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A gem for all seasons

By Larry UrishPublished: December 01, 2010

Like many Orange County residents, you and your family lead busy lives, and getting away from it all, even for a quick weekend, can be a tall order. However, stressed-out locals can do just that – without going too far from home – by heading just a few hours up the road to a serene slice of mountain paradise: Big Bear.
   
In addition to a multitude of winter sports, Big Bear offers a fun variety of activities in the late spring, summer and early fall before the first big freeze, when it’s a skier’s and snowboarder’s paradise. In warm or cold climes, water-related sports abound in Big Bear. Some of the options include power boating, waterskiing, windsurfing, paddle- and pontoon-boating, jet-skiing, canoeing and kayaking. Since the lake is regularly stocked with trout, bass, catfish and blue gill, fishing is always a popular activity here.
   
If water isn’t your thing, consider hiking or mountain biking. The forests surrounding the lake are honeycombed with trails; you can rev your engine and climb a high peak – via earthen trails or snow slopes, depending – or serenely stroll among the trees, camera in hand.
   
If you and yours prefer pedaling to hiking, the area offers a wonderful selection of routes for both road riders and mountain bikers. Cruise up one of many trails (ground cover permitting) or circumnavigate Big Bear Lake on skinny tires. You can rent, purchase or repair bikes at several shops in town.
   
Now that winter is peering just around the corner, Big Bear Mountain Resorts, composed of Bear Mountain and Snow Summit, offers snow-packed runs that are suited for newbies and experts alike. Plenty of shops rent, service and sell snow sports equipment. After the white stuff melts, both resorts offer activities such as “dry” ski lifts, mountain biking, golfing and a whole lot more.
   
If you’re not outdoorsy but desire – or maybe require – a relaxing spa experience, Big Bear will surely rub you the right way, with heavenly deep-tissue massage, top-notch skincare, hot-stone treatments, manicures, pedicures and more. So feel free to leave the skis or mountain bike at the lodge, lie back and let your spa technician work her magic.
   
After being kneaded into a pad of human butter, grab your credit cards – or at least your sense of adventure – and visit Big Bear’s fun variety of arts and crafts shops, including the Gallery of the American Landscape, Susan’s NeedleArts, the Yarn Designers Boutique and 2 Black Bears, among many others. Or maybe you’ll want to simply hang out with a good book and relax in the fresh mountain air. It doesn’t cost a dime, and the renewal experience can be just as therapeutic as a 10-mile hike. For a variety of places to kick back, and later spend the night, read on.
   
Big Bear offers lodging for vacationers of every ilk, from Grey Poupon-loving millionaires to tree-hugging campers: comfortable resorts, B&Bs, hostels, condos, private homes and cabins, RV sites, campsites and, of course, a slew of hotels.
   
Here are but a few: The Bay Meadows Resort is a newly remodeled boutique-style lodge with upscale accommodations. The Gold Mountain Manner Historic Bed & Breakfast, a log-cabin mansion built in 1928, is set in an acre of Ponderosa Pines. While getting away from it all, the more-adventurous vacationers can also get above it all at the Morton Peak Fire Lookout, set atop a 30-foot-high tower offering views of the desert, inland valleys and mountains.
   
Big Bear will surely tickle your taste buds. For example, check out Jaspers Smokehouse and Steaks for beef brisket, pork, beef ribs, chicken and fish prepared in what is reputed to be the area’s only wood-fired smoke pit. Or take your palate overseas to the Himalayan Restaurant, which dishes up a variety of Nepalese and Indian fare. For Italian cuisine, stroll on over to the Sweet Basil Bistro. Or hook in to Captain’s Anchorage for, you guessed it, seafood – as well as steak and salads. Of course, these are but a few of the dozens of quality eateries available in the area.
   
If you’re on a budget, Big Bear offers a ton of pizza and burger joints that’ll give you more bang for your buck. After downing your last bite, check out the Sugar Pine Bake Shop, one of several sweet stops in town.
   
To get to Big Bear, head north on the 91 freeway to the 210 west; bear (pun intended) north up the 330, which turns into the 18 at Running Springs. Head east and turn right to cross the Big Bear Lake Dam.
   
For a wealth of additional details about everything described above – and a whole lot more – go to bigbear.com.