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The blacktop streets of Southern California can really start to sizzle when the first heat waves roll through in the late spring and that’s when we haul our butts 7,000 feet up the mountain to Big Bear Lake.
Just two hours from Orange County to a hearty mountain-man sized breakfast from our favorite spot in town, the Grizzly Manor Cafe. This place may be tiny and prone to longish wait times on the weekends but it stands out from the rest with their Instagram worthy flapjacks the size of man hole covers and my favorite, a savory side order of perfectly grilled portuguese sausage that begs to be shared.
If you’re looking for something in the heart of Big Bear Village or you just overslept and can’t stomach the wait, try the solid fare at Teddy Bear Restaurant for a modern rustic feel with dark woody furnishings, trendy chalkboard announcements and a good view of the lively village area. Bring your cash money cause they won’t take your plastic.
Before heading out for a little back country adventuring around the ample backside of Snow Summit, we always grab an Adventure Pass from the nearest convenience store and display it in our window, top off the tank and squeegee that windshield so we don’t miss any of the incredible scenery of Skyline Drive, also known as super awesome Forest Road 2N10.
There is also a newly opened single track trail for those sturdy mountain biker types which parallels most of Skyline Drive and we’re guessing it’s a much safer option than just hoping there isn’t an oncoming vehicle around any one of the dozens of blind curves along this route.
The 10 miles of Skyline Drive is suitable for high clearance vehicles and takes just about an hour to finish. But really, 2.5 hours is more likely with a few scenic stops for photo-ops and some time to crack open a refreshing beverage from your trusty picnic cooler.
Keep an eye out for the sign and take a quick side trip to visit the Champion, one of the largest Lodgepole Pine trees in the whole wide world. A leisurely 30 minute walk through a picturesque meadow on a well marked trail leads you to the big tree. Don’t forget your camera!
Nearby, you’ll also find forest road 1N54, better known as Clark’s Grade. Construction efforts on this road began all the way back in 1899 with plans to connect Big Bear with the community of Redlands. It’s hard to imagine America’s first cars cranking their way up this black diamond rated trail but the cool mountain air and plentiful fishing opportunities proved to be a successful draw for tourists willing to endure this long bumpy ride.
To this day you can experience for yourself the old fashioned excitement of this early trail which remains an unpaved one lane waggon road that runs uphill from Highway 38 and meets up with Skyline Drive. 4 wheel drive and a steely resolve near the 500 foot sheer drop offs is definitely reccomended. If you attempt this adventure use the buddy system and check road conditions at the local ranger station.
After filling your off road quota head back into town for some chit chat with the locals and a huge pub style burger from the rowdy likes of Murray’s Saloon. A true dive bar with a commendable craft beer selection on draft, so scary you’ll love it-karaoke and a funky Lobster Claw arcade game that actually has real live lobsters futzing around in the tank. For two bucks a pop you can try your luck at catching one and the kitchen will fix em’ up. We dare you!
Reminiscent of In-n-Out, Get The Burger is another satisfying option with a decent selection of bottled beer and a purple Gremlin permanently gracing the parking lot.
Never take the same road twice! If you to head up to Big Bear via the Mountain Resorts Highway 330, try doubling down on scenery and heading out along Highway 18 with a 2 mile detour to the Strawberry Peak Fire Lookout. Staffed 9-5 with trained volunteers during the fire season you’ll get some great advice from locals who can literally point out some of the best nooks and crannies in the San Bernardino National Forest from way atop the lookout. Avoid this suggestion if you are wary of heights. The climb up these ladder-like stairs is for brave souls who don’t mind this type of rickety vertigo inducing adventure but totally worth conquering your fears for this photo.
Just north of the Children’s Forest Visitor Center along Highway 18 we found another staffed fire lookout at Keller Peak with an easy 5 mile drive up passing by at least 9 super scenic yellow post rustic camping sites available on a first come basis. The absolute best time to visit these fire lookouts would be on a clear day which is an anomaly in Southern California, so we do a little rain dance and pray for the smog to be washed away and go anyway.
Expected to reopen in 2014, the road to our favorite lookout at Butler Peak has been closed to vehicles since the fires of 2007. The skeletons of dead fire damaged trees have fallen down onto the road preventing vehicles from safely passing but volunteers at Keller and Strawberry say you can still hike up to Butler which may or may not be staffed. Crews are now working to clear the fallen and we hope to be alerted via Butler Peaks own Facebook page as soon as the road reopens this summer! We do always recommend checking in at the Big Bear Disvovery Center for up to date info about road conditions but lately they haven’t proved very reliable when it comes to the fire lookouts. On our most recent outing the rangers at BBDC said only Strawberry Peak was open, but when we arrived at the lookout the volunteer staff told us that the other lookouts were indeed open just as expected, from Memorial Day through November and often earlier depending on drought conditions and fire season predictions.
So whenever the mercury rises down here in the lowlands of SoCal consider supporting the local economy and heading up the mountain for some good eats, friendly locals and an easy day exploring the cool backwoods of Big Bear out amongst the shady pines and towering boulders that look suspiciously like they were created by the Imagineers from Disneyland.
Hit any of these or other nearby spots? If so, we’d love to hear your stories, tips and ideas! Share your photos with us and we may just mention ya’ in a future post or show! Got questions? We’re happy to help! Feeling inspired? Leave us a 5 star review on iTunes or Stitcher and a unicorn will get its horn*!
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