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Big Bear Lake
The Northwoods Resort and Conference Center

by Patricia Perratore-Anis & Nick Anis

One of the aspects of Southern California that impresses visitors the most is how you can visit the beach, ski slopes, desert, and big city all in the same day. Mountain resorts, especially ones with ski areas, are typically very popular in the winter, and more or less ignored in the summer. But over the past decade, many mountain resorts have been trying to attract more year-round visitors. The town of Big Bear Lake in the San Bernardino Mountains in Southern California seems to be one of the exceptions because it's been a popular year-round resort for decades.

There are oodles of restaurants and quaint places to stay in Big Bear. One of my family's favorites is the The Northwoods Resort and Conference Center located at the west end of the Village Area. Only a 2 1/2 hour drive and 7,000 feet above it all from Los Angeles, The Northwoods Resort and Conference Center, is one of the best places to stay when visiting the San Bernardino Mountains, and it's crowning jewel, Big Bear Lake. In the summer it's about 10 or 15 degrees cooler (the average temperate is 75-80 degrees), and in the winter, there's lots of snow for sledding, skiing, and snow play. Big Bear has lots of year-round activities for everyone in the family

The Town of Big Bear Lake got its start about 100 years ago when citrus farmers purchased the land for a pittance, built a dam, and flooded a tree covered valley to create a water reservoir for their citrus groves down the hill in Redlands. (If you dive to the bottom of the lake you will discover there is a sunken forest down there.) A town sprang up around the lake. Big Bear has the largest lake in an alpine setting in the world. Its lake, sunny blue skies, pristine alpine air, fauna and foliage, and great skiing in the winter, has caused it to become a year round vacation area. Big Bear is an ideal venue for a romantic getaway, family exclusion or reunion, and corporate retreat.

The happening place to be in Big Bear is the "Village;" here you will find some adorable shops, two movie theaters with first run films, two arcades, and some great eateries.

The Northwoods Resort and Conference Center, which opened five years ago this May, is located in the West End of the Village, the heart of Big Bear, and just up the road from two great ski areas, Snow Summit and Bear Mountain. Big Bear has great shopping and antiquing, good food and lodging, water sports, snow sports, and fantastic hiking in the national forest is also right there waiting for you. A great family attraction is the new multimillion-dollar Big Bear Discovery Center where you will learn all about the region through multimedia and hands-on exhibits, films, and ranger talks, and you can begin a variety of self-guided day hikes.

The Northwoods Resort has 147 guest rooms and suites. Several of them have fireplaces, and all of them are furnished with delightful hard-crafted decorations and furniture. The décor has a "Northwoods" theme complete with lampshades with antlers, and Adirondack style furniture hand made by local artisans. Ordinarily, I'm not a fan of theme décor, but the furnishings and decorations at the Northwoods Resort are an exception; they really make you feel like you are in a mountain resort reminiscent of a 1930's vintage sporting lodge (when it was brand new), with warm and inviting surroundings.

The rooms have free coffee makers and hair dryers and pay-per-view/use movies and Nintendo. There is an outdoor heated pool and spa (that's as popular in the winter when it's snowing, as it is during the summer). There's also a sauna and exercise facilities, but during my visits I have been too busy hiking, exploring, and skiing to check them out.

If you are looking for tips for day trips or nightlife, the concierge, Jennifer will happily and enthusiastically give you a plethora of ideas. Of course, Stillwells Lounge right there in the hotel, is one of Big Bear's popular watering holes. It's a real hot spot in the afternoons and evenings, especially when there's live entertainment. Stillwells serves imported and regional wines, blended drinks, coffees and Espressos, and smoothies.

The Northwoods Resort's Castle Rock Café serves delicious baked goods, coffees and desserts, but my wife much prefers to have a pot of tea delivered to the room in the morning. Since the Northwoods Resort has room service, that's what she did. I took our two sons on a walk through the Village and started exploring. "Where is a good place for dinner," I asked. "Where are you staying," someone replied. "At the Northwoods Resort," I said. I was a bit surprised to discover that one of Big Bear's finest eateries is Stillwells Restaurant right where I was staying.

So, after a full day's skiing and a visit to the Village's two arcades, and a visit to the Alpine Slides (where we sledded, go carted, and played miniature golf), we arrived back at our hotel. We made a reservation for dinner, and we headed for the pool and Jacuzzi. While my wife Patty was getting dressed, Joey and David (our sons) played Nintendo, and I started doing some email and writing on my laptop. The Northwoods Resort has data jacks, power outlets, and workspace for you to do some computing without having to be an electrician or gymnast.

By the time we left the room, we were all famished. The hotel had been terrific so far, but we were HUNGRY, and to be honest with you our expectations for the cuisine weren't too high

When we got to the lobby area, we noticed there is a lounge area where guests can play checkers, chess, read, listen to contemporary music, and enjoy a crackling fire in a large wood burning fireplace while sipping hot cider.

We meandered over to Stillwells Restaurant and were whisked over to a nice booth. As we were handed our menus, and I started to look them over, our server brought us fresh hot bread and ice-cold mountain spring water. I ordered sodas for the boys and lemonade for Patty, which also arrived rather quickly. I was impressed with the wine list, which has an assortment of moderately priced California and French wines, and our server's familiarity with the menu and wine list.

Stillwells Restaurant is handsomely decorated and the service is friendly, professional, and polished. The preparation and presentation are great, and the food is excellent. The menu has a variety of prime cuts of beef, veal, chicken and pork, fresh seafood, pastas, and vegetarian dishes. The hearty bread they serve with your meal is delicious and served piping hot and the salads are crisp and fresh and served well chilled. Many of the desserts are baked on premises and all are served with elaborate decorative saucing. The delicious fare and tempting desserts make it hard to believe you're in a local eatery in a somewhat remote mountain area rather than a mainstay 4-5 Star restaurant in a large metropolitan city.

Being an avid snow skier who enjoys skiing at the Big Bear Ski areas, I have visited the Northwoods Resort and Conference Center several times now. I've made some discoveries. The décor is cool and the staff is warm and friendly, and the food is terrific. The only thing my family and I don't like about the Northwoods Resort is leaving!

Northwoods Resort and Conference Center
P.O. Box 2943
40650 Village Drive
Big Bear Lake, CA 92315

Phone: 800-866-3121 or 909-866-3121
Fax: 909-866-1451
Email: info@northwoodsresort.com 

Rooms range from $188 to $208.

About the Authors:

Patricia Anis is photographer and writer covering a variety of subjects from travel to restaurants and family recreation.  You can reach Patty at PattySein@aol.com.

Nick Anis is a food, wine, and travel and technology writer with 24 books in print. Nick’s beats include snow and water sports, and vacation destinations. Nick can be reached by email at: nickanis@aol.com.  


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