If I were writing for Family Living, Gaming, Camping, Outdoor Living or Backpacker Magazines the Tahoe South area would be my first choice for a family vacation. Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America and it is surrounded by the Sierra Nevada Mountains. I was on a six day sponsored trip, along with my dear friend Michelle, who writes for two Texas newspapers as well as several AAA Magazines. My idea of roughing it is that the air conditioning only works on medium so this trip was an eye opener. I did have problems with the 6,237-foot altitude until I started drinking 8-10 glasses of water a day.
Mountain bikers and motorcycle enthusiasts are a special breed of crazy people and the hikers lost cell service and loved it. Driving up mountain roads I watched in awe, as runners seemed to beat my car up the hills. The jet skiers and para sailors loved the 191.6 square miles of Lake Tahoe. This was summer season so I had to imagine the skiers and snowboarders hurtling down the snow-covered trails after riding the Heavenly Gondola to 9,136 feet. Let’s not forget the ice-skating, snowmobiling and sledding. Then there is gaming, golf, tennis, fishing, horseback riding, shopping, spas, nightlife, local culture and family fun.
South Lake Tahoe is the largest city in El Dorado County, California, yet there are only 21,000 plus souls living the good life with 39% of the area water. The California-Nevada state line area is primed for visitors with hotels, restaurants & ski resorts. Gaming is only allowed in Nevada with the casino hotels sitting smack dab on the border in Stateline, Nevada. The city was incorporated in 1965 with gaming arriving in 1944. I am told that the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, California put the Lake Tahoe area on the map as a skiing region.
Ten Best Restaurants- In no particular order:
Ciera Steak+ Chophouse- MontBleu Resort- Tahoe’s only Four Diamond Restaurant. Leather booths, rich wood paneling and glass chandeliers. Tried the Cowboy Rib Eye, 24oz. certified Angus beef (had the leftovers for lunch the next day). The Captain’s List has over 300 wines & Champagnes. Ciera’s Maitre de Tommy Walker gave me a tour of the wine room.
19 Kitchen* Bar- 19th floor of Harveys Lake Tahoe- Spectacular views of the lake. There is a separate bar area that serves food, with a great lake view. My Surf’n’turf contained broiled filet, short ribs, seared diver scallop and Australian lobster.
Friday Station Steak & Seafood Grill- Located on the top floor of Harrah’s Lake Tahoe. 1,000-bottle display wine cellar and magnificent views.
Mirabelle’s- This French fine dining establishment is located on the South Shore of Lake Tahoe.
The Hungry Bear Restaurant- Located in the Ridge Tahoe. Chef Stephen Moise presents an elegant dining experience in a casual atmosphere. There is a separate bar area that serves food. Try the Tuesday night chef cooking series. The friendliest staff (including Chef Stephen) I have encountered in years delivered simple food prepared perfectly with locally fresh ingredients to complement the resort’s peaceful and homey vibe.
Capisce- Located a short distance from downtown South Lake Tahoe in Zephyr Cove with an emphasis on Italian food.
Edgewood Restaurant- Located in the famed Edgewood Golf Club where one does not have to be a member to dine here. The tables look directly out across the lake. I dined on the Tasmanian King Salmon with wild mushrooms.
Fox & Hound- Located near the Nevada side of the Heavenly Resort at 7,380 feet above sea level with great views of the Carson Valley.
The Chart House- Nestled halfway up the mountain, this Cliffside restaurant offers spectacular views of the entire Lake Tahoe basin with both inside and outside seating.
Red Hut- The original Red Hut Café is open 6AM-2PM for breakfast and lunch. The large Red Hut at Ski Run Blvd has a full menu and traditional hours. Don’t miss the old fashioned soda fountain.
Ten Best Activities- In no particular order:
Camp Richardson Corral- Owned and operated by the Ross family since 1934 they offer scenic guided horseback rides, steak dinner rides, summer hay wagon rides, back country pack trips, pony (gentle kids horse) rides and winter sleigh rides. Located next to historic Camp Richardson.
Heavenly Gondola- There is a 2.4-mile ride up the Heavenly Mountain with panoramic views of Lake Tahoe. On your way up, stop at The Observation Deck – a 14,000 square foot mid-station observation platform, located at 9,123 feet. Take the gondola to the top or hike on the Nevada side of the mountain. After your ride to the top of the Heavenly Gondola, lace up your shoes for a variety of hikes.
Heavenly Village Shops- Located at the base of the Heavenly Gondola and walking distance from South Lake Tahoe casinos. Shop, dine, catch a movie or try ice-skating or miniature golf at the seasonal outdoor pavilion.
Golf at Edgewood Tahoe- One of the most scenic golf courses in the world is set along the south shore of Lake Tahoe. This course offers a choice of four sets of tees, ranging in length from 5,567 yards to a demanding 7,555.
Biking at Spooner Summit- The Flume Trail, with sweeping Lake Tahoe views, lead from Spooner Lake to Marlette Lake, past the Aspens and along the streams. Rest overlooking Lake Tahoe before your nine scenic miles down 1,800 feet.
Cruise on the Tahoe Queen—This 520 passenger ship, 1900’s style, is the only authentic Mississippi paddle wheeler on Lake Tahoe. Choose the 2 1/2 hour Emerald Bay sightseeing cruise or the sunset dinner cruise.
Vikingsholm Castle- You need to be in great shape to walk the one mile down and one mile up hill to the castle. The former summer home of millionaire heiress Lora Knight, Vikingsholm was built in 1929. Because the rugged mountain scenery and sheer granite cliffs surrounding Emerald Bay reminded her of the fjords in Norway, Knight chose a Scandinavian design.
Tallac Historic Site- Is home to the archeological remains of the Tallac Resort and three large summer estates built by wealthy San Franciscans. The 74-acre tract of land is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is located 3 miles north of South Lake Tahoe.
Outdoor Concerts- MontBleu’s 5,200-seat outdoor amphitheater summer concert series. Outdoor Arena at Harveys is 7,000 seat plus.
Gaming- Try your luck at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe, Harveys Lake Tahoe, MontBleu Resort Casino & Spa, Horizon or Lakeside Inn & Casino. All located on the Nevada state line.
Ten Best Hotels- In no particular order:
The Ridge Tahoe- This 11-acre hotel resort has 302 units featuring hotel rooms, junior suites (my room), one and two bedroom condominiums and is nestled on a spectacular Sierra Nevada ridge overlooking Lake Tahoe. Complimentary health club, indoor sports complex, indoor/outdoor swimming pools & Jacuzzis. There is a full service spa, tennis courts, rock climbing wall and hiking trails. In the winter the Skier Express provides access to Heavenly Ski Resort’s Stagecoach Chairlift. Complimentary shuttle to downtown Lake Tahoe and casino nightlife.
MontBleu Resort Casino & Spa- Featuring a casino and a health spa, this 437-room resort is on the Nevada side of South Lake Tahoe and within walking distance to the Heavenly Village Gondola and the Edgewood Golf Course. The lagoon-style indoor pool is a relaxing retreat, with a gentle waterfall and rock islands.
Harrah’s Lake Tahoe Resort & Casino- The 18-story 512-room hotel tower has a swimming pool and spa. Harrah’s has been entertaining guests since 1955.
Harveys Lake Tahoe Resort & Casino- First casino hotel built on the South Shore in 1944. The 740 hotel rooms and suites are within walking distance to Heavenly.
Lakeside Inn & Casino- This inn offers guestrooms with a lakeside, nature theme. The hotel offers pet-friendly rooms to its guests and a seasonal outdoor pool.
3 Peaks Resort & Beach Club- Located 2 blocks from the Heavenly Valley Gondola and 3 blocks from the Lake Tahoe casinos. 3 Peaks Resort & Beach Club is a pet friendly mountain cabin style hotel property.
Zephyr Cove Resort- The cabins at Zephyr Cove resort consist of 28 cabins nestled in a grove of pine trees on South Lake Tahoe’s shoreline. They range in size from studios and cottages to two-story chalets that can sleep up to 10 guests and are pet friendly.
Camp Richardson Historic Resort & Marina- Offers a wide array of recreational activities and lodging options including cabins, historic hotel, marina/beach duplex, beachside inn, RV Park, campgrounds plus lakeside dining, a general store as well as an ice-cream parlor. The Mountain Sports Center offers bike rental as well as hiking maps. Don’t expect TV’s, air-conditioning or telephones. You are there to relax.
Marriott Timber Lodge- The 473 room Marriott Vacation Club Resort is located in the beautiful Heavenly Village next to the high-speed gondola that can take guests to the Heavenly Mountain.
968 Park Hotel- Located minutes away from the Heavenly Gondola, the shops of Heavenly Village and the Nevada casinos. There is a heated outdoor pool, hot tub, Jacuzzi as well as a spa. Enjoy free WiFi in the 60 newly renovated rooms or relax in the Zen Garden.
SPECIAL MENTIONS- The following were outside the South Tahoe area but deserve mention:
May 25 through October 20- Ride the multi-million-dollar reconstruction of the Virginia & Truckee Railroad (24 mile roundtrip). The train leaves from the Nevada State Capitol in Carson City and runs along the west side of Mound House and across a spectacular railroad bridge over U.S. Hwy. 50, then picks up the historic, Comstock Era route. Watch for mines, silver ore veins and wild mustangs. F Street Depot Car – the Virginia City end of this line, with a free shuttle to downtown C Street. You’ll have three hours to explore this authentic western town (think TV’s Bonanza).
The Victorian-era Virginia City sprang up as a boomtown on top of the Comstock Lode, the first major silver deposit discovered in the United States, in 1859. At its peak in the late 19th century it had over 15,000 residents. The mines’ output declined after 1874, and as of the 2010 Census the population of Virginia City was about 855. Many locals work at the shops, museums, restaurants and saloons that cater to the 2 million visitors per year. Ride on a stagecoach, horse-drawn carriage or trolley, or tour a silver or gold mine. Virginia City is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Genoa Bar and Saloon, Nevada’s Oldest Thirst Parlor- The building was built in 1853 and was well known as a “gentleman’s saloon” back then. It has changed hands many times over the years and in 1963, the Bob and Betty Carver family who ran it until 2000, when they retired and sold the bar to Willy and Cindy Webb bought it.