Published on August 17th, 2013 | by Charu Suri
13 Where to Stay, Eat & What to Do in North Lake Tahoe
One of the most beautiful places on Earth, Lake Tahoe is a silvery bit of a paradise that has rich American Indian history. The lake itself is vast – 22 miles long and 12 miles wide – and offers such calm and tranquility to anyone gazing at it that you could call it “yoga scenery.”
The Washoe Indians were the first people of the lake, and considered the lake as sacred. The Washoe word for “lake,” Da ow ga, is considered the origin of the name Tahoe. They were known for their intricate basket weaving. The Washoe Indians considered the lake as a very sacred place, where they would gather seeds, make baskets, raise their children and respect Mother Nature’s gorgeous, generous bounty.
With the serendipitous discovery of gold in the mid 1800’s, miners, settlers and other immigrants dislodged the Indians who were subsequently scattered in the Reno, Carson Valley and Gardnerville areas of Nevada. The mid to late 1900s saw a huge crop of luxury hotels and restaurants as well as condominiums, which multiplied after the Winter Olympics was held in Squaw Valley in 1960.
Lake Tahoe at Sunrise from Sand Harbor
North Tahoe consists of several resort areas and towns.The most popular are Tahoe Vista & Kings Beach; Squaw Valley, Olympic Valley and Alpine Meadows; Incline Village and Crystal Bay; Tahoe City; Northstar; and West Shore.
This doesn’t mean that all the glorious outdoor activities are privy to these towns –it simply means that most of the lodging is found here. Natural gems like the Emerald Bay and waterfalls are everywhere. Every valley, nook and bend in Tahoe has something magnificent to offer so you’re likely to come across much beauty if you just drive around the lake, enjoy the twisty mountain roads, drop-offs, picnic spots and State Parks as well as the many lookouts in both California and Nevada.
If you’re visiting Tahoe for a few days or a week, here are some cozy digs and cultural activities to check out.
This is a charming town with the look and vibe of a small city, although you’ll never feel rushed. Tahoe City offers a beautiful Commons Beach equipped with a grassy area and picnic tables, as well as cultural and historical shops and museums. The Gatekeeper’s Museum offers an impressive original Washoe Indian basket collection by Marian Steinbach that is well worth going to see; there are also live Old West skits performed throughout the day.
The historic century-old Fanny Bridge
If you’re adventurous, enjoy a “Kayak Brunch” with Tahoe City Kayak, which offers guided tours around the lake culminating in a brunch at Jake’s on the Lake, a classic American casual dining grill with a million dollar view. The Tahoe Mountain Brewing Company gives you liquid classics including the Sugar Pine Porter, brewed for the 18th Century working class of England with velvety chocolate and toffee notes. Also sip on a classic Paddle Board Pale Ale which is “smooth as a flat water paddle on Lake Tahoe,” or get a Growler to go.
Don’t forget to take pictures of the historic Fanny Bridge which overlooks the century-old Tahoe Dam and its multi-hued waters.
Well-known for its Winter Olympics in 1960, Squaw Valley is revered by professional and amateur skiing and snowboarding enthusiasts alike.
Take the Aerial tram ride up to High Camp Mountain at 8,200 feet, which also features a museum dedicated to the Olympics. If you don’t ski, enjoy a game of heart-pumping high altitude tennis or soak in the hot tub, or flex your Frisbee skills by playing the 18-hole disc golf course.
The Resort at Squaw Creek (photo from Flickr)
There are several luxurious resorts at Squaw Valley including the Resort at Squaw Creek which sits at the base of the valley and sumptuous with four restaurants and a sparkling, rustic lobby with floor to ceiling windows. Ranked by Conde Nast Traveler as one of the top 50 ski hotels in North America, Squaw Creek is a true ski-in, ski-out lodge.
In contrast, the smaller but equally charming PlumpJack Inn boasts 56 rooms and a rustic vibe with whimsical Shakespearean décor. An in-house bakery and a fine seasonal menu at PlumpJack Café & Bar makes this one of the most popular dining destinations in North Tahoe.
If you’re into biking, Northstar will be as close as you will get to bliss. Featuring one of the largest mountain biking courses in Northern California, Northstar offers trails with sweeping views of Martis Valley, which is rugged and largely rural and dense with alpine forest.
There are plenty of lifts and trails to suit every type of athletic personality, and you can also take a gondola to the mountain pinnacle. The 22-foot Superpipe designed by Olympic snowboarder Shaun White opened in January this year.
The Ritz Carlton in Truckee (photo courtesy of the resort)
The Ritz Carlton in Truckee offers the area’s premier digs, and is California’s first and only AAA Five Diamond resort. A local “water and woods” themed spa menu means massages featuring Napa Valley gourmet finds (red wine grapeseed French clay massage, anyone?) and balancing, energizing treatments.
Emerald Bay & Fannette Island
If you must visit one natural attraction during your visit to Lake Tahoe, put the sparsely-clad granite Fannette Island at the top of your list.
The only island on the lake, Fannette Island is postage-stamp size small but contains the remnants of a Tea House building constructed by the owner of the nearby Vikingsholm. To get to the bay itself, you’ll need to access the Harvey West trail (there are no cars allowed on this trail) on foot from Emerald Bay State Park.
Emerald Bay was carved by glaciers thousands of years ago, and is largely granite that resisted the erosion. The Caribbean-colored azure waters are perfect for swimming and kayaking.
Kings Beach & Tahoe Vista
King’s Beach is perfect for kayaking and SUP
This laid-back area is ideal for families and visitors who want some quiet beach time, and the beach is ideal for Stand Up Paddleboarding (there are some SUP excursions you can take up and down the water’s edge, including one the raw, rugged shoreline of Crystal Point). You can find places to rent paddleboards and kayaks right on the beach itself.
Incline Village& Crystal Bay
If you veer towards Northstar and past Kings Beach, you’ll pass Incline Village which offers cinematographic hiking trails with beautiful views of the lake. Photographers line up early to get iconic shots of the lake from Sand Harbor, which is known for its glacially-carved rocks.
Crystal Bay straddles the Nevada-California border, and casinos suddenly become plentiful. Frank Sinatra once owned the now legendary Cal Neva resort and casino where you can try your luck at poker.