Things You Must See and Do . . . Big Bear is home to several special attractions due to the unique qualities of the area. The Big Bear Discovery Center is operated cooperatively by the U.S. Forest Service and San Bernardino National Forest Association. The Discovery Center serves as a template for other interpretive centers across the country and is the ” . . . Gateway to Adventure and Discovery in the Great Outdoors”. Guests visit the center for naturalist-led interpretive programs, evening nature lectures, hiking information and to view the changing exhibits which include every thing from native animals to fire prevention. Tours on foot or by canoe are available for the more adventuresome providing opportunities to learn about waterfowl, aquatic and animal life. The Adventure Outpost is an onsite retail store which offers one-of-a-kind gifts.
Also unique to Big Bear is the Alpine Zoo, a 2.5 acre facility for animals wounded in the wilderness. The area fires of 1959 brought about the need to house injured animals that could be treated and returned to the forest. Some of the animals, however, would never heal sufficiently enough to allow their release. For those healthy but non-releasable birds and animals, the Alpine Zoo became their protective new home, and the Moonridge Animal Park was “born”. At least 200 injured wild birds and animals are treated annually at the park, and the majority are rehabilitated and released back into the wild. The Friends of the Alpine Zoo was established in 1989 as a non-profit organization. It is dedicated to supporting Park improvements and providing opportunities to learn about wildlife. The Big Bear Alpine Zoo is evolving into the Living Forest Wildlife Center. Expansion efforts are currently underway.
The Big Bear Solar Observatory (BBSO) takes advantage of the excellent climatic conditions of the area to study the Sun. The observatory is located in the middle of the lake to reduce image distortion, and turbulent motions in the air are also reduced by the smooth flow of the wind across the lake. These conditions, combined with the usually cloudless skies over Big Bear Lake and the clarity of the air at this elevation, make the observatory a premier site for solar observations. The observatory was built by the California Institute of Technology in 1969. Management of the observatory and an array of solar radio telescopes were transferred to the New Jersey Institute of Technology in 1997. Funding for the operation is from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Science Foundation (NSF), the United States Air Force, the United States Navy, and other agencies. Tours of the BBSO are available in the summer.
No trip to Big Bear is complete without a visit to the Big Bear Valley Historical Museum. The museum has many exhibits that begin with the Indian period and include an 1875 log cabin, gold mining artifacts, cattle ranching and lumbering exhibits, and many other historical artifacts.