One Of The Most-Filmed Lakes In The World Can Be Found In California

There's a lovely moment in "Singin' in the Rain" where silent movie star Don Lockwood, played by Gene Kelly, visits his pal Cosmo Brown, played by Donald O'Connor, at the film studio. As the two walk and talk, the film depicts a few pictures being shot side-by-side in the background. A tribal dance in an African jungle, for example, is set right next to a crowd scene in a sports movie, which, in turn, rubs shoulders with two cowboys fighting on top of a train. This was mostly how movies were made in the early days of silent cinema, with locations built on the studio lot. Soon, however, filmmakers wanted the real thing and started taking their cameras out into the world to capture more authentic footage, then known as "outdoor pictures." That was when glorious natural settings, like Big Bear Lake, came into their own.


Big Bear Lake is one of the most filmed lakes in the world, with good reason. One: its alpine forests and mountains are a stunning backdrop for any motion picture. Two, it's in Southern California, where an average of 300 sunny days a year means ideal conditions for an outdoor shoot. Last but not least, it's a pretty short commute from the heart of Tinseltown, located about 100 miles east of Hollywood. Over 6,500 feet up in the San Bernardino Mountains, it feels a world away from the hubbub of Los Angeles, making it an ideal retreat for outdoor enthusiasts and movie buffs alike.

Big Bear Lake and Hollywood

Intrepid film crews started arriving at Big Bear Lake in 1911, and the first picture shot in the area is thought to be a short called "Romance of the Bar O." That same year, Bison Motion Picture Company set up camp for almost a month aiming to shoot one movie a day. This was the beginning of Hollywood's connection with the lake and its surroundings.


Two of the biggest names from the silent era filmed at Big Bear. Cecil B. DeMille, the producer and director who later staged huge epics like "The Ten Commandments," made his more modest sophomore feature, "The Call of the North," at the lake. D.W. Griffith also shot scenes for his influential but highly controversial "The Birth of a Nation" there.

Since then, many movies have used Big Bear Lake as a backdrop. The lake and other Californian locations doubled as Yorkshire in "Lassie Come Home" and as Amazon in "Creature from the Black Lagoon." The area's pioneering spirit has also made it a popular spot for Westerns, from Raoul Walsh's "High Sierra" to "Paint Your Wagon," the musical that featured Clint Eastwood singing to the trees.


In more recent years, Michael Caine's severed hand went on a murderous rampage in the area in Oliver Stone's "The Hand," and big productions like "The American President," "City of Angels," "The Insider," and "Magnolia" all feature scenes shot at Hollywood's favorite outdoor location.

Big Bear Lake in real life

Big Bear Lake attracts visitors all year round. Easily reachable from Los Angeles, it's a convenient wilderness retreat that offers a wealth of snowbound activities for a West Coast winter getaway and scenic trails for hiking and biking throughout the year. It's one of the best fishing spots in Southern California, with rainbow trout, bluegill panfish, carp, and bass all populating the waters. Luckily, there are several companies renting fishing gear and charters if you want to take a boat out. 


With its beautiful landscape and wide range of resorts attracting around 3 million visitors each year, according to Big Bear Lake, the area has plenty of accommodation and amenities to keep the most pampered visitors in comfort. What better way to enjoy a lakeside vacation in the mountains than renting a luxurious cabin? If you want to splurge, you can even get one with a hot tub, bar, and pool table. Big Bear also has an abundance of great places to eat and drink. Big Bear Bar & Grill, for example, is a lively hotspot with live music and classic American pub grub, whereas elsewhere you can indulge in stacked sandwiches, like at The Old German Deli, Bolivian-Mexican fare at Gaby's Latin Flavors, or for delicious curry head to Himalayan Restaurant. If you want to stick with the movie theme, grab some snacks at the Big Bear 7-11, made famous in 1983's "WarGames."