Visiting Lake Tahoe, Nevada/California
Lake Tahoe welcomes millions of visitors each year. From the beach to the dining and shopping their is something for everyone. I always say that you never know a place until you are a local. For five years Lake Tahoe was only twenty minutes from my house. As you can imagine we explored Lake Tahoe all summer, every summer. I still have not seen it all. Somewhere there is a restaurant where you eat in the dark (cuts down on lawsuits from the hair in your meal). I am not opposed to parasailing or jet skiing (these can be rented). However, motorized water craft seem to take something away from the peace and serenity of Lake Tahoe.
Known for it's crystal clear water, Lake Tahoe is a magical place for those of us who love to be in the water. Weather at the lake is precarious. Most afternoons clouds come in usually bringing showers. The water in Lake Tahoe is cold through 10 months of the year. Lat summer is the best time to go. I've seen it snow on the 4th of July. Check the weather before going. A warm day at the lake is 75 degrees. You might see an 81 degree day every so often.
My favorite beach is Sand Harbor day use area on the Nevada North Shore side of the lake. Although it is a rare occurrence, the first time we went to Sand Harbor there were three foot swells. It was just like being at the ocean complete with the rickety worn picket beach fence. The sand is amazing. It’s the kind of soft sand you can get buried in or just dig your feet into. The down side of Sand Harbor is that you can’t bring dogs, I guess that could be an upside as well for some people.
Sand Harbor gets packed early in the day. I found that a lot of people are gone by 3pm (in the summer the sun is out until 8:30-9pm). Rather than beat the crowds we got there after they left and stayed until dark. The pictures you see of granite dells in the water are of Sand Harbor.
The Shakespearean Festival is also at Sand Harbor in an outdoor Amphitheater. There is a small cafe and gift shop.My recommendation is that you bring food with you or eat on the way. Kayaks can be rented from local providers. Sand Harbor has a dock that goes from one end of the peninsula to the other. I recommend taking a moment to walk it and take in the views.
Nevada Beach, Nevada
Nevada beach also has a nice day use area that includes my husband’s favorite thing; grills. The beach is not sand, it looks like sand but, is really tiny rocks. I don’t advise going without shoes at Nevada Beach. You can also camp here if you want to make a vacation out of it. Nevada Beach has better parking and more beach than most of the beaches at the lake. It is not as crowded as places like Sand Harbor.
The great thing about Nevada beach is it's close to Casey's Cantina. Casey's is a hole in the wall place next to the Safeway on the same corner as the turn to go to Sand Harbor. Reasonably priced, Casey's has great food and a fun atmosphere.
Zephyr Cove, Nevada
If you go to Zephyr Cove during the day, it's packed. The beach area is not as big as some of the other beaches. There is a camp ground across the street and this area gets crazy busy. The camp ground is nice, you can still hear the traffic noise. This area is prone to bears although I've never seen them. My first few day trips to Zephyr cove were a little frustrating. Technically, this was the closest beach to my house and it always seemed like a hassle. Pay to park, fight for a spot, sometimes their wasn't a spot.
However, if you let it, the lake will teach you it's secrets. One day after a particularly grueling time at work, I looked at my husband and said "I need to go to the lake". We got to the lake at about 5:15pm. The ranger booth was closed so we parked for free. It was warm out 85 degrees and to my surprise the beach was clear with the exception of a few people. I found my nirvana that day. I was in the water until the sun went down. This became my time slot at the beach. Even on the weekends, I wouldn't go up until late afternoon. I had the water to myself. For years I tried to find the beach "The locals" went to where you could avoid tourists. I never found another beach, but I found a time that I could have peace.
The Paddle boats run tours from Zephyr Cove all summer so occasionally a group of foreign tourists will stare at you from the dock like you are an animal at the zoo. I sort of got use to that happening. I don't recommend any part of the lake on holiday weekends. It is difficult to enjoy the water when your lawn chair is two inches from the next group.
Kings Beach, California
You are not a local until you have driven all the way up to Kings Beach. Unlike all the other beaches, Kings Beach looks like a little beach town. The area around the public beach has motels, shops, and restaurants. Kings beach could be plucked right off the California coast. This little out of the way spot is set up for walking around and hanging out. For years Lake Tahoe water levels were down and the docks at Kings Beach were on the shore. Recent rain and snow has allowed the water to rise back up. Kayak and paddle board rentals are close by. This would also be a great place to stay so you could just walk to the beach. This is one of the few places on the lake where the hotels have beach access. Our favorite place to eat at Kings Beach was the Char Pit. They have great burgers.
Camp Richardson is the only day use area I know of that does not charge a fee. There is a beautiful white sand beach. The water in this spot has some unpleasant sea weed type plants that can be disconcerting when you swim (what just touched my leg). There is a great trail and visitors center at Camp Richardson. You can take your dogs here without a hassle. You can camp at Camp Richardson for a fee. On the weekends like everywhere else this area can get crowded quickly. This is an out of the way spot where you would want to eat before or bring your food. There are plenty of local places to eat on the way.
For people who have their own boats there is an inspection fee to keep the muscles, weeds, and barnacles out of the water. Even though I love Kayaking, I did not make it up to Tahoe with the Kayaks. It was a lot of hassle to get them inspected before going. Kayaks and boards can also be rented up at the lake which is easier. The water is so inviting that I found the boating unnecessary. Expect the water there to be a cool even in mid-summer. The outside temperatures hovered from 60-80 degrees. For some of you that might seem cold. It is easy to tell when the water is cold, there are tons of people on the beach and nobody is in the water.
At Heavenly Village there are great specialty shops. Everything from Tahoe treasures to alpaca blankets can be found at Heavenly. Holidays Gift Store is filled with unique items from local crafters as well as fun things you will not find elsewhere. In that same shopping center there are several fun clothing stores, Beads Ect, and the Dr Seuss gallery. Heads up Dr Seuss didn't just draw cartoons.
If you go into Lake Tahoe on the California side there are wine and cheese stores all over the place. My favorite is the Cork and More tucked back behind the Denny’s in the Ross parking lot (Denny’s is on the highway at the Y). The Cork and More has just about every cheese you can imagine as well as fun stuff for your kitchen. I especially like to stop there at Christmas when they have their seasonal stuff.
If you be a pirate, there is CC’s pirate treasures. This store is on the highway but, it is in an enclosed strip mall. The pirate enthusiast will find everything from baby clothes to flamingo skeletons for the lawn. My kids always get caught up in trying things on when we go there.
Eating at the south shore is always a treat. We tried most of the places at Heavenly and found them to be overpriced and not much to write about. I enjoyed the Hard Rock Café at Harvey’s Casino because, who would not want to have dinner next to Joe Walshes 70's pants? There is also a variety of fine dining including the restaurant at the top of Heavenly (the tram is open year round). The best pizza at the lake is at the Blue Dog. There are several of them around. For burgers go to Izzy's Burger Spa on the California side.
Last But, Not Least
After reading everything I wrote, you may think Lake Tahoe is not worth the traffic and expense. Trust me when I say it is worth it. Drive all the way around the Lake at least once. Then pick your spot and sit by the water or get in. You will see that they don't call it Heavenly for nothing. The water is crystal clear and the air is clean. This is one of the most beautiful places in the United States. Enjoy Lake Tahoe!
© 2012 MD Jackson MSIOP