Road trip! Tahoe Magazine’s ultimate guide to driving — and making several stops — around Big Blue
Special to the Sierra Sun
Don’t limit yourself to one shore this summer — experience the diversity of Lake Tahoe’s communities with a mini-road trip around Big Blue.
It’s a 72-mile drive around the lake, which translates to roughly three hours of drive time with no stops, but what fun would that be? Plan on taking the whole day to travel so you can take in as many vistas, beaches, cafés, local shops and lakeside cocktails as you fancy.
Now, hop in the car with your friends and family, throw on your best sing-along playlist (bonus points if it includes on-theme tracks like “Ramblin’ Man” by The Allman Brothers Band), and get ready for the ultimate Tahoe adventure.
Snap a selfie at Emerald Bay
Emerald Bay is the most photographed location around Lake Tahoe — and a good place to kick off this road trip. The gorgeous teal waters of the inlet surrounded by the rugged mountains and dotted by the lake’s only island, Fannette Island, are a sight to behold.
Listen to Eagle Falls pour into the bay from the top of Emerald Bay State Park, or walk the one-mile trail down to the lake to check out Vikingsholm, a 1929 stone summer home built by Mrs. Lora Josephine Knight and lauded as one of the finest examples of Scandinavian architecture in the western hemisphere.
Grab a bite at West Shore Café
Drive north on Highway 89 past D.L. Bliss State Park, through Meeks Bay and Tahoma, to West Shore Café in Homewood. The lodge and restaurant’s California cuisine changes seasonally, but expect to find unique dishes like a peach and burrata salad or the lobster corndog. Enjoy a meal or appetizers on the lake at a table on the restaurant’s pier.
Check out the dam at Fanny Bridge
The nearly century-old Fanny Bridge spans the only outlet of Lake Tahoe — the Truckee River. The historic bridge in Tahoe City was supposedly named for the high number of tushes that can be spotted as people stare down at the aquamarine water rushing through the dam. Make sure to check out the nearby Gatekeeper’s Museum to learn about Tahoe’s history, including the Washoe Tribe, the environmentally-devastating logging and mining eras, and the rise of the tourism industry at the lake. TAKE NOTE: This summer, crews are working on constructing a new bridge and realigning the Highway 28/89 intersection, so optimal viewing might be compromised.
Get a caffeine boost at Coffee Connexion
Grab a cup of coffee made with Tahoe City-roasted beans at Coffee Connexion. Best enjoyed in a to-go cup at nearby Commons Beach.
Check out the lupines at Lake Forest Beach
Hop onto Highway 28 and head to Lake Forest Beach where expansive fields of lupines bloom every summer just outside of Tahoe City. These brilliant purple wildflowers usually pop up in mid-July to mid-August. After a low-snow year, however, they could appear earlier in late May and June.
Peruse art at Blue Wolf Studios
Continue on Highway 28 into Kings Beach. For beautifully made ceramics, art and other goods from over 70 local artists and makers, pop into Blue Wolf Studios.
Get a new perspective at the Historic Stateline Fire Outlook
Take an easy 1.8-mile paved hike (out and back with a loop at the top) up to the Historic Stateline Fire Outlook in Crystal Bay for some of the best views on the North Shore. The lookout tower was built in 1936 at 7,017 feet, but was taken down in 2002 when technological advances replaced human observation. Enjoy panoramic views of the lake at every turn while learning about the area’s history from interpretive signs along the way.
Enjoy a pint at Alibi Ale Works
Alibi Ale Works’ award-winning craft beer should not be missed. Head into the Incline Village taproom, tucked away on Enterprise Street, to try a Coconut Porter, Cherry Pie Berliner or Full Send Double IPA — all brewed with Lake Tahoe water. Make sure to grab a growler for later. Please drink responsibly.
Sip on a lakeside cocktail at Lone Eagle Grille
Not a beer person? Scoot over to the Lone Eagle Grille for a craft cocktail, like the Tahoe Godfather made with Johnny Walker Red Scotch, Disaronno Amaretto, Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur and lemon juice. The gorgeous lakeside property features ample outdoor seating — not to mention the famed Pier 111 Bar, which sits at the end of the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe’s 275-foot floating pier — and might be hard to leave. Again, please drink responsibly.
Take a dip at Sand Harbor
You’ve rounded the top of the lake, and it’s time to head south down the East Shore. Sand Harbor’s boulder-dotted beach and waters just outside of Incline Village are always bustling, but if you can find a parking spot, it’s worth a stop. The crystal clear waters and interesting rock formations make the area popular for swimming and even scuba diving training. Jump in!
Take a tour at Thunderbird Lodge
Stop for a tour of the historic lakefront Thunderbird Lodge, the former home of eccentric multimillionaire, George Whittell Jr. In addition to the main house, there is a card house, caretaker’s cottage, the cook/butler’s house, a barn for his elephant Mingo, the Admiral’s house, the boathouse with adjoining 600-foot tunnel, and a gatehouse. Learn all about Whittell’s fascinating life and the importance of his large land donations for Tahoe’s conservation on a guided tour.
Enjoy the drive along the East Shore
The stretch of highway between Incline Village and Zephyr Cove provides spectacular views of Lake Tahoe from varying elevations. Luckily there are a number of turnoff areas along the way to stop and snap photos (and let faster cars go by).
Get elevated at Cave Rock
Not for those with a fear of heights, the 15-minute hike to the top of Cave Rock on the southeast shore requires a bit of scrambling up rocks at the end, but it’s worth it. Hop off of U.S. 50 onto Cave Rock Drive and follow signs for the trailhead. Sitting atop the giant rock structure with sweeping views of the lake, it’s easy to understand why this spot is considered sacred by the Washoe Tribe, Tahoe’s original inhabitants.
Get a sugar rush at Glazed and Confused Tahoe Donuts
Glazed and Confuzed’s gourmet donuts are topped with out-of-the-box ingredients like cereal, candy and french fries. Try a cake donut from the South Shore bakery with maple glaze mixed with bacon bits and pretzels or another with vanilla frosting, pecans, pineapple, papaya, mango and toasted coconut. Better yet, just grab a dozen.
Pick up a souvenir at Wildwood Makers Market
Wildwood Makers Market is filled with handmade jewelry, housewares, cards, hats and art from local makers. The gift-shop-meets-craft-store in South Lake Tahoe is an ideal location to grab a Tahoe-inspired souvenir.
Grab a slice at Lake Tahoe AleWorX
Not only does South Lake Tahoe’s Lake Tahoe AleWorX have delicious wood-fired pizza … they also have an entire self-serve wall of beers on tap. Enough said. Oh, and did we mention — please drink responsibly?
Stretch your legs at Fallen Leaf Lake
Tahoe is not the only lake worth checking out while on your mini-road trip. Come full circle with a visit to Fallen Leaf Lake, a short drive off of Highway 89 at the south end of the lake. The alpine lake offers up stunning views of Mount Tallac and its crystal clear waters rival Tahoe.