Editor’s note: another lovely trip recap from TRT’s newest writer, Jackie, to a place I haven’t been since I was a little kid. For more of her travels, click here to visit her index page.

Living in the Los Angeles area, we thought that a few days near Big Bear Lake in the San Bernardino Mountains would be a pleasant summer break – trees, the lake, a bit cooler weather, and more. After looking up potential activities, we booked four nights at an Airbnb in Big Bear for late July.

Our first full day in Big Bear, we headed to Boulder Bay with a picnic lunch. This is a lovely lakefront park with a big covered picnic area and an adjoining beach. We strolled along the lake and ate our lunch and enjoyed the beautiful scenery. The small beach had quite a few people enjoying the water, kayaking, and swimming. Further out on the lake we could see motor boats.

View of Boulder Bay and kayakers from Boulder Bay Park
View of Boulder Bay beach, boulders, and homes from Boulder Bay Park

Following that we headed to the Marina and our tour of the lake on the Big Bear Queen. This was a 90-minute boat ride from one end of the lake to the other (about seven miles long and one mile wide). Chris, our skipper/narrator, told us all about the history of the lake, including that it was man-made and originally designed to serve as a reservoir for the city of Redlands, which sits at the base of the mountain. Now the lake is just for recreation and the water no longer goes to Redlands. Prior to the creation of the lake, the region was mostly cattle farms.

View of Big Bear Lake with mountain in background

He pointed out the dam, various old cabins with lovely views (but tough to walk up to) as well as homes of movie stars, new mansions, and more. One home was owned by Mel Blanc, who voiced Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, and others. His son, Noel Blanc, is sometimes there and came out and voiced Porky Pig for us!

View of Big Bear Lake with dam

The south side of the lake is mostly individual homes, businesses, restaurants, and other commercial enterprises. The north side of the lake is mostly owned by the Forest Service, so it has many more trees and small cabins. It also has the Solar Observatory, built by Caltech. They do offer tours, but unfortunately they were booked months in advance.

View of boulders at Big Bear Lake

There are several marinas at the lake, and individuals can come up for the day and use the docks. He contrasted this with Arrowhead, another man-made lake in the San Bernardino Mountains, which is totally commercial with much more restricted access to the lake.

The next day we first headed to the Big Bear Valley Historical Museum. This museum has a collection of old buildings (and recreations of old buildings) which were moved to this location. The buildings date from the late 1800s to the early 1900s. The buildings include a general store (with post office boxes), old cabins, school house, carriage shed, and more. All the buildings have artifacts from the region. There is also a blacksmith demonstration and children of all ages can pan for gold (gold was discovered not far from Big Bear Lake in Holcomb Valley). The museum is currently building a Serrano Village; the Serranos were some of the Native Americans who lived in this area.

General Store at Big Bear Valley Historical Museum

Later that day, we went to the Stanfield Marsh Wildlife and Waterfowl Preserve, which is an area of the lake that is being restored as a habitat for birds of all kinds. We had a lovely, peaceful stroll on the boardwalk, but only saw a few birds, perhaps because we were there close to midday and it was quite warm.

View from boardwalk of Stanfield Marsh Wildlife and Waterfowl Preserve

On our final day we first went to the Alpine Zoo. This is a very unique zoo because it has only rescue animals – such animals as black bears, grizzly bears, various kinds of foxes, raccoons, birds (owls, eagles, crows, ravens and more), and many more. The first enclosure had a very large black bear. He was eating peanuts with their shells – picking them up in his mouth and then spitting out the shells! Each enclosure had a sign which described “when man meets animal” – basically how the animal is faring in the wild – and “special adaptations” which the animal uses to survive. Next to this sign is a QR code which describes the specific animals which are in the enclosure and how they ended up at the Alpine Zoo.

Signs at Grizzly Bear enclosure

Some of the animals got into trouble when they were wild. A funny story of one of the black bears is that it broke into a honey farm and caused thousands of dollars of damage. One eagle lost its eyesight. The two snow leopards, which were born in the Seattle Zoo, each only has eyesight in one eye. One raccoon is a blonde raccoon, which prevents him from thriving in the wild. Some animals were raised as pets for a while and hence cannot be released.

Grizzly Bear at Alpine Zoo

Our last activity was to visit the Big Bear Discovery Center in Fawnskin. This center, run by the Forest Service, has a few small exhibits but has a lot of weekend activities, especially for kids, as seen by the sign. Unfortunately, we were there on a weekday and just looked at the exhibits.

Big Bear Discovery Center
Weekend activities at Big Bear Discovery Center

In addition to all these activities, we often walked in the neighborhood of our Airbnb. We were fairly near some hiking trails and enjoyed seeing the wildflowers, as well as an abundance of boulders (boulders seem to be a theme at Big Bear). We also had some delicious food – there are lots of choices of restaurants. The Village area, in particular, has nice restaurants, lots of flowers along the street, and many stores as well.

Flowers along a sidewalk in Big Bear Village

We enjoyed our short Big Bear getaway for the fresh air, lovely lake, and the other activities, especially the boat ride and the Alpine Zoo.

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