California is widely known for its sunny and pleasant climate, miles of sandy beaches, and groves of stately palm trees, often leading to the misconception that it's exclusively a summer vacation destination. However, the Golden State also boasts some of the finest spots in the country for winter adventures. Southern California, in particular, though generally drier than the northern parts of the state, has towns that offer remarkable snow-filled experiences. Still skeptical? Here are the 8 best towns in Southern California for a winter getaway.
Wrightwood is a quaint town located at an elevation of about 6,000 feet in the San Gabriel Mountains of Southern California. Located approximately 76 miles from Los Angeles, it's about an hour and a half's drive away. The town, set in the Swarthout Valley, is surrounded by towering pine trees and offers breathtaking views. Contrary to the mention of lavender fields, which are not a notable feature of Wrightwood, the town is more renowned for its picturesque mountain scenery. Mountain High Resort, the closest destination in Southern California for various winter activities like skiing and tubing, has slopes suitable for all skill levels. Additionally, Jackson Lake, known to freeze over in winter, is just a 10-minute drive away. For dining, the Evergreen Cafe is a must-visit for its delicious sweet potato fries and other delectable dishes.
Within the San Bernardino National Forest and on the eastern shores of Big Bear Lake lies Big Bear, one of the top winter destinations in Southern California. The town was named for the grizzly bears that once inhabited the area. It is home to two ski resorts: Bear Mountain and Snow Summit. Bear Mountain features the largest beginner area in Southern California, while Snow Summit, though smaller, is distinguished by the area’s only mountaintop restaurant, the Skyline Taphouse, which is set to reopen on December 15, 2023. This restaurant offers an exceptional dining experience with stunning views of the surrounding mountains. For those seeking activities beyond the slopes, the Alpine Slide at Magic Mountain offers a thrilling experience. Additionally, for superb Italian cuisine after a day of adventure, the Sweet Basil Bistro is highly recommended.
Frazier Park, a lesser-known winter destination, lies in the Tehachapi Mountains, approximately 75 miles from Los Angeles. This area's landscape features a stunning mix of rolling hills, lush valleys, and California oak trees. Situated at an elevation of 4,800 feet, Frazier Park often receives light to moderate snowfall. Surrounded by the vast 1.75-million-acre Los Padres National Forest, the town's winter activities are best experienced at Mt. Pinos, the area's highest peak. The ascent to the summit may be windy, but the panoramic views are truly breathtaking. For culinary delights after a day in the snow, the Red Dot Vegetarian Kitchen, known for its heartfelt homemade dishes, is a worthwhile 4-minute detour from the highway. For accommodations, the Frazier View Motel offers a tranquil setting close to trailheads.
Perched between the Sierra Pelona Mountains and the San Gabriel Mountains, Acton is about 52 miles north of Los Angeles. It has a charming rural atmosphere and features historic buildings, some dating back to the 19th century. Acton, once a candidate for the California state capital, is home to several historic sites, including the '49er Saloon, established in 1870 and known for its crispy fries and other savory dishes. While Acton itself doesn't typically receive heavy snowfall, winter sports enthusiasts can find snow at the Mount Waterman ski area in the San Gabriel Mountains, about 42 miles away. Kratka Ridge in the mountains is also a popular destination. Additionally, Acton's wide open spaces make it one of California’s notable horse-keeping towns.
Mount Baldy, a quaint mix of a village and town, is renowned for its exceptional winter experiences. Located just 45 miles from Los Angeles, it's less than an hour's drive away. The area caters to both avid hikers and those seeking a more relaxed experience with its variety of trails. A great starting point is the Mt Baldy Lodge, offering rustic cabins that bring visitors closer to nature. The highlight, however, is Mt. Baldy Resort, a winter sports haven with 26 runs spread across 800 acres and three mountains. An intriguing destination in the vicinity is the Bridge To Nowhere, an isolated truss arch bridge in the Sheep Mountain Wilderness, dating back to 1936.
In the San Bernardino Mountains, about 80 miles east of Los Angeles, Running Springs sits as a hidden gem in California. The town is home to the 3,400-acre National Children's Forest, a splendid location for snowshoeing or hiking. Its key attraction is Snow Valley Mountain Resort, a historic skiing destination with 240 acres of skiable terrain, 12 lifts, and three terrain parks, notable for being the first ski resort in the San Bernardino Mountains. The area also features various camping sites, including Pali Adventures, a unique overnight summer camp for children aged 8-16, which offers outdoor education programs.
Julian is synonymous with its tangy apples and delicious apple pies. With a population of about 1,300, this town is a prime destination for apple enthusiasts. For those eager to indulge in original apple pies or peach apple crumb pies, the Julian Pie Company is a top choice, along with other options like Mom's Pie House on Main Street. Situated in the scenic Cuyamaca Mountains, Julian is a preferred location for snow in San Diego County. While lacking ski resorts, the area offers several spots to enjoy snow, including William Heise County Park, Jess Martin County Park, and Julian Museum & Pioneer County Park. Nearby, about 9 miles south of Julian, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park and Lake Cuyamaca Recreation Area & Park provide designated day-use areas for winter enthusiasts.
Idyllwild, a unique and artsy town, is nestled in the San Jacinto Mountains of Riverside County, about 108 miles east of Los Angeles. Situated more than 5,000 feet above sea level and surrounded by tall pines and cedars, Idyllwild typically experiences snow from November to March, offering a variety of winter activities. A highlight near the town is the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, where visitors can enjoy a scenic gondola ride into the San Jacinto Mountains. Before exploring Idyllwild's winter landscapes, consider staying at Silver Pines Lodge, a historic 1920s lodge just a 10-minute walk from the town center. For snow adventures, Tahquitz Peak and the Devils Slide Trail are excellent choices. After a day in the snow, La Casita offers a delightful spot to relax and savor Mexican cuisine.
California, often celebrated as a quintessential summer destination due to its renowned beaches and warm climate, is also a treasure trove of winter wonderlands. Southern California, in particular, boasts numerous towns that are perfect for snow enthusiasts. From Julian to Big Bear, Frazier Park to Idyllwild, these towns regularly receive several inches of snow, providing a unique winter experience. So, put on your winter boots and embark on an adventurous journey through Southern California’s snowy delights.