Jared is a California kid at heart. He was raised in the Pacific Northwest, like me, but was born in Glendale and lived there until 2nd grade. His dad was born in LA, his dad's parents were both born in LA, and his great-grandfather is buried 15 minutes away from where we live now. After his family moved to Seattle, they would come back to California to visit every summer, often staying at his grandparents' mountain cabin in Big Bear.
For as long as I've known Jared (and that will be 5 years in a couple of weeks), his nostalgia for Big Bear has colored his memories of childhood. We'd be walking around Provo on a summer night and he'd stop in his tracks and say "Do you smell that? It smells like Big Bear." I've heard countless stories about his and his siblings' adventures climbing all over the boulders on the mountainside and walking to the corner market with their cousins. The first time we roadtripped to Southern California together, in February 2011, he couldn't stop smiling. He just kept saying "California, man, there's something about it."
Now that we live in LA we're only an hour and half's drive from Big Bear, so this last weekend we loaded up our tent, laced up our hiking shoes, and headed out to introduce me to the little town that Jared so loyally loves.
Jared's grandpa sold the cabin a few years ago, but we went to see it. We knocked on the door but no one was home, so we trespassed a little so Jared could show me the "backyard" (read: boulder-filled wilderness) where he spent so many happy hours.
The Swan family genealogy as of 1990, etched into the front walkway.
The boulder that Jared and his siblings used to refer to as "Jaws Rock."
Big Bear has everything you'd expect from a small lake/mountain town. It reminded me a lot of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho and in some ways Ashland, Oregon. I also discovered that mountain towns are similar in a lot of ways to beach towns. They attract people who like life a little slower, air a little fresher, and shops a little kitschier. This is the Alpine slide at a cute little family fun center called Magic Mountain. It had this, a waterslide, go-karts, an arcade, and mini golf (at which Jared beat me soundly). As a kid this would have been my favorite place. As an adult it was pretty dang fun too.
There's a part of Big Bear Lake that's just called "The Village" and has every cute little shop imaginable (a large percentage of which sell bear-related items). The arcade is closed down now, but Jared has fond memories of playing Skee Ball there as a kid. The candy shop on the right had me FREAKING out in a good way. We were walking around the Village and I saw bubbles floating all through the air and naturally had to follow them back to their source. It turns out that this candy shop has a bubble machine hooked up to its side (see that black pipe?). It looks like an exhaust pipe, though, so I like imagining that the natural output/waste from candy production is bubbles. Something so Willy Wonka about that.
We camped at the Hanna Flat campground on Saturday night, which is about a 15 minute drive from the "happening" side of the lake. It was a gorgeous, well-maintained site, and each plot was huge. No campfires allowed, because this is a Southern California drought-ridden summer, but for $26 a night it was a beautiful, budget-friendly way to stay in Big Bear. Well, not that budget friendly, since we just ended up spending all of the money we would have spent on lodging on food instead :)
Big Bear has a sliiight obsession with wood-carved animal sculptures. Apparently this squirrel has been in the same spot for as long as Jared can remember, and the owners dress it according to the season/holiday. And there must be close to a thousand bear statues. There are, honestly, probably more bear statues than permanent residents. And would you LOOK at that dinosaur sculpture?? At first I thought it was just a T-Rex, but on closer inspection it's a whole pillar of dinosaurs--there's a pterodactyl on its chest, a triceratops on its butt, and a long-neck down at the bottom. It's like the Land Before Time in a lawn ornament. Just needs Duckie!
There are, alas, no pictures of us on the lake, though we did try paddle boarding for the first time (verdict: kayaking is better). But we also went on two awesome hikes. This picture is from the Woodland Nature Trail adjacent to the Big Bear Discover Center. They give you a little pamphlet with numbers that correspond to interesting sights along the path. The coolest things were 1) a packrat's house, 2) this Jeffrey pine that serves as a "kitchen pantry" for woodpeckers, who store their acorns in the gajillion holes they've bored into it, and 3) the fact that Jeffrey pines smell exactly like vanilla up close!
The second hike we did, on Sunday morning, was the Castle Rock hike, which was a bit strenuous (especially since we were gasping for air in the high altitude) but definitely rewarding, thanks to this view:
All in all, a beautiful, restful, much-needed mini-vacation. Big Bear is only a slightly farther drive from us than, say, Malibu, so it didn't require much planning to hop in the car and head up there. The lake is gorgeous, the people are friendly, the hiking is good, and chocolate shops abound. What else do you need, really? What are your favorite spots for a quick weekend away?