I JUMP OFF THE PACKED PUBLIC BUS at the Old City walls of Dubrovnik, Croatia, and the tourism hits me all at once. As I jostle for a space on the sidewalk, I’m accosted by strangers leaning over makeshift podiums, screaming gimmicks at me, their smiles plastered on insincere faces.
Hi there! Are you interested in a Game of Thrones tour? Wine and bike rides? Kayak tours? Dalmatian tours? Explore Dubrovnik by boat? Etc, etc?
How does one reply to all of this unwanted attention, this breach of private space? My New York breeding taught me to keep my head down. Don’t make eye contact. Keep walking. The tourism workers don’t seem to like that. I get called rude as I pass by. Some make passive aggressive comments.
Oh, so you’re not interested? That’s fine. Have a nice day.
I walk with the throngs of other tourists towards the city walls, but then I beeline towards a sliver of water I see beyond a bit of the old fortress. I’m searching desperately for a semblance of normalcy, to gaze out at the ocean and not at a sea of other assholes like me, toting a camera, hat, water bottle. Dressed in comfortable, quick dry clothes and ugly, easy-to-walk-in shoes. The whole ensemble that screams: I’m foreign! Take advantage of me!
There is a line to get to the wall that looks out at the ocean. I stand on my tiptoes to see that people are lining up to take a shot with one of the ultimate King’s Landing views. I don’t actually know what I’m looking at. A later Google search tells me that it’s the Pile Gate and the Fort Lovrijenac. Tourists are hastily snapping selfies and posing before someone obliviously steps in front of their shot. I push my way in to take a cheeky pano of the scene before I am pushed away by others eager to do the same.
I walk away from this disturbed ocean view to see what the fuss is about inside the city walls. Each movement is held up by the need to say “Excuse me” to more strangers as I awkwardly stroll-duck through their pictures. I look at them as I pass, the fascination of Dubrovnik’s fortress completely lost to me in my horror at what tourists like me have done to its assumed charm. Some posers pose excitedly, some look away nonchalantly — perfect for Insta. Some stand there grudgingly, looking truly over the experience of proving that they went somewhere by standing in front of it and every other person just like them. I feel their pain.
What the fuck am I even doing here? You hear the name ‘Dubrovnik’ on the Balkan backpacking trail often enough. It’s the next stop after Kotor, Montenegro. You Google image the city, get a feel for it. You think it looks cool. Incredible, really. You need to see it for yourself. Some people warn you that it’s touristy. A few backpackers at your last hostel or at a bar in Skopje tell you something along the lines of: When I was there a few years ago, Dubrovnik was just a small, cute town. Game of Thrones ruined it. And, it’s pricey. But worth a look.
I knew all this, yet here I am with the others. We, the tourists, flock in heinous amounts like pseudo-traveller drones. I wonder if anyone here even knows anything about Dubrovnik or Croatia? I realize that my own knowledge is slim. I’ve been moving around so much, jumping from place to place, that I keep catching myself in a new city without even knowing what the currency exchange is or how to say “thank you.” The Old City is amazing, architecturally speaking, but what am I even looking at? What am I snapping photos of? I feel as though I had better take a picture of the stately structures elevated around me because a photo will last longer than my meager impressions of this city on display, bared to appease the demands of the Almighty Tourist.
I could be anywhere in the world right now. I look around, and I barely see what I came here to see. Instead, I see unimpressed and pasty old white people straight off an expensive cruise, coupled up like they’re on a buddy system. I see Asian tourists with masks on, and loud, overweight American families toting frozen beverages. I see other backpackers like me, staring upward and eating ice cream. A lot of people are eating ice cream. The only locals I see are the ones who serve the ice cream.
I’m overstimulated. I stop at a cafe for an espresso. You know a place is touristy if you can pay with a credit card, at least in this corner of the world. Extra points if all the signs are in English, and if the menu is in six different languages.
I take my time using the cafe’s wifi. I’m scouring Wikipedia for historical context about Dubrovnik. It’s a Croatian city on the Adriatic in the Dalmatian region. UNESCO World Heritage Site. Maritime trade increased the prosperity of the city. City walls constructed from 12th to 17th centuries. Never been breached. The Republic of Ragusa existed from 1358 to 1808 and was a commercial hub that acted independently, despite being a vassal of the Ottoman Empire. The people mainly spoke Latin. Their motto was “Liberty is not well sold for all the gold.”
I pay my bill and move along, searching for a route to the holes in the wall. Someone told me you can jump into the water from there. I didn’t bring my suit. In my quest, I find a slightly more quiet part of town, so I sit on one of the old fortress walls and try to look out for a sign of these holes. The stone is hot from the sun, and I pull my hat down over my eyes for a bit of extra shade as I look out at the bay. I think this view may have been in Game of Thrones, too, but I can’t remember. The sound of water gently lapping against the sand and the tranquility of the small fishing boats, so neatly lined up before the small beach, calm my senses and help me think about why I even travel. Man, this city is starting to break me.
Ok, why do I travel?
I travel because I get to have genuine experiences every day. I get to be free, to roam as I please. That’s why I like to stay a bit off the beaten track. If my experiences aren’t genuine, then what am I doing traveling? It’s more about what I’m not doing. Like not working, not making commitments. As I ponder my existential crisis, I wonder how all of the people touching and sitting on this ancient stone is affecting its longevity.
I walk back into the main strip of the Old Town, the Placa, to get my bearings again as I continue my search. As I look around, I get the sense that I’m at the Eiffel Tower combined with Six Flags on a Saturday in the summer. Some place that would warrant and forgive an influx of tourism to this magnitude. Only I’m meant to be in a city still. But it’s an “old city” so every stone is a monument, every alley is art.
Armed with my Olympus, I snap photos with a grudge. I think I’m getting closer to the hole in the wall. I’m walking around that bay that I had looked out at earlier, contemplating my traveling woes. The smell of the sea is comforting, and the Adriatic is a sapphire. I walk close enough to the edge for my feet to feel the spray and occasional crash of salty water. Three local fishermen sit together on a bench, a beer in each one’s hand. The smell of fish emanates from their direction. They look dirty and weathered compared to their fresh tourist counterparts, but not because they’ve been working. They look exhausted from watching all of us walk past all day. What must they think of us? They look at me as I walk by, seemingly ready to make a cheeky comment that reinforces their sense of manhood. I stop in front of them and ask to take their picture. Two of them smile accordingly. One covers his face with his hands. I take the photo anyway and look at the picture on my camera screen to make sure no tourist walked into my shot.
Almost every photo is ruined by the tourist, so I start taking photos of the tourists. One point for an awkward solo photo. Two points for a photo of a tourist petting a stray cat. Three points for a photo of a tourist taking a photo of a stray cat.
This entertains me until I reach the holes in the wall. I walk through some quiet back alleys where laundry hangs between the buildings, and this visual gives me hope. I don’t know if I’ve actually made it to the alleged “holes”, but there is access to the sea, and surprisingly few have stripped off their clothes to jump in. I figure, why not? I’m here. Better than taking photos of tourists. I take off my quick dry clothes, my cheap sunglasses, my baseball cap that says ‘Godzilla.’ I put down my chunky camera, cover it with my clothes, and jump in. The water is fresh, salty enough to restore me. Suddenly, I’m a traveler again, living in the moment, going with the flow. I smile at the child who has jumped in after me, at the couple who share a wet kiss as they tread water next to me. Because at the end of the day, the essence of traveling is realized in small moments, like when you look up at the sky as you float on your back and realize how lucky you are to be bobbing away on this particular body of water.
You’re thinking of making a life change, but something’s holding you back. In this post, I equate that fear with my fear of bungee jumping. There were a lot of excuses, but in the end, I just jumped. The lesson? Don’t wait until you’re “ready,” because you may not ever get there. That’s why they call it a JUMP, not a step!
Part 1: The Story
It felt as though I were watching through someone else’s eyes as the distance between the ground and my feet grew and the tan, tiled roofs of Cusco spread out before me. I was in a steel-caged cherry picker bound to slowly ascend 122 meters only to plummet without it. This was my first bungee jumping experience, and while it’s easy to say you’d love to try it, it’s a whole other story when you’re actually about to jump to your potential death. The harness attached to my ankles, hips and neck was heavy and slightly suffocating, but I was glad for its existence. It made me feel supported. My guide Raul chattered away in Spanish behind me, giving me instructions that I only half listened to and asking small talk questions that I responded to like an automaton.
I gazed calmly at the portion of the Peruvian Andes in my field of vision, infinite and brown. Tall Eucalyptus trees surrounded the adventure park I had decided on coming to only an hour or two before. I could see my Irish friend Laura, whom I met while volunteering at a hostel in Ecuador, standing a safe distance away, snapping pictures with my iPhone, awaiting her turn at this adrenaline rush. I focused on my feet, which were planted to the base of the cherry picker, and my hands, frozen and clamped to metal bars on either side of me. If I let myself think about all that could go wrong, or even picture myself jumping, I might have backed out. So instead I denied my purpose for this ascension and breathed long and deep, nodding my head at Raul but otherwise standing still as a statue. Then the cage came to a sudden halt, and panic filled every muscle in my body. Logic was no match for my body’s survival instincts, and when Raul opened the steel door in front of me and instructed me to step out until my toes were over the edge, I couldn’t make my legs move. My whole body felt heavy and my hiking boots were glued to the floor.
“Are you OK?” he asked.
“Yes,” I lied.
“OK, so you need to walk to the edge now.”
“OK,” I said, and stayed where I was.
He told me that the longer I waited, the more scared I would be.
“Just jump!” he said. “Let yourself go.”
I almost threw up in my mouth. His hand gently nudged my back forward, but I remained rigid.
“Do you want to go back down?” he said.
I considered it. How bad would it be, really, if I just admitted I was too afraid and went the safe way down? Nobody would hold it against me or call me a coward. Nobody but myself. I thought back to how I ended up in Peru, trying to force myself to be fearless, both mentally and physically.
Just a few months earlier, I was shacked up with an ex-boyfriend whom I loved very much. We were partners, planning out a comfortable and snug future together. The more we planned, the more I felt panic similar to my current vertigo. Seeing my future laid out before me meant that there was less room for new possibilities, for experiences that were my own. I was 22 and the man I loved had no desire to travel, yet somehow our lives and desires were supposed to be bound together forever. It was suffocating, but I was just as scared of giving up a good thing for the unknown as I was of committing to this ordinary future. In the end, I couldn’t see myself as just a half of a whole. I wanted to be whole, independent of anyone else. When I confessed to him that I had more living to do on my own before I settled down with him, I knew that I had to see that claim through. If I didn’t, I would never forgive myself or him for missing out on the life I truly wanted to live.
I moved out of our apartment and bought a one way ticket to Ecuador where I started my four month solo backpacking trip through South America. Did I want to cancel the flight and run home to my man? Of course I did. I was scared of a life without him, scared of having only myself to rely on. None of my friends or family would have blamed me or thought it strange if I went back to him. Half of them didn’t understand why we broke up when we were so in love. But I knew I wouldn’t be happy with myself unless I took the risks that I had only dreamt about until then. Just like I knew that if I didn’t jump off my perch in the sky, I would never forgive myself.
Raul asked again if I wanted to go back down, but I didn’t come all the way up here to wuss out. I knew the risks of jumping. They had made me sign a waiver before they harnessed me. But to hell with them! There was only one way I was descending, and it wasn’t on the cherry picker. I took a step with my left foot, then dragged my right one to meet it, my hands still on the railings beside me. Raul looked over my shoulder and told me that I needed to move up a little more so my toes were over the edge. Again, that feeling that I would throw up in my mouth, only this time it was coupled with the feeling that I would crap my pants. At Raul’s behest, I took a deep breath and moved my toes over the edge.
“Good,” he said as he grabbed hold of my harness from behind. “Now, you need to release your grip on the rail.”
I did as I was told, feeling incredibly unstable, balanced as I was on the edge.
“Are you ready?” he asked.
“No,” I replied.
“Breathe,” he said.
I took a deep breath, felt a gentle push, and jumped with it.
Part 2: The helpful steps
The Buildup– You’re scared and you’re scaring yourself more by thinking about all the things that can go wrong. Maybe you’ve even researched what can go wrong. Eye injuries are most common when bungee jumping because of the pressure of the snap? Most common? I don’t want to do anything that will commonly injure me. So, you decide against it because it’s not worth the risk. Whenever I’ve contemplated bungee jumping, I’ve always said that I couldn’t do it because I didn’t have enough money, or I have a bad back and I was worried about what the snap of the bungee would do to it. Excuses, excuses.
The Nagging– Despite your better judgment, there is still that nagging curiosity about what is on the other side of that wall you put up. All those other world-class travelers have gone bungee jumping. Your old high school friend went bungee jumping AND skydiving. You’re going to miss out if you don’t at least try it. Would I have ever forgiven myself for making it to the top of that cherry picker and then taking the long way down? Absolutely not.
The Dreamer- You start to envision what would happen if the risk you were about to take goes well. You’re peeking over the wall and the grass is definitely greener. When I pictured how freeing it would be to soar through the air and get butterflies in my stomach, I got excited and couldn’t wait to feel the adrenaline. Plus, how cool would it be to be able to say you went bungee jumping?!
The Objectivity- You allow yourself to be aware of the potentially bad outcome, but not to let it touch you. After all, part of what makes fear so strong is that we fear what we do not know. When you accept both good and bad potential consequences, at least you know what’s on the other side. So maybe my retinas will explode or I’ll be sore tomorrow. I’m tough enough to handle a few battle scars. Even if I did feel like I got hit by a truck the next day.
The Bragging- Once you’ve decided that you’re going to take the plunge, you have to say it to yourself and say it to others so that it becomes real. After Laura and I signed up for our bungee jump, I posted a status on Facebook asking friends to wish me luck, I texted my mom and my best friend, and I repeated to myself “I am going bungee jumping,” like a mantra inside my head.
The Jump- It’s time. You’ve made it this far and there is no going back. The only direction to move now is forward. So you jump. Once I had made up my mind that I wasn’t going to back down, I took a step with my left foot to the very edge of the cherry picker, then dragged my right one to meet it. I immediately felt like throwing up and releasing my bowels, but instead I took a deep breath and peeled my hands off the safety of the railing. Then there was only one thing left to do. “Just jump!” My guide, Raul, told me. So I jumped, and I’ll never be sorry that I did.
Yes- Now that you’ve pushed through one fear, you can allow yourself to experience all of the possibilities that open up to you when you start to say ‘yes’ instead of ‘no.’ I took my first big, scary leap when I left everything I knew and loved to travel around the world solo. I’ve tried to fill my travels with as much adventure as possible, and not just because things like bungee jumping or surfing lessons are cheaper in other countries. After I conquered my fear of free falling 122 meters, I realized that the only thing standing in between me and everything I’ve ever thought of trying was myself. So I said yes to learning how to kite surf, yes to hang gliding, yes to surfing and yes to all my future adventures.
I spent about three August weeks in Big Bear Lake, a small, clean town 6,750 feet high in the mountains of central California, where almost every house is a beautiful log cabin with a stone fireplace, and almost every log cabin has a carved wooden statue of a big bear serving as their personal mascot.
I volunteered reception, kitchen and housekeeping work in exchange for a bed in the staff room and some meals at ITH Big Bear Mountain Adventure Lodge. The rustic hostel sits on a pinecone-covered hill, shaded by tall, dry pine trees. A big tree grows out of the long front porch that offers a sliver of a view of the sparkling blue lake.
The lodge was originally built in the 1920’s, and has a giant old fireplace, a couple of staircases that look like they were made from tree roots and branches and a handful of dead mounted animal skulls to add authenticity. With 3 dorm rooms and 4 private rooms (all comfortable, yet simple), a pretty sweet games room, a fully-equipped guest kitchen, a cozy great room and a big backyard, the place is great for chilled out friends, solo travelers and families. People who expected luxury here were sadly mistaken, but those people sucked anyway. It’s a clean (I helped see to that), cheap place to kick it in the mountains and get a hot breakfast and dinner included in the price of the room. Not to mention all of the cool activities that come with the price of your stay, like boat cruises, guided hikes, karaoke, bowling, games nights and, my personal favorite, ARCHERY!! One of the managers, Rudy, used to compete and would teach anyone who asked how to shoot a bow and arrow.
Before I go into my personal story, I just want to provide a list of practical information for anyone thinking of making the trip to Big Bear Lake.
How do you even get to Big Bear Lake?
Well, funny you ask, because it is a bitch and a half to get there without a car. If you’ve got one, I assume you also have some sort of navigation at your disposal, so please refer to that for driving directions. On public transit, the trip from, say Los Angeles, will very likely take you all day. So bring your patience, some Less Drowsy Dramamine and a snack or two, because it’s going to be a long, winding ride.
1) Arrive in Los Angeles and get to Union Station. I arrived in LAX at around 10 in the morning on a sunny Wednesday. From there, the cheapest and most out of the way route I found was to take an $8 airport shuttle into the city to Union Station.
2a) Take an Amtrak to San Bernardino. Find yourself (in advance) an Amtrak train that goes to San Bernardino, your destination to catch the Mountain Transit bus up the curvy and slightly treacherous road to Big Bear. Make sure you time it right, because there are only three times that the bus leaves from the San Bernardino Metrolink station (where the trains go, not the buses), 8:35 AM, 12:15 PM and 5:15 PM. For some reason, I didn’t take the train to San Bernardino. I took a godforsaken Greyhound bus that stopped in a million small towns along the way and made me miss my 5:15 bus, so I had to sleep in some shithole motel next to the liquor store where locals drank barefoot on the stoop.
But I digress. If you heed my advice and get a two-hour-or-so train ride up, you will also have the privilege of being an Amtrak customer. This means that if you happen to arrive in LA as early as I did and you have some time to kill, Amtrak will hold your luggage, I think for free, at Union Station. I had the unpleasant experience of sweating while guarding my luggage and taking it with me whenever I needed to pee or eat. But you, hopefully, will have the luxury of free hands and a weightless back. If you want to get a little tourism in, head over to Olvera Street, the oldest part of Downtown LA and part of El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Monument. It’s basically Little Mexico, and you can kill a few hours eating taquitos off the street and watching traditional Aztec dances.
2b) Take a Greyhound bus to San Bernardino. The Greyhound station is about a $4 Uber, or a 20 minute walk, from Union Station. I was told that the bus that takes you to Big Bear from San Bernardino stops at the Greyhound station. However, the people working behind the ticket booth seemed to not know what I was talking about, even though the schedule on the Mountain Transit website says that it stops at the Greyhound Station…
3) Get to San Bernardino Metrolink station to catch Mountain Transit bus to Interlaken Center, Big Bear. I hopped in another Uber (again another $4 or so) to the Metrolink station (if you took the train to SB, you would have arrived at Metrolink), where I waited at an actual bus stop on the road for the mini-bus to arrive. There was a sign on the street with a number you can call to track the bus you’re waiting for. The bus costs $10, exact change only. Do not be alarmed if you are one of the only people on the bus. Just as likely, you will be accompanied by mountain crazies who shout conversations at the bus driver, or old sweeties who show you photos of their cats and make sure you get to the hostel safely once the bus reaches the Interlaken Center.
4) Go to ITH Big Bear Mountain Adventure Lodge. There are more Mountain Transit buses that go around the lake and can hopefully drop you off at your destination of choice. If you stay at ITH Big Bear, there is a convenient stop right at the bottom of the hostel’s steep driveway. But I know the guys who run the place, and if you just call and ask in advance, chances are someone could pick you up and drive you home. You’ve had a long enough of a day.
What to do in Big Bear Lake in the summer?
Big Bear Lake and Big Bear are more well known for their winter skiing and snowboarding culture because, duh, it’s a mountain. But summer offers a ton of super cool activities, too! My favorites include:
Every Trail and Trails Foundation give pretty good rundowns of the hiking trails available in Big Bear. I hiked Pine Knot, Cougar Crest and Castle Rock while I was there.
Pine Knot: This trail, about 3 miles up one way, was only a half an hour walk away from the hostel, off of Mill Creek Road. The trail starts at Aspen Glen picnic area, a clearing with a few tables and some well-maintained toilets. It was a pretty mild hike with lots of shade, but I still wished I had brought more than one bottle of Powerade. About ¾ of the way up is a “picnic area” that looked more like a clearing to me, and a bit further is the Grand View Point. Unfortunately, it was getting dark so my fellow volunteer, Lara, and I didn’t make it to the view point. That didn’t stop us from climbing on top of boulders to get a good look at that glittering lake. It really was extraordinary and peaceful. We only passed a few other hikers and mountain bikers, and I could see that people had ridden horses through the trail, as well. In total, it took us about 3 hours.
Cougar Crest: This trail was our manager Rudy’s favorite, so he took us volunteers and some guests here one day for an outing. The trail was very dry. I felt more like I was hiking a steep Mohave desert than climbing in the mountains of California. About 2.3 miles up one way, the trail was lined with pines and juniper trees, and it zigzagged a lot and offered many great views of the lake. At the end of the trail, you can connect with the Pacific Crest Trail and get a look at Mexico on one side and Canada on the other. Apparently it’s good to go during all seasons, and mountain bikers are allowed to ride only during off-peak seasons.
Castle Rock: This one was by far my favorite hike. As it was only 1.3 miles one way, it was probably the easiest trail, but by far the most beautiful. The trailhead is sort of hard to find, as there is no parking lot or easy-to-spot opening. You sort of just park along the road and walk into the trail from the street. As you walk further into the woods, along the dusty paths and the shady pines, the sounds of the street begin to fade. The walk up to the boulder playground is steep, with plenty of other boulders along the way available to climb. If you reach the first section of boulders, you haven’t reached the end, so don’t stop there. Keep going, past tall rocks and cliffs, to the main rock at the top, a castle of rocks, if you will. I took off my shoes so I could climb to the very top, as there is no path up, with a better grip. We even found some scary and dangerous crevices to try to climb out of. I love a good challenge and a solid boulder to climb. The view from all the way up there was the most stunning. The lake spread out infinitely before me, and the slight wind and silence of being so high up filled my ears. I felt lucky to be alive.
Of course, there are many other hikes available, as well as the Deep Creek hot springs, but those are an hour or two out of town.
2) Play on the lake.
The hostel offers free boat tours of the lake! If you sign up in time, you’ll be one of the blessed few to ride the speedboat with the crisp mountain wind in your hair, the sun in your eyes, and a cold can of Coors in your hand. There is no toilet on the boat, but luckily the lake offers floating restrooms that are surprisingly clean. You can also rent your own boats, and other gear, for a day of fishing for rainbow trout or cruising in the sun. The best place to rent from is the Big Bear Marina.
You can rent kayaks, canoes, jet skis, paddle boards and wakeboard gear from the Marina, and other spots along the south side of the lake, as well. (Just make sure if you’re bring your own paddle board or any type of boat that you check with the Big Bear Municipal Water District about permits and whether or not you’re required to wear a safety vest.) There are a few places on the north side, too, closer to Fawnskin, but if you stick with Captain John’s, Pleasure Point and even Holloway’s Marina and RV Park, you’ll be good to go. Cabins4Less advertise that they offer pretty cheap rentals, but that might just be for their guests. However, they are very close to Boulder Bay and Boulder Bay Park, some must-see sights.
If you want to go swimming in Big Bear Lake, you have to find the right spot. I won’t lie to you, this isn’t the most fun lake to swim in. It’s cold and oily, and when I was there, the algae along the shore made easing your way in difficult and kind of gross. If you’re on a boat in the middle of the lake, unfortunately, you cannot just jump in. You are, however, allowed to fall in, so keep that one in mind. But if you want to have a day alternating between tanning, swimming and snacking, there are a few sandy shores for you.
Meadow Park:A great space to take friends and family, this park right on the lake is 16 acres big with picnic tables, barbecues, tennis courts, volleyball courts, horseshoes, baseball fields, bathrooms and more. The park is right next to appropriately named Swim Beach. Don’t expect a beautiful swim, here. You’re welcome to have a go, but you’ll probably be a bit disappointed.
Boulder Bay Park:Boulder Bay and the park next to it are a great place to spend the day. The rock formations all over the space are fun to climb on and take photos with. There are a few picnic areas and barbecues, and the rocky little shore is a good place to launch a kayak.
Dana Point: On the north shore of the lake, in Fawnskin, is Dana Point, a small park with picnic tables and lake access. What more could you want?
Explore: This isn’t a place, it’s a suggestion. I went walking around with friends and we ended up stumbling across a small, mostly deserted beach front where the water was nice and not too obstructed by algae. For the life of me I cannot find it on Google maps to show you. I’m sorry. But something tells me it was in between Gibraltar Point and Lagonita Point.
We also found some boulders while we were on the lake that people were jumping off. So we parked on the side of the road one day, climbed over some rocks and possibly someone’s backyard, and voila, we were climbing up boulders and jumping off of them into the lake in no time! I’m pretty sure we stopped around 66 Big Bear Boulevard. There was a sandy shoulder off the road before the bridge on the west side. Directly in front of the shoulder are two signs, a green one that points to “Fawnskin North Shore” and a brown one below it that points to “Big Bear Discovery Center.” If you park there, take off your shoes and follow your heart, you may be able find the boulders we jumped off of (video below). It’s pretty close to “Treasure Island” or “China Island” for a point of reference. I advise someone to wade into the water first and see how deep it goes before anyone jumps off. I’m not sure how rainfall and droughts and science and stuff affect the depth of a man-made lake.
China Island: You’ll be able to see this small, enticing outcrop of granite boulders from the lake. There are a few huts that were built into the boulders by the Chinese settlers who were building a dam in 1884, without which there would be no Big Bear Lake today. I had assumed that people were renting those huts out, and maybe they are, but further research tells me that the island is open to anyone, and it’s been dubbed the best swimming hole in Big Bear. If you want to jump off of a more established rock, China Island is the place to go. Keep in mind that there are only 6 to 8 parking spots available, so try to get there early if you are driving.
3)Alpine and Water Slide at Magic Mountain
The slides at Magic Mountain offer a nice way to cool off in the summer, as well as adding a cheap thrill to your day. The Alpine Slide, open year round, takes visitors on a chairlift to the top where they can pick which of the two slides they want, have a seat on your sled, and go. If the water slide is more your style, like it was mine, you can join a bunch of dripping, pushing little kids on the line to the two slides. The one on the left is slightly more dangerous if you’re up for a bit more of an adrenaline rush.
Magic Mountain also offers go karts, mini golf, an arcade and a deliciously gross snack bar where I made my fellow volunteers, Julian (from South Africa/ Switzerland) and Lara (from Germany) try, and get addicted to, corn dogs.
4) Eat in Big Bear Lake
There are obviously many places to stuff your face in Big Bear Lake. A few of my faves:
The Log Cabin: Located on the corner of Big Bear Boulevard and Edgemoor Road, this country restaurant serves all the best comfort food in a warm environment with friendly staff. They have a delightful mix of American and German plates, and they serve breakfast all day! I ate some sort of Sauerbraten (a German pot roast) Eggs Benedict, with a side of potato pancakes. So good, I nearly licked the plate. Ok, I did lick the plate.
The Grizzly Manor Cafe:A tiny shack on the side of the road (Big Bear Blvd, like everything else), Grizzly Manor serves heaping portions of cheap, down home American breakfast and lunch. They are open from 6am to 2pm, and are nearly always packed. With unassuming food cooked right, rustic settings and sassy staff, it’s no wonder there is often a line out the door.
Big Bear Mountain Brewery: The brewery is cozy on the inside and looks like a saloon on the outside. They offer 6 craft beers on tap, ranging from The Grizzly, a chocolate porter, to Old Miner’s Gold, a honey blond. Try a sampler set while you munch on some basic pub food.
Saucy Momma’s Pizzeria:This place stands out on the scenic Pine Knot Avenue, so I had to stop in for a taste. Good service, delicious pizza, and a patio with puppies everywhere. What else could you want?
North Pole Fudge Co: “The Sweetest Shoppe in Town,” is right. This place is heaven, and it’s right next to Saucy Momma’s. Among the thoughts you will have upon entering this magical place of homemade ice cream, milkshakes, floats, lemonade, fudge and candies, you will certainly think, How can I eat everything without becoming poor or sick? I ate some white chocolate caramel cinnamon delight thing and a fudge that had peanut butter rice crispy attached to it. I had a sugar rush for about 15 minutes and then I felt very sick. Worth it.
This center, while mainly for kids, is a great way to introduce yourself to Big Bear and the San Bernardino National Forest. You’ll learn a lot about caring for nature and the history of the area. While visiting, you can hike their easy trail to the lake, or engage in child-friendly activities like panning for gold, arts and crafts, climbing and crawling, etc. You can also go on a 3 mile guided hike from Snow Summit. On the hike, you get a free lunch and a ride on the Sky Chair to check out views of Big Bear Lake and Mt. San Gorgornio while you continue on the trial. The Discovery Center is pet friendly and free to enter.
The Lake Antique Car Club Fun Run goes down every summer at Big Bear Lake, you just have to check their site to catch it. Our crew was actually heading to a Renaissance Fair that day, but as we drove along the lake, we noticed crazy cool antique cars in front and behind us. Locals had set up camp along the side of the road, sitting on fold up chairs and drinking Cokes from their coolers. Whenever an antique car would drive by, they’d cheer for them, and the car would obligingly honk or rev it’s engine.
7) Kick it at the hostel, and do hostel things.
The hostel itself has large grounds that offer a ton of activities to engage in when you’re bored, from volleyball and horse shoes, to archery and yoga. They also offers activities at night, for example:
This is the one night a week where you won’t get a free meal at the hostel. Instead, after a few sugary margaritas and some complimentary chips and salsa, everyone takes a ten minute walk over to Azteca Grill for $1 tacos and to overwhelm the staff.
Karaoke: About twice a week, Ian, our other manager, takes staff and guests to Murray’s Pub for karaoke night. I have heard it’s a good time, but the one night I actually bothered to see for myself, I was told I couldn’t return. I flipped off the bartender as I walked out for not letting my underage friend, Lara, stay. Whatever.
Bowling: Normally every week, the staff takes guests on a bowling night, as well. I suck at bowling, and hated it. But everyone was shrieking with delight most of the time. We went to The Bowling Barn, and it had all the stuff of a bowling alley. Black lights, gross shoes, cheap disinfectant smell, mass-produced nachos and previously frozen chicken nuggets, an impossible to win claw crane, multiple lanes, and a bored-looking bartender with cheap beer. Ah, yes, it was everything I expected it to be.
The list can go on and on. Big Bear was a great place to spend a quiet, yet action packed summer. I wish I could be there for the winter, but I’ll be kicking it by the beach in Australia this winter!!!
Check out the next post for some ITH Big Bear hostel life stories.