Lake Arrowhead: 'The Alps' of Southern California

Nestled in the majestic mountains of the San Bernardino National Forest, the quaint haven of Lake Arrowhead, with its incredible scenery and natural beauty, is an outdoor lover’s nirvana and one of California’s best-kept secrets.

With its location just a mere two-hour drive from Los Angeles and three from San Diego, getting to this amazing destination is half the fun. Thank goodness for turn-offs along the route, as there are several stop-the-car moments. Each amazing vista while climbing the San Bernardino Mountain chain seems to appear more spectacular than the last.

Lake Arrowhead feels like a totally different world the moment you arrive. Its deep-azure mountain lake, towering pines, fresh alpine air and slower pace is a welcome respite from busy, hectic life.

Staying in Lake Arrowhead

Visitors coming to this area have several choices of accommodations, ranging from camping sites and rustic cabins to inns and lakeside resorts. Our favorite, because of its ideal location and amenities, is the Lake Arrowhead Resort and Spa.

The quintessential mountain retreat is the perfect blend of rustic elegance and modern comfort. Just stepping into the lobby, with its natural wood accents and blazing stone fireplace surrounded by comfortable chairs and mountain-inspired accents, convinced us we were in for a special treat.

Sitting at a mile-high elevation of 5,200-feet, the resort overlooks stunningly picturesque Lake Arrowhead. Spacious rooms and suites, all with décor complimenting the alpine region, offer the perfect accommodations. The resort boasts an outdoor pool and hot tub along with a full-service spa with steam room, sauna and fitness studio. One of our favorite amenities, hands down, is access to the private lake that allows guests to use the paths and facilities typically restricted to only its homeowners.

Aromas Café is perfect for grabbing a coffee, quick sandwich or a healthy smoothie. BIN 189 has indoor and outdoor dining with incredible lakeside views. On Friday and Saturday nights, guests are entertained by live piano, jazz and blues performers.

Just steps from the resort, the Swiss-chalet inspired, easily walkable Lake Arrowhead Village features numerous specialty shops, art galleries, fine dining and entertainment. Every weekend during the summer, locals and visitors gather at Center Stage in the heart of the village for a Summer Concert Series—all free to the public.

Mountain and Lake Adventures

A trip to Lake Arrowhead isn’t complete without seeing the view from the water, and there’s no more leisurely way to experience the lake and its fascinating history and celebrity homes than on the Lake Arrowhead Queen. The 60-minute, live narrated tour on this paddle-wheeler is a must-do. And great news for dog-lovers, canines are more than welcome aboard.

For more adventurous visitors, the lake is extremely popular for water skiing. First timers or more experienced skiers can up their game at the McKenzie Water Ski School. Other fun water activities include dock fishing, charter fishing, guided kayaking and paddleboard tours. You name it. You can do it here.

There’s nothing like a rejuvenating early morning stroll around portions of the lake’s well-maintained paths and walkways. Hikers like us also love the area’s many other opportunities like Heart Rock Trail, an easy 1.7-mile loop that features a natural water slide just below Seeley Creek Falls. The area is so-named for the perfectly carved geologic anomaly-a natural heart-shaped hole in the granite wall alongside the waterfall.

If time allows, the more challenging 6-mile, 2-hour there-and-back Deep Creek Hot Springs/Goat Trail is well worth it. The thermal hot springs located here are magnificent. Of note: visitors to any of the San Bernardino National Forest locations for recreation purposes are required to display a National Forest Adventure Pass in their vehicle. These daily or annual passes can be purchased at any of the area’s ranger stations or online.

There are several places for mountain biking in the area, but Skypark Bike Park is in a league of its own. The trail network here winds through a thick canopy of pine trees in an alpine forest with several well marked, directional mountain bike trails for both beginners and advanced riders.

For one of the best views of the San Bernardino Valley for non-hikers, we recommend a visit to the Strawberry Peak Fire Lookout Tower. A two-mile paved-drive off the main highway gets you to the base of the tower. Climbing the stairs of the 80-foot tower leads to awe-inspiring vistas of the mountains and communities below.

Wildhaven Ranch is an educational visitor center and wildlife sanctuary for endangered and indigenous animals. Operated by the San Bernardino Mountains Wildlife Society, the center has free admission but reservations must be made in advance of a visit. Beautiful sanctuary animal ambassadors include injured and orphaned black bears, coyotes, silver fox, bald eagles, bobcat, mule deer and a great horned owl, among others. Private and group tours are also available for an additional fee.

Wining and Dining in Lake Arrowhead

While there’s no shortage of eateries in Lake Arrowhead, we have to say one of our absolute favorites (and the locals agree) is The Grill at Antler’s Inn, located in nearby Twin Peaks. Housed in a 100-year-old log building, the rustic fine-dining restaurant fits the region to perfection. Reservations are necessary as it’s always packed—and for good reason.

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Sushi is unbelievably popular here, along with delectable salads and entrees featuring fresh-caught fish, chicken, pork and steak. Service is outstanding. We were thrilled to hear they’ve opened a second location in Lake Arrowhead Village with variations of its original menu.

Overlooking the crystalline waters of the lake, The Grapevine is a fun, vibrant place in the village for good wine, craft beer and decadent foods. Offerings range from creative bar bites and charcuterie plates to salads, sandwiches, sliders and flatbreads. It’s also an ideal location for viewing summer concerts on its large outdoor deck.

Author Marty Rubin once said, “Travel doesn’t become an adventure until you leave yourself behind.” Lake Arrowhead, California is one of those places to do just that.

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