Up in the Alps of Southern California: Lake Arrowhead Travel Guide

Updated 2019

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.

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.

Here’s your year-round travel guide for Lake Arrowhead, California.

Lake Arrowhead Village California
A summer day at Lake Arrowhead Village

Things To Do When It’s Warm

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.

Explore Town

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, over in Blue Jay, not too far from the village, the Lake Arrowhead Brewfest takes place every August. 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. The beach club is a fun lakeside spot that should make a great home for the brewfest!

Lake Arrowhead California dock
An afternoon at the family dock on Lake Arrowhead

Hit the Water

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!

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!

Lake Arrowhead Brewfest Blue Jay
Sampling beer at the Lake Arrowhead Brewfest in Blue Jay

Enjoy the Outdoors

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. Additionally, there are several other hiking and biking trails around the mountain of varying difficulty.

Visit the Museum

The Mountain History Museum is open each year from the end of May through the middle of October. The museum features art exhibits, local history, and hosts events. It’s operated by the Rim of The World Historical Society. Stop by to learn all about the local area!

Arrowhead Queen Lake Arrowhead Village winter
The Arrowhead Queen on a winter evening at the village

Things To Do When It’s Cold

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.

Get in the Holiday Spirit

At Christmas time, Lake Arrowhead 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!

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. During the summer it’s mainly a mountain bike park, but in the winter it’s a great place to get in the spirit and see Santa’s Village.

Lake Arrowhead California winter
A view of the lake in the winter

Hit the Slopes or Catch a Movie

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.

If outdoor winter activities aren’t your jam, you can always catch a movie at Blue Jay Cinema or stay in and cozy up by the fire!

Lakefront Taproom Bar + Kitchen Lake Arrowhead
Holiday decor at the Lakefront Taproom Bar + Kitchen

Where To Eat

There are lots of great places to eat up in the mountains year-round.  Several the restaurants up there have been there for many years and are local institutions.

For breakfast, try Belgian Waffle Works in the Village and Bill’s Villager Coffee Shop in Blue Jay. Both have lots of delicious morning offerings! 

Back up the the village, 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.

Another long-time mountain spot is Lake Arrowhead Pizza. With pizza, sandwiches, appetizers, beer, and arcade games, there’s something for everyone.

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.

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.

Nearby is Stone Creek Bistro, an upscale eatery focusing on local and seasonal ingredients. 

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.

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.

Plus, there are also lots of great prepared food options at Jensen’s, the grocery store in town.

There are many other great restaurants in neighboring mountain communities, like Cedar Glen (like the Cedar Glenn Inn) 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!

Lake Arrowhead California summer
A summer day at the lake

Where To Stay

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.

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 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 is Lake Arrowhead Resort & Spa. They’re located right next to the village and they’ve got a great restaurant, too.

If camping is your thing, there are a few campsites around as well!

No matter where you choose to hang your hat, you’ll be able to enjoy the magic of the mountains.

San Bernardino Mountains California
View of the San Bernardino Mountains on the drive up to Lake Arrowhead

Getting There

To get up to Lake Arrowhead, you’ll need to drive. From the Los Angeles, you’ll head east toward San Bernardino. You’ll then take CA-18/N Waterman Avenue 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 at parts, so be careful there. 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.

Lake Arrowhead California winter
A view of the lake in winter

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. Cheers!

Find more California travel guides here.

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