Big Bear Lake is a unique destination.
It is a mountain lake retreat away from the hustle and bustle of towns and cities, available in all four seasons in the heart of SoCal.
It is encompassed by the San Bernardino National Forest and is a small, down-to-earth, laid-back city.
Interestingly, it earned its name thanks to its early population; indigenous people of the Serrano tribe were here first, and when they lived here, they only had the grizzly bears for company!
Big Bear Lake was first put on the map after Benjamin Wilson and his party explored it.
It grew to new heights during the gold rush of 1861, which lasted until 1912.
It is also here that the second bus line in the world was created, running from Big Bear Valley to San Bernardino to circumvent the two-day trip that would take via horse-drawn coach.
The new bus line meant what was once a village could grow even further, and it wasn’t long before the lake became SoCal’s first mountainous recreational location.
Famous for skiing, snowboarding, fishing, hiking, and biking opportunities, this serene getaway is packed with places to visit.
Some are focused on the luscious verdancy of the environment, others concentrate on the crystalline waters of the lake itself, and many more highlight the fun of winter sports.
There are activities of all kinds, and many promise to be educational, with even the most exciting tours providing information about the region’s history, ecosystem, and wildlife.
So, which of them should you check out first?
We’re here to help you decide!
Here are our picks for the 20 best things to do in Big Bear Lake, California.
1. Big Bear Alpine Zoo
Big Bear Alpine Zoo was first set up in the year 1959 as a rehabilitation center for injured animals following a forest fire, opening as the Moonridge Animal Park before changing its name years later.
It isn’t a typical zoo by any means; it only hosts wounded or orphaned animals, as well as other animals that are unable to live in their natural habitat for any reason.
It is dedicated to reducing and rehabilitating wildlife and reintroducing them to the wild if possible – and if not, they have a permanent home in the zoo, which is one of today’s most loved Big Bear Lake attractions.
More than 180 animals across 85 different species live at the Big Bear Alpine Zoo.
You’ll find American badgers, arctic foxes, owls, black bears, grizzly bears, mountain lions, coyotes, gray wolves, bobcats, snow leopards, golden eagles, flying squirrels, and more.
Many of these animals are temporary residents and will move back to the wild eventually, and their only direct human interaction is with their keepers.
However, zookeepers bring an animal to the amphitheater every day for a presentation.
If you love animals, visiting the zoo for a docent-led tour is one of the great ways to spend time in Big Bear Lake, California.
Address: 747 Club View Dr, Big Bear Lake, CA 92315, United States
2. Big Bear Lake
Big Bear Lake itself is a picturesque expanse of sapphire waters, packed with lots of stuff to do for a relaxing and fun California excursion.
Located in the San Bernardino National Forest, it is a man-made lake dedicated to a wide range of water sports and scenic exploration.
You can ride a canoe, go kayaking, swim, rent a jet ski or boat, go fishing, or do any other combination of similar undertakings.
There are six marinas along the shoreline of Big Bear Lake, read for fueling up various water vessels or for renting them.
22 miles of shore provide plenty of options for spots to stop in and check out.
There are even charter fishing expeditions, flyboarding experiences, tandem parasailing, and of course, prime picnic locations.
Address: Big Bear Lake, CA, United States
3. Castle Rock Trail
Want a gorgeous view of Big Bear Lake from above?
It’s a relatively short path with just 1.3 miles of length to its name, but it is rather challenging thanks to the steepness and rocky terrain underfoot.
In the first half-mile alone, you’re meant to gain 500 feet of elevation!
Some choose to ride a horse or mountain bike to get up to Castle Rock Trail, but for the most part, hiking is one of the better things to do in Big Bear Lake!
It gives you the chance to fully take in your surroundings, and Castle Rock Trail is a prime spot that brings hikers from all across America, so you shouldn’t miss out on it!
Regardless of how you get to the peak of Castle Rock Trail, you’ll be rewarded by gorgeous views of the lake, of San Bernardino National Forest, and the gorgeous world beyond 800 feet above where you started.
Address: Big Bear Blvd, Big Bear Lake, CA 92315, United States
4. Big Bear Discovery Center
Big Bear Discovery Center is a great first-stop of a visitors center for anyone who has arrived in Big Bear Lake, California.
It is here that you can get all the information you need about camping, hiking, and biking in the region, as well as material on San Bernardino National Forest.
This is also where you’ll get your Adventure Passes for trailheads, book tours led by naturalists, or take part in night programs and live performances.
The Big Bear Discovery Center boasts a number of fascinating exhibits that go into detail about the wildlife and ecosystem of the surrounding area.
Outside, a fun Nature Discovery Zoo caters to young kids between the ages of two to seven.
And, of course, when the sun starts to set the outdoor amphitheater comes to life with evening presentations.
Address: 40971 North Shore Drive/Hwy 38, Fawnskin, CA 92333, United States
5. Boulder Bay Park
Boulder Bay Park is approximately two miles away from Big Bear Dam and provides a delightfully picturesque, postcard-perfect image of Big Bear Lake.
It’s one of the best free things to do in the region as far as relaxing tourist attractions go, providing options for ways to spend your time all through the year.
Picnics are a great way to enjoy the serenity of Boulder Bay Park, but kayaking, canoeing, and hiking are also favored.
In the winter, you can try doing some snow sports.
And, of course, this is a prime location for photography, especially in spring and autumn, when the scenery gets extra colorful.
If you plan to stay for a while, cabins, rental homes, and apartments are all ready to be rented at your convenience.
Boulder Bay Park has a timeless but recognizable appearance, with mountains, tall trees, big islands of rocks, and lots of lush green space.
No matter what your preferences are, you’ll be able to find something to do here!
Address: 39080 Big Bear Blvd, Big Bear Lake, CA 92315, United States
6. Stanfield Marsh Wildlife and Waterfowl Preserve
The Stanfield Marsh Wildlife and Waterfowl Preserve is one of Big Bear Lake’s most fun places to visit, especially for nature enthusiasts.
It is situated on the corner of Big Bear Boulevard and Stanfield Cutoff and is a breathtaking nature preserve and retreat.
It’s a fantastic way to escape the hustle and bustle of city life and immerse yourself in the great outdoors of California.
Wooden boardwalks spread out across the marshes of the Stanfield Marsh Wildlife and Waterfowl Preserve, providing a convenient way to view wildlife, explore, and get great photographs of the world around you.
Go birdwatching, have a picnic, or drop by the wooden gazebo, where lots of posters regarding wildlife wait to provide you with educational information on the species that live here.
Address: 42300 Big Bear Blvd, Big Bear, CA 92314, United States
7. Alpine Pedal Path
The Alpine Pedal Path is a beautiful paved path designed for cyclists and hikers alike, spanning 3.2 miles across Big Bear Lake’s northern shore.
It runs from Stanfield Cutoff to Serrano Campground, passing the Big Bear Solar Observatory and Big Bear Discovery Center.
Walking the road is one of the free things to do in Big Bear Lake, California.
With flat land and plenty of benches along the way, the Alpine Pedal Path is ideal for people of all fitness and mobility levels.
Bald eagles and other birds offer a great chance for ornithology enthusiasts to bring out the binoculars, and the surrounding view is nothing short of gorgeous.
Because of the accessibility of Alpine Pedal Path, you’ll see people of all kinds using all sorts of ways to travel along it.
Rollerbladers, scooters, and bikers join the walkers, wheelchair-users, and parents pushing strollers, and it gets pretty crowded on warm afternoons.
If you want to have a bit of a picnic, stop at Juniper Point along the way and use their BBQ grills and tables.
Address: 740 Stanfield Cutoff, Big Bear, CA 92314, United States
8. Action Zip Line Tours
As their name suggests, the company provides a great way for adrenaline junkies to get a different perspective on Big Bear Lake, California.
Action Zip Line Tours boasts a whopping nine different zip lines that go at high speeds.
The first couple of zip lines are relatively tame and doable for first-timers, but they get progressively more “extreme” the further you go.
You’ll hit 85-foot elevations and 45mph speeds across zip lines that can be as short as 140 feet and as long as 860 feet.
If you think you can stomach it, you’ll be rewarded with gorgeous views all around as you whizz by.
Address: 40957 Big Bear Blvd, Big Bear Lake, CA 92315, United States
9. Pine Knot Trail
Need more options for what to do in Big Bear Lake this weekend?
Try one of the area’s best trails, the well-kept and very popular Pine Knot Trail.
A round trip on this trail lasts is about 6.2 miles and is a great way to hike, ride your bike, or even ride a horse while enjoying Big Bear Lake’s delightful views from Aspen Glen Picnic area all the way to Grandview Point.
Pine Knot Trail is renowned for the stunning vistas that it offers, with picturesque panoramas all around as you hike along the way.
You’ll see the clear lake, picnic spots, lovely wildflowers, thick verdant forest, and much more.
Of course, the goal is to get to Grandview Point, which provides breathtaking perspectives of the scenery of the Santa Ana River Valley, San Gorgonio, and beyond.
Address: Mill Creek Rd, Big Bear Lake, CA 92315, United States
10. Big Bear Snow Play
If you’re looking for fun places to go, especially for exciting recreation, look no further than Big Bear Snow Play!
It’s packed with activities for people of all ages and is a wonderland perfect for an adventure if you’re in Big Bear Lake this winter.
Once a ski hill, it is a premier location for snow tubing down a long hill.
Climbing back up again is easy with the Magic Carpet lift, too, for you and your tube.
Big Bear Snow Play provides Southern California’s longest tube runs, with thrilling elevation and all-day access from the middle of November to the Easter season.
When there isn’t enough snow, the facility blasts their Lenko Fan snowmaking machines to create artificial snow that coats the ground with more than enough fluff for your endeavors.
You can then rest up at the snack bar inside the heated lodge.
On weekends and during special occasions, Big Bear Snow Play also offers Glow Tubing, and in summer, you can try out the ropes course that rises 35 feet above the ground!
Address: 42825 Big Bear Blvd, Big Bear Lake, CA 92315, United States
11. Cougar Crest Trail
Many Big Bear Lake attractions are the kind that would appeal to hikers and nature-lovers, and Cougar Crest Trail is no exception!
Termed as one of the best places to visit in California, it is a part of California’s San Bernardino National Forest, and it spans 5.2 miles as a round-trip hike.
It’s also appropriate for mountain biking and is fun to explore.
Cougar Crest Trail is relatively challenging and is most accessible from March to November.
It overlooks Big Bear Lake and provides lovely views of natural environments surrounding it, including lovely wildflower patches that are led to via paved paths.
You can also get to the Big Bear Discovery Center from the trail.
The trailhead is at North Shore Drive.
Address: Big Bear Lake, CA 92314, United States
12. The Pines Lakefront
Looking for destinations for a lovely meal this weekend?
Big Bear Lake’s finest is The Pines Lakefront, a fine dining establishment that provides gorgeous views of the lake and the nature of California from the shoreline.
It is highly rated, offers a wide-ranging menu, and provides options for vegetarian and gluten-free diets, as well as a yummy children’s menu.
Open for all three meals daily, The Pines Lakefront offers a unique twist to common favorites of America.
Pork, venison, beef, lamb, seafood, and fish dishes are all served, as well as pasta, burgers, sandwiches, and light salads.
Even better, The Pines Lakefront has an impressive list of wines, both from the state and from Australian and even Italian stalwarts.
Address: 350 Alden Rd, Big Bear Lake, CA 92315, United States
13. Butler Peak Fire Lookout
Butler Peak Fire Lookout is one of seven high-altitude lookout posts in the San Bernardino National Forest of California.
While every single one of those fire lookouts is famous for providing gorgeous views of Big Bear Lake, the best is undoubtedly the one at Butler Peak.
It can be found at 8,535-foot elevation and is fairly difficult to access.
The Butler Peak Fire Lookout is so high up that deep snow makes it tough to get to even in July, but that challenge makes it one of the more rewarding things to do in Big Bear Lake.
It’s not too easy to get past the dirt road, though, as a high-clearance vehicle is required.
It’s definitely not the typical tourist hotspot and shouldn’t be treated as such – it’s a highly reclusive spot and most won’t be able to arrive here!
Still, it’s worth it, as the remote location offers incredible views that are hard to beat.
Address: 39607 2N13C, Fawnskin, CA 92333, United States
14. Big Bear Jeep Experience
Looking for a more fun way to explore Big Bear Lake, California?
Why not try out an off-roading educational adventure with the thrilling offerings of Big Bear Jeep Experience?
The agency provides one-of-a-kind tours through the city and is a fantastic way to learn to drive and manage high-clearance vehicles.
With Big Bear Jeep Experience, you’ll rent a Jeep and, with the aid of an experienced guide and off-roader, you’ll learn the right driving technique through a two-way radio and learn about the flora and fauna in your vicinity at the same time.
The educational experience comes with historical facts, and you can choose from a range of difficulty levels; smoother drives are available for families with young children and beginners, while more challenging roads are waiting for the more adventurous!
Address: 42011 Big Bear Blvd A, Big Bear Lake, CA 92315, United States
15. Big Bear Lake Brewing Company
If tourist attractions related to alcohol are up your alley, then California’s Big Bear Lake Brewing Company is a fantastic option.
Both a brewery and a restaurant, the company creates delicious craft beer and serves it up alongside yummy meals throughout the day.
If you’re not a fan of beer, their spirits, wines, and cocktails are to die for, too!
The Big Bear Lake Brewing Company has a calm and welcoming atmosphere, perfect for a meal with friends and family, or just a solo break from your touring.
Don’t forget to try their seasonal beers, too – for example, in the fall, you can order some scrumptious pumpkin beer!
Address: 40827 Stone Rd, Big Bear Lake, CA 92315, United States
16. Big Bear Valley Historical Museum
The Big Bear Valley Historical Museum is among the best places to visit if you’re keen to learn more about the history, culture, inhabitants, and legacy of Big Bear Lake, California.
It features a relaxing environment packed with educational information, providing artifacts on display and galleries filled with everything you could want to know about the region’s history.
At the Big Bear Valley Historical Museum, you’ll get to pan for gold, learn about the days of the gold rush, find out about indigenous populations, and learn about ranchers, miners, and winter sports fans who color the historical backdrop of the area.
As you browse through equipment, archives, relics, and photos, don’t forget to head to the centerpiece: a general store that opened in 1929 and was then relocated to the parkland of the museum in the 1970s.
Address: 800 B Greenway Dr, Big Bear, CA 92314, United States
17. Bluff Lake Reserve
Bluff Lake Reserve sits at an elevation level of a whopping 7,600 feet.
The reserve is flanked by meadows of flowers, pine trees, and outcrops of rock and quartz, and it is home to a wide range of rare flora and fauna that it is dedicated to protecting.
It is an ecological reserve and one of the loveliest things to do in Big Bear Lake, California for nature-lovers, especially if you’re interested in hidden gems over common tourist hotspots.
Insects, amphibians, and birds alike are attracted to Bluff Lake Reserve and the unique plants that live within it.
It’s a great chance to separate yourself from commonly busy locations, and you can bring along a picnic basket, your family, a camera for photography, binoculars for birdwatching, or even a pet!
The hiking trails surrounding the lake are particularly tranquil.
Address: Mill Creek Rd, Angelus Oaks, CA 92305, United States
18. The Cave
The Cave is the prime spot for entertainment in Big Bear Lake, California – a fun draw for tourists and locals alike and a venue for events, performances, live theater, and the works.
It boasts a state-of-the-art stage and casts of talented and well-rounded performers, with shows and programs that are sure to take your breath away.
All sorts of things happen at The Cave, from concerts to local band performances and from movie screenings to theatrical acts.
Music festivals, shows, and more add some spice to the exciting line-ups.
An onsite eatery called Rockin’ Burritos provides great meals to accompany year-round programs and events, too, with nachos, burritos, burgers, shrimp cocktails, and drinks waiting to be tried.
Address: 40789 Village Dr, Big Bear Lake, CA 92315, United States
Planning a road trip around California? You’d enjoy visiting Los Angeles, Monterey, and San Diego! If you do plan the trip, here’s a cool list of what to do in Los Angeles, a top list of what to do in Monterey, and some of the best things to do in San Diego!
19. Alpine Slide at Magic Mountain
Alpine Slide at Magic Mountain is a site for exciting activities and amusement, and it’s also the location of Southern California’s only bobsledding experience.
It’s a top spot for families, especially for those visiting with children, and it has tons of choices for what to do.
For the most part, Alpine Slide at Magic Mountain provides exactly what its name entails: high-banked bobsledding slides that you can enjoy all year round, no matter what the season is.
You can sled down with younger children, too, and you get to choose your own speed as you rush down the concrete track.
First-timers will have the safest, most enjoyable time on the right-hand track while they get their bearings.
The ride from the peak to base at Alpine Slide at Magic Mountain lasts approximately one and a half minutes, and the surrounding scenery is beautiful.
If you come to visit in the summer, you’ll also get to go on the water slide, and in the winter, snow tubing is an additional activity option.
Address: 800 Wildrose Ln, Big Bear Lake, CA 92315, United States
20. Planetarium Projector Museum
The Planetarium Projector Museum is one of the more hidden gems among the region’s places to go.
It is owned by Owen Phairis and is home to the world’s biggest collection of a very niche object: planetarium projectors.
Only a total of 17 projectors make up the collection, but their huge size is partially the reason behind the record held by the museum – they’re so large that most have trouble keeping all those projectors!
The projects are dome-shaped and make for delightful eye candy.
Some of the most impressive ones at the Planetarium Projector Museum are the gargantuan Spitz STS projector and the very small Goto S-3 projector; the latter is one of only three that remain on earth today.
Better yet, all projectors at the Planetarium Projector Museum are still in working order.
Phairis is happy to demonstrate how they work, turning them on to showcase the way they simulate the celestial bodies in the night sky.
The museum also hosts a show called Captain Corona in the Overcast of Doom, which features a robot animatronic as Captain Corona.
Interestingly, though the Planetarium Projector Museum is based in Big Bear Lake, it is also a traveling museum.
Be sure to check if Phairis is in town when you’re here if you want to visit!
Address: Big Bear Lake, CA 92315, United States
Start Planning Your Trip To Big Bear Lake
Big Bear Lake is such a wonderful place because it’s ideal for people from all walks of life.
Whether you’re seeking free things to do or are more eager to shell out some cash on an exciting experience, there are Big Bear Lake attractions for you.
Enjoy the relaxing greenery and pristine lake!