Looking for the best places to visit in California this winter? The Golden State has it all — beach it up, hit the snow or stay indoors for a taste of our melting pot. Check out these California weekend trips, as explored by a California girl who has also traveled around the world (that’s meee).
Side note: if you have some proper time off, you can do this itinerary as a one week road trip. Alternatively, as a fellow Californian, visit a different city each weekend.
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In this post:
- Three places to visit in California during the winter in the Orange Country and San Bernardino Mountains (only one to two hour drives from each other).
- Restaurants, hotels and things to do for Huntington Beach, Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear.
- Photos of my trip to help plan yours.
- Resources to plan your California vacation.
- List of other places to Visit in California
California Winter Weekend Trips: Huntington Beach
If you’d like to escape the snow, pull up a Mai Tai, and soak in some sunshine — head to Huntington Beach in Orange County, California.
Once renowned as “Surf City USA,” HB has come to offer a lot more than some killer waves.
As a So-Cal native myself, I used to think of Huntington BEach as the chill surf town — which it very much still is. However, the food and nightlife has matured with rooftop bars, spas, shopping, and contemporary culinary experiences. Over 25 restaurants have been built beachside on Huntington’s ten mile strip… in the last few years alone!
This place is booming with events, hot spots and the of course… the beach!
Where to Eat & Drink // Best Restaurants in Huntington Beach:
- Fine dine with Bluegold Huntington Beach. Check out the seaside views, graffiti wine room, and indulge in seasonal, locally sourced ingredients.
Bluegold truly provided a dining experience to remember. The service was extraorindary!
- Savor a modern Mexican twist at Pacific Hideaway. Definitely get the coconut ceviche & “Dazed & Confused” cocktail.
- Stop for cocktails or tacos at Tanner’s Huntington Beach rooftop restaurant and lounge. I recommend the tempura Shinto peppers.
- Dive into food porn at Duke’s Huntington Beach The coconut mojito is a win!
- For a light breakfast or snack, sip on a smoothie from Banazi Bowls.
- Eat local, explore — Surf City Nights Farmers Market/Street Fair on Tuesdays
Duke’s Huntington Beach
Where to Play — Things to Do in Huntington Beach:
At 64 degrees and sunny, grab a wetsuit and take a surf lesson, sign up for the spa, rent a bike, and walk around the pier.
An easy way to bring your California winter weekend trips to life, is to play tourist in your own State!
- Spa Treatment at Aarna Spa
- Surf Lesson with Toes on the Nose
- Rent a bike with Surfboard and Bike Rentals
Where to Stay // Best Modern Seaside Hotel in Huntington Beach:
Huntington Beach has an accommodation style for everyone. Choose a classic resort on the beach, or funky modern hotel like the Shorebreak Kimpton Hotel which is dog friendly and happy-hour friendly! The Shorebreak offers a complimentary beer and wine hour for guests from 5 to 6 PM and bonfire s’mores all night!
California Winter Weekend Trips: Big Bear
The snow is calling and we’re picking up! You can ski and snowboard in sunny Southern California with 60 degree weather and snow below your toes at 8,200 feet.
Located in the San Bernardino Mountains, Big Bear offers some of the best winter activities in California:
- Skiing in Big Bear Mountain Resorts – Go to Snow Summit and get a day pass for $75-$99
- Try Snow tubing at Big Bear Snow Play for $30 to $35 — great for kids or adults!
- If you don’t have snow clothes or gear, you can rent at Goldsmith’s Sports
- Cheeky tip – if you’re renting take a photo of your equipment, so that you don’t mix it up with anyone else’s (speaking from experience).
Where to Eat // Best Restuarants in Big Bear
- For a cold brew and burger, bring your crew to the Big Bear Brewing Company
- For a lakefront dinner, order the bread-crusted seared ahi or a jumbo-shrimp pasta. Lead with an artichoke and melted cheese appetizer at The Pines Lakefront… enjoy the 5 PM – 8 PM Live Jazz on Thursdays too.
Where to Stay // Accommodation in Big Bear
We stayed at the Marina Resort in Big Bear which had an Airbnb “homey” feel, inclusive of a fireplace, living room, kitchen and lake access. It’s perfect for families or group looking to get a little extra space.
California Winter Weekend Trips: Lake Arrowhead
From Big Bear to Lake Arrowhead in not much more than an hour, we quickly made our way to another California jewel.
Nestled a mile-high in the San Bernardino mountains, Lake Arrowhead is a hidden gem. One of the few Southern California destinations with a four-season experience, it’s quietly “Hollywood’s Outdoor Playground.”
Where to Eat // Best Restaurants in Lake Arrowhead
With so many places to Visit in California… who would of thought that this adventure junkie would fall for a restaurant. Crazy enough, one of my highlights of the entire road trip was eating at LouEddie’s Pizza & Micro-Brewery!
LouEddie’s Pizza – Get a second pizza to-go. No joke, we considered our drive to see if we could route back to LouEddies on the same road trip for another pizza.
The Grille at Antler’s Inn in Twin Peaks – A rustic mountain lodge and fireplace that makes you feel the magic of the mountains. Get the poke nachos!
Bin 189 at Lake Arrowhead Resort & Spa – Beautiful lake views. Try a lite spa breakfast or load up on the calories and try the pancakes with jalepeno maple syrup.
Where to Play// Things to do in Lake Arrowhead
Your California winter weekend trips list wouldn’t be complete without these outdoor activities:
- Mountain Biking
- Rock Climbing
- Ice Skating (Seasonal)
- Fishing (Seasonal)
All of these activities are available at the new Skypark at Santa’s Village.
SkyPark offers attractions, outdoor activities and some of the finest Mountain Biking trails in Southern California. Like a ski resort for mountain biking, you can rent equipment and ride. All skill levels welcomed, from beginners through expert—there are trails for every level.
SkyPark comes alive as Santa’s Village during the holidays! Great place to experience the winter season, nature and forest adventures.
Hike Pacific Crest Trail along Deep Creek
We also spent an afternoon boulder hopping and hiking the East fork of the Mojave river. I’m game to return in the spring or summer for cliff jumping and a swim. However, the cool weather in the winter and the tranquility (we were the only people on the trail) really made the long hike a breeze.
Note: the hike is moderate to difficult depending on your level of strength and fitness.
Where to Stay / Best Luxury Hotel in Lake Arrowhead
We lodged at the Lake Arrowhead Resort and Spa which frequently sees the likes of celebrities, quietly getting outdoors. Lakefront with beach access, it’s the most luxurious option for accommodation within the Lake Arrowhead communities.
People around the world put California on their bucket list… and so frequently those of us Californians take it for granted. I used to consider myself an “exotic” destination snob, but the more I travel the world, the more I appreciate my own backyard.
California does not disappoint. There are so many places to visit in California. The geographic landscape is as diverse as its’ kitchens! Cheers to California, may you get out there and explore it on your own.
What other California Winter Weekend Trips would you add to this?
Drop a comment below!
Other Places to Visit in California
For more California Winter Weekend Trips:
Tahoe Ski Escape: Winter in Squaw Valley, California (Photos)
10 Photos of Big Pine North Fork, Inyo National Forest | California Hike
California Winter: Ski, Surf, and Avocado (Photos)
Yeti Life: Learn to Ski in Mountain High (Photos)
5 Tips for a Dockweiler Beach Bonfire, Los Angeles
Starting planning your California vacation spots for the Spring:
16 California Road Trip Ideas from a California Girl (Photos)
Unplug: Goodbye Technology, Hello Yosemite National Park
Walker Canyon Lake Elsinore, California Super Bloom
5 Tips to Hiking to THE Potato Chip Rock, San Diego (Photos)
How to Get to the Hollywood Sign, Los Angeles, California
Big Sur Road Trip
California’s Folk Wine Country: Must See in Paso Robles (Photos)
This blog post on California winter weekend trips (not all California blog posts) is a paid sponsored partnership with Visit California, the official board of tourism for the State of California. I couldn’t be more proud to work with them and to share my experiences with you. They have provided a custom itinerary for my experience.
For more information about planning your trip, check out these websites:
Visit Huntington Beach the Surf City USA
Visit San Bernardino County // Visit Big Bear, Lake Arrowhead
I love how diverse California is – from hiking in the mountains to hitting the beach in winter, there is something for everyone. Lake Arrowhead seems to be my pick from all the places you’ve mentioned. Although I love beaches, I love the idea of going ziplining and rock climbing over the weekend too! All your pictures are lovely. Especially the ones at Huntington beach and the sunset at Lake Arrowhead.
I just wish English winters were as nice! I love the Huntingdon pics – that’s precisely my idea of California. Now, when can I visit?
I haven’t been to this part of Cali in years so can I see it’s time to go back. Looks like a good bit of your trip was food-focused – that Mac ‘ cheese! – and that’s always fine with me!
Yes! I don’t always eat out so much when I travel, but I was pleasantly surprised by the food culture popping up around So Cal, I couldn’t help but indulge.
Those look like amazing activities! I didn’t know you can do so much in California in winter weekend :)
Big Bear and Huntington beach look like an incredible combination! Cali is such an amazing state, I need to get back down there!
As a So Cal local, you made my state look amazing (because it is)! Great job! There are SO many incredible places in California to visit. How about Laguna Beach? Carmel and Monterey? San Diego? Los Angeles/Venice? So many places, not enough time!
I love Laguna Beach and Newport Beach. Carmel and Monterey paired with Big Sur. San Diego is a beauty of it’s own.
We specifically developed this itinerary to get snow play, a swim and a hike in a short time period. Huntington Beach to Lake Arrowhead is only two hours! Lake Arrowhead to Big Bear was only another hour.
Road trips can sometimes more time on the road than on the trip, and this itinerary navigates around that issue.
Totally agree with you about the so many places California offers! Thanks for reading.
When I lived in San Diego I used to love driving up the PCH to Huntington Beach. What an amazing beach town with so many great places to eat and hang out.
I never went to Big Bear or Lake Arrowhead but I love that you added these mountain areas to the list. Personally I love Mammoth Lakes during the winter…heck I love it all year round. I plan on heading up there this summer to hike the back country for two weeks from Mt. Whitney to Mammoth along the PCT. Love that whole region!
California looks like so much fun! I haven’t been in ages and think its time to book a trip. I had no idea there were so many great things for winter weekend trips to California. I would love to check out Big Bear for skiing and the seafood at Pines Lakefront looks AMAZING!
I have spent a lot of time in California in the past few years and Big Bear Lake is definitely one of my favorite locations! I haven’t been to Lake Arrowhead yet though so that will be something to add to my next visit to California.
I’ve not visited California in winter, well I guess November is the closest, does that count as autumn or winter? It’s been far too long though and when I return, I want to try some of the amazing food suggestions you’ve recommended, the photos are making me hungry! Lots of activities on offer too, I think mountain biking is too energetic for me but I’m liking the sound of Archery which I’ve enjoyed here in the UK.
We are currently in California ad it is pretty wintery so these suggestions could not have come at a better time! The big bear brewing company looks like a great place to warm up
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Hello, my wife and I have been talking about taking a trip like this to California for a while and this has really helped me with knowing where to start as far as planning goes. I’m an aspiring travel blogger and your website inspires me to be better and work harder for what I want and believe in.
In December 2017 I visited California. I enjoyed there and there I was spending my best moments.
Wonderful Post and very informative also.