Big Bear, California is a popular ski and snowboard destination in the Angeles National Forest—only about a 2-3 hour drive from most places in Orange County and Los Angeles County. Even though Big Bear is one Southern California’s most popular destinations for winter sports, it is still a great vacation destination even in the spring and summer. If you aren't visiting to hit the slopes, there are still many things to do in Big Bear like seeing the grizzly bears at Big Bear Alpine Zoo, hiking Castle Rock Trail to get an overhead view of Big Bear Lake, and grabbing a cup of coffee at Moonridge Coffee. After 69 hours of research, including 12 articles and an in-person visit, we determined that the following are the best places to eat, play, and stay when visiting Big Bear, California in the Summer.
Moonridge Coffee is a local coffee shop situated in a cozy, log cabin style building, located just a few miles southeast of the lake. In addition to serving you your morning coffee, Moonridge Coffee is also known for their breakfast croissants, fresh pastries, and cookies. Equipped with free wifi and plenty of seating, Moonridge Coffee is also a great place to visit if you need to use the internet—which can be hard to come by in the mountains.
There are only a few coffee shops in Bear Bear, none of which where mentioned many times in the article we analyzed about Big Bear. Without any data from articles to guide our choice, we had to base our decision mostly on reviews, the taste of the coffee, and our overall experience at the coffee shop. During our trip to Big Bear, we visited the two coffee shops with the strongest customer reviews online, and overall, we had the best experience and coffee at Moonridge Coffee.
When we arrived to Moonridge Coffee, we were instantly captivated by the charm of this cabin-like coffee shop. We were greeted by a friendly barista who helped us decide what to order. The snickerdoodle received an especially high recommendation, so we ordered one along with a coconut milk latte. We sat in the lofted upstairs area where we enjoyed our afternoon snack. The environment at Moonridge Coffee was cozy and inviting, and the coffee was the best that we had tasted in town.
If you have the opportunity, come here for a full breakfast and not just coffee. Their baked goods had the perfect combination of soft and crispy textures and are worth trying if you will be around for breakfast.
Big Bear Roasting Company is also a great place to get coffee, but it doesn’t have a great environment if you want somewhere to hang out while you drink your coffee—unlike Moonridge Coffee that has both. However, they do have flavored beans for sale if you are interested in that style of coffee. Frusion Juice and Coffee Bar also serves coffee, but their main focuses are juices, smoothies, and acai bowls. Of all of the coffee we tried, Moonridge Coffee the tastiest in our opinion.
The Old German Deli is a German butcher shop that serves sandwiches, bratwurst, beer, and other classics from Germany. Opened by Karl and Carol Winkelmann in 2016, Karl brings his expertise as a German master chef in his creation of the lunch dishes served here. The shop, while unassuming from the outside, is packed with German foods and goods that make you feel like you stepped directly into Germany. Seating is available both inside and outside on the patio.
While there are many high quality lunch spots in Big Bear, there are only a few that have impressively high customer ratings and The Old German Deli is one of them. Since The Old German Deli is still fairly new to Big Bear, it was not mentioned in many articles written about Big Bear, so the evaluation of our own experience here was especially important.
When we entered The Old German Deli, we were helped by Karl who gave us a few samples of the meat to help us decide what we wanted to order. We ordered a sandwich and a bratwurst, both which were quite large servings and came with a side. It was a sunny day in Big Bear when we visited, so had our food brought out to us on the patio.
If you are opting to make your own food during your visit to Big Bear, you can buy your deli meat from The Old German Deli and make your own sandwiches. Also, the serving size is fairly large here so unless you have a large appetite, you may be able to share a meal.
Local / TROPICALI is also a great spot for lunch and has very high customer reviews, like The Old German Deli, to show for it. With it’s beautiful interior decoration, Local / TROPICALI draws in its Big Bear visitors with its hawaiian food, poke bowls, and its unique drinks. While it was a close call between these two, we gave this one to The Old German Deli due to value of what you pay for and overall uniqueness of the experience.
Oakside Restaurant and Bar is a fairly new establishment located in The Village in Big Bear, CA. Both the food and drink menus at Oakside are extensive, which means that there is truly something for everyone here. The dining room is low lit and peaceful, while the large outdoor patio often has live music playing.
There are quite a few restaurants with high ratings in Big Bear, but only a few had an ambiance that made them one of our top choices. Compared to other restaurants with similar ratings, we picked Oakside because it seemed like the best combination of fine dining and casual dining, making it accessible to most visitors.
We opted for a seat in the dining room which was dimly lit and created an environment of a fine dining experience. Per the recommendation of our server, we started with an Oakside favorite—the Strawberry Avocado Salad—which had spinach, strawberries, avocado, goat cheese, candied almonds and poppy seed dressing. As someone who does not normally order salads in restaurants, I was surprised with how much I enjoyed this salad, and I would have been satisfied if that were my entire meal. For our entre, we had Chicken Scaloppini, which was a breaded chicken drizzled with a white wine lemon caper sauce. We left Oakside Restaurant stuffed and impressed.
If you are visiting during the weekend or during any special event in Big Bear, we recommend making a dinner reservation at least one day in advance. We made a same-day reservation but since it was a Saturday and there were a few special events happening in down, the earliest reservation we could get was 9PM.
We found that the biggest competition to Oakside Restaurant and Bar was Peppercorn Grille, which our server informed us is actually owned by the same couple Oakside. Peppercorn Grille is a more straight-laced, traditional, white table cloth version of Oakside, and has been in The Village much longer. We found that the more laid back atmosphere at Oakside aligned better with the culture of Big Bear while still maintaining its high quality.
In the winter months when Snow Summit Ski Resort is not being used for skiing or snowboarding, it is popular for Big Bear visitors to ride the Scenic Sky Chair, Snow Summit’s ski lift, to enjoy the scenery. At the top of the lift, there are a few places to eat, hike, and see the incredible views of Big Bear Lake. Tickets to ride the Scenic Sky Chair cost $25 per person in Summer 2019, but new prices are released each year.
Since the lake is such a significant sight in Big Bear, we were determined to find the best place to view the lake. We learned that there are quite a few hikes that have a great view of the lake at the top, but the Scenic Sky Chair allows you to leisurely enjoy the view of the lake.
When we visited the Scenic Sky Chair at Snow Summit, there was a dirt bike event happening, so many visitors were taking their bikes with them up the lifts to ride them down on the trails. We had a fairly smooth ride up to the top and then asked some Snow Summit employees where to see the best view of the lake. After a short walk from the lift, we found a breathtaking view of Big Bear Lake. The ride down was even better than the ride up because we had a view of the lake during most of the ride and also got to watch the dirt bikers descend the trail.
The best view of Big Bear Lake is about 1000 feet in to the Bob Sled Hiking Trail which is accessible from the top of the mountain.
There are several hikes in Big Bear, like Castle Rock Trail, that provide a great overhead view of the lake. However, the Scenic Sky Chair is the best way to leisurely admire an overhead view of Big Bear Lake without enduring a rigorous hike. For this reason, the Scenic Sky Chair does not have any significant competition.
Big Bear Alpine Zoo is a rehabilitation center for animals who were in a situation where they were not able to care for themselves. After being treated at Big Bear Alpine Zoo, 90% of animals are released back to the wild if possible, and the rest are given a safe home at the zoo. The animals at Big Bear Alpine Zoo range from exotic birds to grizzly bears. Tickets cost $12 for adults, $9 for seniors and children, and are free for children under 2*.
There are a variety of paid activities to do in Big Bear, but Big Bear Alpine Zoo was one of the top mentioned activities in articles written about Big Bear. After learning more about it in our research, we felt that Big Bear Alpine Zoo was something could be enjoyed by all ages. Also, the reasonable price makes it a more accessible option for families.
Our expectations were heavily surpassed during our visit to the Big Bear Alpine Zoo. This zoo is a lot larger than it seems from the outside and the number of different types of animals living here is extensive. We were especially shocked to see grizzly bears here, which walked right up to the fence for us to view. During our visit, we learned that employees host different informational talks throughout the day about the different animals.
We visited Big Bear Alpine Zoo in the late afternoon, and a lot of the animals were taking an afternoon nap which meant we didn’t get a great view of them. When we asked one of the workers, she recommended visiting the zoo in the morning because the animals are usually more active at this time.
The Alpine Slide at Magic Mountain received just as many mentions as the Big Bear Alpine Zoo, but it didn’t have as great of ratings as the zoo. Also, the Alpine Slide is geared more towards the younger ages, while the Big Bear Alpine Zoo can easily be enjoyed by all ages. For these reasons, we determined that the Big Bear Zoo is the best family activity.
*Price at time of publication.
The trailhead for Castle Rock Trail is right off the highway on Big Bear Boulevard and attracts many people visiting the area. Castle Rock Trail is over 2.5 miles out and back, and with over 800 feet in elevation gain, this trail truly makes you work for the breathtaking view of the Big Bear Lake. However, we noticed that many hikers stopped about half way up to Castle Rock when they reached the first viewpoint of Big Bear Lake since even this view is stunning. Castle Rock Trail is pet friendly, so expect to see some a lot of furry friends as you hike.
Castle Rock Trail was mentioned more than any other activities in articles written about Big Bear, CA. Compared to the other trails in Big Bear, Castle Rock Trail seems to be the best for most people with it’s moderate length, exceptionally beautiful views, and an option to bow out early if necessary.
The only parking available for Castle Rock Trail is located on the side of the road, so we were lucky to find a spot since it was fairly busy when we visited. Almost immediately, the trail became very steep and we had to take frequent breaks to catch our breath. The slow and steep climb was worth it for the killer view of Big Bear Lake at the top.
Be prepared with water and snacks! Many reviews indicate that this hike took longer than they thought, so it’s always best to be prepared with a little bit more than you need.
The Cougar Crest trail is also great, but probably too difficult for the average person visiting Big Bear. If you are up for the challenge, this ~5.5 mile trail also takes you to a great view of the lake and is home to beautiful wild flowers during certain times of the year.
Eagle’s Nest Bed and Breakfast is a family run establishment located about 1 mile from The Village. This cozy bed and breakfast has 5 cottages and 5 bed and breakfast guest rooms located in a large lodge. The entire bed and breakfast, including booking, cleaning, and cooking, is all run by the couple who owns Eagle’s Nest which gives it a warm and personal touch. For guests staying in the bed and breakfast rooms, your choice of coffee, tea, or hot chocolate will be delivered to your door 30 minutes before breakfast is served. For breakfast, the entire living room is transformed into a dining area, and the owners serve a plated breakfast. You can reserve a room at the Eagle’s Nest Bed and Breakfast for as little as $69* a night on weekdays.
We researched at 33 different lodging options in Big Bear. In addition to objective data like reviews and price, we considered location, quality for price, and an overall cozy-factor that you look for when visiting the mountains. Eagle’s Nest Bed and Breakfast ranked highly in all of these areas.
When we pulled into the driveway of Eagle’s Nest Bed and Breakfast, we immediately felt the homeyness of it. The bed and breakfast lodge with the individual rooms was located in the front of the property, and the cottages and the hotel office were located behind it. Upon check in, we were given a tour of the lodge, which had a large living room area downstairs for guests to enjoy, along with complimentary snacks and sodas. We stayed in the “Cat Ballou” room, which was located right at the top of the stairs. Our room was small but cozy, and had a TV, faux fireplace, and attached bathroom.
The next morning we had breakfast, which took this already great experience to the next level. A half hour before breakfast was served, two warm drinks were delivered to our door for us to enjoy while we got ready. We placed our drink order when we checked in the day before, a choice between coffee, tea, and hot chocolate, all of which would also be available during breakfast. When we walked downstairs for breakfast, the whole dining room was transformed into a dining room, including multiple tables fully set with quaint china. As we waited for the main course to be served, we were served more drinks, juice included this time, and self serve appetizers including fruit, yogurt, and monkey bread were also available. Our breakfast, banana pancakes and sausages, was pre-plated and served to us at our table with impeccable presentation. Again, this whole breakfast experience was set up, cooked, and served by the couple to owns and runs the bed and breakfast. Our expectations were surpassed and we wished we didn’t have to leave.
Book directly through Eagle’s Nest’s website. This will be cheaper than booking through an outside website. Eagle’s Nest has a 2 night minimum for any reservations that include a Saturday, but the hotel sometimes opens these rooms up for a 1 night stay last minute if they aren’t booked. If you are staying as a party of two, we highly recommend staying in a Bed and Breakfast guest room instead of a cottage. In addition to saving some money, you’ll get to experience the lodge amenities and breakfast experience which were very memorable and special.
Lodging in Big Bear, CA is an interesting world. In addition to typical hotel and bed and breakfast options, there are several companies that rent out various cabins throughout Big Bear. We did not include these options in our research because each rental from these companies is very different and we would not be able to fully vet this option. Also, many cabin rental options tack on cleaning fees that are usually at least $40, and you often won’t see this charge until right before you pay. We were not comfortable with this lack of transparency that seemed to be a trend and could cause frustration for visitors trying to stay within a certain budget.
Sleepy Forest Resorts was a contender for a bed value option since it advertised high quality jacuzzi rooms at an incredibly low price. Throughout the booking process, Sleepy Forest Resorts noted that a cleaning fee will be added at checkout, but didn’t list now much it would be. Once we got to the checkout page, the cleaning fee almost doubled the advertised cost, and at that point, our bill was only $8 less* than what we paid for Eagle’s Nest Bed and Breakfast, our choice for best overall lodging.
Big Bear has some unique lodging options, including Switzerland Haus Bed and Breakfast Inn and Castlewood Cottages, both of which would draw a specific type of person. Switzerland Haus is a Swiss style bed and breakfast with rooms named after places in and around Switzerland. At Castlewood Cottages, each room is fairy tale themed, and you truly feel like you are transported to a different world. These hotels are great options for people who are interested in these topics, but may not be the best choice for most Big Bear visitors.
*Price at time of publication.
Pine Knot Campground is 47 site campground located next to Snow Summit. Since Pine Knot is open April through October due to harsh winter conditions, visitors of this campground can enjoy the summer activities at Snow Summit like dirt biking, hiking, and the Scenic Sky Chair. Pine Knot has both tent and camper sites, and includes picnic benches, flush toilets, drinking water, and parking for 1 car (additional fee for extra cars). Reservations at Pine Knot Campground start at $29*.
We looked at 7 different campgrounds in Big Bear, and 2 of them, including Pine Knot Campground, stood out as top contenders due to their reviews, location, and variety of sites.
Pine Knot Campground is very lively which is likely due to its proximity to Snow Summit, one of Big Bear’s most popular attractions. As we made our way through the windy, one way roads in the campground, we noticed that every sign had a stuffed animal affixed to it, almost as if they were welcoming you and guiding you through. We thought this was a sweet touch! There wasn’t anything particularly unique about the sites themselves, which were pretty customary.
This campground is pretty popular for Snow Summit visitors, so book ahead if you can, especially for weekend stays.
Serrano Campground is also great, and is located north of the lake. This campground is slightly disconnected from Big Bear, especially popular areas like Snow Summit and The Village. We ultimately chose Pine Knot Campground over Serrano Campground due to its proximity to the attractions that typically draw visitors up the mountain. However, if you are looking to simply enjoy the lake and be secluded in nature, Serrano Campground might be a better choice for you. Even still, Serrano Campground is only about a 10 minute drive from both Snow Summit and The Village.
*Prices at the time of publication.