Sep 12, 201205:00 PMTravel
The Best of the World Brought to You Courtesy of Jill Gleeson and Jason Holland
Even for confirmed easterners, Tahoe looms large in the imagination. Straddling Nevada and California, ringed by the glorious Sierras, this, after all, is the country’s largest Alpine lake.
It’s also the area television’s Cartwright family so iconically roamed on Bonanza, where the 1960 Winter Olympics at Squaw Valley were held and the site of hapless Fredo Corleone’s last fishing trip in The Godfather Part II. The Donner Party became snowbound there, resorting to the cannibalism that would forever guarantee them infamy. Over a century later, Frank Sinatra would bring glitz, glamour, mobsters and Marilyn Monroe to Tahoe when he purchased the Cal Neva Lodge.
But no tale, tall or not, no photograph or moving picture, no matter how breathtaking, can truly impart the majesty of Tahoe. That still, serene water, crystal cerulean in the center, fading gently to emerald along the shore; those beautiful, brutal mountains, snow-capped even in late spring, thrusting into the sky beyond – Tahoe is one of the world’s great wonders. And now just may be the perfect time to experience it.
Though renowned as a haven for winter-sports enthusiasts, the area – basking currently in day upon day of bright sunshine and ideal temperatures – provides just as many opportunities for warm-weather fun. Here are 10 of Tahoe’s best:
The stand-up paddleboarding craze is sweeping the country (some call it the fastest-growing water sport) so why not give it a whirl on the calm, cool waters of Lake Tahoe?
It takes some core strength and more than a bit of balance to stand on the surfboard-like plank and propel yourself forward with the long paddle, but even beginners will be tooling around like pros in no time after a lesson from the instructors at South Tahoe Standup Paddle (southtahoestanduppaddle.com, 530-416-4829). The shop also offers equipment rentals and sales and full, half-day and sunset guided tours.
9. Riding the Rails
There is little more romantic than hopping aboard a steam engine train, especially when the destination is the famed Wild West town of Virginia City, Nevada. Departing Saturdays and Sundays from Carson City, the Virginia & Truckee Railroad’s Sisters in History ride (visitcarson-city.com, 775-847-0380) is a three-hour, 28-mile round trip jaunt, with breathtaking scenery every inch of the way.
In between, passengers have a few hours to stroll the boardwalks and historic buildings of what was once one of America’s biggest mining boomtowns. Be sure to visit the Bucket of Blood Saloon – a fixture in Virginia City since the silver-rush days.
Kayaks are available to rent all over the lake, but for maximum fun, consider heading to the Camp Richardson Marina (camprichardson.com/the-resort/marina, 530-542-6570).
Camp Richardson, an adorable cluster of buildings including cabins, a hotel, restaurant, general store, coffee house and ice cream shop, dates back to the 1920s and still retains its old-timey charm.
In addition to kayaks, the marina rents boats, water skis and jet skis. Kayaking around Richardson, however, is a special experience, affording an ideal view of the translucent green water – and the relaxed pace with which to enjoy it.
No visit to Nevada would be complete without a little gambling, and one of Tahoe’s most plush resort-casinos is the MontBleu (montbleuresort.com, 888-829-7630).
Table games available include blackjack, craps and roulette, while nickel to $25 slot machines abound. New to the casino is the poker room, which boasts live games and No-Limit Texas Hold’em tournaments every day.
Spring for a room with a hot tub, and then begin your divinely decadent night with a long, sumptuous meal at Ciera Steak + Chop House, Lake Tahoe’s only AAA Four Diamond Award Winner.
For an unparalleled view of the lake and mountains, take a helicopter ride with Reno Tahoe Helicopters (helitahoe.com, 530-208-5247), founded in 2005 by the charismatic Claudio Bellotto, a former pilot in the Italian military. Options include the 10-minute-long Emerald Bay Tour, the hour-long Sunset Tour and the new Lake Tahoe Waterfall Tour, which showcases one of the area’s most stunning natural features.
Perhaps no other way of experiencing Tahoe provides such prime opportunity for photographing it, so be sure to bring your camera.
5. Taking in Truckee
This funky little mountain town, filled with historic buildings dating back to the late 1800s, is Tahoe’s can’t-miss (mini) metropolis.
Spend the day browsing unique shops while working up an appetite; Truckee (truckee.com, 530-587-8808) is rich in gourmet restaurants. Among the finest: The Drunken Monkey (drunkenmonkeysushi.com, 530-582-9755), where sushi becomes art, and Bar of America (barofamerica.com, 530-587-2626), which features Tahoe’s finest specialty cocktails.
No matter where you dine, be sure to lay your head at the exquisite Cedar House Sport Hotel (cedarhousesporthotel.com, 866-582-5655), which happens to feature its own in-house adventure guide service.
If you’ve got a need for speed, feed your addiction by renting one of Zephyr Cove Resort’s (zephyrcove.com/beach-water/watercraft-rentals, 800-23-TAHOE) very sleek, very fast powerboats. Not only are they an absolute blast to drive, but they can ferry you and your passengers from Zephyr’s South Lake Tahoe location across to Emerald Bay in no time.
Perhaps Tahoe’s most photographed spot, the bay, surrounded by the soaring Sierras, features the tiny Fannette Island. From its craggy crest rises the picturesque ruins of a tea house built in the late 1920s by the wealthy family that once owned the island.
3. Chilling Out
If Tahoe is about adventure and adrenaline, so too is it about relaxation and rejuvenation. Get plenty of the latter at the luxurious Resort at Squaw Creek (squawcreek.com, 800-327-3353). Rid your body of stress – and your mind of thought – with a hot-stone massage at Squaw Creek’s top-notch spa. For further pampering, follow it up with a skin-specific facial and then hit the spa’s steam room and dry sauna. Just don’t miss the resort’s massive, sparkling pool. With a jaw-dropping view of the mountains and three outdoor whirlpools, it defines glamour – and those speakers sending out swoony hits from the likes of Sinatra and Darin don’t hurt either.
Lake Tahoe is rife with some of the world’s finest golf courses. Non-duffer or not, everyone who visits the area should hit up the links at least once.
Just how beloved are Tahoe’s courses? Golf’s biggest celebrity tournament, the American Century Championship, is played each summer there.
Beginners, intermediate and advanced golfers alike will all benefit from a lesson at the esteemed Golf Academy at Old Greenwood (golfintahoe.com, 530-550-7010), led by the calm, confident and infinitely patient Keith Lyford, the 2011 NCPGA Teacher of the Year.
Private lessons and one-, two- and three-day golf school packages are available.
Golfing is great in Tahoe, and soaring is…spectacular. The finest spot in the country – if not the world – for soaring is in Minden, Nevada, and there is nobody better to do it with than the folks at SoaringNV (soaringnv.com, 775-782-9595).
Prefer a nice, peaceful glider ride? Soaring NV offers 15-, 20- and 45-minute flights in these graceful, motor-less planes over the Carson Valley and the Great Nevada Basin. But for a once-in-a-lifetime thrill, opt for a Wild Ride, which features enough hair-raising aerobatic maneuvers to take the breath away from even the most ardent daredevil.