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Lake Tahoe vs Big Bear – Which One Should You Visit?

Both Lake Tahoe and Big Bear are popular vacation spots located in California. 

This post will look at the differences between them to help you decide where to visit on your next trip! It covers hotels, activities, atmosphere, nightlife and more!

Summary – Lake Tahoe vs Big Bear

Lake TahoeBig Bear
More things
to do
Fewer things
to do
Bigger lakeSmaller lake
Better for skiingNot as good
for skiing
8 ski resorts2 ski resorts
Lots of snow
in winter
Less snow
in winter
Bigger areaSmaller area

Top Picks For Lake Tahoe

Best Hotel In Lake Tahoe

Top Activities In Lake Tahoe:

Top Picks For Big Bear

Best Hotel In Big Bear

Top Activities In Big Bear:

Lake Tahoe is located on the northern border between California and Nevada. The lake itself is actually split between the two states.

Big Bear is located in Southern California just 2 hours from Los Angeles. 

Although the two destinations are both popular vacation spots in California, they differ slightly in what they have to offer.

Lake Tahoe is a large freshwater lake that is known for its sandy beaches and ski resorts. You can spend your time kayaking, parasailing or relaxing by the beach (or on the slopes in winter). 

In contrast, Big Bear is a smaller, fish-filled lake that is known for its 2 ski resorts with a range of slopes for all levels. You can take part in various water sports in the lake including kayaking and canoeing.

There are far more things to do in Lake Tahoe compared with Big Bear. Lake Tahoe has a wider range of hotels, restaurants, shops and other amenities. 

The lake itself at Lake Tahoe is bigger than the lake at Big Bear. The water is also clearer in Lake Tahoe which often makes water sports more fun.

If you’re heading to Lake Tahoe or Big Bear for skiing then you’ll find that Lake Tahoe will be much better. There are 8 ski resorts in Lake Tahoe whereas Big Bear has just 2 resorts. 

Additionally, the snow is much more reliable in Lake Tahoe. You cannot guarantee that it will snow in Big Bear and sometimes it doesn’t, making skiing difficult. 

Lake Tahoe is bigger but does get more crowded in peak season. Big Bear has a similar vibe to Lake Tahoe but on a smaller scale and is far less busy.

Which Is Bigger? Lake Tahoe or Big Bear

Lake Tahoe is much bigger than Big Bear in terms of area. Whilst Big Bear covers 16.6kmof area, Lake Tahoe covers a huge 496.2km2 making Big Bear seem tiny in comparison.

Lake Tahoe also has a much bigger population of 22,000 people compared with Big Bear which has just 5,000 residents.

You can definitely feel the difference in size when in the town. Lake Tahoe has tons of activities, restaurants and shops – you could stay for a week or more and never run out of things to do.

Big Bear, on the other hand, doesn’t have as much to do but there’s still enough there to keep you busy for a few days.

Which Has Better Activities? Lake Tahoe or Big Bear

Lake Tahoe has a wider range of activities available compared with Big Bear including more shops, restaurants and things to do.

Activities In Lake Tahoe

The activities available in Lake Tahoe vary depending on which time of year you visit. Most activities take place in the lake itself. 

Best Activities In Lake Tahoe:

Lake Tahoe is best known for its lake, where you can swim, kayak, fish, and hike around its crystal clear waters. 

To get the most out of your trip, head out on an electric bike tour to see what the area has to offer. This is especially great if your trip is a shorter one. 

Alternatively you can circle around the lake on a shuttle bus if you still want to see the area but want something less active. 

Lake Tahoe is much more than just a lake as there are numerous towns that surround the water. Within these towns there are tons of options for restaurants, cafes, shops and boutiques. 

Most people like to spend their time out on the lake itself. The best way to do this is to head out on a sailing cruise. This eco-friendly voyage allows you to experience Lake Tahoe’s beauty from the water. 

The list of recreational activities available in Lake Tahoe is endless. Join a kayaking tour and paddle through Lake Tahoe’s crystal clear waters in a completely transparent kayak or go parasailing and enjoy the natural beauty of the region.

For an unforgettable experience, join a helicopter tour over Lake Tahoe. During this once in a lifetime opportunity, you’ll get an incredible birds eye view of Lake Tahoe from above as well as nearby lakes, mountains and waterfalls.

In the summer, you can spend the day by the beach at Sand Harbor. With crystal clear waters, long sandy beaches and rocky coves, Sand Harbor is the perfect place to spend a hot summer’s day. 

In the winter, Lake Tahoe transforms itself into a winter wonderland covered in snow. Skiing is a popular activity in Lake Tahoe during this time. Hit the slopes by getting yourself a ski or snowboard rental package.

Whilst Lake Tahoe is not a national park, it does have a national forest that is the perfect place to take a hike. It’s actually the most visited national forest in all of California.

Activities In Big Bear

There’s still lots of activities available in Big Bear. Most take place outdoors giving you a chance to connect with nature and escape life for a while.

Best Activities In Big Bear:

One of the most popular activities in Big Bear is hiking. There are many scenic trails to choose from including the Castle Rock Trail which features jaw-dropping panoramic views of the lake and snow-capped San Bernardino Mountains.

You can also join a hiking tour to the secret Bluff Lake. Even many locals don’t know about this stunning hidden lake. 

Explore Big Bear by joining a bike tour or for something a little different, explore Big Bear by segway if you prefer.

There’s tons of awesome activities available in Big Bear to keep you occupied. You could book onto a ziplining activity and glide amongst the treetops overlooking the valley below.

Big Bear Lake has tons of water sports to keep you busy all day long. You could hop into a kayak and paddle along the lake or you could rent a pontoon and catch some rays. 

For something a bit more exciting, rent a jet ski! The best place to find water sport rentals is at the Big Bear Marina.

You can also try fishing as there are large populations of catfish, trout and bass in the lake.

If you’re visiting during the winter then why not hit the slopes at one of Big Bear’s ski resorts located in the San Bernardino Mountains. 

With 2 ski resorts and 1,000 acres of skiable area, you’ll never get bored. Big Bear offers options for skiers of all skill levels.

If you’re a beginner then you can spend some time learning in the ski school before hitting the slopes.

For a more leisurely day out or a picnic, head over to Boulder Bay Park which gets its name from the massive boulders that lie along the bay. You can try canoeing or kayaking or you can even just relax along the banks of the river admiring the lush greenery.

Which Has Better Accommodation? Lake Tahoe vs Big Bear

Lake Tahoe has a much wider range of hotels and accommodations compared with Big Bear. 

You’ll find a clean and comfortable place to stay in both locations. 

Accommodation In Lake Tahoe

There is a wide range of hotels and accommodation available in Lake Tahoe, ranging from basic to 5-star.

Lake Tahoe has an impressive range of luxury 5-star hotels that will make your trip even more special. 

Best Hotels In Lake Tahoe:

Accommodation In Big Bear

In Big Bear you’ll find a smaller range of comfortable hotels to spend your vacation. There’s not quite as much choice but you’ll definitely find something that suits your needs.

Best Hotels In Big Bear:

Which Is Better for Nightlife? Lake Tahoe or Big Bear

The nightlife is fun and vibrant in both Lake Tahoe and Big Bear. 

Lake Tahoe definitely has a wider range of bars, pubs and clubs to choose from but you can easily have a fun night out in both Lake Tahoe and Big Bear.

Nightlife In Lake Tahoe

The nightlife scene in Lake Tahoe is one of the best things about this destination. 

South Lake Tahoe in particular has a vibrant and fun nightlife. Here you’ll find casinos, theaters, bars and nightclubs to keep you entertained all evening.  

Most of the bars and venues in Lake Tahoe are laid-back and relaxed, however there are a few dance clubs if you want to party the night away. Try the Vex Nightclub at Harrah’s or the Opal at MontBleu Resort Casino & Spa.

When it comes to bars, you’ll find everything from dive bars to wine bars and much more in Lake Tahoe. 

The Idle Hour offers incredible sunsets on Tahoe’s stunning lakefront. The Loft Theatre is also a top choice as it features a lounge bar, restaurant and nightly magic show!

Nightlife In Big Bear

Big Bear also gets super lively when the sun goes down and there’s a long list of things to do at night.

One of the most popular bars in Big Bear is Murray’s Saloon & Eatery which has a great range of drinks and even has a karaoke night on the weekends.

If you’d prefer to listen to live music by a band or singer then head over to Whiskey Dave’s which is located right in the heart of the village. As well as great drinks, they have a range of games tables. 

The AV Bar & Nightclub is the only nightclub in Big Bear. If you’re looking for somewhere with a DJ where you can dance the night away then this is the place to be.

Other great bars located in Big Bear include Club Bombay, Chad’s Place and Sandy’s.

Which Is More Affordable? Lake Tahoe or Big Bear

In general, a trip to Lake Tahoe will be much more expensive than a trip to Big Bear. 

You’ll likely spend more on hotels, food and activities in Lake Tahoe compared with Big Bear. 

If budget is an issue for you then Big Bear will be a better option for you. 

Both Lake Tahoe and Big Bear are fantastic vacation destinations. 

I hope this article was helpful in highlighting the main differences of Lake Tahoe vs Big Bear.

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