Day trip: Big Bear Lake

Thrill-seekers and beach bums find common ground at this Southern California hot spot

Big Bear Lake fishing and swimming scene

Get your adrenaline pumping at Big Bear Lake by taking the plunge off granite boulders near China Island, or just set up shop in the sand at McDill Swim Beach for a lazy day in the sun.

Gina Sabatella

Bloody Marys at B's Backyard Bar-B-Que in Big Bear, CA

Cool down any Southern California summer afternoon by sipping cocktails and noshing on home-made potato chips at B's Backyard Bar-B-Que on Big Bear Lake.

Gina Sabatella

Castle Rock hiking trail at Big Bear Lake

The climb up Castle Rock may not be quick -- it's 1.2 miles to the top -- but it's definitely worth it. Trek past the monsterous boulders and giant confiers and you'll be rewarded with an eagle's-eye view of Big Bear Lake at the top.

Gina Sabatella

Time Bandit pirate ship lake tour in Big Bear, CA

Set sail on the Time Bandit, a 1/3-scale replica of a Spanish pirate ship, to tour Big Bear Lake like a real pioneer -- rum drinks and all.

Gina Sabatella

Getting to Big Bear Lake

  • Directions to Big Bear Lake

    The town and lake are about 60 miles east of Ontario via one of three winding mountain highways: State 18 (which runs through town), 38, or 330.

Why go: When summer scorches, the lake calls. Here's where to swim, fish, eat, drink, hike, bike, and talk like a pirate at Big Bear Lake, California.

How to find Big Bear Lake: About 100 miles east of L.A. Elevation with benefits: At 6,750 feet, it’s 15° to 20° cooler than the inland valleys.

Hollywood’s backlot: Big Bear has served as the set for hundreds of films.

What fish are biting: Trout, bass, and catfish.

Get up early: Or expect a line at Grizzly Manor Cafe ($; 41268 Big Bear Blvd.; 909/866-6226), where the chocolate chip pancakes are bigger than the plates.

Kathmandu cravings? Try the momo dumplings at the new Himalayan Restaurant ($; 672 Pine Knot Ave.; 909/866-2907). 

Afternoon pint: The citrusy Orange Blossom Amber at Big Bear Mountain Brewery ($; 40260 Big Bear Blvd.; 909/866-2337). 

Get a map: The Discovery Center (on North Shore Dr.; or 909/866-3437) has hiking and biking info—and sells the $5/day Adventure Pass needed for trailhead parking.

Make it a weekend: If you're looking for a place to stay at Big Bear Lake, book a cute cabin at Pine Knot Guest Ranch (from $119; 2-night weekend minimum; 800/866-3446). Kids will love the llamas and bunnies; parents will love the in-room Jacuzzis.

Go ahead—take the plunge

Afternoon hangout

Be king of the world

Calling all cooks

Cruise by the lake

Ride the trails

Reel one in

Walk the plank

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