Sit right down and I’ll tell you the tale of Big Bear’s Treasure Island. Some might know it better as Garstin Island. On the western banks of Big Bear Lake, near the dam, sits an island of granite rocks. And upon those rocks sit a cluster of buildings with a few architectural details that really stand out. It’s those very details for which the island gets its nickname.

A Brief History

The Garstin name comes from Herbert H. Garstin, president and manager of the Bear Valley Mutual Water Company in the early 1900s. Herbert, his wife Maude, and their friends enjoyed picnicking on a small rocky peninsula by the dam. In 1910, the dam engineers told Herbert and Maude that the dam would be built higher. This would create a larger lake and turn their favorite peninsula into an island. The Garstin’s petitioned the government for permission to build a home on the newly formed island. The government granted permission and construction quickly began.

Myth Busting

There are those that will tell you the design of the buildings comes from the Chinese immigrants who helped build the dam. This isn’t true for multiple reasons. First, Chinese immigrants didn’t solely build the dam. Secondly, most of the builders lived near Castle Rock. And lastly, the design was inspired by Maude’s trips to China. She would often visit her brother who worked there. And she fell in love with some of the building details. Some of these influences are more subtle. But the element that stands out the most is the “artichoke leaf” design of the roof tops. Interestingly, in Chinese architecture, these upturned roofs would be supported by columns, not walls. So the Chinese influence on the design of the Treasure Island homes has been meshed with western architectural style.


Fast forward to today, and Big Bear’s Treasure Island is known as one of the best places to swim in Big Bear Lake. It’s accessed by parking at a turn out and walking a path to a small shoreline. From there you can swim out to the boulders. But do not climb up onto Treasure Island. It’s still private property.

While you’re here, take a look at some of the most luxurious lakeside homes!