A five-hour drive northeast of Los Angeles, Mammoth Lakes is a convenient getaway for us Southern Californians. It is a small mountain village with a ski resort that boasts the highest summit in California, 3,500 acres of skiing, and an estimated 300 days of sunshine each year. It also is a popular destination for other outdoor activities such as downhill tubing, cross-country skiing, hiking, kayaking, and fly-fishing.
Over a long weekend from Los Angeles this winter I explored Mammoth with the same strategy that I apply to every new destination: by finding locals who can show me the ropes. And I discovered that there is a wide range of restaurants and good times to be had. Here are my top three spots to grab a bite and have some fun off the slopes in Mammoth.
If you are on a trip with friends or you simply are a beer aficionado, The Eatery should make it on your list of places to experience. It is a lively brewery that makes 10 different beers, including ale, IPA and unique concoctions such as the Raspberry Sour Stout and the Lair of Bear (a Russian Imperial Stout with notes of molasses and chocolate). You can ask for a flight of quarter-pints to try a few or try them all at regular size.
You can also order tapas to accompany your brews. The tapas here were designed as comfort food classics with a sophisticated twist. The light and fluffy lobster corn dogs comprised my favorite dish of the night. Also on the menu are flatbread pizzas with pesto and shrimp, a kale and Brussels sprout Caesar salad, roasted and sliced potatoes with melted raclette cheese, and more. The Eatery is a great après-ski stop popular with visitors and locals as it is walking distance from the gondola.
A cabin at Tamarack Lodge Resort
Cozy and classic
Tamarack Lodge Resort is a great for a weekend immersion in nature. The forest sits just beyond the hotel windows. Mountain peaks, lakes, and nature trails all are nearby. On the property during the winter the main activity is cross-country skiing on 19 miles of groomed trails. In the warmer months people come from far and wide for the fly-fishing.
You can book your stay in one of 49 rustic cabins with gas fireplaces, kitchens, and front porches. I am most attracted to the main lodge, which was built in the 1920s. The lounge has a stone fireplace, comfy leather chairs and sofas, and a wooded interior. Sit in front of the fire to warm up and chat with friends over wine and chili. You also can make a reservation for a formal meal at The Lakefront Restaurant just down the hall.
At the restaurant the menu often features inventive specials. While I was there I enjoyed a creamy chestnut soup with a slice of crisp, dried apple. The cauliflower flour steak was another pleaser from the menu, as were the North American Red Elk with sunchokes and leeks.
Viewfinder Tip: Transportation is free in Mammoth on city buses and the gondola. Plan to take advantage of this resource.
Imagine a place where you can go bowling, play indoor golf, and have a beautifully prepared French meal in a sophisticated dining room. Somehow, at Mammoth Rock N’ Bowl, all of these options work together perfectly.
When you walk in, the scene is like a nightclub. Lights are flashing over the bowling lanes, large flat screen televisions show music videos, pop and rock music play over the loud speaker, and patrons engage in darts and order food and cocktails at the full bar.
Upstairs, at Mammoth Rock Brasserie, a sophisticated dining room with grey tables accented by a single flower (on my visit a red rose), Chef Frederic Pierrel prepares French Californian cuisine such as escargot, mussels, and more. Also on the menu were mushroom strudel, brick-oven chicken, and braised Australian lamb shank. I recommend finishing your meal off with a chocolate mousse and maybe an after-dinner liqueur.
After dinner, meander into the Golf League, also upstairs, to play with the high definition golf simulators portraying courses from Pebble Beach to St. Andrews. This is the same indoor golf system used by the pros. And it’s really fun. The owner told me that while bowling alley patrons have their own menu, these same players can order off the brasserie menu and have those fancy upstairs dishes delivered to as they play their games.
What do you look for in a mountain escape?