BY KATIE MORELL // PHOTOS BY MICHAEL CLEMENS (SEES THE DAY)
Lake Tahoe first burst onto the road-tripping scene in the mid-1850s, when the Gold Rush forced the creation of a highway that would lead pioneers to untold riches in Sacramento and the Bay Area. These days, Tahoe is a destination unto itself, with tons of things to see and do in cities lining the 191-square-mile lake. (Yes, it is that big—and also a whopping 1,637 feet deep.)
The area’s outdoor adventure options, restaurants, coffee shops, and entertainment venues are only a two-hour drive from Sacramento and around four hours from San Francisco. Whether you want to travel around the whole lake or settle into one spot, make a weekend of it and visit these top hits. Just remember: As the seasons change, so does the availability of certain Lake Tahoe attractions. Check ahead before booking a trip to be sure of rates and openings.
FIRST THINGS FIRST: UNCOVER NORTH LAKE
Lake Tahoe is unofficially divided into the “North Lake” and “South Lake” regions. Starting with North Lake, unpack your bags at The Village at Squaw Valley, a collection of shops, condos, and restaurants at the base of Squaw. These condos are gorgeous—think granite countertops in the kitchens, fireplaces, and views of the mountain—and can be pricey, but if you go in the autumn off-season, great deals are available for the taking.
Walk into the village and belly up to the counter at Mountain Nectar, a cute café with excellent juice options, coffee, and fresh bagels. Beverage in hand, walk through the village and stop at some of the shops selling winter wear, perfect for your future ski or snowboard plans.
After checking the retail shops at The Village, drive into downtown Truckee and park near the corner of Spring Street and Donner Pass Road. First, tuck into Bespoke, a charming family-run business that sells handmade goods primarily from local artisans. Check out the jewelry, ceramics, clothing, leather goods, paper goods, and more. A few doors away, you’ll find La Galleria, a store filled with foliage and rare gems (kind of feels like a bedazzled jungle in there) from all over the world. Chat with the friendly employees about the best item to accent your outfit.
For local loveliness, look no farther than Bespoke.
Shopped up an appetite? Zip to Tahoe City and settle in on one of the Adirondack chairs on the grassy area in front of Jake’s On The Lake (especially nice during the summer months). Bring a picnic blanket and relax for a bit while watching the boats go by, then run inside for a bite of chicken Masala, quinoa salad, or a helping of the “Shaka” fish tacos.
Refuel with California- and Hawaii-inspired cuisine at the family-owned Jake’s On The Lake.
Next up: Take in the calming effect of being out in the open water with kayak or stand-up paddleboard rentals at Tahoe City Kayak. The shop is open April through October and rentals will run you about $50 for a half day. Expert tip: It can be tempting to bring your phone along on the kayak to capture the absolute perfectInstagram shot, but it isn’t worth it when your phone decides to take a nosedive to the bottom of the (very, very deep) lake.
Make waves with a handy lake-faring vessel from Tahoe City Kayak.
KEEP THE ADVENTURE GOING: EXPLORE SOUTH LAKE
Start your second day by heading along Route 28 to Sand Harbor. (Wave as you cross the Nevada border!) Make a quick stop along the Memorial Point Trailto snap some photos with giant, in-water boulders in the background or go for a short hike. The views here are incredible—on a clear day you will likely be able to make out the snowcapped peaks on the other side of the lake. If you’re hungry, roll into the Sand Harbor Bar & Grill(open between April and October), ask for a seat with a view, and try the wild Alaskan salmon burger.
Bask in endless beaches (55 acres!), rocky coves, and panoramic lake views at Sand Harbor State Park.
Next, drive south to the Hard Rock Café Lake Tahoe. Try your luck at the slots or check out a music festival (consult the online schedule before you go). Park your car at Hard Rock and spend the next few hours walking around Stateline, Nevada. Just across the street is Heavenly Village, with shops including Village Toys and Earthbound Trading Company. If you skipped Sand Harbor and want some lunch, you can’t go wrong at California Burger Company (the Hawaiian-themed Ohana burger is divine) and the high-end Kalani’s at Lake Tahoe, where the sushi rolls are excellent (try the Heavenly roll).
An ice rink, spa, and scrumptious eats? I'm not finding it hard to believe we're in Heaven(ly Village).
For a breathtaking view, head to the Heavenly Mountain Resort, just down the road from Hard Rock. The view from the top of the mountain is breathtaking, so spring for a gondola ride. The 2.4-mile journey ends with a dramatic spot on an observation deck at 9,123 feet above sea level.
Catch some mountain air (and a seriously stunning view) on a gondola ride at Heavenly Mountain Resort.
From Stateline, keep driving around the lake—back into California again—and stop at the entrance to Emerald Bay State Park, a gorgeous bay with a tiny island at its center. Hiking here is stunningly picturesque; the Granite Lake and Maggies Peaks hike (best done between May and October) will take you about a half a day, so be sure to bring your sunscreen, water bottle, and hat.
End your day at the Sunnyside Restaurant & Lodge. In the winter, ask for a seat with a view, but during the warmer months, opt for a table on the restaurant’s massive patio and be sure to snap a few photos of the nearby beach. The food here is just as great as the vistas, so start with a helping of duck confit tacos and then move on to the grilled scallop and prawn brochettes. Finish off your day with a slice of apple butter crumble pie before getting back in your car for the scenic drive home.