Los Angeles

10 Best Ski Destinations Near Los Angeles and San Diego

Book those lift tickets, stat.

Mountain High
Mountain High
Mountain High

Editor’s note: Please note that restrictions due to COVID-19 may be in place at many of these resorts and may be more stringent than at the date of publication. Call before booking.Whether you’re a powder hound, beginner skier or snowboarder, or champion lodge warmer, now is the time to brush up on your ski resort and winter destination knowledge. As you do your snow dances and pray to the snow gods for many inches of plow this season, be thankful that there are plenty of mountain excursion options-whether you’re hailing from Los Angeles or San Diego. From Mt. Baldy to Lake Tahoe, here are the top places to head to in and from Southern California for that magical winter wonderland getaway:

Mountain High
Mountain High
Mountain High

Mountain High

Wrightwood
Mountain High is a quick hour-and-a-half drive from LA and a little over two hours from San Diego, attracting many Southern Californians who are looking to get an easy snow fix. Flexible ticketing options are available from half day, from 12–4 pm ($59 or $69) to a whole day, from 8:30 am–4 pm ($74 or $84) and-on the weekends-even nighttime, from 5-10 pm ($49). During these pandemic days, they’ve reduced capacity to 50%. 

If snow sliding isn’t your thing, you can still activate your sense of adventure with a day of zip lining or retail therapy by perusing nearby antique shops.

How to book: You must purchase tickets online and in advance, as well as rentals and lessons. None of these options are available for walk-ups. Check hotels.com, booking.com, and Airbnb for local lodging options.

Photo courtesy of Snow Valley Mountain Resort
Photo courtesy of Snow Valley Mountain Resort
Photo courtesy of Snow Valley Mountain Resort

Snow Valley

Running Springs
Snow Valley is an hour-and-a-half to two-hour drive from Los Angeles and a little over two hours from San Diego, and will generally have smaller crowds than Mountain High. Though there are fewer people getting in the way of you and a good time in the snow, the vertical isn’t as high. You can go all day for a $74–$95 lift ticket, half-day for $64–$85, or at nighttime for $35–$49. This is a good beginner hill with great access to the city, and teenagers, college students, and seniors will enjoy a $10 discount on lift tickets. If you’re going more than a couple times this season, it might be worth it to look into a pass-which comes with an assurance that credit will be applied to next season should the resort close early due to the pandemic.

Nearby, take a hike among chaparral and yellow pines along the Exploration Trail in the San Bernardino Mountains at the National Children’s Forest.

How to book: Advance online purchase is highly encouraged, as on-hill ticket sales will be available only there are tickets left. Check hotels.com, booking.com, and Airbnb for local lodging options.

Mt Baldy Resort
Mt Baldy Resort
Mt Baldy Resort

Mt. Baldy Resort

Mt. Baldy
Mt. Baldy Resort is a small hill that’s only a one-hour drive from Los Angeles and two hours from San Diego. Though it’s the shortest commute, it tends to open a little later in the season than the other local resorts due to its lower base elevation, while offering the best natural terrain after a big storm. There are more skiable acres than Mountain High, so there’s literally more room for learning. A big plus for families coming to the mountain is that non-skiers can take a scenic chairlift ride for $20 and go snow tubing for $35–$45 on the weekends.

How to book: A dynamically priced day lift ticket purchased in advance ranges anywhere from $46–$60 throughout the short season, available online. Check hotels.com, booking.com, and Airbnb for local lodging options.

Big Bear Mountain Resort
Big Bear Mountain Resort
Big Bear Mountain Resort

Bear Mountain

Big Bear Lake
Bear Mountain is a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Los Angeles and three hours from San Diego. The mountain is known for its state-of-the-art terrain park, with features like boxes, rails, a variety of jumps, and the snowboard scene that goes along with it. It’s got a higher elevation than its sister slope Snow Summit that’s also operated by Big Bear Mountain Resort, but with more beginner runs. Full day lift tickets range from $99–$109, but on holidays they bump up to $125 per day. With a nod to masks and proper social distancing, safety in the pandemic era is also ensured by the resort’s dedication to reduced capacity. The best thing about tickets to Big Bear is that you also get access to Snow Summit since the two hills are connected and operated by the same people.

How to book: All Big Bear Mountain Resort day lift tickets are valid for same-day use at Bear Mountain and Snow Summit. Full-day lift tickets are limited each day this season and guests should book in advance online or by calling 844.GO2.BEAR to ensure availability. Half-day and night session lift tickets are available on select dates and guests should call in advance to ensure availability. Check hotels.com, booking.com, and Airbnb for places to stay.

Photo courtesy of Bear Mountain & Snow Summit
Photo courtesy of Bear Mountain & Snow Summit
Photo courtesy of Bear Mountain & Snow Summit

Snow Summit

Big Bear Lake
Snow Summit is the more family-oriented half of the Big Bear Mountain Resort duo despite having more skiable acres-240 compared to Bear Mountain’s 198-with same-day lift tickets working for both hills, so the same ticket rates and rules apply. You can also download the Big Bear Mountain Resort app for easy, direct-to-lift access using your smartphone. Summit is also where night sessions happen from 3-8:30 pm on select weekend dates from December through March, and range from $55–$65 per person. The mountain is ideal for beginner skiers and snowboarders thanks to its robust facilities and instruction team, but has a larger share of advanced runs compared to Bear Mountain-so unless you’re into terrain parks, you’ll want to ski or snowboard Snow Summit over Bear Mountain if you’re out of the beginning stages.

Other family activities nearby include tubing at Big Bear Snow Play and bob sledding at Alpine Slide. Visit Big Bear Alpine Zoo to take a gander at animals. For hiking, try the Pinenut trail, the Alpine Pedal Path trail, or the steep Castle Rock trail-all of which are situated around Big Bear Lake.

How to book: All Big Bear Mountain Resort day lift tickets are valid for same-day use at Bear Mountain and Snow Summit. Full-day lift tickets are limited each day this season and guests should book in advance online or by calling 844.GO2.BEAR to ensure availability. Half-day and night session lift tickets are available on select dates and guests should call in advance to ensure availability. Check hotels.com, booking.com, and Airbnb for places to stay.

Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows
Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows
Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows

Squaw Valley-Alpine Meadows

Olympic Valley
Currently undergoing a name revamp, Squaw Valley-Alpine Meadows is a two-mountain wonderland worth that eight-hour drive from LA and nine-and-a-half hours from SD. However, once you get there, the mountains are only a 20-minute drive from each other and you can ski and snowboard both hills on one ticket-the price of which ranges from $99–$209. The terrain is varied, with wide open beginner runs in Alpine Meadows and steeper, advanced runs at Squaw. You’ll find the fine ski village life at Squaw, which is handy especially if you plan on taking advantage of outdoor dining options. In addition to the diminished capacity, Squaw requires face masks at all times for COVID-19-safe skiing. 

For non-downhill ski activity options, Squaw offers cross country skiing, tubing, sledding and ice skating as well as plenty of shopping.

How to book: Skiing and snowboarding tickets will be available only on the weekdays (no weekends nor holidays) with a limited number being sold each day and in advance after that date. Ikon pass holders have access immediately. Check Squaw Valley-Alpine Meadow Resort website for lodging options.

Northstar California Resort
Northstar California Resort
Northstar California Resort

Northstar

North Lake Tahoe
Regularly great conditions at Northstar in North Lake Tahoe will make that eight-hour drive from LA and nine-and-a-half hours from SD worth your while. The resort is a winter mecca, with snow making abilities on its skiable 3,170 acres as well as its own Village, providing for a great overall winter getaway if you’re traveling with non-skiers. You’ll find plenty of terrain parks as well as long runs here, so it’s well suited to a range of abilities. Great dining options as well as an ice skating rink abound in Northstar Village.

As for other activities, go cross-country skiing in the forest, snowshoeing under the stars, and fat tire snow biking for some adventure. And at night, sit with s’mores kits by the fire. Truckee is just a short drive away for those looking for that ski town vibe; you’ll find great independent restaurants and retail. 

How to book: Individual lift tickets aren’t available for purchase this year until December 8th, so you’ll only be able to get some early season runs if you have an Epic pass (available for purchase until December 6) and a reservation. If you plan on skiing for a few days, the $439 Epic day pass, which is good for a total of seven days (excluding holidays) on the lifts, isn’t bad at all. Find local lodging options on the Northstar Resort website.

Kirkwood Mountain Resort
Kirkwood Mountain Resort
Kirkwood Mountain Resort

Kirkwood

Kirkwood 
You’ll find some great skiing and riding terrain in South Lake Tahoe at Kirkwood, just under eight hours from LA and nine-and-a-half hours from SD. Kirkwood tends to have even better conditions than Northstar thanks to consistent incoming storm systems from the north and south. At 2,300 skiable acres and a summit elevation at 9,800 feet, Kirkwood is massive and offers a great variety of natural features. 

For those who would like to play in the snow but not necessarily on the ski hill, head to the Kirkwood Cross Country and Snowshoe Center for other adventures on foot. Check the schedule for family events happening at the Red Cliffs Lodge.

How to book: Like Squaw-Alpine, individual lift tickets at Kirkwood won’t be available for advance sales until December 8th, but Epic pass holders are available to ski now-though reservations are required to ski and snowboard, no matter what. Find local lodging options on the Kirkwood Resort website.

June Mountain
June Mountain
June Mountain

June Mountain

June Lake
Long considered the local mountain for Mammoth and June Lake residents, June Mountain-which is opening on December 19th-is an unsung hero for its smaller crowds, which give it an intimate feel. It’s a five-and-a-half-hour drive from LA, six-and-a-half hour drive from SD, and offers 1,500 skiable acres. Kids ski free, making it very attractive for families. The hill has a good amount of viable tree riding for advanced riders who like to duck in and out of the groomers, as well as terrain parks and an ultra-impressive run with huge jumps and a super pipe for pro riders. Chairs won’t be loaded to full capacity as before and masks will be required indoors. Mammoth lift tickets can be used the same day at June.

Explore the town of June Lake for some extracurricular activities, as it’s a charming hodgepodge of independent restaurants, craft shops, coffee shops and retail. 

How to book: It’s still unclear when June is slated to open. This year, season pass holders will have priority and all individual tickets must be purchased in advance online as walk-up lift tickets will not be available in order to maintain a decreased capacity at the resort. Half-day tickets will be available at a 25% discount, scannable starting 12:30 pm and are the only tickets sold onsite. Find local lodging options on June Mountain Resort website.

Mammoth Mountain
Mammoth Mountain
Mammoth Mountain

Mammoth Mountain

Mammoth Lakes
Now open for skiing and snowboarding, the prize mountain of Southern California, Mammoth Mountain, is a five-and-a-half hour drive from Los Angeles, and six-and-a-half hours from San Diego. It offers 3,500 skiable acres of varied terrain, with multiple terrain parks for all levels and two or three half pipes in the peak season. Their ski lifts are some of the most efficient (read: fast) in all of California, and the whole mountain-including the peak, 11,000 ft up-is epic when there’s a good amount of snowfall during the season. Masks are required at all times while indoors and cancellation policies have been loosened a bit to accommodate peace of mind (changes can be made up to three days in advance). 

Other fun options available for the family include snowmobiling trips, cross country skiing, and snowshoeing. There’s also a relatively new tubing track for more downhill fun. There are many lodging and dining options in and outside Mammoth Village, but you’ll want to stay close: There’s great après-ski and dining right in the Village, making Mammoth LA’s best ski-vacation destination, by far. 

How to book: Like most other resorts, season pass holders will get priority and individual lift tickets range from $129-$189 each, with a limited number being sold to accommodate the decreased capacity. Currently, reservations are not required for Ikon pass holders, though the resort may do so in the future. Explore Mammoth’s lodging collection on their website. Sign up here for our daily LA email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun Los Angeles has to offer.

Esther Tseng is a freelance writer based in Silver Lake. She’s also a winter weekend warrior snowboarder who shreds Mammoth Mountain and Northstar, her second and third home.

Los Angeles

How to Spend a Weekend in Topanga Canyon

Nature and the arts collide in this beloved canyon community.

Hanan Isachar/Corbis Documentary/Getty Images
Hanan Isachar/Corbis Documentary/Getty Images
Hanan Isachar/Corbis Documentary/Getty Images

Situated in the Santa Monica Mountains and known for its vibrant creative community, Topanga is one of Los Angeles’s most prized destinations for art and outdoor enthusiasts alike. And while LA boasts its own sprawling landscape of fun to tap into, you’d be remiss to miss a chance to explore this tucked-away collection of state parks, and cafes, and restaurants-especially when it all rests just 20 minutes away from the city. From a quaint caf√© with dazzling canyon views to a world-renowned, open-air theatre, here are the best ways to pass some time in Topanga now.

Photo courtesy of Inn of the Seventh Ray
Photo courtesy of Inn of the Seventh Ray
Photo courtesy of Inn of the Seventh Ray

Friday

Book dinner at Inn of the Seventh Ray
Owner Lucille Yaney opened this iconic restaurant in 1975 after spotting the property on a drive through the canyon with her late husband Ralph, and it’s safe to say she had a good eye. The land perfectly fits into Yaney’s vision of a romantic, alfresco dining space with tables tucked into cozy nooks and gazebos, all beneath canapes and fairy lights. Today, Yaney co-owns the venue with executive chef consultant Brad Miller. Together, they continue to fulfil the restaurant’s original mission to serve pure, natural foods reflective of the season’s best. That approach appears in dishes like 8-Hour Black Vinegar Braised Short Rib with creamy rosemary polenta, duck bacon Brussels sprouts, and caramelized onion and fig jam; Roasted Mushroom Toast with oyster mushrooms and sherry tarragon cream; and Beets & Whipped Black Pepper Creme Fraiche. Consider the carbs here. Pastas and sauces are made in-house and from scratch, as is the bread (available regular or gluten-free), an order of which you won’t want to miss. Check out the wine list, too, which offers a robust organic and biodynamic selection that has helped the restaurant garner some impressive accolades in recent years.

Check into Topanga Canyon Inn
In addition to plenty of excellent Airbnbs available to rent in the Canyon, there’s Topanga Canyon Inn, a charming bed and breakfast comprised of two Mediterranean-style buildings-Casa Blanca and Casa Rosa-both built by the owners. Guests can enjoy bespoke design details in each room, along with gorgeous mountain views from their own private balcony. Come morning, join other travellers for breakfast, served daily at Casa Rosa.

Saturday

Get coffee at Café on 27
Ready your camera for a coffee date at this AM eatery and caf√©, where ample (and busy) outdoor seating offers some of the Canyon’s best views. A full breakfast and lunch menu is available (complete with hearty orders like eggs Benedicts, soups, and club sandwiches), but for lighter morning fare, spring for a pastry and any of their specialty drinks, such as the turmeric latte or Moroccan mocha.

Bradley Allen Murrell/Shutterstock
Bradley Allen Murrell/Shutterstock
Bradley Allen Murrell/Shutterstock

Hike Topanga State Park
Spanning 11,000 acres and 36 miles of trails, Topanga State Park is the largest state park within the Santa Monica Mountains and one of the world’s largest parks within city limits. Visitors can access the grounds via more than 60 entrances. Once on the trails, enjoy sweeping vistas while exploring the region’s range of plants, habitats, and wildlife, including several resident bird species.

Grab lunch at Topanga Living Café
Guided by their Topanga upbringing and need for a community gathering spot with great eats, sibling team Agustina Ferguson and Bayu Suryawan opened this daytime eatery in 2016. Ever since, locals and visitors have found refuge in the caf√©’s warm, airy space and nourishing, hyper-fresh fare-all California-inspired with global influences. Check it out in plates like the Island Style, a breakfast salad with Balinese corn fritters, a poached egg, and house-made chilli jam, or the tacos (Baja Fish or Baja Shrimp, Carne Asada, or Kabocha Squash), made-to-order and served on handmade tortillas. If you’re seeking something shareable, try the Farmers Market Crudite, a seemingly humble order whose bright beet hummus reminds us that eating your vegetables is, indeed, very cool. And take a drink to-go. The team here takes great pride in their coffee (organic espresso, courtesy of their iconic pink La Marzocco machine) and a lineup of made-to-order smoothies, juices, and teas. Shop your way through town
Visitors can stroll through the town centre’s most popular shops for various fun finds, including Moona Star, Pebbles, and Topanga Homegrown. Be sure to stock up on specialty, local snacks at Canyon Gourmet and satiate your sweet tooth while you’re at it. The organic soft-serve there is a must. Pro tip: Top it with any of their artisanal syrups for a winning combo, namely, the vanilla with cardamom.

Photo courtesy of Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum
Photo courtesy of Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum
Photo courtesy of Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum

Catch a show at The Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum
This beloved open-air theatre has hosted productions for decades and is recognized worldwide for its Shakespeare interpretations. In addition to its annual summer season, which includes works like Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the venue hosts concerts, rehearsals, and classes throughout the year for budding actors and playwrights of all ages.

Snag a slice at Endless Colour
This family-run pizza joint specializes in from-scratch pies with clever topping combinations (think purple potatoes, fontina, and truffle oil in the Purple Molly Potato or spinach, leeks, and goat cheese in the Super Greens). Bring some friends, order a pie or two, and check out the drinks list, which includes offbeat options like orange wines and hard kombucha.

Photo courtesy of The Canyon Bakery
Photo courtesy of The Canyon Bakery
Photo courtesy of The Canyon Bakery

Sunday

Check out The Canyon Bakery’s “Sunday Funday”
Situated on the grounds of the aforementioned Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, this bakery specializes in naturally leavened breads, pastries, cakes, and cookies using locally sourced, whole grain flours. There’s a takeout window on Sundays, from 9:30 am until the bakery sells out. A strong following lines up for favourites, such as whole grain croissants and gluten-free pizza, so be sure to arrive early to get your fill.

Try tacos to-go at La Chingona
On your way out of town, grab some tacos at La Chingona, where a team puts forth fresh, organic, gluten- and dairy-free tacos. Orders range to include options like grass-fed beef (carne asada), shrimp (wild-caught), and soy chorizo and can be fashioned into plates beyond tacos, too (think tostadas, salads, and bowls). Open only on Tuesdays, Fridays, and Sundays; this taco stand sees good demand. Plan accordingly, pending your travels, especially to savour an order or two of the churros.

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Nicole Schnitzler is a contributor for Thrillist.

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