As the Snow Flies
By Arrissia Owen
The Inland Empire isn’t exactly known for its vacation destinations like, say, Los Angeles or Laguna Beach, but that’s not to say we don’t have our share of tourist traps worthy of some expendable income. There are plenty of hot spots within a tankful of gas worthy of a day trip, a weekend or, hell, even an entire week of vacation time—and you’ll be keeping it local.
For Shredders: Big Bear Lake
If you still think that Big Bear ski resorts have fake snow, you are mistaken. Artificial snow? Like that white fluffy stuff at the mall by the Santa house?
Um, no. Big Bear Lake has real snow, and the resorts have millions invested in creating the most dependable snow conditions in Southern California to add to Old Man Winter’s gifts. There is only one ingredient in man-made snow: water. That water comes from Big Bear Lake, as in the actual lake in the city of Big Bear Lake. That is confusing. We’ll give you that.
This season, there’s been a steady dump of snow from the heavens above, keeping the town itself a winter wonderland and slowly building a base at Bear Mountain and Snow Summit resorts’ combined 440 developed acres. But to maximize the dew point potential, the resorts atomize water and blow it into the cold, dry mountain air, basically helping Mother Nature speed things along.
But the big news at Snow Summit is that the resort turns 60 this year. As a gift to itself, the resort got a newly expanded Snow Summit Bear Bottom Lodge where the existing deck got a 960-square foot addition to make more room for the party. There’s also a new bar, the Slopeslide Pub, an indoor-outdoor pub named for its view of lower Miracle Mile and Summit Run.
Sister resort Bear Mountain, always innovating, expanded its newish Red Bull Plaza, taking over all of Powder Bowl to replicate an urban skate spot on the slopes. The buzz this year is all about the plaza’s five new features.
There’s the giant Red Bull wall, the 32-foot long parking garage and a 40-foot double-sided gateway box. There’s a multi-use object called the City Center with more approaches than a seasoned salesman, and the Cop Shop with its wall-box-jump and chopped police cruiser multi-feature.
For the younger set looking to work their way up to the master jibs, Bear Mountain offers the Riglet Park for children ages 3 to 6. It’s a safe haven where the wee ones can take advantage of Burton’s Learn-to-Ride Technology and skilled instructors to get the hang of the sport in a fun, playground-like setting. They’ll soon be the real deal.
Bear Mountain Resort, 43101 Goldmine Dr., Big Bear Lake. Snow Summit Resort, 880 Summit Blvd., Big Bear Lake. (800) 866-5766; www.bigbearmountainresorts.com.
Stuff Your Gullets and Drink Hot Toddies: Lake Arrowhead/Blue Jay
If you’re looking to escape the ski slope crowds and just have a nice night or weekend out in search of epicurean delights in an Alpine atmosphere, head to the Lake Arrowhead area for your fill of decadence.
BIN189 in Lake Arrowhead sets the standard for the area’s fine dining, giving rustic modern chic a run for its cache. Located inside the Lake Arrowhead Resort and Spa, the fine dining establishment makes moose antler chandeliers chic. Try the miso-crusted Chilean sea bass, BIN189’s specialty.
27984 Highway 189, Lake Arrowhead, (909) 337-4189; www.laresort.com.
A little off the beaten path in Twin Peaks sits The Grill at Antlers Inn, lodge-style dining cozy enough for a romantic night out and friendly enough
for a sophisticated meal with the fam. If you’re feeling easy like Sunday morning, opt for the Grill’s brunch menu featuring items like its bacon, lettuce and tomato pizza—and eggs served until 2 p.m. They also serve up some mean sushi.
26125 Hwy. 189, Twin Peaks, (909) 336-2600; www.thegrillatantlers.com.
Then there’s the retro Cedar Glen Malt Shop dishing up burgers and shakes since 1946. Shimmy up to the counter and pair a Cadillac Coupe de Ville, a.k.a. the bacon cheeseburger, with a peanut butter shake and fries.
29125 Hook Creek Rd., Cedar Glen, (909) 337-6640; www.cedarglenmaltshop.com.
Belgian Waffle Works in the Lake Arrowhead Village is a waffle lovers dream with enough diversity on the menu to take along friends looking for sandwiches and burgers, as well. But for the waffle crew: Stay simple with the classic Belgian breakfast waffle or dig into the Boston Cream, Hot Apple Annie, Banana Cream or Peach Melba varieties. Want S’more? They have that, too.
28200 Hwy. 189, Lake Arrowhead, (909) 337-5222; www.belgianwaffle.com.
Run for the Tex-Mex border at Texifornia Tamale Company in Blue Jay if you’re feeling zesty. Everything’s made from scratch, bringing together authentic Texas-style barbecue and Mexican delights. The restaurant’s known for its tamales, from spicy brisket and green chicken chili to jalapeno cheese and black bean corn. Cheers.
27226 Highway 189, Blue Jay, (909) 336-1200; www.texiforniatamale.com.
Looking for a peaceful desert storm: Joshua Tree
Joshua Tree might not be the first winter getaway destination that pops into mind. But once you visit during the summer, you’ll realize the mild winter climate is literally a pretty cool time of year to explore some desert scenery as you mentally play U2 in your head on a constant loop.
There is no escaping the area’s namesake, the crooked, spiky ubiquitous trees that Bono and the guys paid homage to. They can grow as high as 40 feet and look like they’re praying to the heavens.
While the winter days are still much warmer than most other areas in the Inland Empire, be warned that overnight temperatures can drop drastically so bundle up if you’re camping. The chill will be well worth it as you gaze star struck into the most beautiful, wide-open skies anywhere in California.
There are nine campgrounds total, with three accepting reservations. All campgrounds except Black Rock Canyon are open year-round. People hauling trailers may prefer neighboring campgrounds White Tank and Belle. The boulders block the wind and provide shade.
If you fancy yourself a bit of a map and compass person, register at one of the backcountry boards and bunk under the stars at least a mile from any roads and 500 feet from any trails. You may find a pristine area perfect for some extreme bocce between the boulders.
Joshua Tree National Park has more than 7,000 rock climbs available year-round at every rating that attract people from worldwide. Hidden Valley Campground is filled with rock climbers, with tents set up everywhere between huge monzogranite boulders. You may even spy a few quail or bighorn sheep.
Other rock climbing hot spots include Wonderland of Rocks and Jumbo Rocks. If you are new to the sport, book a lesson or guide at Joshua Tree Rock Climbing School (www.joshuatreerockclimbing.com). Once you get to the top of the sticky, rarely crumbly granite, you’re rewarded with a sublime high-desert view.
Strap on your hiking shoes because the area offers everything from easy, quick nature walks with interpretative signs to strenuous climbs over boulders and up to desolate peaks. Search out the elusive ocotillo, the wildest looking cactus in the bunch.
Highlights include the 49 Palms and Los Palms oases, mini tropical paradises that appear out of nowhere. At Wonderland of Rocks, huge boulders make up a stony wilderness filled with gigantic granite formations. On Barker Dam Trail, you’ll find American Indian rock paintings.
There’s also the Bill Keys Desert Queen Ranch built in the early 1900s inside a rocky canyon that is now part of the national park. You can go on a 90-minute guided walking tour through the homesteader family’s remote ranch house, school, store and workshop. Tickets must be pre-purchased at a visitor center. (www.nps.gov/jotr/planyourvisit/programs.htm)
There are four paved bike trails and fire roads in Joshua Tree: Old Lost Horse Road Trail and Old Queen Valley Historic Road Trail, California Riding and Hiking Trail and the Thermal Canyon Bike Trail, in order of difficulty. Biking is not permitted in the open desert.
Dress in layers and be prepared for flash foods during inclement weather. Be careful around washes.
If you need a dose of civilization, Crossroads Café at the entrance to the park serves a scrumptious seitan sandwich or a hefty half-pound burger.
61715 29 Palms Hwy., Joshua Tree, (760) 366-5414; www.crossroadscafejtree.com.
You can also try the NY-style slices at Pie for the People across the street 61740 29 Palms Hwy., Joshua Tree, (760) 366-0400; www.pieforthepeople.net.
You can approach Joshua Tree from the west via Interstate 10 and Highway 62 (29 Palms Highway). The north entrances to the park are located at the towns of Joshua Tree and 29 Palms. The south entrance at Cottonwood Spring, which lies 25 miles east of Indio, can be approached from the east or west, also via Interstate 10.
Forget shoveling snow. Palm Springs offers a warm refuge with all the Rat Pack-style vibe desired, plus quirky vintage shops and classic, mid-century architecture. The palm trees will help you leave the pines behind, and there’s always a festival or two to welcome you. The city’s average temperature in January is 69 degrees. Hello, flip-flops.
As you probably know, the area boasts multiple casinos and about 100 golf courses, so we’re pretty sure you can find those. We wanted to clue you in on some of the lesser-known attractions the area has to offer.
If you can swing a room and leave the kiddos behind, check out the über-hip Ace Hotel and Swim Club, a 1960s-era remodel constructed with earth-friendly materials. The year-round outdoor pool is the main attraction, open until 2 a.m. with live music and DJs. Go for drinks in the Amigo Room and take your festivities to the patio.
701 E. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs, (760) 325-9900; www.acehotel.com.
Why not check out the Riviera Resort and Spa, where stars like Elvis Presley, Bob Hope and Frank Sinatra lounged back in the day With $70 million pumped into the place for renovations, the joint is back to its salacious self.
1600 N. Indian Canyon Dr., Palm Springs, (760) 327-8311; www.psriviera.com.
Then it’s time for some sightseeing. You’re on vacation, after all. The Moorten Botanical Garden and Cactarium is home to about 3,000 examples of desert cacti and plants grouped by geographic regions.
Founders Chester “Cactus Slim” Moorten and his biologist wife Patricia designed and installed landscapes for Sinatra and, thanks to their local hobnobbing with Walt Disney, helped design the western theme of Frontierland at Disneyland back when it opened.
1701 S. Palm Canyon Dr., Palm Springs, (760) 327-6555; www.moortengarden.com.
The Palm Springs Air Museum, dedicated to the restoration and preservation of American’s legendary fighters, bombers and trainers, houses one of the world’s largest collections of flying WWII airplanes. Climb up and check out the cockpits that won The People’s War.
745 N. Gene Autry Trail, Palm Springs, (760) 778-6262; palmspringsairmuseum.org.
The Living Desert in neighboring Palm Desert, a 1,200-acre zoo and botanical garden, is rife with mountain lions, wolves, javelins, bobcats, golden eagles and more. Nestled at the foothills of the Santa Rosa Mountains, the animal park offers a glimpse into desert life around the world through the eyes of its inhabitants.
74485 National Monument Dr., Twentynine Palms, (760) 367-5500; www.livingdesert.org.
To relax, head to one of Desert Hot Springs’s 22 boutique mineral spa resorts. The area boasts the only aquifer of thermal, mineral spring water in Southern California. Relax, and maybe even feel like a new you after a soak.
Then just when you start to miss a cozy fireplace and your favorite faux fur-lined parka, hop on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway for a 15-minute ride up to Chino Canyon at a whopping 8,000 feet. Just go for the view, a meal at Peaks Restaurant (www.pstramway.com) or shake off that desert vibe with a shock to the system: snow camping! Once there’s enough snowfall the Adventure Center opens, offering rental equipment for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. There’s also an ideal winter playground for sledding or the occasional snowball fight. Watch your back.
Family fun and small-town atmosphere: Idyllwild
With no big ski resort in its midst the bucolic Idyllwild, about 10 miles from the Mountain Station at the top of the tram, remains one of the Inland Empire’s secret treasures. There is no public transit from the Mountain Station to Idyllwild, so you would need to hike it or take a cab if you combine trips.
Known mostly for its world-class arts school, the Idyllwild Arts Academy and Summer Program, the area is a thriving arts community with creativity galore. The little mountain town nestled in the San Jacinto Mountains is set among the tall pines, sweet-smelling cedars and legendary rocks, perfect for a rollicking snowball fight or practicing the fine art of snowman construction.
Idyllwild offers a refuge for sledders and snowshoers, away from the throngs of skiers and snowboarders making their way to Big Bear Lake, Running Springs and Wrightwood. There’s sledding to be had at Upper Fern Valley at Humber Park, which requires an Adventure Pass through the Forest Service at the Idyllwild Ranger’s Station.
(909) 382-2921; www.fs.usda.gov/sbnf.
The area also offers plenty of snowshoeing, which is like hiking with the added fun of freezing snow under your feet and special shoes that don’t really look like shoes at all. They’re more like small tennis rackets. If you’re in need of snowshoes, you can rent or buy them at Nomad Ventures. (www.nomadventures.com).
To warm up, head into town. Idyllwild still has its provincial feel, with locally owned galleries, shops and eateries. For the latter, our picky pallets prefer Café Aroma’s garlic bisque with leeks and potatoes topped with croutons to warm us up after our frostbitten frolicking.
54750 North Circle, Idyllwild, (951) 659-5212; www.cafearoma.org.