Mountain High

Oktoberfest in Big Bear

This time of year, 65-year-old Bonnie Kelso spends her weekends looking for the next Big Bear Lake Oktoberfest queen amid crowds of women in cleavage-baring dirndls and men in knee-high socks.

 Kelso herself won the crown—and set a world record—in 1974 when she lugged 21 one-liter steins, or 105 pounds, and she hasn’t missed an Oktoberfest since. This year, she joined more than 20,000 annual attendees hailing from as far as Wisconsin and Canada at the festival, which runs through Oct. 29.

By day, the festival is family friendly; it gets rowdier after 6 p.m. on Saturdays when Jagermeister happy hour begins. The Die Mainfloesser Band, flown in from northern Bavaria, and the Express Band of Southern California play a mix of traditional oompah and Top 40 hits, with a periodic chicken dance drawing hundreds of arm-flapping beer drinkers to the floor.

Outside the main hall, enjoy brews in the outdoor beer gardens under a starry sky unpolluted by neon lights.

“Smell the pine air,” Kelso says. “You can’t beat it up here.”