Treasure Island/Garstin Island

Written by K. Hart at
Treasure Island/Garstin Island
close look at Garstin residence
Treasure Island/Garstin Island
homes on Garstin Island


Not far from Bear Valley Dam is an island of rock. Perched atop are unique buildings whose architectural style conjures images of the Orient. Nicknamed China Island for this very reason, it is known today as Treasure Island/Garstin Island. 

The story behind the island's buildings is a fascinating tale. Back in the early 1900s, Herbert H. Garstin was the president and manager of the Bear Valley Mutual Water Company. He and his wife Maud cherished the rocky peninsula near Bear Valley Dam and often enjoyed picnics on the outcropping. 

In 1910, Herbert was informed that the dam would be elevated, which would, in turn, raise the water level of Big Bear Lake. It also meant their beloved peninsula of rock would transform into an island. 

Embracing this change, they sought ownership of the rocky area from the government and, in 1911, constructed a residence on the site, ingeniously integrating it with the rocky landscape. 

The building design was inspired by Maud's trips to China to visit her brother. The architectural style weaves Oriental and Western styles together, later earning the island the nickname China Island.  

Today, Treasure Island is a privately owned marvel, captivating visitors with its original structures and natural beauty. The island is a popular spot for tourists and locals, and nearby boulders are favored for jumping and diving. 

Fun Facts & Cool Features

Contrary to popular belief, the distinctive "artichoke leaf" rooftop design wasn't crafted by the Chinese immigrants who worked on the dam. The influence was a creative blend of Chinese and Western architectural styles inspired by Maud's experiences visiting her brother in China​​.

Treasure Island/Garstin Island is a celebrated swimming destination in Big Bear Lake. Visitors can access a small shoreline path leading to the waters and enjoy the thrill of swimming near the iconic boulders. But remember that the island is private property, and walking onto the property or exploring it is prohibited.

Beyond swimming, the area surrounding Treasure Island/Garstin Island is a hub for various water activities. The setting of Big Bear Lake is perfect for fishing, wakeboarding, water skiing, jet skiing, parasailing, and kayaking. 

The island's deep-rooted connection to the region's indigenous heritage adds to its charm. The Serrano people, who have called the Big Bear region home for about 2,500 years, revered the native grizzly bears and lived in harmony with the natural landscape. This historical connection enriches the island's cultural significance and adds depth to its story​​.

Treasure Island/Garstin Island's scenic beauty has not escaped Hollywood's notice. The region has been the backdrop for numerous films, mainly westerns, showcasing its natural beauty and adding a layer of cinematic history to its rich tapestry​​.

Getting There

The best way to see Treasure Island/Garstin Island is by boat. There isn't a bridge or ferry service to the island as it's private property.  


Visiting Treasure Island/Garstin Island is free. 

Local Tips

  • Feel free to swim out and jump off the rocks!
  • Do not explore the home or areas near the buildings; it's private property. 
  • Consider booking a boat tour to see Treasure Island/Garstin Island.
  • Enjoy the other activities and amenities offered at Big Bear Lake.


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