In most of Southern California, a white Christmas may be the stuff of movies and the memories of people who grew up elsewhere. However, many call Lake Arrowhead the “Alps of Southern California” and it’s the ideal place to get away from the crowds and enjoy the holiday season the way you’d imagine it should be enjoyed.
Depending how the traffic gods are feeling, Lake Arrowhead is about a two-hour drive from the Los Angeles area. Leaving the city fumes behind, as you ascend into the unfolding hills, a crisp, thin veil of air surrounds you with scents of firs, pines and spruce, turning the whole mountain range into a living Christmas tree lot.
A great place to spend a weekend or a winter break is the centrally located Lake Arrowhead Resort and Spa. Our room fit the four of us perfectly, with two queen-sized beds, a balcony overlooking the lake with evergreens and glimpses of rust and golden oaks surrounding it. We could have also brought our golden retriever. The whole town is dog friendly and we saw many tongues dangling from four-legged friends who brought their own fur.
A heated pool and hot tub called to us in which we enjoyed the contrast of the cool air and hot water. Snow was still a whispered promise when we visited right before Thanksgiving, but we could see the plows on the sides of the road getting ready for action. For when the hoped for white powder arrives, close-by Snowdrift Snow Tubing is SoCal’s largest and longest-operating inner-tube park. Also, about 27 miles away is Big Bear Mountain Resort, which combines super fun trails at Snow Summit and Bear Mountain ski resorts for both beginners and advanced show-offs. Snow Valley is closer, at about 14 miles and great for beginners.
Don’t miss the 8,000-square-foot Spa of the Pines, where treatments utilize essential oils specific to the client’s needs. The signature massage includes hot stones to relieve stress and kinks from your body and a post-treatment relaxation room is mostly made of windows that open to green swirls of forest and the calm lake.
When you’re ready for dinner, on-site restaurant BIN 189 has one of the best charcuterie platters we’ve ever had. Also, we loved the guacamole, which must come from avocado trees growing in a hidden garden, it’s so fresh, with the crispiest, homemade chips. They take pride in locally sourcing their food and choose vendors that don’t use GMOs. The boys loved the crispy chicken fingers and Caesar salad and mommy loved the bites she snuck from them. The chicken had just the right amount of crunch, the salad dressing was a divine combination of salt-spiced parmesan cheese and tangy anchovies. Also, a huge bonus, the restaurant allowed my husband and I to split our two main dishes, the Alaskan Halibut and Campbell River Salmon, so we were able to sample the full experience of each dish, instead of just partial bites.
Room service with a view of the lake was the perfect way to start the next day. After, we took a 10-minute drive to Skypark at Santa’s Village, a combination of holiday tradition and mountain thrill. Depending on the ages of your family and level of thrill they’re seeking, there’s enough variety of activities to keep you entertained for a couple days. Snow Quest is a scavenger hunt with a tube of magic glitter and a crystal as the final reward but the real payoff are the activities along the way that are easier to discover if you’re being guided by a game. We found the Magic Tree Bouldering Room, where the boys practically skipped through the small, extended plastic pieces set along the walls while mommy felt every muscle in her forearms the next day from trying. Then, the boys raced against others on oversized bikes with snow tires along a winding track, shot arrows into bales of straw at Serrano Archery Range and flipped their hearts out at Blitzen’s Bungee. We saw kids riding free balance bikes hanging around the rails and adults jumping mountain bikes on professionally designed trails. Bikes are available to rent. Zipliners sped overhead and North Pole characters beckoned with homemade treats everywhere. There’s also a frozen pond for ice skating. There’s even trails to hike and fly fishing clinics to learn. Restaurants and elf-filled variety shows offer a little rest between all the fun.
A lovely 10-minute walk from the resort will take you to Lake Arrowhead Village, where there are 50 lakeside shops, restaurants and galleries. We tried dinner at The Grill at Lake Arrowhead & Sushi Bar. Though they don’t serve sushi on Monday and Tuesday, you can still get dishes that are close enough, like the Thai Seared Tuna Salad with Noodles, slightly peanutty and so good. Also delicious is the Poke Salad, though they had run out of rice the night we went and offered us a free dessert, instead, which was way better.
Since there was so much to see at the Village, we went back the next day and ate breakfast at Belgian Waffle Works, worth every carb and gram of sugar; explored some of the shops; and got a closer look around the lake with an Arrowhead Queen Boat Tour. Captain Don showed us many celebrity homes around the lake and confided stories of famous people who lived, loved and played on the placid shores. One funny story we heard was, in the winter, boat owners tent their boats inside their covered docks and raccoons are known to find their way inside and start families. So, in the spring, owners chase them off by blaring rap music! Toward the end of the tour, Captain Don let the kids drive the boat, which they loved.
After lunch, the boys found the arcade inside the Lake Arrowhead Deli, Pizza and Arcade, fun for everyone because it was the first time we got to play pinball with them, which they’d never seen. Also fun in the Village, but only on weekends during winter, is Lollipop Park where kids can ride a carousel, bumper cars and, of course, eat lollipops.
Once the novelty of seeing your breath and throwing snowballs wears off, Southern California families, and those living in warm climates, can go home after experiencing winter. There’s something magical about being able to drive two hours and, once again, slip on flip flops and head into the surf after being surrounded by your white Christmas.