Last Updated on May 24, 2023
I admit, I am a creature of the East, born and raised in Ohio. I like the four seasons: the bloom of colorful spring flowers, the lush green of summer, autumn’s falling leaves of gold, red, and brown, and the pristine white winter landscape. But I live in Southern California. To be sure, California has few equals when it comes natural beauty and majesty. That doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes miss the East.
Much to my delight, my spouse and I discovered Lake Arrowhead on a weekend getaway. It is nothing like the palm and semi-desert landscape where we currently live. My eyes did a double-take. It was almost as if we’d been transported back to the Northeast.
Towering pines blanketed the surrounding mountains and a rolling verdant landscape dotted with lovely cabins and vacation homes lined the shores of a lake. I was in heaven.
Driving to Lake Arrowhead
Getting to Lake Arrowhead was half the fun. The drive from San Diego to San Bernadino was heavily trafficked, but once past the urban sprawl, the remainder of the route became stunningly and ever climbing. We stopped numerous times at scenic lookouts to take in the spectacular views.
Literally above the clouds, we watched fingers of fluffy white filling the valleys among the forested slopes below us.
On occasion, we came across clear zones where we could see for miles across the vast San Bernadino Valley. Other times our views were of fog-shrouded layers of mountains as far as the eye could see. The twisty roads continued climbing, past the little town of Crestline and onward to our destination, the charming alpine village of Lake Arrowhead.
Why is Lake Arrowhead So Special?
Located an hour-and-a-half from Los Angeles, and two hours from San Diego, Lake Arrowhead is ideal for a weekend getaway or a longer stay. Nestled high in the heart of the San Bernardino Mountains, it offers that genuine four-season experience – something decidedly rare in Southern California.
Lake Arrowhead is a mountain retreat paradise, filled with a host of local flora and fauna that adds to its authenticity as a true outdoor getaway. Couple this with 310 days of yearly sunshine and you have a perfect vacation destination in any season.
Lake Arrowhead and its sister Big Bear Lake are extremely popular Southern California winter destinations. Snowfall here can be impressive at this altitude and wintertime snow chains are required as driving conditions can swiftly change in a matter of minutes.
With a surface area of 780 acres and 14 miles of picturesque shoreline, Lake Arrowhead is a sight to behold. The lake was created as a reservoir and private recreational area in 1922 with the damming of Little Bear Creek in the San Bernadino Mountains by the Arrowhead Lake Company.
At 185 feet, Lake Arrowhead is one of the deepest man-made lakes in the U.S. It remains a private lake to this day, ensuring its sapphire-colored waters remain pure and pristine. Because it’s a private community, many well-known artists, actors, athletes, and corporate executives have lived or currently reside along the lake in stunning homes that can be viewed from the water.
Our Lake Arrival
I am always big on new adventures. My excitement level rose as we left Highway 18, aptly named ‘Rim of the World Highway,’ following the winding road to Lake Arrowhead. The scenery of cabins shaded under tall pines reminded me of Canada or some hidden vacation spot in New England.
Following the road, we noted that civilization was present, but in a very subdued way – a gas station or small grocer, a shop or two, and then more forest and hills. Finally, through the towering trees, we saw the striking cobalt waters of Lake Arrowhead. We soon arrived at our destination, the Lake Arrowhead Resort and Spa.
While Lake Arrowhead offers many lodging choices ranging from small inns and hotels, cabins, camp sites, quaint bed and breakfasts to innumerable vacation rental homes, we chose the Lake Arrowhead Resort and Spa for our first and subsequent visits to this gorgeous mountain hamlet.
Lake Arrowhead Resort and Spa
Sitting literally a mile-high, this lakeside resort is surrounded by towering cedars and ponderosa pines. Immediately, I felt we were somewhere in the Adirondacks of upstate New York rather than sunny Southern California. It was so delightfully different from our usual environs.
Lake Arrowhead Resort and Spa is a rambling mountain retreat offering luxury in an elegant rustic setting. A blazing fire in a stone fireplace surrounded by chairs and mountain themed accents greets visitor in the lobby.
The resort sports spacious rooms and suites, all with fitting alpine décor. Our lakeside room with a king bed and balcony provided us with direct lake views. True to its name, the resort also features a spacious outdoor pool and hot tub along with a full-service spa complete with steam room, sauna and fitness studio.
Lake Arrowhead Resort and Spa’s impressive signature restaurant, BIN 189, offers an exceptional dining experience with equally stunning views from its indoor or outdoor patios. The restaurant is heavily accented with birch panels, tree stumps, antler chandeliers, and a cozy stone fireplace – all fitting the lake region to a “T.”
As a private lake, access to amenities is limited to Lake Arrowhead property owners. Lake Arrowhead Resort & Spa guests, however, can enjoy the resort’s private beach, rent kayaks or even take a private lake tour from its docks. No other accommodation in the area offers these amenities which is another reason we love to stay here.
What is there to do in Lake Arrowhead
Boating on Lake Arrowhead
The best way by far to enjoy Lake Arrowhead is from the water. As the Lake is surrounded by private residences and summer vacation homes, each with their own docks, the waters can get crowded in the summer even with restricted access and no public boat launches.
Lake Arrowhead provides visitors and guests with group or private tours aboard the Lake Arrowhead Queen, a vintage wooden paddle-wheeler. Its one-hour narrated ride offers spectacular views around the perimeter of the lake as its knowledgeable and entertaining captain regales passengers with the history of the lake, and stories of the many colorful celebrities that once or currently call Lake Arrowhead home. You’ll be surprised, as we were.
Guests can also take to the water for skiing or boogie boarding by booking a tour through Mckenzie Water Ski School.
Lake Arrowhead Village
Lake Arrowhead Village is a charming shopping and entertainment district located right on the lake’s shores. With over 50 waterfront shops, boutiques, and restaurants, this charming Alpine-inspired village center looks like it belongs in Europe. We easily walked the short distance from Lake Arrowhead Resort and meandered through the shops, enjoyed a glass of wine overlooking the waters of Lake Arrowhead.
A local band was entertaining guests in the small central hub and we discovered that summertime brings a free outdoor concert series of tribute bands lasting through Labor Day weekend.
We grabbed lunch at Jettie’s, our favorite waterfront eatery, before boarding the Lake Arrowhead Queen for a delightful cruise around the lake.
Lake Arrowhead Area Restaurants
With numerous dining options in the village, we were able to zero in on several that had not only outstanding cuisine, but also offered stunning panoramas of the lake and surrounding countryside.
Jettie’s Waterfront Kitchen: Formerly Woody’s Boathouse Restaurant, Jettie’s is located directly on the lake. Not only is the view amazing, the restaurant features entrees that are robustly delicious with outstanding service.
With a CrisCraft boat-inspired front counter, Jettie’s pays homage to the lake’s earlier years and is a fun place to bask in the village vibe. Guests strolling along the shore promenade in front of the eatery are treated to the sight of ducks, trout, and other game fish cruising the crystal-clear shallows of the lake.
Lake Arrowhead Brewery: I love my craft beers and was happy to discover a popular local hangout just a short stroll along the shore from our resort. Lake Arrowhead Brewery is the place to go to enjoy some flavorful local brews by the pint or flight. With a large outdoor back patio seating complementing its indoor serving area, the atmosphere here is lively and fun.
BIN 189: Located within the Lake Arrowhead Resort and Spa, BIN 189 is one of the area’s fine dining options. Convenience aside, it remains one of our absolute favorites. Whether you’re seated indoors or out, the experience is unforgettable.
Belgian Waffle Works: This family-friendly restaurant in Lake Arrowhead Village is a popular spot for breakfast and brunch. We enjoyed delicious Belgian waffles served with a variety of toppings and fillings. The lunch menu offers a selection of sandwiches, salads, along with other breakfast favorites.
The Grill at Antler’s Inn: This is another favorite of ours and one we frequent each time we come to Lake Arrowhead. The romantic venue is located in nearby Twin Peaks, a mere 10-minute drive through the forest from the lake. A big hit with locals and vacationers, the Grill has outstanding ambience and excellent food at an old rustic Inn reminiscent of the mountain’s pioneer days.
Stone Creek Bistro: Situated in Blue Jay Village, this bistro is known for its cozy atmosphere and delectable American cuisine. The menu features dishes made from locally sourced ingredients, including steaks, seafood, and pasta. An extensive wine list is available to complement your meal.
There’s no shortage of outdoor activities to enjoy in and around Lake Arrowhead. You can go hiking, mountain biking, or horseback riding on numerous trails in the area ranging from short and easy to long and more advanced treks. Heart Rock Trail in nearby Crestline is one of the best hiking opportunities and certainly one of our top favorites.
Before hiking in Lake Arrowhead, make sure to check if permits are required to park at the trailhead as many trails and parking lots require a National Parks Adventure Pass. These can be obtained at the Lake Arrowhead Visitor Center or a handful of other shops in the village.
Winter activities include skiing, snowboarding, and sledding at one of four ski resorts in the area. Venues like Snow Valley and Snow Summit are hugely popular and winter family fun is at its peak at Snowdrift Snow Tubing Park.
Lake Arrowhead hosts several events and festivals throughout the year. In addition to the Lake Arrowhead Summer Concert Series, visitors can enjoy free outdoor movies by the lake. And the Lake Arrowhead Oktoberfest is a popular fall event featuring German food, beer, and traditional music.
Other Nearby Attractions
Rambling just a bit in virtually any direction, you are sure to discover more of Mother Nature’s delights within the San Bernadino Mountains.
Lake Gregory and Crestline: If you’re up for a day trip, head to nearby Lake Gregory and the historic town of Crestline. Unlike Lake Arrowhead, Lake Gregory is not privately-owned, so visitors have full access to the lake and can fish or just enjoy an easy, flat 2.5-mile hike around the lake, taking in spectacular views of the surrounding mountains.
Skypark at Santa’s Village: My wife and I discovered Skypark at Santa’s Village just a 20-minute drive from Lake Arrowhead. Formerly a Santa’s Village-themed amusement park, this quaint rendition of the North Pole was re-themed into an outdoor adventure park. North Pole boutique shops, eateries and rides still remain, but outdoor sports like mountain biking, hiking, archery, and even tomahawk throwing now add to the adventure.
An eclectic mixture? Yes, but it works.
Skypark’s parking lot fills up quickly with outdoor enthusiasts of all ages and is intensely popular with locals in the surrounding area.
Wildhaven Ranch: Nature lovers will adore visiting Wildhaven Ranch, a sanctuary and education center for endangered animals and indigenous species such as black bears and other native wildlife. Reservations are required to visit the wildlife sanctuary, so make sure to book ahead.
Big Bear Lake: Lastly, a visit to nearby Big Bear Lake is a real treat. Less than an hour’s drive from Lake Arrowhead, Big Bear, with its rugged landscape of towering trees, rockfaces and boulders, has a decidedly more wild, western feel. It is best known for its skiing and hiking trails, but the town is delightful and well worth a visit any time of year.
Though my wife and I have been to Lake Arrowhead at least a half dozen times now, it never grows old. Whenever I feel the need for some fresh mountain air, clear lake waters, tall stately pines, and the feel of being in a back-east mountain retreat, this Ohio boy says its time for another Lake Arrowhead adventure.