It’s a rare destination that conjures up nostalgia when you’ve never even visited, but that’s exactly the kind of spell Lake Tahoe casts. From the moment that first patch of blue breaks forth from the evergreens after a long day’s drive (or even a short zip up from the Reno airport), the lake fastens itself to you in a way that’s almost visceral—bringing forth your fondest memories of summer getaways and gatherings with family and friends.
With snow glittering year-round on the slate Sierra slopes and the lake a color of blue that looks equally balmy in the summer and the winter, Lake Tahoe is a place of paradox, straddling the California-Nevada border as if stubbornly proving its point. Perhaps this paradox is where it draws its magic, making it a gorgeous summer getaway that’s close to home, but just far enough out of reach.
Though the South Shore boasts a thriving nightlife, it’s the quieter (though not too quiet) North Shore that’s captured my heart. Here are my favorite local places to eat, drink, stay and play for a memorable trip:
T’s Mesquite Rotisserie
Located in a nondescript corner of a small strip mall in Incline Village (about a 10-minute drive from the California border), T’s Mesquite Rotisserie prepares beautifully roasted meats on an in-house rotisserie. Folded into burritos and sandwiches or served as entrées, the chicken, tri-tip and pork hit that sweet spot of savory tenderness that brings in throngs of locals after long days in the sun. While not particularly catered to vegetarians, the house-made salsas and guacamole tucked into the vegetarian burrito provide delicious nuance to the meat-free alternative.
901 Tahoe Boulevard, Incline Village, NV 89451; 775-831-2832; Hours: Monday-Sunday 11AM-8PM.
Tahoe House Bakery & Gourmet
This cute bakery and deli crafts gourmet sandwiches (served on fresh bread) and a tasty selection of pastries from a cozy kitchen, producing them in a dining room that could pass as your childhood best friend’s. Stock up on house condiments, like the chipotle barbecue sauce or mango chutney, for a cookout later in the week.
625 West Lake Boulevard, Tahoe City, CA 96145. 530-583-1377. Summer Hours: 6AM-6PM daily. www.tahoe-house.com.
No summer is complete without a barbecue, and Lake Tahoe provides the perfect backdrop. While the Raley’s in Incline Village boasts the biggest selection of organic produce and products, get your meats from Village Market, a family-run store just up the road. In addition to offering organic meats and wild-caught fish, the meat shop sells its own savory concoctions, like a marinated tri-tip. Grab a bottle of wine on the way out, and don’t leave without a few burger patties. You can find a few organic veggies and condiments here, too.
770 Mays Boulevard, Suite 2, Incline Village, NV 89451. 775-831-5025. Hours: Monday-Saturday, 8:30AM-7:30PM, Sunday: 9:30AM-7PM. http://villagemeats.com
Located just 15 miles from Tahoe City in Truckee, California, Coffeebar is an organic, Italian-style café and restaurant that serves some of the best joe in the area. Decorated with stunning natural photographs and colorful walls, the shop exudes a free-spirited vibe that trickles down to the friendly service. Linger for a bit, or take your coffee to go and stroll down Truckee’s picturesque Commercial Row.
10120 Jibboom Street, Truckee, CA 96161. 530-582-2000. Hours: 6AM-8PM daily. www.coffeebartruckee.com
The Fat Cat
If you’re over 21, this Tahoe City bar and grill is a fun local spot to grab dinner and drinks. There’s a dartboard, a calendar of live music performances and, if you’re feeling adventurous, an open mic night on Tuesday’s and karaoke on Thursday’s.
599 North Tahoe Boulevard, Tahoe City, CA 96145. 530-583-3355. Hours: Monday-Sunday, 11AM-2AM. www.fatcattahoe.com
Tahoe Eco Sports—Kayak and Stand-Up Paddleboard Rentals
This may go without saying, but the best way to experience Lake Tahoe is to get out on the water! While public beaches around the shoreline provide plenty of swimming access, go-getters can tackle kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding. Take it slow with private lessons or dive right in with rentals, which start at $20 per hour. Just don’t be afraid to get your hair wet—rumor has it, a dip in the lake every day imparts good luck.
8612 North Lake Boulevard, Kings Beach, CA 96143. 530-546-2780. www.tahoeecosports.com.
Magic Carpet Golf
Inspire the inner kid in you with a round at one of three unique mini golf courses at Magic Carpet Golf. Handcrafted mythological creatures and tricky optical illusions are par for the course, which is updated every year. Open only during the summer months, pristine greens and unfettered creativity make this a true local gem.
5167 North Lake Boulevard, Carnelian Bay, CA 96140. 530-546-4279.
Truckee River Raft Co.
Float five miles on the Truckee River from Tahoe City to Truckee, capping off your leisurely journey at the River Ranch Restaurant. Pack a lunch and drinks (just no Styrofoam cups) for the scenic trip, which swirls by picnic spots and swimming holes for spontaneous detours. Plan on a two to three hour trip, but don’t fret about transportation—the company offers complimentary shuttles.
185 River Road, Tahoe City, CA, 96145. 530-583-0123. Summer Hours: 8:30AM to 3:30PM (Shuttles run until 6PM). www.truckeeriverraft.com.
Cedar Glen Lodge
With lodging in rustic cottages, nightly marshmallow bonfires, an onsite restaurant and a wine bar, volley ball courts, nearby beach access and a heated pool, Cedar Glen Lodge offers just the right amount of small luxuries without scrapping the mountain experience. Book a cozy studio cottage or opt for a two-bed, two-bath with the works, including a dishwasher and fireplace.
6589 North Lake Tahoe Boulevard, Tahoe Vista, CA 96148. 530-546-4281. www.tahoecedarglen.com
Mourelatos Lake Shore Resort
Lakeside views accompany each of the property’s 32 rooms in the sweeping North Lake Tahoe Vista. While guests are automatically charged a $15 resort fee from May 15 through September 30, the charge gets you access to wireless Internet, kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, paddle boats, barbecue grills, fire pits, hot tubs, beach towels, free printing and phone calls and an unobstructed view of the lake from a chaise lounge. If you’re looking to spoil yourself this summer without going too overboard, this is the place to do it.
6834 North Lake Boulevard, Tahoe Vista, CA 96148. 800-TAHOE-81. www.mlrtahoe.com.
Visit www.gotahoenorth.com/lodging for a comprehensive list of places to stay, custom-tailored to your ideal lodging.
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