Escape to Lake Arrowhead, nestled in the tree-covered mountains of San Bernardino National Forest, for a relaxing getaway immersed in nature and outdoor fun. It takes just a couple hours to drive from San Diego, but with an elevation of over 5,100 feet, it feels worlds away from busy city life.
It’s true that Lake Arrowhead is a private lake, but here’s a little-known fact: If you’re not a resident with lake rights or a lake beach club member, you can get in (or on) the water by staying at Lake Arrowhead Resort & Spa, the only hotel on the lake. Many people don’t realize that some of the benefits offered to resort guests include swimming at the small private beach, scheduling a private pontoon boat excursion (up to 10 people), taking a guided single or tandem kayak tour, and catch-and-release dock fishing. Read more below under “where to stay.”
WHAT TO DO in Lake Arrowhead
Lake Arrowhead Village
Lake Arrowhead Village is the area’s waterfront hub of activity, boasting dozens of boutiques and specialty shops. A couple of my favorites are Big on Bears (need awesome family PJs for this year’s Christmas card? Check Big on Bears first!), Mr. G’s for Toys and Rocket Fizz (I never tire of old-fashioned sodas and nostalgic metal signs). Stop at the Tea & Coffee Exchange or Village Ice Cream for an afternoon treat. It’s also home to the visitor center, a great place to pick up a hiking guide or learn about area camping. The Village also hosts a summer concert series every Friday and Saturday night from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
Lake Arrowhead Queen (pictured at top of article)
Take a one-hour narrated boat ride where passengers hear interesting lake history and get a glimpse of lakefront homes (some belonging to famous people). It’s a great introduction to the lake if you’re a first-time visitor.
SkyPark at Santa’s Village
Nearby SkyPark at Santa’s Village is a year-round adventure park (closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays) featuring a roller skating rink (ice skating in the winter), climbing towers, character encounters, ax-throwing, archery and much more. There is also an impressive network of professionally designed bike trails that draws riders from all over southern California. Trails exist for riders of all levels – beginners to experts.
Even the locals have fun at SkyPark. “Me and my friends all have season passes and go every couple of weeks,” says Jared Cobb of Crestline, who was there with his 2-year old son. “We ride the bike trails and zipline and grab a beer all in the same day.” Learn more at www.skyparksantasvillage.com.
There are at least a dozen hiking trails in the Lake Arrowhead area that range from half-mile beginner trails to nine-mile advanced excursions. Five of them are easy treks, one mile long or less, which is good news for families with little kids. Learn more at www.fs.usda.gov/activity/sbnf/recreation/hiking.
It’s not a zoo, but an animal sanctuary. Reservations are available for bear and eagle observation on Saturdays (not during winter).
WHERE TO EAT in Lake Arrowhead
Jetties Waterfront Kitchen is a casual lunch and dinner spot located right next to the water in Lake Arrowhead Village. Stop in for a Nashville BBQ Burger, Fried Chicken Caesar or Poke Nachos. Don’t miss happy hour specials (Monday through Friday, 3–5 pm); they have 24 beers on tap!
Belgian Waffle Works is a family-owned restaurant offering sweet and savory waffle creations for breakfast in Lake Arrowhead Village. Some of the outrageously delicious concoctions on the breakfast menu are worthy of a celebratory treat to share with the kids (or a friend). Take the Mud Pie Belgian, for instance: waffle ice cream sandwich with coffee ice cream, chocolate fudge cream, chocolate sauce, Oreo cookie crumbs and whipped cream. Now, if that doesn’t say “Happy Summer,” I don’t know what does. The lunch menu consists of sandwiches and burgers served with waffle fries.
Lou Eddies Pizza in SkyForest serves up artisan pizzas, gourmet salads and frozen pizzas to go. The eatery is built into the tree-covered mountain side, offering a variety of unique indoor and patio seating (wonderful when the weather is nice). Grab a beer from the saloon downstairs and enjoy the rustic, relaxing ambiance while you wait for your pizza.
Bin 189 offers fantastic lake views and delicious menu items such as Crispy Brussels Sprouts, Burrata and Roasted Beet Salad, and Seafood Fideo. The kids menu is entertaining for all, featuring items such as “I’d Rather Starve” (cheese sandwich with fruit), “Huh?” (cheeseburger with fruit or fries) and “Leave Me Alone” for dessert (chocolate pudding, Oreo cookie crumbs and gummy bears).
WHERE TO STAY in Lake Arrowhead
As mentioned above, Lake Arrowhead Resort & Spa is the only hotel on the lake. Kids love daily visits to the outdoor (ADA-accessible) pool (which has lake views), Saturday night movies (shown outdoors during summer), game room (ping pong and foosball), sitting around the campfire for S’mores Under the Stars (spring through fall), and seasonal DJ pool parties.
Parents love resort amenities such as the onsite full-service spa, wellness classes (yoga, pilates, sound healing meditation), fitness gym, Aroma’s Coffee Shop (open every morning for pastries and espresso), and Bin 189, a wonderful restaurant featuring a fabulous menu, signature cocktails, and weekly live music. Learn more at www.lakearrowheadresort.com
While you’re in the Lake Arrowhead area, check out nearby Lake Gregory and Big Bear or take a day trip to beautiful Oak Glen (popular in the fall; but open year-round). Read our articles that provide tips on what to do with kids:
Managing editor Lisa Gipson is always up for a new adventure. Follow her on IG @sandiegoeditor. All photos provided by her.