Where we’re at: I’m recapping my travels in 2019, including this trip to California in December.
New York and LA. East Coast to West Coast. I think that no matter how light-hearted, it’s hard to deny there’s a slight rivalry going on there. And while I grew up in the Empire State and “wandering heart, New York state of mind” has been my Instagram bio for years, I have to admit that the Angelenos have on thing going for them: the ability to pop in and out of winter, for a weekend, at their leisure.
Last year, when I decided to spend the holiday season in California with my dad and his husband Tom for the first time (while it’s never come up here before, my dad has been remarried for years), I balked slightly at the idea of a Christmas with no snow. Yes, the very cold that I cursed from January through April in my formative years seemed integral, somehow, to the December experience. And so I suggested to my dad a weekend on Big Bear Mountain with our little bear, our cocker spaniel Tucker.
I landed in Los Angeles, dropped off my stuff and repacked at my dad’s house in Koreatown, and we immediately headed for the hills. The drive was about two hours with no traffic — it took us a little longer, leaving on a friday afternoon, but I do marvel at the idea that, as Golden State residents love to brag, in LA, you can surf and ski on the same day.
One of those Californians is my friend Lindsay of Bite Toothpaste Bits, who actually lived that dream day many times in her years as a surf and ski instructor in Malibu and Big Bear, respectively.
Lindsay joined us for the first night of our trip, and when she pulled into the driveway of our pet-friendly Airbnb, she nearly lost it. How’s this for a small world — or in this case, a small ski town — the very house we rented, unbeknownst to us, was the glowed-up remodel of the very same house that Lindsay once lived in for a season with half a dozen or more other ski bums. She pulled up old Facebook albums to show us photos of them playing beer bong right where we were putting together dinner — how wild! I guess it was meant to be.
After a low key night of letting the pups run wild — Lindsay brought her rescue peekapom Nemo, too, of course — and hanging in the hot tub, it was lovely to wake up and see Big Bear in the light for the first time.
Our pet friendly house was amazing for having a fenced-in back yard, too — it made life super easy with two pups underfoot.
With a local expert at our fingertips, we decided to let Lindsay lead the way. Our first stop was Moonridge Coffee Company, which delighted everyone in the group from the vegans (Lindsay and Nemo) to the novelty hot chocolate lovers (ahem.) But seriously, hot white chocolate? I had to try it. Even for breakfast.
Several other families with pups joined us on the front deck, confirming it’s a known dog friendly location. Tucker, who yes, was rocking a stylish holiday look, has already been to San Diego, to Palm Springs, and to Santa Barbara — he’s a well-traveled California dog!
After, we went for a house-peeping tour through Timberline, the toniest of Big Bear’s neighborhoods. Lindsay said the holiday lights in this area were well worth an evening drive, and while we never made it back after dark, it was fun to see the alpine views and check out some top-end real estate.
Heading back down the hill, we stopped for a stroll on the Stanfield Marsh Boardwalk, with beautiful views of Big Bear Lake and the surrounding area.
And yes, I did in fact pack a bear hat for Big Bear. How could I not?! While I can’t recall how this one came into my life (typical) nor can I find the exact version online, I think this would be another cute Big Bear look.
If any of you have been reading since I rocked my highland coo hat in Scotland, I hope this is a fun nod from the past — and thanks for hanging out with me for so many years, by the way!
It being the holidays and all, we decided to splurge with a sweet treat for lunch. Dank Donuts was hilariously snowboarder themed, and had both vegan and gluten-free donuts on the menu, as well as boozy kombuchas in the fridge, and yup, dog donuts behind the counter. We grabbed a bunch of each.
Lindsay left us shortly after, and after some relaxing time lounging around the house (what else are vacations good for?) we wandered into Big Bear Village. This cute little alpine town center is home base for the lake’s restaurants, bars and cute little boutiques, and we enjoyed strolling around, checking out the elaborate Christmas tree, window shopping, and the getting warm by the adorable public fire pits.
We stopped for dinner at Big Bear Lake Brewing Company, where beer is brewed onsite, and modern takes on bar food classics were served up hot. We briefly considered a trip to The Bowling Barn for a game or two, but decided to get home early to Tucker instead.
And the next morning we were up early for a day on the slopes! Well, at least for Tom and I — my dad and Tucker planned to do what they do best, relaxing and doing the New York Times crossword puzzle. After fueling up on a beautiful breakfast by my dad, I threw on my ski outfit — a Bacardi Christmas sweater courtesy of my girl Amanda.
Amanda had been my ski buddy, in fact, on my first ski trip in about a decade the previous year, on the opposite coast. I vowed I’d make it an annual outing. At Big Bear, I got the chance to keep that vow at Snow Summit Mountain.
A single lift ticket gets you access to both Snow Summit, better for beginners, and Big Bear, a little more of a grind. I’d been warned that this spot was a “scene” and WOW it was. As someone who only has really experienced small, family friendly ski slopes around the northeast, I was totally tickled by the wild party atmosphere at Snow Summit and Big Bear Mountains!
At Snow Summit, there were bras littering the trees under the chair lift with rap music blasting and at Big Bear, people were tailgating in the parking lot before heading into the party on the lodge decks.
Most of Big Bear Mountain was too advanced for me but I really enjoyed the beautiful views at Snow Summit. We spent the morning there before I tried one run at Big Bear and decided it was a bit above my level and released Tom, who had generously taken the beginner’s route with me, to enjoy more advanced runs.
While the world is looking a little uncertain in 2020, I’m still hoping I can get at least one day of skiing on the books at some point to keep my streak going — I’m not letting another decade pass without strapping on some of those torture device boots!
After I’d warmed up for a few hours, another delight arrived on my doorstop — my friend Amy, from LA! She’d made the drive to join us for our last night, and we headed down to the village to catch up over drinks before meeting my dad and Tom for dinner at 572 Social. It’s a great spot, a vaguely modern standout in a destination that’s largely otherwise nostalgic.
After, we went out in search of what kind of trouble two outta town girls can find themselves in on a Sunday night in Big Bear. And boy, did we have a blast (and jam out to some karaoke) at several establishments in the village.
The next morning, I got up to let Tucker out (and search in vain for hangover cures) and found the most beautiful almost-Christmas present had arrived — snow.
I immediately woke Amy up to go out and play — this was big, wet, chunky flake snow, the A grade stuff of winter destination dreams.
Needless to say, a silly photoshoot (it’s entirely possible we weren’t so much hungover as still tipsy) ensued. Eventually I had to go get Tucker, too — he hadn’t seen snow in years since moving to LA with my Dad!
After packing up and saying goodbye to our cabin, we tried in vain to eat at the famous Grizzly Manor Cafe, but the wait times were out of control. Instead, we headed to Alpine Country Coffee Shop, the nondescript breakfast spot of our dreams.
We’d been planning to hit one of the town’s adorable sledding spots on our way out, like Alpine Slide at Magic Mountain, Big Bear Snow Play, or Grizzly Ridge Tube Park at Snow Summit, but the snow started coming down harder and the number of locals warning us that things were about to get wild trying to get down the mountain convinced us it was time to hit the road. Oh well, something for next time!
On Lindsay’s advice we decided to drive the backside down the mountain, a longer but more gently sloping route, and were so glad we did — the first hour or so of the drive was almost mesmerizingly beautiful. It was the perfect note to end our gorgeous winter weekend trip on.
I seriously loved this little trip! Every time I explore a new part of Southern California, I leave so impressed with what this big beautiful state has to offer — and so grateful to my dad for giving me an excuse to do so. Allowing Tucker and what’s dog friendly to guide our travels has been an incredible lens with which to see California.
But I have to admit, as we’ve ticked off more and more destinations from my mental wish list, I need to add new ones! I know loads of you must have crazy California knowledge: let me know what corners I need to explore next.
And for anyone looking for a little slice of winter charm they can escape from with a couple of hours’ drive back to the land of palm trees, I can’t recommend Big Bear more highly. It was the perfect dose of Christmas charm — I know I’ll be back.
Have you heard of Big Bear? What’s your favorite wintery escape?