Lake Arrowhead or Big Bear Lake?

 by Bob Sparrow

arrowhead queen

The Arrowhead Queen

There are two major mountain lakes in southern California, Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear Lake, they are both in the San Bernardino National Forest about 25 miles apart. They’ve been sibling rivals since 1922, when a dam was built to form Lake Arrowhead. They are both man-made lakes, with the dam that formed Big Bear Lake constructed back in 1884.

Having grown up around Lake Tahoe, I have a deep appreciation for scenic mountain lakes, so have visited both of these local resorts on numerous occasions, Arrowhead more than Big Bear, primarily because it’s a little closer and esthetically more appealing to me. In fact I had not been to Big Bear in several years, until a few weeks ago, when I  visited my daughter, Dana’s mother-in-law’s place to check out the ‘new’ Big Bear. I say ‘new’ because over the last several years, Big Bear has made a concerted effort to up-grade its redheaded stepchild image, with considerable success I might add.


The Village at Big Bear Lake in Winter

As I explored Big Bear, I imagined a discussion between these two alpine lakes going something like this . . .

Lake Arrowhead (LA): “It’s nice to see that you’re finally cleaning up your act.”

Big Bear (BB): “Yeah, well let’s see what you look like when you get to be 132 years old!”

LA: “Why do they even call you Big Bear anyway, there are no big bears around?”

BB: “There used to be lots of Grizzlies here until man hunted them into extinction; and by the way, they used to call you Little Bear Lake’

LA: “But I still have 14 miles of beautiful shoreline.”

BB: “I have 22, which is why you were called Little Bear!”

LA: “You used to have 22 not-as-beautiful-shoreline-as-mine, but it’s shrunk considerably with the drought.”

BB: “Same shoreline, just much more beach now for a population of just over 5,000 to enjoy.”

LA: “That’s nothing; I have a population of over 12,000.”

BB: “So you’re saying that it’s more crowded there than it is here?”


Celebrity homes on Lake Arrowhead

LA: “If crowded means we’ve had more star’s homes here like Tom Selleck, Shirley Temple Black, Priscilla Presley, Brian Wilson, Patrick Swayze and Michael Jackson, then yes, I guess we’re more crowded.”

BB: “Yeah, well we have the homes of Britney Spears, Mike Judge, who did the voices for Beavis and Butthead, Michael Richards, Krammer on Seinfeld, the metal band, Korn, and Richard Karn, who was the sidekick to Tim Allen in Home Improvement.

LA: “See, you have to explain who your ‘stars’ are; Michael Jackson needs no explanation.”

BB:Michael Jackson needs a lot of explanation, but that’s besides the point. So let’s stay in the show business genre, what movies have been shot there?”

LA: The Courtship of Miles Standish, The American President and Space Jam to name a few.”


“Frankly Scarlet . . .

BB: “Yeah, a few that are not very well known. Here’s some of mine you might remember: Heidi, Shane, Old Yeller and you may recall this one, Gone With the Wind. Case closed, let’s move on the skiing.”

LA: “We have great water skiing.”

BB: “You are a ‘private‘ lake and many activities are restricted to residents only. I have two marinas where the public can rent pontoon boats, go fishing, rent fishing equipment, take wakeboard or waterski rides, rent kayaks and canoes and ride a pirate ship.”

LA: “Well, the public can take a ride on my Arrowhead Queen and see all the spectacular celebrity homes around the lake.”

BB: “So what happens in the winter? How’s snow skiing at your elevation of 5,174?”

LA: “Well, we have Snow Valley fairly close by”

BB: “But it’s actually closer to me and I’m at 6,750 feet elevation; we also have Bear Mountain and Snow Summit at 8,200 feet elevation; so we are clearly the winter destination. Let’s move on, how’s your summer hiking trails?”

LA: “They’re awesome; I have Goat Trail, Little Bear Creek, Heaps Peak, Crab Creek, Little Green Valley and many more.”


View of Big Bear Lake from Pacific Crest Trail

BB: “Not bad I guess, but I have Heart Rock, Vivian Creek, Castle Rock, Deep Creek Hot Springs, Big Falls, Cougar Crest and, oh yeah the famous Pacific Crest Trail, which goes from Mexico to Canada, runs right by me.”

LA: “Fine! Let’s talk about golf; do you have anything to compare to Arrowhead Golf and Country Club?”

BB: “No, not really, I’ll leave the country club set to you. I’ll admit you’re prettier than I am, but your ‘Village’ is looking fairly tired and my ‘Village’ is buzzing with new shops, restaurants and bars; summer or winter this is the place to be.”

LA: “But you said I’m still prettier right?”

Okay kids, enough! The fact is that neither one is a Lake Tahoe, but for my money, if you’re an adventurer, Big Bear Lake is probably your best destination in the summer and for sure in the winter, but if you just want to get to the mountains to enjoy some clean air and the scenery of a beautiful mountain lake, rent a home on Lake Arrowhead or stay lake-side at the luxurious Lake Arrowhead Resort & Spa and take a cruise on the Arrowhead Queen.


Best Place to Live – A Day in the Life

by Bob Sparrow

Top10A couple of recent ‘Best Place to Live’ surveys reminded me of my business travel days when I crisscrossed the country and would often be asked where I was from. When I responded, “Southern California, Orange County”, I would hear things like, “Oh, a surfer dude”, (I’ve never surfed), or “Oh, is that why you wear those cool shades?” (I wear sunglasses BECAUSE IT’S SUNNY THERE!), or, “Aren’t you afraid that an earthquake is going to cast California into the Pacific Ocean?” (No). If the conversation continues, people feel compelled to remind me that, 1) there are too many people in southern California, 2) the traffic is unbearable, and 3) the air is unbreathable.  Then, feeling the need to ‘throw me a bone’, they’d say, “But the weather’s nice” and then they’d remind me of the earthquakes again.

Last week in a California survey done by Movato Real Estate, I discovered that my city of residence for the last 38 years, Orange, was selected as California’s best city to live in.  In fact, Orange County had seven of the top ten cities.  If you’re interested in seeing the rest of the cities, here’s the link to the survey:

I hope everyone feels that they live in the ‘Best Place to Live’, but I wanted to confirm and perhaps help justify this elevated status for Orange County, so last Friday, February 27, I set out to help prove that it is, in fact, one of the very best places to live, in part due to its proximity to such a diversity of environments. Thus my journey began . . .

The Desert


pre-dawn at Desert Willow Golf Resort


Sunrise for a perfect day of golf

I woke up at 3:45 a.m. (The things I do for you readers!) and with an assortment of wardrobes in tow, I’m out the door at 4:05. It takes me 95 minutes to drive the 103 miles from Orange to the beautiful Desert Willows Golf Resort in Palm Desert – golf’s winter mecca. It feels like I’m in a whole different world, because I am. It’s 50 degree at 6:18 when the first sliver of sunlight appears over the  Little San Bernardino Mountain range and softly lightens the Coachella Valley below.  It will get to 77 degrees here today. I’m envious of the golfers that are teeing off at first light in perfect weather, but I have a full day ahead of me, so I order breakfast, read the paper, write some of this blog and then head to my next destination.

The Mountains


Photo taken from the sun deck

DSC01796I cover the next 85 miles to Big Bear Mountain in 115 minutes and arrive at Snow Valley Ski Resort where the cloudless sky is deep azure blue. I’ve gone from an elevation of around 200 feet to around 7,000 feet in less than two hours. It will get down to 21 degrees here this evening.  Bear Big Mountain provides great local skiing and snowboarding in the winter and great hiking trails in the summer.  There was a storm last week and another one coming in this weekend, but I am fortunate to find a window where chains are not required to negotiate the assent on this winding mountain road.  Once at Snow Valley, I step out of my car and take a deep breath and feel immediately exhilarated by a blast of fresh mountain air – this is air that no one has breathed before!  I enjoy a cup of coffee as I hang out on the upper sun deck of the lodge watching the skiers on the mountain and wishing I were amongst them. I make a snowball, because I haven’t done that in years, and throw it at a nearby tree . . . and miss. While I’m in the neighborhood, I decide DSC01799to head over to picturesque Lake Arrowhead – another 25 minutes and 14 miles. Back in ‘the day’, Lake Arrowhead was the mountain retreat for many Hollywood stars including, Shirley Temple, Tom Selleck, Patrick Swayze and Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys (photo at right is one I took of Wilson’s former lake house) to name a few. Today Arrowhead Village  it’s fairly quiet; it’s off season – no boats on the lake, no stars in sight!  Time to head down off the mountain.

The Beach

HB sunset

Huntington Beach sunset


Huntington Beach pier

I drop from 7,000 feet to . . . zero – sea level, as I drive 87 miles in just under two hours from Lake Arrowhead to Huntington Beach. I could have gone to any number of great beaches in Orange County from Seal Beach to San Clemente, including tony Newport Beach or artsy Laguna Beach, but I wanted to visit my favorite beach restaurant, Dukes at Huntington Beach – ‘Surf City’. I find a place at the bar and watch surfers and street entertainers as the sun disappears slowly and beautifully into the Pacific Ocean.  My day is complete – sunrise to sunset.

I do understand that proximity to the desert, mountains and beach is not everything, but it just adds to all the other factors that make Orange County a ‘best place to live’.

I make the 23-mile trek back home exhausted, but feeling great about completing the ‘trifecta’ – desert, mountains and ocean all in one day. Next time I’m thinking it should be the ‘Trifecta Triathlon’ – same venues only I play golf, ski and swim.  Maybe not.

PS: For those wondering – 312 miles