Big Bear, CA-A Disappointing Destination

We had long been planning a weekend trip to Big Bear, California.  It seemed like the perfect getaway.  Just a four-hour drive from Las Vegas, where we live, mountains, resort town and a beautiful lake.  It sounded like a great weekend and we finally convinced some friends to come along with us and we rented a vacation house for a long holiday weekend.

Our high hopes that Big Bear could become a regular vacation spot were quickly dashed.  Simply put, there just wasn’t much to do for a family.  The biggest downfall was trying to do anything at the lake.  Unless you just want to drive a boat around or go fishing, there is nothing you can do at the lake. We will get into that more later, but overall almost everything we tried to do was a let down and we found ourselves doing the same things over and over again.

Here is what we thought of the main attractions in Big Bear.

Big Bear Lake

Big Bear Lake is the main draw of Big Bear and was our biggest disappointment.  We had plans to rent a boat and play on the lake all weekend.  We spent zero time actually on the lake.  We tried renting a boat and there were so many restrictions, it simply was not worth it.  They don’t let you waterski, wakeboard or tube behind a boat.  You also can’t swim off a boat.  So, that basically means if you rent a boat, the only thing you can do is drive around the lake.  That may be fun for a half hour, but that is not what we wanted.  We tried to change plans and rent jet skis, but that was a nightmare too.  We gave up and decided to go swimming.  The only places for swimming were closed or packed full of people fishing.  The only other places that looked good for swimming were posted closed to swimming.  We wasted a half day trying to find somewhere to swim before we gave up and made the drive to Lake Arrowhead, which had an awesome beach for swimming and was so much more fun than Big Bear.

The Museum

Mallory found this little museum and the rest of our group was quite skeptic, but we agreed to give it a try.  It ended up being one of the highlights of our weekend, as sad as that sounds.

After you get through the gift shop area, you encounter some old buildings that are set up with historic items that are interesting to look at.

A guide showed us through a couple of the buildings with lots of additional insight and interesting stories.

There were also some fun activities sprinkling in like roping that our kids liked.

In the final little building, we heard more stories and purchased some crème soda and sarsaparilla, which were big hits with the kids.

Once we finished with the old buildings, we made it to the next part of the museum where we learned some very interesting information about the mining and the kids spent a long time panning for gold.

The last stop for us was the blacksmith shop where we watched people making different items, even turning nails into little pirate swords, which they gave away as a free souvenir to everyone.

All in all, it was a really great morning.  We probably spent 2-3 hours at the museum and enjoyed it all.  There were a lot of interesting things to see, history to learn and fun things for the kids, all of which created a great balance that all could enjoy.

Nature Trail

I was really excited for the Nature Trail, and our kids enjoy hiking.  Nevertheless, this trail and general area were pretty disappointing.  The highlight was probably the area at the beginning where the kids could just play.

It wasn’t a super long trail, but it was a lot of up and down and there was nothing interesting along the trail.  A few fallen logs provided the only entertainment.  There was one little spot where we caught a brief few of the lake, but there were no other views along the way.

The biggest disappointment was this trail was advertised as having a bunch of stops along the way with activities for kids.  That simply was not the case.  The activities and signs we came across were pathetic and did not entertain anyone.

The result of our afternoon hike was that I was blamed for ruining the day by pretty much everyone.  I am not sure I would recommend this hike to anyone.  There are better places to hike nearby.  You might as well just wander off into the woods in any direction.

Alpine Slides

Other than Lake Arrowhead, Magic Mountain was the highlight of the trip for our kids.  Magic Mountain has three attractions: alpine slides, a water slide and a short, but fast gondola zipline.  We didn’t try the gondola because it just didn’t look like much fun.

The Alpine Slides were the main attraction for us. To reach the beginning of the slide, you get to enjoy a nice chairlift up the hillside.

We learned that you got a decent discount buying in bulk and I think we spent a couple hundred dollars just on the alpine slide tickets.  Everyone had a lot of fun though.

The only two exceptions were when you got stuck behind someone taking selfies the whole way down.  The trick to fixing that is paying attention and giving them a huge head start, ignoring the worker when they tell you that you can start.

The second problem we had was when I almost lost my hat, tried to grab it and lost control of our cart, leading to a nasty crash that left London pretty traumatized.  Lesson to follow is put your hand backwards and pay attention while driving….just don’t be boring and go super slow-those people were the worst!

The waterslide was also enjoyed by the kids and it was a decent ride for smaller kids, but the tickets for it went fast and it quickly got prohibitively expensive.

Shopping District

The Village Shops are the biggest tourist shopping area in Big Bear.  It is made up of two streets that are lined with shops and restaurants down by the lake.  If your kids need a break, there is a nice little playground across the street between the lake and the post office.

The shops are not the best by any means.  We only found a few stores worth going in, but it was fun for our girls to pick out a souvenir at one of the gift shops.  Our girls also loved making their own candles at the candle making store.

Probably the biggest disappointment was trying to eat at the Teddy Bear Restaurant, which was recommended on a lot of websites I had read.  We waited a brutally long time to get sat. Even though they initially told us 15-30 minutes, it was nearly 90 minutes before we were sat.  We then sat forever waiting for menus and then we were waiting even longer for a waiter to show up to take our orders.  After looking at the menu and seeing just basic food and looking at other tables where the food didn’t look impressive, we decided we couldn’t deal with waiting anymore and bailed out and found a quicker place to eat.

Champion Lodgepole Pine Hike

The one hike we did in Big Bear that we actually liked was the Champion Lodgepole Pine Hike.  The only downside to this hike was it was a bit of a pain to find driving down rough dirt roads through the forest.  We were able to make it in our minivan, but I wouldn’t recommend it if you don’t have experience and comfort driving off road.

It is a short and scenic half mile hike that leads to this giant tree, which our kids were excited to see if we could hold hands and make it all the way around – – we couldn’t.

The easy hike follows along a small stream that our girls had fun playing in and overall made the hike more interesting and enjoyable.

There is plenty to climb around and play on during the whole hike. It was a lot of fun for everyone.

My favorite part of the hike was this beautiful meadow near the big tree. It was unique in the vegetation for a field and sat beautifully at the foot of large trees.


Big Bear was one of the more disappointing vacations we have been on. I would not recommend it to a family looking for a weekend of activity and fun. If you live nearby, it would be worth a day or two to visit the museum, ride some alpine slides and find a decent hike, but I wouldn’t drive more than a couple hours to visit here.

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