The Club at Big Bear Village is set in Big Bear Lake, California. The resort itself is a part of the Great Outdoors collection of properties. This is one of my favorite resort collections. All seem to have a rustic feel but modern conveniences.
Since I am in Virginia, travel to the area was going to be via a flight out of ORF or Norfolk International Airport. Going to Big Bear Lake means a flight into LAX. LAX is a huge airport with a great deal of air traffic. Flying in here, or other major hub airports I often think about the air traffic controllers and what a hard job they have.
Day One Arrival at the airport, and the drive to Big Bear
I arrived after a flight that with a 30-minute layover that turned into 1.5 hours means this was about an 8-hour travel day so far. This delay in the travel time meant a later drive out to the resort than I had intended.
Now Los Angeles has been known to have some of the worst traffic in the world at times. However, on this trip, it was clear that many people had been moving from the area, or had sold their cars and stopped driving. It turns out they are solving their traffic problem in the area by scaring people out of the city and surrounding areas. Not being political, it just is what it is.
Now from the airport to the resort, it is about another 2.5 hours. You guessed it the total travel time was now almost 11 hours. This is not bad considering that I am known to get into a car and on a whim drive 12 hours to Florida. It seemed like more here only because of the two flights, the car drives as well as the airport security checks, and so on with modern air travel. One guy tries to light his shoe bomb on fire once and now everyone from that point forward may have to take their shoes off before boarding an aircraft.
I promise I am not going into a diatribe here, but the whole flight security thing we do seems silly in the United States now. We make a ton of effort to make things seem random, yet for air travel as with other things, we need to profile. I think the least threatening people are in for it when they get in front of the TSA.
When all this stuff started, I once saw a man and his wife stopped and flagged for inspection. The guy was in his 80s or 90s, wearing a yacht club jacket (complete with monogram) and looking like he had never raised a hand to anyone in his entire life. He looked like the kind of fellow that never had to. Gentle, upper class, and the kind of man that was so squared away he was never even pulled over for speeding his entire life. Yet despite fitting no known profile of a terrorist on Earth they put that fellow through a ton of things in public. All seemingly to show others that all they do are random checks. It was silly and foolish. Wasted time and effort.
On this flight out I had not seen a case like that. Maybe that was just the early days when they were trying to figure things out. One thing that was new on this flight for me was the body scanner. They have those at LAX and it reminded me of the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie Total Recall where people walked through body scanners for travel. Here though, the images created just looked more embarrassing for people based on their fitness level. Since the system creates a body scan outline that kind of shows the full shape of someone’s body beneath their clothing.
The entrance feels castle-like, and the lobby has a huge feeling because of all the stones. The stone fireplace here is more than just an impressive focal point it sets a tone. On the other side of the fireplace, there are many tables, and even a bar-like area set up to relax and interact with staff. It is a clever setup to give people somewhere to relax inside if they are early for check-in or waiting for a shuttle somewhere.
Here there are 2,3-, and 4-bedroom units. I was solo again on this trip so I was checking into a 2-bedroom unit. It was very large at over 1,000 square feet and offered just about everything one could look for in a resort room.
- Cable TV
- Coffee Maker
- DVD Player
- Ice Maker
- Iron/Ironing Board
Then the resort itself offers all of these options.
- Business Center/Fax
- Fitness Room
- Game Room
- Hot Tub
- Internet Access
- Kid’s Activities
- Outdoor Pool
I think I have shared before how much I like to have a washer and dryer in the resort when I travel. Especially when it is in the room and convenient. I like to come back from the pool (or beach) with a wet bathing suit and throw them into the wash and then dryer for a fresh feel the next day.
I think this comes from a childhood where that was never an option no matter where I traveled. Many early mornings jumping back into swim trunks that were still wet and felt cold when you put them on and often until you were able to get back into the water.
It is also nice if you spill something to be able to deal with it now versus trying to use some laundry treatment stick to make it possible to clean when you get home.
Since these are often working mini-vacations for me, I also find myself doing a load of laundry when I am back in the room just so I do not have to do it when I move to the next location, or when I get home.
I also really enjoy a nice size of bathroom. That is one area of my small home that I will change if I live there much longer. I really like jetted tubs, and large showers and I do not have either at my home now. So, when a resort offers those features, I really enjoy that change.
At this resort, I felt like I was going to go into gourmet chef mode because the oven or stove was a Viking. If you cook then you know how nice that is to have. These were also gas eyes on the stove so that just makes me think about cooking some omelets here during the trip and making a full breakfast. Some of the units here have glass top stoves, and others have gas Viking stoves. All are top-of-the-line and have spacious kitchens.
Now today I did one thing I often do not do on the way in and I was very happy I had, I stopped and grabbed some groceries on the way to the resort. I figured since this resort was more remote than some that it would be nice to have the option for one or two meals, and some snacks. I had not realized that the kitchens in these units were so nice. I might have purchased more.
After getting sorted I did my tour of the resort. There were a large outdoor heated pool and hot tub, as well as a nice-sized children’s pool.
The fitness center was smaller but had some solid equipment and options.
The billiard room offered two pool tables a host of TVs for sports and some great sitting areas including one with a fireplace. There is also a separate game room with foosball, table tennis, ice hockey, and another pool table. Across the hall, they even have a kid playroom for the little guys.
Together I think this is one family-friendly resort.
Well after a full day of travel and not stopping to get something to eat I was ready for a nice meal. I went to the first place that caught my attention. Teddy Bear Restaurant has home-cooked food choices from the great Americana. This restaurant has been around for over 75 years now, and you can see why it has lasted. Great food, service, and nice surrounding. It was Friday so the soup of the day was Clam Chowder and I grabbed a bowl to start, then I ordered the country-fried steak with brown sauce (which is hard to find these days). I also had homemade mashed potatoes which with that gravy were perfect.
Here they also have a children’s menu, homemade pies for dessert, and so many choices on the menu most would leave happy and content. They also serve breakfast all day which might be a good option for vegans, they also have salads and other traditional options too.
This may be the restaurant on the trip where I come back for more because the breakfast items looked and even smelled great (a table near me ordered breakfast while I was eating).
Day Two at The Club at Big Bear Village
The day started off early because after all the travel the day before I had gone to bed early. As it is said early to bed early to rise. So, I was up and rolling at 6 AM.
Today I planned to go to Big Bear Zoo to check it out (I love a good zoo) but it does not open until 10 AM so first things first breakfast. I was tempted to go back to the Teddy, but I chose to try another local place this morning.
So right outside of the resort is a place called Stillwells, and I chose it for my early morning visit. The restaurant opens at 7 AM so I did not have to wait long even with my early start today. That gave me the hours to wake up and shower, taking my time to relax as well.
I dove into a stack of pancakes and sides for breakfast. The pancakes here were very good. Not giant, but fluffy and flavorful. This was one of those few breakfast places that send the syrup out warming, which is a nice touch. No little plastic bucket of syrup where it came out in a warmed ramekin.
Well after breakfast I still had a few more hours before the zoo would open up, so I headed out for the driving version of a walkabout. The aimless get-to-know cruise of the local area in a rental car. Here with the amazing scenery, I missed the convertible. You can just see and feel more with the top down in a car. Maybe I should have rented a jeep, that would have been fun. Instead, I had a 4 door that was unremarkable in every way. It felt and drove like a 1980s K car.
That gave me an idea I think when I am in the area, I will rent a jeep but one that is designed for off-road trails. I looked and found a provider Big Bear Jeep Experience and booked a jeep for the afternoon. I was excited about that since I have not been off-roading for real in years. It was an annual recreation when I grew up in the then-rural Yorktown Virginia (where Cornwallis surrendered). We used to take friends’ trucks or jeeps into the woods and the mud and just turn up the radio and go mudding. Great times and memories. In the winter months in the 80s, it was either going mudding bowling or a movie in town for recreation. Summer brought you boating, the beach, and other options, but during winter going off-road was a thing for several years for me and my friends.
After touring the area for a while and even stopping in some local stores, including the Brown Bear Gift Shop in town, it was time for the zoo. Big Bear Zoo is close to The Club at Big Bear Village it is less than 20 minutes away on the other side of town from the resort. Easy to find and in an amazing location.
The zoo offers an up-close look at lions, leopards, coyotes, and many more local animals. The zoo has been active in saving wildlife since it opened in 1959. The zoo was built out of need after a large forest fire in the area had injured several animals and a then temporary aide station was set up on the land that has since become the zoo.
The zoo offers discounts for children and the military as well as seniors, which I think is part of a class act.
After the time at the zoo and watching all the animals eat their lunch, I too wanted to grab something before my jeep trip.
This is going to seem odd to some of you. But I remembered Jack in the Box from my youth and there are not many still on the East Coast, so that is where I landed for lunch. (Looking later, I found many still in South Carolina-note to myself). Now this chain is truly just a fast-food place with nothing remarkable. In Virginia, which I call home, they became a thing around the time of Roy Rogers restaurants.
If you search, you can still find some Roy Rogers around. These days however they have done away with the old west charm and the cowboy theme which I loved as a little guy. While Roy Rogers movies were not my thing as much as John Wayne classics were, I still enjoyed the cowboy theme a ton when I was young. Sad to see that go from the franchise.
Jack in the box had a different theme. It was fast food by the box and Tacos. Before Taco Bell, this was the chain of fast-food locations people would go to for tacos. They have a tiny tacos thing that is really good as a fast-food novelty of sorts. Hey, it is fun but not fine dining folks.
Next, it was time for the jeep experience. This was a neat thing to do. Certainly, something fun for a family with older kids, maybe teenagers. Or a nice thing to do as a couple. I think I may have been the first person I a very long time to do this solo. For me though, off-road driving was a fun-focused thing to do, so doing it solo was an OK option.
This is not something to take a family member who is the worrying jumpy type. You follow a lead vehicle and are often in a group of jeeps doing the course. For me today there were only 3 jeeps going. The guide or lead jeep myself and a family. So, the lead or guide jeep was first, the family was second, and I was bringing up the rear.
I went on a beginner trail not only because it had been a long time since my off-road days, but based on cost and time. Since you are led through with a guide and there is some danger to the jeeps on these off-road journeys, this is not a cheap thing to do. But it was a cool experience. So, if money is not a concern, you may want to add this to your list. For more price-conscious options and adventures, there is plenty still to do in Big Bear.
My route was called the squeeze, and it was about a 2-hour trip. It included some deep muddy areas, as well as some rocky points where you have to literally squeeze the jeeps through. The staff offers to take photos with your chosen device as they help you through some of those choke points, and that could be really fun for folks.
If I owned this business or was helping them with their marketing, I would share more of the jeep experience photos from their customers. It is a great opportunity to promote your brand and share the bragging rights of your customers about their unique experiences. Literally social media are win-win for everyone involved.
Their website does have some great videos though, and this is worth checking out.
After the jeep adventure and fun, I wanted to do something even more touristy. You see, I am a touristy event or spot junky kind of like a larger Clark Griswold from National Lampoon Vacation fame. I would like the see the world’s largest ball of twine, but I am more likely to stay in a hotel with tepee-shaped rooms or stop at fun but quirky roadside locations on every trip. The cheesier the better at times.
With this in mind, I found my late afternoon event with panning gold. I went to Gold Rush Mining Adventures. I have done a few of these around the country and just like the idea of them. I think it would be good for kids to get interested in something other than video games or smartphones.
The almost complete lack of a website (just one graphic page) kind of caught me off guard (being an online marketer, and computer nerd). But the staff was friendly, and the location was fine.
You basically just purchase the prepared material and run it through their outdoor sluice or use their geode cracker to see what is inside your chosen stone. This place is also a giant funky gift shop, so it is a great spot for kids and adults who love cheaper fun gifts.
Their website does not have anything, but their yelp listing has a video and over 260 photos to check out. For me, I just wanted to support the small business, have a little fun, and get a gift or two mailed back home. That is not a secret, but something most people do not think to do on trips enough. When shopping, just have your items shipped back home. Most stores now will offer this as a service, and many will do it just for the cost of shipping. When you fly somewhere, it makes sense because your items might get lost or damaged on the flight, and often there is an added cost associated with the weight of items on flights now.
The gift shop has gems, fossils, and every kind of quirky gift item one could think of. IE: Mermaid Tear necklaces, silly but fun items every few feet you looked.
After buying and shipping a few items, I headed back to The Club at Big Bear Village to hibernate until morning.
Day Three at The Club at Big Bear Village
Today I was moving early again, but not at 6 AM. I did not process that part of the reason for my early rise was the time change. For me, 6 AM was my 9 AM so that was why I was up and hitting the ground moving every day. This meant sleeping in until even 7 AM California time was like being old cold until 10 AM back home. I do that from time to time because I often and working on digital projects like websites through the night meeting deadlines at times. But on a vacation, you have limited time to see and do so much so getting an early start each day was actually a great idea.
Having grown up on the water, I feel at times like a fish. I feel happiest in and around water and always have. More than half of my life has been lived on the water. From the rivers, I grew up on, to the retirement home of my grandparents, and even my first apartment on a lake. Much of my time on Earth has been spent with water at its heart.
So with that passion in mind, I headed for the Marina to rent a boat for at least part of the day and get to know the lake firsthand.
I went to Big Bear Marina and checked out all the boating rental options. Here they have pontoon boats, little fishing rigs, kayaks, and paddleboards. While I enjoy kayaks a great deal, I opted for power and staying a little dyer by getting a pontoon. I was tempted to hire a small fishing charter but chose to put that on the back burner for the moment.
Instead, I took my pontoon around the lake and got a great feel for the area. The lake is nearly 3,000 acres in size. That may or may not sound huge to you, but it is “huge”. (Said with a former President tone of voice).
This area is not Lake Tahoe which is over 120,000 acres in size and a whole different animal, but Big Bear is a location with a feel all its own.
Here at Big Bear, the altitude ranges from nearly 7,000 feet to over 8,000 feet. Big Bear Lake received on average over 300 days of sunshine every year. In Summer the daytime temps can reach 80 and the nights are still chilly as they drop fast to 45 degrees on average. That means the water here is still cold most of the year. The lake is about 7 miles long and a half-mile wide. Its deepest areas go down to about 72 feet.
It was a fun lake to take the boat out on and look around. I took the boat out for around 3 hours though I think I had rented it for 4. No worries but after 3 hours I wanted to make it back to shore. If I did this next time, I would get a day fishing pass and also spend some time fishing with some rented gear as well.
The water temps here are much closer to the nighttime temps than the day. August and September see the highest water temps here, which still hit only about 64 degrees.
After a day on the water, I was ready to go back and chill out at the resort some. Hitting the heated pool, and later pool tables for a little fun break before I had to start traveling again tomorrow.
If you want a great trip that has some amazing older sites, restaurants, and a fun lake, it would be hard to do better than Big Bear Lake. Just make sure you book it with TZort.