While many choose to head to the beach to relax next to rolling waves with the smell of salt in the air, others opt for getaways next to pristine lakes and evergreen trees. Still others venture out to the desert, where other lakes lie in wait, hoping to be explored. Whether you travel near or far, to the desert or to the mountains, lake house getaways are a great way to get out of Orange County for a nearby vacation.
Big Bear Lake
Big Bear Lake
Possibly the most prominent area near Orange County for lake house getaways is Big Bear Lake. This region in the San Bernardino Mountains features four scenic highways that come together at the lake, meaning that there are a variety of ways (and views) to take to get there. Whether using AirBnb or the city’s tourism board, Big Bear is filled with cabin rentals with views of the lake, lake access or even personal docks that make it an ideal spot for a vacation base. On the lake, fishing and boating are popular, as there are multiple public boat launches. Guests can also water ski or parasail on the lake.
Located less than an hour to the west of Big Bear Lake, Lake Arrowhead is another popular spot for Southern California residents looking for a mountain escape. This lake, however, is smaller than the one in Big Bear, and is a private lake. While it’s still possible to get out on the water, you’ll have to do so via a local tour or boat company. That being said, the forest here is filled with cabins offering beautiful vistas or access to hiking, biking or backpacking in a mountain environment.
The largest freshwater lake in Southern California, located on the I-15 freeway between Corona and Temecula, Lake Elsinore is a quick jaunt that doesn’t require leaving the area. With more than 14 miles of shoreline, this lake offers plenty of chances to explore, and there are a variety of cabins and houses to rent that have views of both the lakeshore and the mountains in the distance. At Lake Elsinore, take part in waterskiing, wake boarding, jet skiing, motor boating, kayaking, fishing and more. The city even offers a Boater Safety Course to get familiar with the activity.
A lesser-known Southern California lake, Lake Hemet provides stunning views and an isolated escape from the hustle and bustle of Orange County life. This lake is in the San Jacinto Mountains, near the small town of Idyllwild, and is surrounded by nature. Enjoy views of the mountains, Manzanita trees, giant oaks and sagebrush for a different type of outdoor escape from that of Lake Arrowhead or Big Bear. Modern lakefront cabins offer views of the small lake, where guests can kayak or fish for bass, trout and catfish. An inflated 470-acre waterpark called Splashing Eagle Waterpark is located in the lake’s Swim Cove as well, offering floating climbing walls and trampolines.
Lake San Marcos
Those looking for an urban lake house getaway should head south to San Diego’s San Marcos. Nestled in the hills not far from the coast, this region has another hidden lake that locals can spend time at. Stay at the Lakehouse Hotel & Resort for a luxury experience on the shores of the lake—a resort that also offers a golf course, its own marina, restaurants and pools. While there are rooms and suites available, those looking for a lake house getaway will want to opt for the cottages. Choose from the Shore cottage or the White Porch cottage, each of which has multiple rooms, including living spaces, to fit your whole group. The high-end lake is ideal for kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding and motorized boating.
Those that choose to head north need only travel 300 miles to find another lake worth escaping to. An alpine lake that lies in the Sierra mountain range, this region, near Fresno, is a popular summertime spot for those hoping to waterski and jet ski. It’s also a popular spot for fishing. Shaver Lake isn’t the only one in the area, as this area is filled with other popular lakes like Huntington Lake as well as those in nearby Yosemite. Enjoy a stay at Shaver Lake with a variety of cabins and lodges, located to the southwest of the lake itself.
Though located about a half hour outside of Santa Barbara, this spot is ideal for those looking for lake house getaways in the region. A comfortable distance between Santa Barbara and Solvang, this county parks-run lake is quiet, peaceful and set far away from the city. In addition to fishing piers and scenic lake cruises, visitors can go hiking or enjoy children’s playgrounds. There are eight cabins situated above the shoreline where guests can spend the night, sleeping anywhere from two to six people. Each one has its own living room, kitchenette and private porch, making it the perfect home-away-from-home during your stay at Lake Cachuma.
Mammoth Lakes, Mammoth
There are a few different lakes along June Lake Loop, not far from the town of Mammoth Lakes, making it one of the most scenic areas on this list. For a lake house getaway to remember, visit the regal June Lake, where guests can brave the cold temperatures for a summer swimming session, go trout fishing, waterski, wakeboard, paddleboard or sail. It’s also the ideal location for hiking and photography, being close to Yosemite and many of Ansel Adams’ favorite photo spots. Head down the loop to Silver Lake for fewer crowds and equally stunning vistas—both lakes have vacation homes located near the shoreline.
Lake Tahoe is not only the most famous lake in California, but one of the most famous lakes in the west. Though it’s a trek to get there from Southern California, your lake house experience at Lake Tahoe will be unrivaled. Houses and cabins line the shore of the massive lake, which is situated in two different states, and there are a variety of towns and festivals to enjoy in addition to the endless activities on the cold mountain water. With spectacular views, endless hiking trails and chances to kayak, paddleboard, boat and even take dinner cruises on the lake, it’s a great spot for a high-energy vacation or a laidback, relaxing getaway.
Ashley Ryan is an Orange County native that loves traveling, live music and photography. She blogs at Pure Wander and freelances for a variety of publications including Newport Beach Magazine and Laguna Beach Magazine.