By Melanie Warner

This summer we took our family trip to Big Bear. Big Bear is Southern California’s alpine mountain resort with altitudes range from 6,750 to 8,200 feet. Big Bear Lake offers 23 miles of accessible and sparkling shoreline.

It was our first family road trip since my daughter had turned 16. The boys are 12 and 4.  It was a great excuse to get away and give her some driving experience…in the desert…on a straight road…with not much to hit. With the age gap, it’s often really difficult to find something that they all agree on (besides fighting). We needed a vacation, but not just a vacation. We needed a reconnection, a renewal of sorts.

The Big Bear Lake Resort Association mapped out our trip for us. I warned them we were coming and they helped us plan activities that would fit the age range for each kid. It was as if they knew exactly what each of us would love.

When we rolled into town it was nighttime, but we could immediately feel the sleepy, mountain hospitality oozing out of every pore. The kids stopped playing their games, got off their phones, and began to marvel at the old fashioned, small-town charm of this lakeside community. It was love at first sight.


When I told the kids we were staying at a place called ‘Grandpa’s Axe’, they were even more intrigued and began to conjure up potential anecdotes of its origin. Truth be told, it was a private residence that we found through Village Reservations Service. When we arrived at the cozy cabin, the serene and tranquil environment was shattered with squeals of delight as the kids ran from room to room, excited to be in a real mountain cabin. Each new discovery lead to a higher pitched frenzy – including a fireplace and a Jacuzzi outside on the deck overlooking the San Bernardino National Forest. In Big Bear, it’s a normal amenity to offer Jacuzzis onsite or even in the rooms. This particular cabin was 3 levels and slept 6 people. It had cable television, wireless internet, a full kitchen, and all the amenities, including toiletries in the bathroom. It was a 5-minute drive from Big Bear Boulevard, quaint shops, antique stores, restaurants, and the Marina.

We were all eager to start our adventures. I kept the entire itinerary as a surprise, so the kids didn’t know what was ahead. This kept them on their toes and ready for the next activity.

We took a charter fishing trip for a few hours with Fish Big Bear. Our captain and guide was former professional fisherman, Curt Dills. If anyone could teach my kids how to fish – he was the man. My 4-year-old, caught his first fish that day: a 10-inch rainbow trout. It was a proud and memorable moment for all of us. With multiple lines, good bait, and many years of experience from our guides – we had no trouble catching fish our quota of fish very quickly.

We decided to hike the Castle Rock Trail. It’s just off Big Bear Boulevard, 1.2 miles east of Big Bear Dam with a small marker on the trail.

I was amazed at the agility and determination of all the kids and their natural love of climbing as we mastered the 2 mile trek up and back. It was truly an incredible bonding experience for our entire family. Together, we climbed rocks, shared water, swapped stories, celebrated each peak, and then reveled in the glory of reaching the summit together, atop the perilous rocks that create the famed ‘Castle Rock’.  We marveled at the majestic view of Big Bear Lake and took a new family photo. Somehow, we all looked older, wiser, and stronger than we had just 24 hours prior.

We had dinner at Dynasty, an authentic Szechuan Cuisine restaurant. They are the only restaurant in town that offers live Maine lobster and live crab. We all agreed to try something we had never eaten before. We chose the shark fin with crab meat soup. Real shark fin is actually verboten in California, but they had the next best thing – and it was pretty tasty. Our unanimous favorite dish was the Walnut Shrimp.

We had breakfast at Grizzly Manor Café and enjoyed watching Charlie, the cook; flip enormous pancakes on the grill. If you are looking for a quiet, healthy, politically correct place to eat, then this is NOT the place. They have big food and a big attitude. There is a lot of local flavor – and that is just from the customers. Real pancakes, real bacon, real people, real fun. It’s the quintessential epitome of Big Bear. We all signed our names on Big Bear stickers and stuck them to the wall with the other collection. Hudson even challenged Charlie to make bear pancakes. It truly is the big diner with a big heart. You know it has to be good because they don’t even have a website, yet they always have a line out the door.

As a single parent, I appreciated the simple pleasures of a small town and the warm and inviting people. I felt like a local after one day and could find my way around town very easily.

When it was time to go, I had a hard time prying the kids away from Big Bear, or from the multitude of huggable bears around the city that they had come to love. Two days was not long enough, we can’t wait to return!

Getting There:
Big Bear is located in Southern California off Hwy 18 and Hwy 38. It is less than a tank of gas from Los Angeles, Las Vegas, or Fresno.