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, gorgeous scenery, and sublime calm, it’s easy to see why.
Above: Out on Lake Arrowhead
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. It has continued to be an escape for us from the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles. And while a lot has changed over the years, the allure of the mountains has remained.
Here’s your travel guide with all you need to know for a visit to Lake Arrowhead, California any time of year.
Above: 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.
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.
Above: Sampling some local beer at the Lake Arrowhead Brewfest!
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 (usually the second weekend of the month). It’s a super fun local event with plenty of delicious craft beverages to enjoy!
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!
Above: A lazy summer afternoon at the family dock
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!
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 trails around the mountain of varying difficulty.
Above: 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, 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, lovely stay.
At Christmas time, you’ll find Santa in the village. So make sure the little ones have got their letters ready!
Above: A chilly morning on the lake
Another yuletide attraction near Arrowhead is SkyPark at Santa’s Village in Skyforest. This retro theme park recently reopened, to the delight of Southern California residents.
In the winter, you can still do some hiking around the lake (depending on how cold it is). There are also some options for skiing, snowboarding, and sledding around other areas of the mountain.
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!
Above: Holiday decor at the Lakefront Taproom Bar + Kitchen
Where To Eat
There are lots of great places to eat up in the mountains. Several the restaurants up there have been there for years, and with good reason.
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!
Above: Waterfront view at the village
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 newer 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 bar food. For a drink and a bite, stop by the Grapevine wine bar!
Nearby is Stone Creek Bistro, an upscale eatery focusing on local and seasonal ingredients.
Above: Blue Jay Cinema, a town landmark and local institution!
For a quick bite in Blue Jay, stop into Santiago’s Taco Shop. Plus, there are also lots of great prepared food options at Jensen’s, the grocery store in town.
During my last visit I saw a couple new restaurants have opened, so I’ll update the guide once I’ve tried those too.
There are many other great restaurants in neighboring mountain communities, like Cedar Glen and Skyforest as well!
Above: Afternoon swimming at the dock
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 I recommend the Lake Arrowhead Resort & Spa (they’re 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.
Above: View from an early morning drive up the mountain
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.