Tahoe or Bust
Hop on a 90-minute flight to Reno, then drive 90 minutes to this serene mountain destination with an impressive range of activities, from rafting and hiking to Shakespeare, spa treatments, and blackjack.
With a huge menu offering everything from big salads to burgers to mountain rainbow trout, Austin’s Tahoe (120 Country Club Drive, Incline Village) will satisfy most palates for a reasonable price in the tony Incline Village area. Monday nights are the time to go, when local bands play on the patio. Jake’s On the Lake (780 North Lake Boulevard, Tahoe City) also serves up a good time with live music every Sunday night on its outdoor deck with sit-down, wowie views over South Lake Tahoe. It’s mostly steak and seafood on the menu, and lucky for families, there’s a fun kids’ menu and an adjacent marina where little ones can run around while still in view of parents ordering one more round. For a classic Tahoe breakfast, try The Old Post Office Cafe (5245 North Lake Boulevard, Carnelian Bay) for eggs with anything, an old fashioned diner-style counter, and plenty of locals meeting for coffee. Craft brew fans should head to The Brewery at Lake Tahoe (3542 Lake Tahoe Boulevard, South Lake Tahoe) for a sip of its signature Bad Ass Ale.
The Bard hits the beach at the annual Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival, staged at Sand Harbor (2005 Highway 28, Incline Village), a sandy, accessible beach with free parking. You can bring your own small cooler with drinks and snacks or order from the makeshift restaurant onsite. This summer’s production is A Midsummer Night’s Dream and performances run through August 25 (tickets start at $15, laketahoeshakespeare.com).
After a night of theater, lighten up with a day at the river. Forecasts show record low levels for the Truckee River in 2013, making rafting more like wading. If you do make the trek, Tahoe City is the best place to drop into the river. Or stay on the lake and try stand up paddleboarding in quiet, calm Emerald Bay, where there’s an island for circling, a few sand stretches to take a break, and great bird-watching. Nearby SUP Tahoe (961 Emerald Bay Road, South Lake Tahoe) rents all the equipment and even nifty racks to throw on the rental car so you can beach-hop with your boards.
In Tahoe, your lodging choices range from borrowing a friend’s cabin to staying at the Ritz. The latest newcomer in the basin is the Basecamp Hotel (4143 Cedar Avenue, South Lake Tahoe), a 50-room boutique hotel in South Lake Tahoe. The hotel’s website offers a Basecamp To-Do List, which includes motorcycle touring, fly fishing, paddleboarding, and indoor camping, complete with pitched tent and “campfire.” For more outdoor adventures, try the family-friendly Northstar California resort (5001 Northstar Drive, Truckee). In the summer, the ski lifts are open to mountain biking and hiking (yes, the chairlifts are operating and take you up and back!), and any two-night stay at the resort gets you two free all-day lift tickets. Looking for an indoor experience? The Spa at Squaw Creek (400 Squaw Creek Road, Olympic Valley) has an array of relaxing treatments, including the specialized high-altitude massage. The new Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe (13031 Ritz Carlton Highlands Court, Truckee) offers its own authentic indoor campout experience, with a pitched tent and s’mores right in your room. And of course, there are always the casinos. Harrah’s and Harveys both have packed summer entertainment lineups, but for something more modern, try the newer MontBleu Resort (55 Highway 50, Lake Tahoe). Sleek and contemporary, the lagoon-style pool is indoors and its restaurant Ciera is the only four-diamond rated spot in Tahoe.