top of page

A Traveler's Guide: Big Bear vs Lake Tahoe

Updated: May 23, 2023

big bear vs lake tahoe

When people think about California, they usually think about Los Angeles, Southern California, and Hollywood; however, both California and Nevada have a lot to offer. This includes Big Bear Lake and Lake Tahoe.

There is a lot to do in the San Bernardino Mountains, and this includes winter sports, summer sports, shopping, and dining. Regardless of whether you are looking for a ski resort, vacation rentals close to restaurants, or a fun gondola ride, you can find it here.

So, should you visit South Lake Tahoe or Big Bear Mountain Resort? Take a look at some of the advantages of each option, and select the best one for you and your family!

Winter Sports

One of the biggest reasons why people come to both Lake Tahoe and Big Bear Lake is for winter sports and ski areas. This includes skiing, snowboarding, tubing, and more. Learn more about what skiers and snowboarders can expect at each of these locations.

Lake Tahoe
mountain snow riddes

Without a doubt, one of the most popular times to visit Lake Tahoe is in the winter. Lake Tahoe is one of the most popular ski resort hubs in the world, and people come from all over to take advantage of the fresh snow.

Even though Lake Tahoe is a very large ski resort with a lot to offer, it can get a bit crowded during the winter. As a result, the price of lodging can increase as well.

With a big ski resort, you have plenty of opportunities. You can sign up for skiing and snowboarding lessons, you can challenge yourself on some of the most difficult trails, and you have plenty of opportunities for apres-ski sessions including hot tubs, fresh cocktails, and delicious food. If you are okay with a crowded ski resort during the winter, Lake Tahoe could be a solid option.

Big Bear Lake

Photo Credit: poepke73 via Instagram

Winter is a wonderful time to visit Big Bear with so many winter activities to enjoy. Skiing and snowboarding opportunities are plentiful at the Big Bear Mountain Snow Summit Ski Resort. This is one of the most popular attractions, and there are plenty of opportunities to spread out because the mountain is not nearly as crowded.

One of the biggest advantages of skiing at Big Bear Lake is that there are trails available for everyone. Approximately a third of the terrain is for beginners, a third of the terrain is for intermediate skiers, and a third. The train is for advanced skiers. This means that no matter what your ski level is, you can find trails that are right for you.

Furthermore, the mountain is large, so you do not need to ski with a large crowd if you do not want to. You can sign up for lessons to improve your abilities, and the instructors will show you where some of the top ski trails and fresh snow tend to hide. If you are looking for a fun winter stay, consider skiing at Big Bear.

The Winner: Big Bear Lake

Big Bear vs Lake Tahoe Year-Round Activities

Even if you don't like to ski, you can still visit both of these locations for some amazing year-round activities.

Lake Tahoe
observation desk

Lake Tahoe is absolutely beautiful at all times of the year.

During the summer, you may want to take the Heavenly Mountain gondola up to the top. The observation deck will give you an amazing view of the entire lake, so be sure to bring your camera. Then, consider planning a drive around the entirety of the lake for yourself. If you see something cool, pull off to the side and take a look.

You can even relaxi on one of the beautiful beaches. There are family-friendly beaches, pebbly beaches, sandy beaches, and more. Of course, you can also get in the water for a swim, take a canoe, or go kayaking. If you do not have a canoe or kayak, you should be able to rent one. Lake Tahoe has something for everyone.

Big Bear Lake
big bear lake

Big Bear Lake has plenty of activities during the warmer months as well. For example, you may want to do some boating. You can bring your own boat or sign up for a Big Bear Lake Cruise. If you are looking for something a bit more relaxed, you may want to go for a picnic at Boulder Bay. You can roll out a blanket, bring a basket, and bask in the sunshine.

There are plenty of opportunities for those who want to be a bit more active as well. For example, you may want to bring a kayak or a paddleboard to go out on the water. There are places for you to rent your equipment if you have not brought any with you. You may want to poke around some of the boutique shops and stalls in Big Bear Village.

The Winner: Lake Tahoe


Another major reason why people visit Lake Tahoe and Big Bear Lake is the delicious food. There are plenty of restaurants from which to choose.

Lake Tahoe
outdoor resto

Lake Tahoe has some delicious restaurants to explore. For example, you may want to check out the Scusa Italian Ristorante if you are looking for some authentic Italian dishes that you can enjoy family-style.

If you are looking for some fine dining, you may want to check out The Lake House Restaurant. They have delicious farm-to-table items on the menu, and you will not be disappointed.

If you are looking for a place to grab a quick bite to eat, you may want to explore the Getaway Cafe. You can enjoy some traditional American food and grab a fresh cup of coffee.

Big Bear Lake
chicken fries

Big Bear Lake is home to some of the best restaurants in the area. If you are looking for a fun spot for happy hour, you may want to visit 572 Social Kitchen. You can choose from indoor or outdoor seating, and you can watch the people go by.

If you are looking for a delicious place for breakfast, you may want to check out Moonridge Coffee Company. This restaurant is known for its delicious breakfast sandwiches, croissants, and press coffee.

If you are looking for a little wine bar, you may want to try Barrel 33. They also have some craft beer available, but this is a spot that is known for its amazing happy hour deals.

The Winner: Big Bear Lake


Getting to either of these locations is not especially challenging.

Lake Tahoe

If you want to visit Lake Tahoe, you can fly into the Reno-Tahoe International Airport or the Sacramento International Airport. Then, you will need to drive to get to Lake Tahoe. If you don't want to drive, you may want to try the North Lake Tahoe Express or the South Tahoe Airporter. These two options will take you directly to Lake Tahoe itself.

Big Bear Lake
big bear highway

Driving to Big Bear Lake is relatively easy. You can take either Highway 38, Highway 330, or Highway 18. These roads are a bit windy, and they can get a bit congested when they narrow. Therefore, you should plan ahead if you want a smooth drive. Be sure to look at the conditions ahead of time to make sure there are no accidents blocking your way.

The Winner: Lake Tahoe

Places To Stay

Of course, you will probably be looking for some great places to stay during your visit.

Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe has some great rental opportunities available. You can take a look at a few of the campgrounds in the area, you may want to poke around a few of the hotels, and you will probably look at some vacation homes as well. The downside is that the rentals in Lake Tahoe can be expensive, particularly during the winter and in the summer because the destination is so popular. You may want to visit during the offseason if you want to save money.

Big Bear Lake
black cabin

Big Bear Lake is known for its amazing accommodations. No matter what type of amenities you are looking for, there is a good chance that you can find them. This includes early check-in opportunities, pet-friendly rentals, family-friendly rentals, and rentals with free Wi-Fi. If you are traveling with a smaller group, you may want to check out the Firefly cabin rental, which will put you right in the action. Or, you might want to explore the relaxed feel of the Moondance rental. If you are traveling with a crowd, you may want to explore the larger opportunities in the Moonshine area.

The Winner: Big Bear Lake

The Overall Winner: Big Bear Lake

If you are looking for a fun vacation that is a bit different from SoCal, Las Vegas, and San Francisco, consider visiting Big Bear Lake.

There are plenty of skiable trails during the winter, lots of mountain biking opportunities, and fun parasailing guides available. A lift ticket is not that expensive, you can explore the mammoth lakes and gorgeous national forest, and you can explore shopping opportunities on the downtown blvd.

Have fun and enjoy your trip to Big Bear Lake!


bottom of page