The Town of Mammoth Lakes is the premier tourist destination of the Eastern Sierra, known for its world-class skiing, multitude of summertime lakes, food, golfing and an upscale resort feel with a down-home populace.
Don’t ask where “Mammoth Lake” is or you’ll stick out like a sore thumb—there isn’t one. The lakes that Mammoth is famous for are in the stunning Lakes Basin, located about two miles from the chichi Village at Mammoth, the closest thing Mammoth has to a “downtown.” A better landmark is the popular Mammoth Brewing Company, which sits at the corner of Minaret and Main Street (State Route 203, which takes travelers through the center of town). Main Street turns into Lake Mary Road, which meanders west, gaining elevation, until drivers get a birds-eye view of the Mammoth, Crowley Lake, and the spectacular White Mountains to the east. It’s also a popular road for cyclists and runners thanks to the paved Lakes Basin Path which allows those on foot or wheel to circumnavigate the five-plus lakes (six if you count the Twin Lakes as two) accessible by road in the basin. Cycling is a great way to see the area, as it grows more popular each summer and parking can be a pain. There are several excellent campgrounds, many within a stone’s throw of an alpine lake. In the winter, the Lakes Basin turns into a cross-country ski paradise run by Mammoth Mountain as Tamarack Lodge & Resort (free nordic skiing can be had although the impeccably groomed trails maintained by Tamarack are jealousy-inducing).
Then of course there’s the crown jewel of the town and its lifeblood—the 11,053’ Mammoth Mountain. A massive ski resort in winter and an epic bike park in the summer, Mammoth was founded by the visionary Dave McCoy in 1953 (you can find his likeness all over, and a statue of him skiing in The Village). Its the highest ski resort in California and gets about 400” of snow annually (along with an average of 300 out of 365 days of sunshine), though the 2016/17 season smashed records. On a good snow year, skiers can shred until the Fourth of July weekend at Mammoth. In peak season, the ski area is has more than 3,500 acres of ski terrain which can be accessed by 28 lifts, two of which are gondolas. Three base lodges serve the mountain during the winter, and Main Lodge at the end of Minaret Road is the headquarters for late-season skiing and the bike and adventure park.
Hotels are hard to come by so book ahead, especially if you’ll be visiting in peak winter or summer, and be prepared to pay an exorbitant amount for a Motel 6 or Best Western. Airbnb and VRBO are becoming more popular options for lodging, but the town is zoned in such a way that it restricts use of those platforms (due to a severe housing shortage for employees), so there are only a few areas in town that guests can (legally) go through Airbnb.
The town is a stop for Pacific Crest Trail thru-hikers, and is geared toward adventurers on the go, so stop into Stellar Brew for a bohemian vibe and the best, fastest breakfast burritos in town. If taking your time is more your thing, try the minimalist and craft-oriented Black Velvet Coffee, which also serves Belgian street waffles, wine and beer.
Restaurant Skadi and Petra’s Bistro are locally considered the best upscale dining options, with Petra’s being located adjacent to the Alpenhof Hotel, a quaint Austrian-themed place to rest your head which also boasts a great dive bar, The Clocktower.
Roberto’s is a locals’ favorite, with the best margaritas in town (go on Margarita Wednesday for killer deals) and fajitas made with duck or lobster.
Though you can have a great stay in Mammoth on a budget (the locals somehow make it work), be prepared to drop a little cash if you’re skiing, dining out or sleeping anywhere other than in a tent.