Twentynine Palms is one of those duty stations. The one some would prefer to skip, the one some can’t wait to leave and the one some will leave crying. This is our second time stationed here and I’d be fibbing it I didn’t say there are some minor discomforts associated with living here. We’re a bit of a distance from the comforts of popular retail businesses and restaurants and sometimes it feels like there’s nothing too terribly exciting to do. If you’ve experienced a similar duty station, you likely know what I mean and if you haven’t, I think you’d be pleased to know that families (ours included) have found ways to take the station’s ‘shortcomings’ and turn them into endearments. Sometime in the future I know I’ll quite enjoy telling our kids about the time(s) we lived just outside Joshua Tree National Park and how we filled our time with buckets of popcorn at the base theater and how gorgeous the sunsets looked from our back windows.
Years ago I read a book by Melody Warnick about place attachment. Basically, place attachment is a term for becoming emotionally connected with where you live. This can be accomplished in many ways such as finding ways to engage in your favorite hobbies and activities where you are now or something as seemingly simple as discovering a coffee shop you love enough to visit once a week. I’ve found that finding a place around a duty station that becomes your place is one of the things that can really help with settling in.
For our family, one of those places is Big Bear. Nestled in the San Bernardino mountains, Big Bear is a multi-season getaway destination for Southern California residents. Families either day trip or make a weekend out of it for reasons including significantly cooler temperatures, tall, beautiful trees, crisp mountain air and snow. If that resembles the setting of a Hallmark holiday movie, that’s because it really is that charming.
(No matter which way you choose to enjoy this mountain town, day tripping or overnight, be sure to check the road and weather conditions before you go. Chains are required in your vehicle when traveling in the wintertime, even when it’s not presently snowing.
In my humble opinion, here’s why I think you should visit Big Bear if you’re stationed in California (especially Twentynine Palms.)
Change of Scenery
Twentynine Palms and the surrounding areas are attractive in a way that desert’s usually are. The flora and fauna that’s grown accustomed to drier conditions, the silhouette of the mountains in the evening and the small town charm are all tokens of life out here, but there’s just something about those nearby mountains. Big Bear is a great escape from the high temperatures we experience in the summer (and sometimes through October,) but there’s really no bad time to surround yourself with towering pine trees. If you’re looking to stay overnight or the weekend consider using vacation rental sites like Airbnb or through MCCS at their Big Bear Recreation Facility.
Variety of Restaurants
Twentynine Palms isn’t generally known for the food. Though there are some favorites, there’s something to be said about visiting a town that has an abundance of independent fares. For breakfast, we won’t miss grabbing almost a dozen donuts from Dank Donuts in the Moonridge neighborhood. Their donuts are fresh and generously sized and there’s even a coin operated horse out front. Though this donut shop does offer coffee, you’ll want to go just down the block to Moonridge Coffee Company if you’re looking for an espresso based drink. They’ll have your usual favorites, plus seasonal sips. The inside will probably remind you of a cozy cabin and you just might grab another one before heading down the mountain like I do. For lunch or dinner, if it’s a weekday, we’ll treat ourselves to the Teddy Bear Restaurant in The Village downtown. Portions are generous and we’ve liked everything we’ve tried. If you can’t make it to Julian, Pickle’s Pie Shop draws a line out the door of its quaint, cottage-style establishment. Be sure to go early enough in the day for the best selection of pies.
Walking Trails and Hikes
Depending on your speed, there’s an abundance of trails to choose from. The Alpine Pedal Path Trail, which hugs the north shore of the lake, is great for leisurely family walks. We tried this one on our last visit and it’s really quite enjoyable in comparison to the steeper area hikes we’ve done in the past. AllTrails is a great resource for finding your Big Bear hike, but if you’d rather not spend time scouring the app, milling around the downtown Village or your vacation rental’s neighborhood can be just as refreshing.
Depending on your thrill threshold, Big Bear has a variety of ways to play with the powder. You can rent tubes from businesses like Big Bear Snow Play and Alpine Slide or you can snowboard and ski at Big Bear Mountain Resort. Don’t feel bad though if you’d rather not slush down the mountain (that’s not my speed either) because I think even just visiting somewhere with snow to look at can be just as fulfilling.
If you’re not too particularly fond of your duty station yet, I encourage you to explore. Turn over as many rocks and pebbles in town and spots an arm’s throw away, like our Big Bear, until it starts to feel like your place. If you happen to be Twentynine Palms and you’re just not feeling it yet, the mountains might be calling your name. Though I appreciate the season we’re in here in the desert, there’s just something to be said about the peace I feel when we spend the weekend in Big Bear. Johnny Cash once described paradise as, “this morning, with her, having coffee,” and I can genuinely say that one of my slices of paradise is having coffee, with my family, in Big Bear.