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Weekend Escape: Big Bear Lake

Private Perch : Loafing and hiking amid mountain luxury on a sun-friendly peninsula

June 22, 1997|NANCY WRIDE | TIMES STAFF WRITER; Wride writes for the Orange County Edition's Life & Style section

FAWNSKIN, Calif. — I have been going to the San Bernardino Mountains all of my life, starting with my grandmother's house in Running Springs. Now that Grandma is gone, I have to rent. And if you're going to rent, the Big Bear Lake area has a range of options.

There is the low end, the little roadside cabin. But the last one we tried had a hot tub akin to a 1960s aquarium-shop tank and decor I would kindly call disco country.

Celebrating a birthday this time, we opted for quiet luxury at a three-room bed-and-breakfast called Windy Point Inn.

The inn is elegant and comfortable, perched on a private peninsula with beach on the sunny side of the lake. We justified the $125-a-night cost--the inn's lowest priced room--because it was for a good cause: us. High on the to-do list was loafing amid the pines, hiking and basking on the inn's boat deck.

Venturing out midday on a Friday to beat the commuter traffic, we made the drive from Costa Mesa in under two hours. This side of Big Bear Lake--the sunnier north shore--is about 10 minutes from the dam. Windy Point Inn sits right off North Shore Drive in Fawnskin, its gray exterior blending into the woods and bluff that slopes down to the water.

Once in the front door, all you see is the striking lapis lake just beyond the 180-degree, all-window view. Beyond the wall of glass are an outdoor hot tub and a large wooden deck from which you can watch sunrise or moonrise over the lake. Comfy sofas anchor the sunken main room, where a glass-front fireplace burns around the clock.

With only three guest rooms, each with a two-per-room maximum, it's hard to feel crowded at this inn. The luxury suite--the Peaks, priced at $225 per weekend night--is so self-contained most guests never want to leave it. Which leads me to this early warning: Rooms here are hard to secure, and there is a two-night minimum on weekends. Call well in advance.

The price includes a big breakfast, afternoon snacks and all the coffee and tea you can drink. All the rooms are discounted Sunday through Thursday--the luxury suite by $30, the two other rooms by $20 per night.

We made this trip in the fall, but we prefer the mountains in balmier months, when the evenings are crisp and the days warm enough to swim or water ski in the lake. Unlike Arrowhead, you can launch boats on Big Bear Lake without owning waterfront property.

I cannot rave too much about the tranquillity of the setting. Proprietors Kent and Valerie Kessler give full credit to the dreamer responsible for creating the inn. David R. Zimmerman had always wanted to run his own B&B when he bought the property some time ago. For a year he lived in a trailer on his land, watching the movement of the sun and how light fell on the property before drawing up plans for the inn.

He oversaw construction of fireplaces that appear to float in the walls and alcoves designed for specific objects of art, decorating in a more minimalist vein than typical cabin rentals. My grandmother fell into the latter style of decorating, the school of everything-that-doesn't-fit-your-own-home- and-is-probably-Melmac- or- macrame- migrates- to- the- cabin. Not so at Windy Point.

In August 1990, Zimmerman opened for guests. He died six months later, but his parents and sister decided to hold onto the cabin as his legacy.

*

We arrived on a Friday afternoon and only crawled out of the inn because Kent had gone to the trouble of making reservations at a nice restaurant.

Mountain food, in my experience, is bland when foraging far from burgers. (In Green Valley just four years ago, I ordered a salad, as a meal, and got a quarter head of iceberg lettuce with a half cherry tomato.) But things have really improved.

Madlon's is a lovely little place not far from the lifts at Snow Summit--good food, from fresh fish to chicken, and the cream of jalapen~o soup is the signature dish. We heard people talking all weekend about that and the snap peas.

A full moon and puffy wind-blown clouds made an outdoor soak seem inevitable. It is hard to beat a hot tub in the cold mountain air.

Saturday morning opened with a sparkling sunrise over the lake. From our bed we watched fishermen bobbing in skiffs below, trolling the lake shelf where bass, trout and tiny blue gill collect.

Unlike many B&Bs where all guests eat together, Windy Point gives you your hour of choice. Kent cooked up eggs Benedict with homemade sauce and home fries one morning, ginger pancakes with hot lemon sauce the next. Breakfast is served on the lakefront outdoor deck at this time of year, and indoors at a large glass table in the common area when it is colder. This is private time, although one can mingle if interested during afternoon hors d'oeuvres.

If you ski and there is snow, the slopes are close. Snow Summit runs are visible from the inn. The winter's first snow did not fall until our last night, so we hiked instead.

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