Three perfect days on three shores
This article originally appeared in Marin Magazine’s print edition with the headline: “Tahoe Trifecta”
Author: Kirsten Jones Neff
Whether you explore Lake Tahoe by boat, hike to the highest peak, paddle into a secret cove or mountain-bike down a sandy incline, the views will surely take your breath away. Of course, there are those wonderful lazy Tahoe days when it is enough to relax on the deck, sipping ice tea and staring out into the deep blue bliss of the lake, but it is hard to stay put for long when natural wonders and adventures await in every direction. Tahoe is a land of possibility; whatever your age or preferred activities, there are beaches and boat rides, massages and mountaintops, trails and treasures to be found. Below are three suggested itineraries — Tahoe summer days tailored to your heart’s desire, depending on whether you are searching for restorative quiet, vigorous activity or playful family time. On the northern beach at Sand Harbor you will find several rental outfits. You can rent SUPs and kayaks at Sand Harbor Rentals, Jet Skis at Sand Harbor Water Sports, and even jet boots at Tahoe Jetovator. Bring your goggles and swim and boulder along the shore, exploring sandy coves north and south of the park.
For dinner, make a reservation and enjoy lakeside views at the Lone Eagle Grill at the Hyatt or head up the mountainside for stunning panoramas from the Big Water Grille. Or if you just want to grab some grub on your way home from the beach, stop by T’s Mesquite Rotisserie in Incline or the Char Pit in King’s Beach, a classic old-time joint serving burgers, fries and shakes.
East Shore: Outdoor Adventure
Hoping for one of those days where you leave it all on the trail? Whether you prefer to hike or bike, Nevada’s Incline Village and East Shore offer excellent opportunities to utterly exhaust yourself as you soak up the sights. If you’re a mountain biker, Flume Trail Bikes is the place to start. Bring your own bike or let the staff set you up with a bike and all the gear you’ll need. The shop offers shuttles for two exhilarating rides — the Flume Trail from Spooner Lake or, on even-number days of the month, the Tahoe Rim Trail from Tahoe Meadows.
Both are one-way rides, and you’ll get your climbing in on either one, as well as some technical downhill. Both routes bring you back to Flume Trail Bikes at the base of the mountain. If you prefer to travel on foot, you can head straight up Tunnel Creek Trail. It’s steep, which is exactly why you’ll be rewarded with some of the most dramatic views of Lake Tahoe available. Whether you’ve biked or hiked, when you finish you’ll be hungry, so stop by Tunnel Creek Cafe next door to the bike shop, where delicious salads and grilled sandwiches are the order of the day, along with an array of craft beer on tap.
After lunch, cool down with some lake time at nearby Sand Harbor. It is best to take the East Shore Express shuttle, which runs every 20 minutes from Incline, so you can skip the challenge of parking in the popular state park.
North Shore: Peace and Pleasure
Daybreak is Tahoe’s most serene time of day, and there is nothing quite as calming as an early morning kayak or stand-up paddleboard ride, silently breaking the smooth surface of the crystal-clear water, then peering down to see massive boulders resting on the sandy lake floor below. Several North Lake spots rent both kayaks and SUPs, and Waterman’s Landing in Carnelian Bay also rents outrigger canoes. There you will find the Waterman’s Landing Cafe for those who want to caffeinate before heading out. Tahoe Adventure Company in Tahoe Vista also offers rentals, as does Tahoe Paddle and Oar, in Kings Beach.
If you prefer to start your day on land, get your vinyasa fix at The Yoga Room in Tahoe City. Or to bring your yoga practice to the water, try paddleboard yoga through Mountain Lotus Yoga.
For brunch or lunch, Tahoe House Bakery and Cafe in Tahoe City makes sandwiches with fresh-baked bread and has a reputation for the best European-style coffee in the area. For lunch to go, swing by the tucked-away local favorite Sugar Pine Cakery and Cafe in Lake Forest — a great place for gluten-free treats — and take your feast and good vibes into the woods.
At the nearby North Tahoe Cross Country Center you can hike or rent mountain bikes to explore the woods on some of the 45 miles of Tahoe’s most popular trails, including several dog-friendly routes. The rental center provides maps of the well-marked trails. After hiking or biking, get back on track with your rest and recovery regimen at Massage on the Lake in Tahoe City, where the bodywork therapists are “amazing,” according to locals in the know.
For a perfect finale to a peaceful day, book an evening cruise with Stellar Tahoe out of Carnelian Bay. Owners and charter hosts Matt and Bethany Lund, who offer a variety of set and custom tours, know every nook and cranny of the lake, as well as the most majestic views. Chambers Landing Bar, home of the famous Chambers Punch, is a favorite sunset stop to make before heading home under the rising moon.
West Shore: Family Fun
The West Shore is a giant playground for family fun. Start your day just two miles south of Tahoe City at the Fire Sign Cafe, a longtime local favorite for breakfast scrambles and omelets.
After breakfast, you may need a round of roshambo to decide where to go next: rent rubber boats and tubes at Truckee River Raft Company or Truckee River Rafting, to float down the Truckee River? Visit the Granlibakken Resort treetop adventure ropes course? Or head to High Sierra Waterski School, with locations in both Sunnyside and Homewood, where the family can rent an array of waterborne vehicles, or sign up for waterski, wakeboard or wake surf lessons?
If you are a hiking family, try the Stanford Rock Trail, which starts in Sunnyside, a recently reworked route with abundant wildflowers and waterfalls (depending on the time of year) and lake views from the top. This is a rigorous climb (11.4 miles and 1,900 feet of elevation gain) if you do the whole loop, but is easy to adjust for an out-and-back.
For lunch the West Shore Cafe in Homewood has lovely lakeside tables. Another option is to stop by Obexer’s General Store, grab deli sandwiches and head to D.L. Bliss State Park. There you can swim and explore coves or hike south on the Rubicon Trail toward Emerald Bay. This trail, which takes you along the cliffs above the lake and offers some of the best hiking views of Tahoe, is long (6 miles each way) but can also be adjusted for a shorter out-and-back.
Wrap up the fun at Sunnyside, a West Shore lodge with two restaurants — the Mountain Grill (where the music never disappoints) or the Lakeside Dining Room. The lodge is popular with visitors and locals, so reservations are a must.