Lake Arrowhead: Southern California’s Winter Wonderland

Lake Arrowhead is a town nestled high up in the San Bernardino Mountains. About an hour and a half from Los Angeles, this mountain gem has served as a getaway for Southern California residents for many years. With its alpine atmosphere, gorgeous scenery, and sublime calm, it’s easy to see why.

Lake Arrowhead has been a big part of my family for generations. My great-grandparents first got a place up there in the 1920s, and since then, each generation has grown up with Arrowhead as as second home. It has continued to be an escape for us from the hustle and bustle of the southland. And while a lot has changed over the years, the allure of the mountains has remained.

I love visiting Lake Arrowhead at all times of the year. As there are different things to do during different seasons up in this mountainous haven, I plan to write different posts for each time of year. Today’s focus: winter.

As it doesn’t exactly get cold in LA, Arrowhead is a perfect place to get some wintry weather. Winter temperatures range anywhere from the mid-20s to mid-50s, so you may or may not have snow. While it’s lovely to have snow on the ground, it can make traveling up the mountain more difficult, so there are upsides either way. No matter what, you’ll have a relaxing, magical experience.

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Above: Early morning in the San Bernardino Mountains

Where to Stay

When visiting Lake Arrowhead in the winter, you can either rent a cabin or stay at a hotel. (There actually are some winter camping options, too, if that’s your style.) It all depends on what sort of vacation you’re looking for.

If you like lazing around the house with a roaring fire and something simmering on the stove, rent a cabin. There are a variety of different sites you can use to find the right cabin for you. If you prefer the comfort and convenience of having someone else do the work, stay at a hotel. There are a couple to choose from, but I recommend the Lake Arrowhead Resort & Spa (they’ve got a great restaurant, too).

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Above: A cloudy winter morning at Lake Arrowhead Village

What to Do

When in Arrowhead, you must visit Lake Arrowhead Village. With its quaint brown-trimmed white buildings, this European-inspired center has served as a main mountain locale since 1920. It has plenty of shops, restaurants, and activities to explore.

If you want to learn more about Lake Arrowhead history, take a ride on the Arrowhead Queen. The 60-seat paddle-wheeler travels the perimeter of the lake as a tour guide explains all about the history of the area. The hour-long tour departs from the village and goes year-round. The Arrowhead Queen is an institution, and every time we see it from our dock, we wave (as is local custom). So, if you see a bunch of people waving at you, wave back!

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Above: The view from  Lakefront Taproom featuring the Arrowhead Queen

At Christmas time, Santa pays a visit to the Village on weekends. So make sure the little ones have got their letters ready!

Another yuletide attraction near Arrowhead is SkyPark at Santa’s Village in Skyforest. This retro theme park just reopened this year, to the delight of Southern California residents. The park is open year-round and tickets are available online.

Of course, up in the mountains, there are also lots of outdoor activities. There is a hiking trail that runs the entire perimeter of the lake. It’s an easy trail with wonderful lake views the whole way (I hike part of it every time I’m there). There are also a number of other hiking trails around the mountain of varying difficulty. There are also some options for skiing, snowboarding, and sledding around the mountain.

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Above: Fresh pints of Elysian Brewing’s Space Dust IPA at Lakefront Taproom

What to Eat

When dining out in Lake Arrowhead, you’ve got some great options. Most of the restaurants up there have been there for years, and with good reason.

For breakfast, try Belgian Waffle Works in the Village. In addition to a smorgasbord of waffles, there are other breakfast options as well. Another great breakfast choice is Bill’s Villager Coffee Shop in Blue Jay. It features plenty of delicious traditional breakfast options and is conveniently located in town.

If you’re still in Blue Jay for happy hour or dinner, try the Lake Arrowhead Sports Grille. There are great beers on tap and tasty bar food (get the Irish nachos, seriously).

If you find yourself up in the Village around lunch or dinner, you’ve got options as well. If you want Mexican food, head to Papagayos, a mountain institution. It’s been around for as long as I can remember, and the location has changed since I was a kid, but the food remains delicious. Another long-time mountain favorite is Lake Arrowhead Village Pizza. It’s got pizza, sandwiches, appetizers, beer, and arcade games — so there’s something for everyone. Finally, a new addition to the village is Lakefront Taproom, Bar, & Kitchen. The taproom just opened this fall in one of the best locations in the village. It’s got massive windows overlooking the lake, so you can enjoy the view no matter the season. As the name suggests, there are lots of beers available, along with great bar food.

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Above: A Little Free Library on the hiking trail that goes along the perimeter of the lake

This area of the mountains has been called “The Alps of Southern California,” and the name truly suits it. Winding roads curl their way up through the forests and towns high above the cities below. Its beautiful scenery and atmosphere will leave you serene. Whether you’re outdoorsy or prefer to cozy up inside, Lake Arrowhead is the perfect winter trip.

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Above: A view of the lake

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Note: This post was meant to focus only on Lake Arrowhead/Blue Jay in the winter. It barely scratched the surface of things to do in neighboring towns, like Skyforest, Cedar Glen, Crestline, etc. As mentioned, I plan to do posts for each season on mountain life, so I will explore these locales in later posts.

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