Los Angeles

This Mountain Lake Escape Is the Winter Wonderland Reset You Need

Cozy mountain vibes, just two hours outside of LA.

divanov/Shutterstock
divanov/Shutterstock
divanov/Shutterstock

The area now known as Big Bear Lake was called Yahaviat (“pine place”) to the native Yuhaviatam (“people of the pines”). They lived among grizzly bears, which were revered by the Indigenous tribe and considered to be reincarnations of their ancestral spirits. Though there are only black bears here now, the little town named after the Californian carnivores has become one of Southern California’s most popular destinations-for good reason. The gold rushers are long gone, but the movie crews, hikers, bikers, fishermen, skiers and snowboarders visit the mountainous abode year-round to take in its beautiful tree-laden scenery with each breath of pine-scented air. Here are the essential stops you’ll want to put on your winter itinerary:

COVID-19 advisory: Be sure to read up on the Big Bear Lake mandates and each business’s pandemic operations before you plan your trip, so you’ll know who you can travel with, stay with, what’s open when you want to go and where you can (or cannot) dine outdoors.

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

Go skiing or snowboarding at Snow Summit and Big Bear

Head to one or both hills for some leisurely snow carving, whether you’ve got one plank or two. For the more family-friendly resort, head to Snow Summit. Young terrain park riders will want to lap Big Bear. The two summits are, well, two miles apart-but lift tickets are good for entry to both on the same day. This year, you’ll want to buy lift tickets and reserve your rentals and lessons in advance so you’re assured your spots due to a reduced capacity for pandemic protocols.
How to book: Buy your tickets online and download the Big Bear Mountain Resort app onto your phone for easy scanning.
 

Warm up with some toasty cocktails

You’ve got your choice of some lively bars in Big Bear for a drink or two to acclimate your body to the elevation, starting with Club Bombay. It’s a wood-ensconced bar with an extensive whiskey selection and live music on the weekends. It’s currently open Friday through Sunday nights during the pandemic. For a more extensive food menu (served ‘til 2 am, to boot) to hold your own with the drinks, try Murray’s Saloon & Eatery-a popular joint with the locals complete with bikers, TV screens, and karaoke. Feeling like some local beer brewed at 6,700 ft elevation? Big Bear Lake Brewing Company has just that-but also craft cocktails for mixed drink aficionados.
How to book: Check bar hours before going.

Action Tours California
Action Tours California
Action Tours California

Reach new heights on a zipline tour

Ziplining is a great way to get the perfect vantage point of Big Bear’s beautiful scenery while enjoying some adventure. Strap in for nine whole runs of speeds of up to 35 mph, zooming above the treeline while feeling the wind blow in your face. The entire tour is three hours of fun, and you can also rent a go-pro camera to record footage for a keepsake video of your daredevil tour. Tack on a wine or beer tasting at Barrel 33 in the village for a perfect way to wind down.
How to book: Buy tickets in advance online.

Visit Big Bear
Visit Big Bear
Visit Big Bear

Cruise downhill in a tube or on a sled

You’ve got a few options to catch that exhilarating feeling sliding down a hill in Big Bear. Take a bobsled down the Alpine Slide, where you’ll get to steer your own individual sled on two different quarter-mile tracks. You can also go tubing at Snow Play, where they have the longest hills in Southern California. Both are open, with safety precautions, and Snow Play is even open at night on Fridays, Saturdays, and holidays.
How to book: Tickets are $35 for adults and $20 for children. Buy at the ticket window.
 

Book a cabin at the historic Oak Knoll Lodge with easy hiking trails across the street

A trip to Big Bear wouldn’t be complete without a hike to appreciate all its glory and wonder. Oak Knoll Lodge rests off the beaten path and has been owned by the same family for 100 years, with many scenic hiking trails just across the street. You can rent snowshoes at one of the sporting goods retailers, then head to one of the trailheads. For a couple hikes out of the way, head east to Baldwin Lake to pay homage to the Eye of God, a quartz dome that was a sacred tribal landmark for the Yuhaviatam people. On another interesting trail south of the area, scout the largest Lodgepole pines by Bluff Lake on the Champion Lodgepole Pine Trail.
How to book: Book your standalone cabin with contactless check-in directly with Oak Knoll Lodge. For snowshoe rentals, head to Bear Valley Bikes, Goldsmith’s Sports, TC Ride Shop and North Shore Trading Company.

Rim Nordic Ski Area & Rim Nordic Bike Park
Rim Nordic Ski Area & Rim Nordic Bike Park
Rim Nordic Ski Area & Rim Nordic Bike Park

Work out to the winter sights and scenes while cross-country skiing

Enjoy the winter wonderland from the vantage point of one of the best cardio workouts that exist: Cross-country skiing. Next to hiking, it’s one of the most affordable activities around. You’ll need to head five to ten miles west from Big Bear Lake to the Rim Nordic Ski Area, the only place for cross-country skiing in Southern California. Beginners can start out with a quarter-mile loop called the Deep Creek Loop. Intermediate skiers can hop on the Lower Country Road Trail that’s about two miles long. 
How to book: The Rim Nordic Ski Area is open only when there’s snow on the ground and costs $22 per adult.
 

Pan for gold at Gold Rush Mining Adventures

Relive Big Bear’s gold rush of the 1860s at Gold Rush Mining Adventures, where no one goes home empty-handed. Pan for gold, crystals, and gemstones. You can also harvest pearls straight from the oyster or excavate fossils. They’ll also calculate your numerology and personalize your gemstone. And while you’re there, take a stroll in their ghost town called Glitter Gulch.  
How to book: Gold Rush Mining Adventures is open every day and taking proper social distancing precautions during
COVID-19. When you arrive, book the packages you want for the adventure you seek.
 

Grab a coffee and some beans at Big Bear Coffee Roasting Company

Get some coffee “with altitude” by stopping by Big Bear Roasting Company for a cup of joe. They take coffee roasting seriously with each varietal, offering samples of them for customers to try. Offering over 50 flavored blends, this is a place you’ll want to keep coming back to try each flavor. The variety of specialty drinks available to order from the bar is unmatched, so this is a coffee house you’ll want to get some beans for the road as well as a fancy flavored latte.
How to book: The coffee shop is open daily except Wednesdays and Thursdays. They’re also able to ship coffee beans directly to you.

Dank Donuts
Dank Donuts
Dank Donuts

Order a dozen at Dank Donuts

Stop by this top-notch donut shop for yeast-risen treats in a wide variety of flavors. They’ve got crullers, twists, bear claws (of course), cronuts, fritters, cinnamon rolls, vegan options, and more. If you’re feeling extra savory, go for their breakfast burrito-but they sell out fast so get there early. 
How to book: Dank Donuts is open daily.
 

Feast on excellent Indian food

A mountain town in the San Bernardino Mountains is probably the last place you’d expect to find great Indian cuisine, but Big Bear has not only one, but two such places-two blocks away from each other. Himalayan Restaurant is located adjacent to the aforementioned Club Bombay bar. Masala Craft is the newer of the two and just completed a remodel, but both are heavily favored as the top restaurants in town, which essentially has Indian fare cornering the market on comfort food made for the mountains.
How to book: Both restaurants have take-out, delivery, and outdoor dining available.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 Silverlake. 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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