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EssentialsTake a leisurely drive around the lake—a total of 72 miles via US 50 and SR 28. Cross Fanny Bridge, take the tunnel through Cave Rock and enjoy a multitude of scenic views along the way.
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Tahoe is well known for skiing. Pack your skis and or snowboard and hit the lifts at Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows or the Heavenly Mountain Resort .
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Spend an afternoon in Truckee . Miners once frequented the town's rowdy streets; today, sightseers stroll along Commercial Row's galleries, boutiques and cafés.
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AttractionsIn an area with a surplus of world-class attractions, you may have trouble deciding where to spend your time. Here are the highlights for Lake Tahoe, as chosen by AAA editors.
Centuries-old pines stand along the water's edge at Tallac Historic Site , where old mansions cluster around the crumbling foundations of the demolished Tallac Resort. Built during the mining boom, this summer retreat attracted wealthy patrons who—just like today's tourists—came here to rest, gamble and sail on the lake. The Baldwin, Pope and Heller estates and more than 30 other buildings at the site are listed on the National Register of Historic Places; some are theater spaces serving a thriving arts community. The 1921 Baldwin House contains the Tallac Museum and the Washoe Indian Cultural Foundation Exhibit. Guided walks and house tours of the Pope Estate are offered in the summer, and that site is a lovely spot for a picnic.
The summer home of Illinois native Lora J. Knight, Vikingsholm boasts 38 rooms replete with Scandinavian decorative motifs. The exterior mimics a Viking fortress. An architectural wonder, this wood and stone mansion is even more remarkable because builders in 1929 could reach it only by water or via a steeply inclined trail through the woods. If you want to take the house tour you should be in good physical shape; it starts with the same 1-mile hike from a parking lot on the southwest end of Emerald Bay.
The Hellman-Ehrman Mansion in Ed Z'Berg-Sugar Pine Point State Park commands a promontory on Tahoe's southwest shore. This grand yet also informal Victorian mansion, named “Pine Lodge” by owner I. W. Hellman, exemplifies a lavish turn-of-the-20th-century architectural style. Visitors can tour the elegantly decorated rooms or stroll gently sloping lawns past croquet courts and a gazebo. The park itself has dense conifer forests edging more than 2 miles of lakefront, plus a nature center featuring animal and ecology exhibits.
The gatekeeper no longer lives in the log cabin at the Gatekeeper's Museum & Marion Steinbach Indian Basket Museum , but sightseers are welcome nonetheless. South of Fanny Bridge on the Truckee River, this was once a home for federal employees who managed lake levels by cranking a winch system by hand. Inside the restored cabin are historic resort artifacts and scale models of famous lake vessels. Next door, the Marion Steinbach Indian Basket Museum has a collection of more than 1,000 baskets and dolls. The nearby Watson Cabin, a 1909 honeymoon cottage, is a living history museum with exhibits about pioneer life in Tahoe City.
West of Truckee, Donner Memorial State Park marks the place where the ill-fated Donner Party spent a harrowing winter in 1846. Members of this Illinois wagon train camped at Donner Lake after getting lost in the Sierra Nevada range, and their epic struggle for survival—and tales of cannibalism—became part of American folklore. The Emigrant Trail Museum chronicles the saga, along with exhibits about Truckee's logging and railroad history. Three miles north of the park entrance, the Pioneer Monument honors those who traveled to California in search of a better life.
The state park borders Donner Lake, known as the “Gem of the Sierra” for its clear water and high mountain scenery. Walk the beach, launch a canoe or swim in a warm, shallow lagoon in the summer, or participate in a ranger-led campfire program. In winter, cross-country skiers navigate around bare trees in the midst of a snow-covered landscape.
High above Lake Tahoe, Desolation Wilderness covers more than 100 mountainous square miles dotted with glittering lakes—the ultimate destination for serious hikers. The most accessible trailhead is on the South Shore at Eagle Falls, where three successive waterfalls tumble into Emerald Bay. It begins on the west side of SR 89 (across from Vikingsholm); cross the footbridge and climb this steep, marked trail to Eagle Lake, where the wilderness begins. Permits are required for day hikes and back-country camping; they can be obtained at the Lake Tahoe Visitor Center (north of Camp Richardson on SR 89) or the Taylor Creek Visitor Center (just past Tallac Historic Site).
The 5-mile Emerald Bay Trail at D.L. Bliss State Park is an easy day trek that ambles through piney woods and along granite ledges above the pristine bay. After your hike, you can dive into the warm waters at Rubicon Point, one of the nicest beaches on the lake. The 130-ton Balancing Rock is a local landmark.
At Zephyr Cove Resort on the lake's southeast shore you can rent canoes, kayaks, pedal boats and high-octane watercraft. Fishing charters leave the marina for some of the best freshwater angling in the lower 48. Lake Tahoe Cruises offers tours of Emerald Bay aboard The MS Dixie II . This chugging paddlewheeler is one of the best ways to enjoy the lake's beauty.
Motor through the backcountry on a dune buggy or ATV with Lake Tahoe Adventures , which offers guided tours of the Rubicon Trail. Experienced guides teach drivers how to navigate the tricky roads, and the trip includes fascinating detours to areas off the beaten path. The views of the Sierras and the distant Nevada desert are worth the drive.
Take a ride on the Squaw Valley Tram at Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows. From a base elevation of 6,200 feet, it climbs skyward for another 2,000 feet, providing breathtaking views of mountain ranges and the lake. Passengers disembark at the upper mountain base, where the High Camp Bath and Tennis Club offers three restaurants. You can practice your serve at a cliffside court, then take a relaxing swim in a rock lagoon. The Olympic Ice Pavilion is open year-round (ice skating in winter and roller skating in summer). Stop at the Olympic Museum to learn about Squaw Valley's 1960 winter games, or hike trails through a gorgeous alpine landscape.
West of Stateline, Gondola Sightseeing & Adventure Peak takes passengers on a scenic ride up to the Heavenly Mountain Resort . This high-altitude mecca for skiers is also a favorite stop for summer tourists—the sightseeing deck at the top looks out over the mountains of Desolation Wilderness and chugging paddlewheelers on the lake. The Tahoe Vista Trail also begins here. In addition to skiing there's snow-tubing, sledding, cross-country skiing or snowshoeing at Adventure Peak Snow Park, plus hiking trails and a rock-climbing wall during the summer.
With more than 15 alpine ski resorts in Tahoe, skiers never have to hit the same slope twice. Tackle the mountain at tried-and-true Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows , or set out on cross-country trails at local favorites like Homewood Mountain and Sierra-at-Tahoe .
Stateline's casinos are open 24/7 all year. Test your luck (and rub shoulders with the occasional celebrity) at Harrah's Lake Tahoe , Harveys Hotel, Casino & Resort or the MontBleu Resort Casino & Spa . You can always sleep in late.
See all the AAA recommended attractions for this destination.
RestaurantsOur favorites include some of this destination's best restaurants—from fine dining to simple fare.
Hankering for a man-sized omelet? Arrive early for breakfast, because Heidi's Pancake House gets pretty crowded when famished skiers swoosh in off the slopes in late morning. The brave or very hungry will want to order the four-egg omelet. Less ravenous diners can order one of the crepe dishes, finished off with a dollop of fresh whipped cream. For lunch, Heidi's sandwiches and burgers also hit the mark.
Chill out on the patio and watch the world go by at McP's Taphouse Grill —there's plenty of ale and cider to go around. Hungry? Order up some Mulligan stew, corned beef hash or a thick burger. The chips (aka french fries) are a must; you'll get a veritable mountain of potatoes.
Housed in a vintage cabin in South Lake Tahoe, Evans American Gourmet Cafe seats just 35 people—which makes it perfect for a romantic evening of fine dining. The service is the perfect mix of professional yet unobtrusive, and the menu excels. Start with a glass of wine from a list boasting more than 200 selections to accompany an appetizer of hoisin-and-orange-glazed prawns with Asian-style slaw. The grilled filet of beef with horseradish-green peppercorn butter and a Syrah wine reduction shows off the kitchen's expertise. A fresh fruit tart served with vanilla bean ice cream is a simple but satisfying dessert.
Also in South Lake Tahoe is LewMarNel's Steaks & Spirits , which has a rustic, Western-style ambience that's both casual and classy. The excellent wine list boasts more than 400 labels. Choose your cut of mesquite-grilled Angus beef based on the size of your appetite, from the 6-ounce petit filet mignon to a 20-ounce Porterhouse steak—and keep in mind that dinners include cheese fondue and sourdough bread, soup or salad and a choice of potato. In summer, dining alfresco adds to the experience.
Tep's Villa Roma has attracted loyal customers since 1975, so they must be doing something right. This casual spot has a cozy fireplace and an antipasto bar (including a molto delizioso minestrone, homemade Italian rolls and yummy garlic sticks) that's a meal in itself. Salmon ravigote is served over sautéed spinach and topped with a seafood stuffing, and standards like veal parmigiana and chicken piccata are done well. If you have any room left for dessert, the spumoni is a good choice. Ask your server about the daily specials.
Spindleshanks American Bistro & Wine Bar is nothing fancy, but this local spot offers classic American cooking updated with inventive touches. The location is scenic—at the Old Brockway Golf Course on Lake Tahoe's northern shore, where Bing Crosby hosted his first golf tournament in the 1930s. An iceberg wedge salad is nothing new, but here it's the “Door Stopper,” gussied up with Applewood-smoked bacon, tomatoes and chives along with a Maytag blue cheese dressing. Roasted butternut squash ravioli with brown butter sage sauce is homemade and deliciously rich. The wine flight allows connoisseurs to sample three different vintages.
¡Ole! In the heart of Tahoe City's shopping district and housed in a historic 1868 inn, The Blue Agave Mexican Restaurant & Cantina serves up tried-and-true Mexican offerings like meatball soup and steak picado, chopped top sirloin sautéed in garlic butter or ranchero sauce. Carnitas, juicy chunks of roast pork, are cooked with oranges, garlic and spices. Finish off your feast with flan or sopaipillas, puffy fried pastries drizzled with honey. Large windows in the spacious dining room offer panoramic lake views, or sit outside on the patio if it's not too cold.
As cozy as a European chalet, Cafe Fiore Ristorante Italiano sits at the base of Heavenly Mountain. It's a good choice for a date night out or special occasion celebration. Aragosta melodia—lobster chunks, fresh mushrooms and tomatoes in a lemon tarragon sauce served over fettuccine—is a tasty main course, and fresh-out-of-the-oven garlic bread is worth springing for. Make sure you save room for dessert, though; tiramisu manages to be simultaneously light and decadent, and the homemade white chocolate ice cream with fresh berries is flat-out delicious. This intimate restaurant has a small number of tables, so advance reservations are essential.
Mama mia! The home cooking at Azzara's Italian Restaurant is la cosa reale. Whether it's pizza, pasta, veal Saltimbocca or osso buco, we're talking great Italian comfort food. The traditional fare at this Incline Village restaurant is tweaked with some unconventional touches; try the insalata mista dressed with a papaya seed vinaigrette. Linguine San Marco—pasta tossed in extra virgin olive oil and garlic with chicken, peas, broccoli and roasted red peppers—sings with flavor. And for dessert, diners finish off every crumb of Mrs. Azzara's tiramisu.
It's all about boats and water at Gar Woods Grill & Pier ; after all, the Carnelian Bay restaurant is named after noted boat designer Garfield Wood. Sip on a Wet Woody, the restaurant's specialty drink, while strolling along the pier, Lake Tahoe's longest deepwater landing. The vaulted ceiling and lovely waterside views are sure to put you in a nautical mood. A grilled California artichoke with garlic rosemary aioli, melted butter and lemon is a perfect starter. Specialties from the grill include swordfish, blackened ahi and seared diver scallops; if you're not in the mood for seafood, try the herb-roasted chicken with garlic mashed potatoes. Snickers cheesecake should finish you off nicely. Sunday brunch here is a Tahoe tradition.
See all the AAA Diamond Rated restaurants for this destination.
EventsIn addition to its many cultural and historic landmarks, Lake Tahoe hosts a number of exceptional festivals and events that may coincide with your visit.
It's winter; why not celebrate the white stuff? North Lake Tahoe SnowFest! offers more than 120 activities occurring over 10 days in March at resorts like Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows and Diamond Peak. A kickoff party on opening night is followed by a torchlight parade, a spectacular fireworks show and the SnowFest! Queen Coronation. Daring souls take to the lake for the Gar Woods Polar Bear Swim (definitely more fun for spectators). Other events include a dog pull, pancake breakfast, ice cream eating contest, tortilla toss and snow sculpture competition. You'll be so busy having fun you won't even notice the cold.
The Highway 50 Association Wagon Train —complete with covered wagons and costumed settlers—rolls through South Lake Tahoe in early June as part of a weeklong trip along US 50, the old Pony Express trail, en route to Placerville. Events in honor of the 1-mile procession through South Lake Tahoe include an evening barbecue, a square dance and a staged gunfight.
The Faire is returning June 3-4, 10-11, 2017. I will create a new record in COE and supply a new COE ID # when more details are available. SS 8/10/16.
With the Sierra Nevada as a backdrop, fine wine never tasted so good. The Squaw Valley Art, Wine and Music Festival , held in mid-July at the base village, features wine tastings and a street fair featuring art and craft booths and exhibits. There are also two stages for live performances.
From early-July to late August, get thee to Sand Harbor State Park in Incline Village for the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival . Wriggle your toes in the sand while a talented cast performs nightly onstage at the park's outdoor amphitheater. Savvy audience members know to bring a blanket, a picnic supper and a beach chair. Spectacular Tahoe sunsets provide a great backdrop for some of the Bard's most beloved plays.
Sponsored by the Tahoe Yacht Club Foundation, the Lake Tahoe Concours d'Elegance wooden boat show in mid-August showcases antique water vessels. More than 110 classic boats, some dating to the early 1900s, float on gleaming display in all their teak and mahogany glory. The celebration on land features dances, picnics and parties with a nautical theme. It all happens at Obexer's Marina on the California side of the lake.
Also taking place in early August is the Brews, Jazz and Funk Fest at Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows. Quaff some suds and get down to seriously funky sounds at this 2-day party, which features performances on two stages and a selection of beers from more than 30 area breweries.
The Roaring '20s come to life at Tallac Historic Site in South Lake Tahoe during the Great Gatsby Festival on the second weekend in August. Highlights include antique car displays, strolling musicians and a raffle. Sip Earl Grey and have your fill of dainty finger sandwiches on the Valhalla Grand Lawn at the Gatsby Tea and Fashion Show. Costumes aren't mandatory, but get into the spirit and wear one anyway. The beautiful Tallac grounds are also a lovely spot for a picnic lunch.
Polish up the 'ol saddle and dust off your chaps for the Truckee Pro Rodeo in late August. This 2-day weekend event takes place at McIver Memorial Arena and offers steer wrestling, bull riding, bronco taming and lasso throwing, plus a Mutton Bustin' riding competition for kids and a Calf Scramble for teens. There's also a barbecue and plenty of toe tapping to fiddle music.
Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows welcomes fall (and thinks ahead to ski season) at Oktoberfest , held on the last Saturday in September. Bavarian music, folk dancers and of course a Biergarten are all on hand at this traditional celebration. Festivalgoers also have the option of participating in a yodeling contest or games like the Bratwurst Toss, a spirited competition that sees these German sausages flying through the air at a fast and furious rate.
Celebrate salmon spawning season during the first weekend in October at the Fall Fish Fest . Watch these intrepid fish swim upstream through an aquarium-like viewing window the Taylor Creek Park visitor center, 3 miles north of South Lake Tahoe. Other activities include nature walks, trail runs, T-shirt sales and, for kids, a treasure hunt and a visit from Smokey Bear.
Lake Tahoe is especially magical during the holidays, and seasonal events take advantage of scenery that is very much a winter wonderland. In late November, the Valhalla Holiday Faire at Tallac Historic Site brings together local artisans. It's the perfect place to find that special handcrafted decoration.
See all the AAA recommended events for this destination.
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Going to the ChapelThe Nevada side of Lake Tahoe was once known as the divorce capital of the world. In the 1939 movie “The Women,” leading ladies Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell and Norma Shearer headed west for quickie divorces. Nevada offered some of the country's most liberal divorce laws, along with a short residency requirement—only 6 weeks. Hence, “divorce dude ranches” sprang up to serve as temporary homes for the soon-to-be-unwed while they waited for their papers to come through.
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Places in Vicinity