscany while a unique wine cork display welcomes visitors inside. After enjoying bread with olive oil, choose an appetizer, salad, Panini or pasta to accompany your entrée. The main courses include everything from marinated flank steak to meatloaf to chicken Parmesan.
For a late-night snack—accompanied by a local brew—visit Big Bear Lake Brewing Company. With small plates like chicken wings, flatbreads, avocado bombs, pretzels with beer cheese and fried zucchini, you’ll satisfy your craving. Certain dishes on the menu also list the perfect beer pairing so you can enjoy the best of both worlds.
Once everything else has closed, hit Murray’s Saloon for strong drinks and a group karaoke session in the California mountains.
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Out on the Water
Down here in Southern California, we don’t have a whole lot of lakes. So getting out on the water while vacationing in the California mountains is a must. While we could kayak, paddleboard or even wakeboard, we instead headed out on a nice, relaxing boat ride.
Miss Liberty takes guests aboard its paddlewheel boat for a tour around Big Bear Lake. As you climb aboard, notice the red trim that adorns the boat. Then, grab a glass of Champagne or a beer and settle in to the seats on the upper deck. You’ll enjoy an afternoon in the sunshine while you cruise around the edge of the lake in a loop. The one-and-a-half-hour tour will point out important landmarks, geological features and celebrity homes along the way.
Be sure to chat with those around you. The deck has enough space for your whole group to relax, but there are sure to be other travelers around you that might offer some great conversation as well.
Wild Animals from the California Mountains and Beyond
A trip to Big Bear isn’t complete without a few jokes about looking around for big bears. Especially if there are any jokesters in your group. Make it easy on everyone and just head to the Big Bear Alpine Zoo. You’ll see plenty of bears as well as other animals that have come from near and far.
One of only two alpine zoos in the country, this spot is incredibly unique because it serves as a sanctuary for rescues and rehabilitations. Many of the animals brought to the facility are later released back into their native habitats. However, those who won’t be able to recover or who form an attachment to people will remain at the zoo.
The animals range from California brown bears to massive Grizzlies, from snowy owls to bald eagles, from raccoons to foxes to bobcats. There are also a few more unique animals, like snow leopards, badgers and gray wolves. Visitors are welcome to stroll the hilly, California mountains environment, in which the animals are kept in somewhat spacious cages. There are also opportunities to learn about the animals and see them up close. Staff will bring out owls and other small creatures to showcase them, or do presentations near the animals’ cages themselves.
The Big Bear Alpine Zoo will soon be moving to a new location in the California mountains. There is expected to be much more room for the animals at the newer facility.
Cabin in the Woods
Whether you relax on a boat, at dinner or with the animals, nothing beats heading “home” for the night. We were fortunate enough to spend our nights at the Dreams of Summit cabin. With three bedrooms, four beds and multiple couches, there is enough room for even the biggest groups. The spacious vacation home was perfect for rest and relaxing too.
Downstairs, the cozy chairs and couches in the living room were surrounded by Christmas décor—including a light-filled tree. Even on the verge of summer, these were great touches that made us feel at home in the California mountains. Kids will enjoy the VHS movies left by the TV while adults will smile at the cute home décor, featuring bears and other mountain wildlife. From silhouetted wall signs to hand-drawn artwork featuring the animals, there is a lot to take in.
Relaxation is a must when you’re at this fantastic space. An upstairs loft is filled with a full-size pool table to keep all of your crew entertained. But the biggest treat of all is on the back deck; the cabin has a hot tub! Few things made our trip as memorable as the night spent bonding in the hot tub, complete with a few glasses of wine. This is also the best spot in town for stargazing. Sip, relax, soak it all up—and repeat.