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Lake Arrowhead is a town nestled high up in California’s 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 and gorgeous scenery it’s easy to see why.
With Big Bear Lake nearby, the lake was once called Little Bear Lake, but was later renamed Lake Arrowhead. As you begin to drive up the mountain on Highway 18 from San Bernardino, you can see the shape of a large, stone Arrowhead on the side of the mountain.
Lake Arrowhead has been a big part of my family for generations. My great-grandparents first started visiting when my grandmother was young, and since then, each generation has grown up with Arrowhead as as second home. And while a lot has changed over the years, the allure of the mountains has remained.
During the summer, Lake Arrowhead is bustling with boaters, concerts, and events. During the winter, the lake is cool and calm, but with plenty of holiday festivity. No matter, the season, there’s plenty to do up at Lake Arrowhead. Plus, it’s close enough for a day trip or weekend getaway.
Here’s your travel guide for what to do in Lake Arrowhead, California.
Visit Lake Arrowhead Village
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.
During the summer, the village is buzzing with activities. There are concerts every weekend and various other events, like classic car and boat shows, throughout the warm months. Plus, there’s lakeside Lollipop Park with kid-friendly rides and play areas.
At Christmas time, the village gets all decked out for the holidays. The shops are decorated, the tree is up, and Santa stops by for regular visits. So head on over the the village for some holiday cheer, and make sure the little ones have got their letters ready!
Lake Arrowhead Village is located at 28200 CA-189, Lake Arrowhead, CA 92352.
See Blue Jay
Blue Jay is a small community near the lake located along highway 189. It’s home to some restaurants (more on those later!), shops, a grocery store, and movie theater.
Jensen’s Finest Foods is a mountain institution right in Blue Jay. It’s a grocery store complete with prepared foods and a bakery. Plus, there is a Starbucks inside as well. It’s a great place to stop to stock up on supplies for your visit to the mountains.
Jensen’s is located at 27264 CA-189, Blue Jay, CA 92317.
Here you’ll also find local landmark Blue Jay Cinemas. The movie theater plays both new releases and classics. It’s a great spot to catch a movie if you need to get out of the sun in the summer or escape the cold during the winter.
Blue Jay Cinemas is located at 27315 N Bay Rd, Blue Jay, CA 92317.
Plus, the Lake Arrowhead Brewfest takes place every August outside Jensene’s in Blue Jay. It’s a super fun local event with plenty of delicious craft beverages to enjoy! (Update: Starting in 2019, the Lake Arrowhead Brewfest will take place at the Tavern Bay Beach Club in early September.)
Enjoy the Lake
Summer in Lake Arrowhead is simply magical.
Down at the lake, tall pine trees line the shore as the water shimmers with sunlight. Boaters cruise by while kids swim around their docks and kayakers paddle through the bays. The warm air and blue skies create a perfect summer paradise.
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 Lake Arrowhead 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!
Lake Arrowhead is a private lake, so you can’t rent a boat and ride around on your own.
However, you have a couple options for getting out on the lake as a visitor. You can take a ride on the Arrowhead Queen, book a tour through your hotel (depending on the hotel), or head out with the McKenzie Water Ski School. If all else fails, find yourself some friendly locals and take a ride with them!
Of course, up in the mountains, there are also lots of outdoor activities.
There’s an easy hiking trail that runs along the shore, with wonderful lake views the along the way. If you’re staying in a cabin or hotel near the lake, you’ll be able to access this trail from your accommodation. There are clear trail markers from the Arrowhead Lake Association (ALA), to show the way.
Additionally, there are several other hiking and biking trails around the mountain of varying difficulty. However, you are required to have a permit to park at some of the trail heads.
For more information about hiking trails around the mountain, visit the Lake Arrowhead Communities Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center. Find their hiking guide here.
The Lake Arrowhead Communities Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center is located in Lake Arrowhead Village at Suite #O1-270 28200, CA-189, Lake Arrowhead, CA 92352.
Visit the Museum
The Mountain History Museum is open each year in summer through mid-fall. The museum features exhibits, local history, and hosts events. It’s operated by the Rim of The World Historical Society. It’s a great place to stop by to learn all about the local area!
The Mountain History Museum is open from the end of May through the middle of October. It’s open Friday from 12:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (hours may vary by year). There is no admission fee for the museum, but donations are welcomed.
The Mountain History Museum is located at 27176 Peninsula Dr, Lake Arrowhead, CA 92352.
See Santa’s Village
Another yuletide attraction near Lake Arrowhead is SkyPark at Santa’s Village in Skyforest.
This retro theme park recently reopened, to the delight of Southern California residents. The park is a combination of outdoor recreation, amusement park, and Christmas decor. It’s a great place for families to get in the spirit and see Santa’s Village!
However, there’s activity year-round at the park. During the summer, SkyPark focuses on outdoor recreation. It’s a popular mountain biking park full of trails to explore.
Hours at SkyPark at Santa’s Village vary by season. The park is located at 28950 CA-18, Skyforest, CA 92385.
Enjoy some Cool Weather in the Winter
As it doesn’t exactly get cold in LA, Lake Arrowhead is a perfect place to escape and get some wintry weather.
Winter temperatures vary, 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 stay.
In the winter, you can still do some hiking around the lake (depending on how cold it is). The trail that runs around the perimeter of the lake is a great way to enjoy those lake views in wintertime as well!
There are also some options for skiing, snowboarding, and sledding around other areas of the mountain, like at Big Bear, Snow Valley Mountain Resort, or the Rim Nordic Ski Area.
Where To Eat
There are lots of great places to eat up in the mountains year-round. Several the restaurants up there are years-old local institutions, while we’ve got several recent additions as well!
Restaurants in Blue Jay
For breakfast, try Bill’s Villager Coffee Shop. Bill’s is a cozy spot with a diner feel and a menu full of breakfast classics.
Bill’s Villager Coffee Shop is located at 27195 CA-189, Blue Jay, CA 92317.
If you need a quick bite, pop into Hot Shots Coffeehouse. The coffeehouse offers breakfast and lunch dishes, as well as frozen yogurt and happy hour specials.
Hot Shots Coffeehouse is located at 27212 CA-189, Blue Jay, CA 92317.
Dogwood Tavern is a bar that recently opened in Blue Jay. It’s a fun spot with bar games, drinks, and food in a nicely redone space.
Dogwood Tavern is located at 27187 CA-189, Blue Jay, CA 92317.
For a quick bite in Blue Jay, stop into Santiago’s Taco Shop. As the name suggests, it’s a great spot to grab some tacos.
Santiago’s Taco Shop is located at 27226 CA-189 #2028, Blue Jay, CA 92317.
Restaurants in Lake Arrowhead Village
*All restaurants are in the village at 28200 CA-189, Lake Arrowhead, CA 92352
For breakfast in the village, try Belgian Waffle Works. As suggested, Belgian Waffle Works has a smorgasbord of waffles. It’s a great morning spot with views of the water!
Head to Papagayos for some Mexican food. It’s a mountain institution that’s been around for as long as I can remember; the location has changed since I was a kid, but the food remains delicious. They’ve got an awesome patio for enjoying lake views.
Another long-time mountain spot is Lake Arrowhead Pizza. With pizza, sandwiches, appetizers, beer, and arcade games, there’s something for everyone. Lake Arrowhead Pizza is on the upper level of the village near Stater Bros.
A newish addition to the village is Lakefront Taproom Bar and Kitchen. 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 upscale bar food. Lakefront Taproom Bar and Kitchen is located next to Papagayo’s.
For a drink and a bite, stop by the Grapevine wine bar! This fairly new addition to the village serves great food and plenty of vino. The Grapevine is just down the way from the Papagayo’s and the taproom.
Restaurants in Agua Fria
Nearby is Stone Creek Bistro, an upscale eatery focusing on local and seasonal ingredients. This cozy spot serves modern American and French comfort food.
Stone Creek Bistro is located at 26824 CA-189, Twin Peaks, CA 92391.
Puglia Italian Restaurant serves classic Italian cuisine, complete with homemade gnocchi.
Puglia Italian Restaurant is located at 26848 CA-189, Twin Peaks, CA 92391.
There are many other great restaurants in neighboring mountain communities, like Cedar Glen (the Cedar Glenn Inn, for instance) and Skyforest (see: LouEddies Pizza) as well!
Several other new restaurants have opened up recently in the area, so further updates are on the way!
Where To Stay in Lake Arrowhead
When visiting Lake Arrowhead, you can either rent a cabin, stay at a hotel, or camp. It all depends on what sort of vacation you’re looking for in the mountains.
If you like hanging around the house and firing up the grill or tending to something simmering on the stove, rent a cabin.
There are cabins close to the village, near the water, or further up in the mountains. The location you choose will depend on the time of year you visit and what you’d like to do while you’re there.
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, inn, or lodge. There are a couple to choose from, but perhaps the most well known and convenient is Lake Arrowhead Resort and Spa. They’re located right next to the village and they’ve got a great restaurant, too.
The Lake Arrowhead Resort and Spa is located at 27984 Hwy 189, Lake Arrowhead, CA 92352.
If camping is your thing, there are a few campsites around as well!
One nearby campsite is the North Shore Campground. The campground has tent camping, picnic tables, restrooms, and drinking water. Pets are allowed, but must be on leashes.
North Shore Campground is open from the end of April through the end of September. Single sites are $25 per night. The campground is located at 29102 Hospital Rd, San Bernardino, CA 92402.
Another campground in the area is Dogwood Campground. Here you can camp in tents as well as trailers (there are RV hookups). The campground has got picnic tables, restrooms, and drinking water. Pets are allowed here as well, but also must be on leashes at all times. Also note that bears are common in this area, so food must be kept in bear-proof containers.
Dogwood Campground is open from the end of April through the end of October. Single sites are $34.50 per night. The campground is located at 26898 Rim of the World Hwy, Rimforest, CA 92378.
Both North Shore Campground and Dogwood Campground are located just a couple miles from Lake Arrohwead Village.
No matter where you choose to hang your hat, you’ll be able to enjoy the magic of the mountains.
How to Get to Lake Arrowhead and Get Around the Mountain
Driving to Lake Arrowhead
To get up to Lake Arrowhead, you’ll need to drive.
From the Los Angeles area, you’ll head east toward San Bernardino on the I-210. You’ll then take the CA-18/N Waterman Avenue exit and start heading up the mountain. On the mountain, you’ll split off onto the CA-189 E toward Lake Arrowhead.
There are just a couple things to keep in mind about driving up the mountain. It’s pretty windy, so be careful. Additionally, the road conditions vary in the winter, so make sure to check the weather and have snow chains with you. You can check on road conditions here.
Getting Around Lake Arrowhead
Once you’re up at Lake Arrowhead, you’ll probably want a car to get around as well. The easiest way to get around the mountain is to drive.
However, depending on where you’re staying, you might not need to drive much. If you’re staying in or near the village, for instance, you’ll be able to get around on foot.
As far as public transportation goes, there is a trolley that serves Lake Arrowhead and the other mountain communities during the summer. Find information on routes, fares, and schedules here.
The closest airports are the San Bernardino International Airport and the Ontario International Airport, both at the bottom of the mountain. The closest airports are also at the bottom of the mountain in the San Bernardino area.
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; the beautiful scenery and atmosphere will leave you feeling serene. Make your way to Lake Arrowhead any time of year for a peaceful escape.