Last weekend, I needed a break from Los Angeles.
I was craving someplace quieter, someplace a little colder and someplace that might actually feel like fall — a season that doesn’t really happen in LA. To make it more challenging, I only had 24 hours to spare before needing to be back in the city for a concert, so it had to be easy to get to.
For inspiration, I pulled up Google Maps and clicked around Southern California looking for places within driving distance that would satisfy my criteria. Within a few minutes, I’d zoomed in on San Bernardino County, Los Angeles County’s neighbor to the east. Home to the Mojave Desert, part of Joshua Tree National Park and pine tree-laden mountains, it’s full of adventure and far-away-feeling places that aren’t actually too far.
I decided the county’s rugged San Bernardino Mountains, specifically the area surrounding Lake Arrowhead, would be the perfect choice (and it turns out I was right).
Below, you’ll find 6 things to do in Lake Arrowhead and the surrounding area ideally suited for creating a perfect 24-hour stay — from late afternoon on day 1 to late afternoon on day 2. Enjoy!
6 Things To Do In Lake Arrowhead
- Day 1 -
1. Rent A Cabin At Pine Rose Cabins
A great cabin is the most essential part of a perfect mountain escape. For your trip to the Lake Arrowhead area, go with Arrowhead Pine Rose Cabins, a collection of storybook-worthy cabins nestled at 5,800 feet elevation in the tiny town of Twin Peaks (just 10 minutes up the mountain from Lake Arrowhead)
With studio, one, two, and three bedrooms cabins, all with full kitchens, Pine Rose has accommodations for every occasion. But if it’s just you and your significant other, opt for a studio — they’re cozier, more romantic and most have a wood-burning fireplace. I chose cabin cabin #9, a.k.a. The Eagle’s Nest (pictured above with the red door). Although it’s close to a road (it’s not a very busy road), I think #9 is the most picture-perfect studio cabin both inside and out. For more space and two bedrooms, go with Cabin #5, a.k.a Little House on the Pond, which as the name suggests, is set next to a peaceful man-made pond and features a deck with a grill (it’s ideal for a small group of friends or two couples).
For a one-night stay, I recommend arriving in the early evening on Friday (Saturday night reservations require a two-night minimum stay — so if you book Saturday you also need to book either Friday or Sunday night). Once checked in (check in time starts at 2pm), make sure to pick up a bundle or two of firewood from the front desk ($7 per bundle). From there, I suggest just lounging around, enjoying your cabin and staying in to whip up some soup and grilled cheese in your cabin’s kitchen (bring provisions with your or visit Jensen’s Finest Foods, a supermarket in the nearby town of Blue Jay). Next, use the wood you picked up earlier to build a fire in your fireplace, then chill out in bed with a movie (the cabin’s TV comes with free Netflix, or come prepared with a movie or two loaded on your computer/iPad).
- Day 2 -
2. Eat Breakfast At Hungry Bear Deli
When you’re ready to start your day (I finally left my cabin around 10:30am), hop in your car and take the 10-minute drive along Rim of the World Highway to the tiny community of Skyforest. There, drop into Hungry Bear Deli for a casual and delicious breakfast.
The first thing you’ll notice, aside from the 10-foot tall bear carving outside, is how nice the staff is. When I visited, the woman behind the counter asked if I was a local or from out of town, then introduced herself when she took down my name for my order and thanked me sincerely for visiting them. It felt good to feel so welcomed.
Follow my lead and order the bacon, egg and cheese sandwich on a toasted everything bagel (it’s loaded with a generous amount of perfectly cooked bacon). To drink, try Hungry Bear’s signature Volcano — a thick, sweet and creamy cappuccino.
3. Visit Lake Arrowhead Village
After breakfast, drive 10 minutes down winding roads to Lake Arrowhead Village — a collection of Bavarian-styled shops and eateries set along the lake. It’s worth the visit for the change of scenery, the stroll and the lake views, but if you aren’t hungry and don’t feel like shopping, you probably won’t need to spend longer than an hour here. If you are hungry, however, go for perennial favorites Belgian Waffle Works or The Lakefront Tap Room. And if you are looking to shop, check out the Pendleton and Bass outlet stores.
For those wanting to spend a little more time or for those interested in seeing more of the lake, take a cruise aboard the Lake Arrowhead Queen. In addition to being a relaxing way to spend an hour, you’ll also learn about Lake Arrowhead’s history.
4. Check Out Skyforest’s Antique Shops
From Lake Arrowhead Village, leave the crowd behind and head back up the mountain to quaint Sky Forest (take South Kuffle Canyon Road) to visit the mini-town’s two antique shops — Bella’s Antiques and At The Cabin.
While you’re probably not in the market for many antiques, both places are packed with one-of-a-kind, quality finds that are sure to spruce up and add character to your place (think mounted antlers, old globes, unique paintings, rustic chests and plenty of furniture). Don’t be surprised if you end up leaving with something, even if it’s just something small.
Both shops are easy to visit. At The Cabin is located directly next door to Hungry Bear and Bella’s is located behind and diagonally across the street from Hungry Bear.
5. Eat Lunch At LouEddie’s
By now you’ll most likely be hungry again. Luckily, across the street from At The Cabin is Lou Eddie’s, a pizza place and micro brewery that’s a favorite among the locals. Upstairs you’ll find a bright and open kitchen, a few tables and a small counter to eat at. Downstairs, there’s a cozy bar with more places to dine and a spacious outdoor patio with plenty of picnic tables. Wherever you choose to enjoy your pizza, the ambiance is warm and inviting, the staff is incredibly friendly, and most importantly, the fire-roasted pizzas are delicious (and not delicious for a little restaurant up in the mountains, delicious for anywhere).
Near the downstairs bar, you’ll also be able to see Lou Eddie’s mico brewery (and I mean mico micro). The one-room facility has all the tools needed to brew small batches and you’ll likely find one, if not two, of their beers on tap. To learn more about the brewing process, Lou Eddie’s just started offering a day-long “all grain” brewing course. There’s no information online yet, but if you’re interested, just give them a call and they’ll give you the details.
Extra Tip: If you’d rather go out for dinner instead of cooking in your cabin (as suggested for the night before), visit Hortencia’s Mexican Grill, located right next door to Lou Eddie’s. It’s run by a wonderfully kind Mexican-American family and the food is tasty.
6. Take In The View At The Strawberry Peak Fire Tower Lookout
For your final stop of the day, head back towards Pine Rose Cabins. From their, the Strawberry Peak fire lookout, a United States Forest Service facility used to spot forest fires in the surrounding mountains, is just a four-minute drive away.
Manned by Forest Service volunteers, the tower is open to the public from 9am-5pm daily and the volunteers will be happy to welcome you inside to tell you all about their job, the history of the tower and the sights seen from it. The 360-degree view from way up here is incredible — and on very clear days you can even see the Pacific Ocean and the Los Angeles skyline (it’s just a tiny blip on the horizon). It’s hands down the best place to reflect on your 24 hours in the mountains and bring the trip to a close.
Best Time To Go? Fall!
Lake Arrowhead area is a true four seasons destination, with the beautiful lake drawing thousands throughout the summer and nearby ski hills doing the same in winter. But I think fall is the best time of year to visit — especially mid-October to mid-November. Why? Mainly becasue fall doesn’t really happen in Southern California — but it does here.
Visiting in fall will provide days that are brisk and comfortable and nights that a cold enough to warrant building a fire in your fireplace, but not freezing cold. Plus, the air smells of fallen leaves and pine trees, the businesses decorate for the season which adds to the festive feeling, and if you time it right, you can check out Lake Arrowhead Oktoberfest (I missed it by a weekend). Bottom line, it just feels like the perfect time to escape to the mountains.
Extra Tip: For news on local events and for more things to do in Lake Arrowhead and the surrounding area, keep an eye on Pine Rose Cabin’s blog.