Santa never looked so good. That's because he has been updated from the 1950s to the 21st century. At least, that's what's happened to the Santa Claus dwelling in Skyforest, Calif. Most native Southern Californians older than 30 are familiar with the original Santa's Village, a small Alpine-themed park near Lake Arrowhead. The park ceased to exist in the late '90s. But it's back now, renamed SkyPark at Santa's Village, and is better than ever, I found during a weekend visit this summer. Besides exploring the park, I spent some time at Lake Arrowhead hiking, shopping and admiring a golden sunset. The tab: The weekend total for my party of three was just shy of $400 for two days and one night, including lodging, food and entertainment.
Lake Arrowhead Resort & Spa, with 173 rooms and suites, is the big player here. Although its carpeting and interior paint could use spiffing up, it has some of the nicest views in town, with balconies that overlook the lake and surrounding mountains. It's also a full-service resort with dining, spa and a menu of kid and adult activities such as salsa, yoga, pool games and nature walks. This once pet-friendly resort has changed its policy, so don't bring your dog on your next visit.
It's hard for me to visit Lake Arrowhead Village without popping into the Belgian Waffle Works for a meal. This dockside cafe — it opened in 1982 — has a patio overlooking the lake and serves 17 specialty waffles, including my fave, an eggs Benedict-style waffle ($7.25 for a half portion, $10.75 for a full portion). There are several sweet waffles too, such as Banana Cream Belgian and Mud-Pie Belgian. You'll also find cold and hot sandwiches, burgers and salads; prices start at $6.25.
SkyPark at Santa's Village, under new ownership, has been diligently created to jog the memories of older Californians who visited the site when they were kids and offer new experiences for younger generations. Part bike park and part adventure playground, SkyPark also offers holiday meetings with the jolly old elf and visions of sugarplums to dance in your head. The park is open year-round, and there are other fun things for kids to do this time of year, including a climbing wall, roller skating and a zip line, as well as bike trails. Ride packages are currently $19 to $29, but admission is free this time of year, so you can walk around and enjoy a meal without trying the rides. During the park's high season, Nov. 9-Jan. 7, everyone who visits will need a pass, $49 to $59 each.
THE LESSON LEARNED
Sometimes you want to hit the trail but don't have a lot of time or energy. Heaps Peak Arboretum near SkyPark is an ideal place to inhale fresh air. The nature park has a mile-long Sequoia Trail loop where you'll see dogwoods, pines, mountain views and a grove of sequoias. It's spectacular now with shades of fall coloring the leaves.
Lake Arrowhead Resort & Spa, 27984 Highway 189, Lake Arrowhead, Calif.; (909) 336-1511. Wheelchair accessible.
SkyPark at Santa's Village, 28950 Highway 18, Skyforest, Calif.; (909) 744-9373,. Wheelchair accessible.
Belgian Waffle Works, 28200 Highway 189, Lake Arrowhead; (909) 337-5222