Above 6,000 feet in a setting of snow-frosted Sierra Nevada peaks and evergreen forests, Lake Tahoe is where families flock to vacation resorts and campgrounds, while revelers head for nightlife and risky business at South Shore casinos. Other stops on the 72-mile scenic drive around the lake are the quiet, residential North Shore, and West Shore, anchored by Tahoe City and a bevy of “Old Tahoe” cottage-style resorts, restaurants and shops, nice beaches and the Truckee River.
Must-see Tahoe Attractions
On big paddle wheelers, MS Dixie II or the Tahoe Queen, take a slow cruise to Emerald Bay and around the shoreline. One of the most photographed places on the planet, Emerald Bay State Park’s gin-clear turquoise bay can be seen from vista points around the South Shore. Trek down (and back up...) the steep 1-mile trail to see the fantastical, circa-1928 Vikingsholm Castle.
Bring the kids and the dog to raft the bubbly Truckee River, stopping at swimming holes and picnic spots. You’ll end up at the River Ranch Lodge patio with a rambunctious, sunburned crowd indulging in food and drink.
Make a reservation to tour Thunderbird Lodge, a National Historic Site comprising a 1936 castle-like lodge, a lighthouse, and quirky interiors; the boathouse houses the dazzling, circa 1940 Thunderbird Yacht.
Heavenly Gondola in South Lake Tahoe whisks passengers 2.4 miles up to a deck at 9,123 feet, with views of the Carson Valley, Desolation Wilderness, and the entire lake. Peer through high-powered telescopes, take a hike, and have a picnic in the sky.
Lake Tahoe’s Best Beaches
A long, sandy beach park buzzing with Jet Skis, paddleboats, and kids on the sports courts, Kings Beach State Recreation Area has grassy picnic grounds beneath tall pines. Swimming is good in shallow waters that are about as warm as Tahoe ever gets. A top spot for swimming, water-skiing, and beach lounging, Meeks Bay Resort and Marina lies on a protected bay, where kayakers ply the hidden coves.
Against the backdrop of a Queen Anne–style, circa-1900 mansion, at Ed Z'berg Sugar Pine Point State Park are sweeping lawns, a small beach, and trails along the lakeshore. Lester Beach in D.L. Bliss State Park has rocky hideaways and a gorgeous sandy beach that falls down into the azure water.
The most photogenic beach park of all, Sand Harbor State Park is dramatic with giant boulders, shady pine groves, and pure white sands. Launch your boat, rent watercraft, and come to the Shakespeare Festival in the outdoor amphitheater.
Only the Locals Know
A lesser-known wilderness on the West Shore, Blackwood Canyon is good for easy walks, biking, and for picnicking on the leafy banks of Blackwood Creek. Above are hiking trails to 8,000-foot Barker Pass and the Pacific Crest Trail.
South of Incline Village, easy hiking trails through pine and aspen forests and trout fishing are quiet pleasures at Spooner Lake; also here is the trailhead for a 10-mile hiking and mountain-biking trail to Marlette Lake.
Between Sand Harbor and Incline Village along the shoreline are tiny strips of sand, and clothing optional Chimney Beach––don’t say we didn’t warn you!
Eateries With a View
At Steamer’s Beachside Bar and Oven, sit on the beachside patio to enjoy pizza and calzones. At Camp Richardson, an old-fashioned family vacation resort on the South Shore, at Beacon Bar and Grill try the signature clam chowder and gourmet burgers.
With glittering blue water and mountain views, Sunnyside Restaurant overlooks a marina where vintage boats glide in and out. Since the 1950s, french-fried zucchini has been a tradition; nowadays, on the menu are crab and lobster cakes, Kobe burgers, and lots of appetizers. Evenings are cozy by the river-rock fireplace.
Hidden away at a South Shore golf course, Edgewood Tahoe Restaurant has stunning lake views from soaring, arched windows. Get here for the sunset, the fresh seafood, and the wine list.
To Stay at Tahoe
The quintessential, affordable North Shore cabins at Rustic Cottages have fireplaces and kitchenettes, across the street from the beach. Condo units at Aston Lakeland Village Resort on the South Shore are tucked into a pine grove with a private beach, two swimming pools, and tennis courts.
Glitz & Gaming
The neon-lit city of South Lake Tahoe is world-famous for six glitzy casinos, high-rise hotels, lakeshore resorts, and for the sprawling Heavenly Valley Mountain Resort. Among annual crowd-attracting events is Hot August Nights, when muscle cars parade around town and live entertainment ensues on outdoor stages.
—By Karen Misuraca