BIG BEAR LAKE
It sounds as far as BFE, but BBL is only about 60 to 90 minutes from most of the rest of the IE. And because it’s the biggest Alpine resort in the area, it has the most amenities. Whether you’re looking for a little gold panning, hiking, mountain biking or a day on the lake, the little-yet-large mountain town has what you’re looking for, sans June gloom most days. There are multiple special events most weekends—check out the antique boat show, Old Miners Days, Fourth of July fireworks show, Cowboy Gathering, et al. Bonus: You will actually see yourself driving out of the smog!
Big Bear Lake Resort Association, 630 Bartlett Road, Big Bear Lake, (909) 866-7000; www.bigbear.com.
Usually the only time you hear about Mt. Baldy is when there is a missing skier or hiker, but don’t let that dampen your enthusiasm for this summit in the sky. Part of the San Gabriel Mountains, Mt. Baldy offers plenty of trails—Manker Flats to Baldy Notch or the Baldy Bowl Trail, et al—which are best finished off by a cold brewsky at Baldy Lodge in the heart of Baldy Village. But before you hit the booze, stop in at the Mt. Baldy Ski Lifts for a scenic chair lift ride to see the urban sprawl from a distance that you left behind and remind yourself just what it is that drives you to drink.
Mt. Baldy Ski Lift, 6777 Mt. Baldy Road, Mt. Baldy, (909) 981-3344; www.mtbaldy.com.
SANTA ANA MOUNTAINS
Serving as a natural border between Riverside and Orange counties, the Santa Ana Mountains (which actually start in Chino Hills), also show a whole other side to the OC that doesn’t involved backstabbing trophy wives. There’s the Modjeska House to soak up a little local history, Hidden Ranch for the Wildlands Conservancy, the nearby Great Park in Irvine for a hot air balloon ride and much more. For hiking and mountain bike trails, explore Upper Santiago and Trabuco canyons, or head farther south to Ortega Highway for the Bear Canyon Loop Trail closer to San Juan Capistrano where you can stop in Ortega Oaks Candy Store for trail mix.
Trabuco Ranger District, 1147 E. Sixth St., Corona, (909) 736-1811; www.santaanamountains.org.
SAN JACINTO MOUNTAINS
Anyone who has marveled at the beautiful Coachella sunsets during the behemoth music festival is already familiar with the San Jacinto Mountains. Behind the palm trees of the desert sits 272,000 acres of mountain terrain perfect for outdoorsy fun. Whether you’re tracking big horn sheep, documenting local wildflowers in the Alabama Hills like the Scarlet Locoweed or documenting local stream bottom ecology, you can escape from the city and find your place in nature.
The Monument Visitor Center, 51-500 Highway 74, Palm Desert, 760-862-9984; www.blm.gov/ca/st/en/fo/palmsprings/santarosa.html.