Terrific Tahoe! A Weekend in California's South

A visit to California’s city of South Lake Tahoe is a great way to see the shimmering beauty of Lake Tahoe, the country’s largest alpine lake.

Terrific Tahoe! A Weekend in California's South

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by hellotmf on June 11, 2006

A visit to California’s city of South Lake Tahoe is a great way to see the shimmering beauty of Lake Tahoe, the country’s largest alpine lake. At the breathtaking altitude of over 6,000 feet, Lake Tahoe is an area that can be explored in a variety of ways, such as by car, foot, boat, helicopter, gondola, or even hot air balloon!

Lake Tahoe is located high up in the Sierra Nevada’s and is the country’s largest alpine lake. It is also one of the most photographed destinations in North America. At the breathtaking altitude of over 6,200 feet above sea level, Lake Tahoe is surrounded by beautiful large alpine trees and contains a wide array of wildlife, from tiny birds to giant bears! The crystalline emerald water of Lake Tahoe shimmers in any light, providing endless opportunity for viewing and photographing.

The state line between Nevada and California runs through Lake Tahoe, making 2/3 of the lake in California and 1/3 in Nevada. The area in, and around Lake Tahoe is immense and would take a great amount of time to explore. This journal focuses on the south shore of Lake Tahoe, in and around the city of South Lake Tahoe (California), the central hub of this popular tourist destination.

South Lake Tahoe is the only incorporated community in the Lake Tahoe Basin. The city is located directly on Lake Tahoe and offers a variety of shopping, restaurants, lodging, and activities. Note that there is no gambling in California but walk across the street of South Lake Tahoe Boulevard and you enter Nevada and its vast array of casinos and nightlife! This makes South Lake Tahoe a great place to stay while you visit Lake Tahoe because you have all the vacation amenities you could want with a great view of the water—all within walking distance of your hotel.

There is a vast amount of activities available to experience Lake Tahoe that range from free to pricey—thus a visit to this area will fit any traveler’s or family’s budget. I detail some of these activities, their reservation process, and pricing information in this journal.
${QuickSuggestions} Take your time. Remember that Lake Tahoe is at an elevation of over 6,200 feet above sea level, so if you are hiking or even walking at a meager pace you are likely to feel the effects of high altitude. While it isn’t necessary to break out the oxygen tanks, it is important to take your time, stay hydrated, and allow your body to acclimate to this drastic change in height.

Dress warm! I visited Lake Tahoe in early June and found it to be hot during the day and cold in the morning and at night. In particular, if you take a boat ride on Lake Tahoe, wear lots and lots of layers. Again, note that high altitude of this lake and temperature drop when packing for your trip.

Wear comfortable shoes. It is best to wear hiking shoes or sneakers as the land in Lake Tahoe ranges from soft dirt to slippery rocks to granite. Even if intense hiking isn’t on your itinerary, a stroll around vista points, such as Eagle Falls, may require good coordination and balance.

Talk to locals and try to find the best areas and restaurants nearest your hotel and activities to explore Lake Tahoe. Finding destinations nearest you will give you more time to spend in that particular destination.

Finally, get there early and beat the other tourists for better photographic opportunity and dispersion of time. Lake Tahoe is a large area to explore, so take advantage of every moment you have there!

And last but not least, I can’t say this enough, do not forget your camera!!
${BestWay} The two closest airports to Lake Tahoe are Lake Tahoe Airport (TVL) in California, and Reno/Tahoe International Airport (RNO) in Nevada. Unless you are extremely wealthy and/or have your own plane you will probably want to fly into Reno/Tahoe International Airport as the Lake Tahoe Airport does not currently route with any major airline carriers. While it may take longer to get to Lake Tahoe from Reno, it also provides visitors the opportunity to make a quick side trip to Reno before or after their trip to Lake Tahoe.

You don’t necessarily need a car to explore South Lake Tahoe. Many of the hotels in the area provide shuttling services from the airport and there are also shuttles that take tourists to the many of the vista points along Rt. 89 (California) and Rt. 50 (Nevada). You can read more about the shuttle services offered in South Lake Tahoe and the Truckee Area (northern part of Lake Tahoe) at: http://www.lsctahoe.com/tahoeservices.html

That said, I would still highly recommend renting a car. Driving around the lake allows you to explore the area as you wish on your own schedule. To get to Lake Tahoe from the airport, you take 395-South to Rt. 50-West, which takes you directly to Lake Tahoe.

There is one freeway that circles the Lake. On the southern half of the lake it is called Rt. 50 in Nevada and Highway 89 in California, and around the northern half of the lake it is called Rt. 28 in both states. The drive around Lake Tahoe is approximately 80 miles and to complete the drive around the lake without long stops takes about 3.5 hours.

Another option is to bike this route. A bike ride around the lake takes from 8 to 10 hours depending on skill level. However, note that this route is a two-lane freeway and is somewhat narrow for both cars and bikes going in both directions. While locals are cognizant of the area’s large mountain biking sub-culture many tourists are not, and locals have told me that each year there are many incidents of riders getting hit by cars. While speed limit signs are clearly posted there is often a narrow angle of view on the many curves on this freeway.

Embassy Lake Tahoe Resort

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by hellotmf on June 11, 2006

The Embassy Suites Hotel—Lake Tahoe Resort is an ideal place to stay in Lake Tahoe. The hotel is located on the state line between Nevada and California at South Lake Tahoe Boulevard & Rt. 50. Guests can walk to Harrah’s and other casinos on the Nevada side as well as the vast amount of restaurants and shops in the Heavenly Ski village on the California side. The Embassy Suites is smack in the middle of everything there is to see in South Lake Tahoe.

In addition to its great location, the Embassy Suites offers a great complimentary breakfast each morning, which consists of a buffet that includes a wide variety of fruit, pastries, waffles, pancakes, coffee, tea, juice, and soft drinks. In addition, you can have your breakfast cooked to order, also free of charge. There is also a happy hour and manager’s reception with small appetizers from 4:30 to 6:30pm. Room service is also available and the Echo Restaurant is located inside the hotel. Check their website for recent schedules: http://www.embassytahoe.com/

The rooms are basic suites with a small living/dining room area with a refrigerator and the bedrooms contain a small minibar. Some of the rooms have a good view but will cost more money. The rooms are not as nice as what you would find at some newer Hilton resorts, but it is likely you won’t be there very much. The free amenities far outweigh the datedness of the rooms.

The only “official” parking at the Embassy Suites is valet which is $26 per day. To get around this, you can park next door at Harrah’s for free.

The Embassy Suites offers group packages, and even wedding and banquet packages and setups. They also offer a Tahoe Kids Camp (http://www.tahoekids.com/) which offers a variety of activities for children including babysitting services so adults can enjoy some free time. You can also visit the concierge desk for information on other activities, such as golf and hot air balloon rides.

Because the prices of activities and rooms vary seasonally I haven’t listed any prices in this review. See the website above for more information for the time you are going. However, based on my research you can safely plan on spending about $200 per night on a room at the Embassy Suites. Check other discount websites, such as Expedia, for deals. While the room price may be steep, the hotel’s strategic location and free amenities make a stay at the Embassy Suites well worth the money.
Lake Tahoe Vacation Resort
901 Ski Run Blvd.
South Lake Tahoe, California, 96150
(530) 541-6122

Fire and Ice

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by hellotmf on June 11, 2006

Fire and Ice Improvisational Grille is a small chain of four restaurants. There are three in the New England area (Cambridge, MA; Boston, MA; Providence, RI) and one in South Lake Tahoe, CA.

I’ve had the great pleasure of going to all of these Fire and Ice Restaurants with the exception of the one in Cambridge.

Fire and Ice Improvisational Grille is an ideal restaurant if you are with a group of people that include different dietary needs. It’s what happens when a Japanese Steakhouse meets a buffet—rather than just ordering a meal off the menu, guests can go to the market bar and fill up a bowl with whatever raw food they would like grilled up, select a sauce from the sauce bar (a choice of approximately 19 exotically influenced sauces depending on the restaurant), then bring it to the grill to have the chefs cook it there in front of you.

The market bar consists of a wide range of vegetables and meats, including seafood, chicken, poultry, tofu, and beef and the bar is continually stocked throughout the day. You can find tasty local treats in the New England restaurants that include linguica and chorico (Portuguese-style sausages) and locally-caught cod.

You can go to the market bar and grille any number of times you would like, so you can really get your money’s worth. The cost of a buffet at Fire and Ice is about $19, depending on which restaurant you go to, excluding drinks. Your wait staff will continue to bring tortillas, rice, and water to go with your meal. There is also a salad bar available.

The atmosphere is stylish, the furniture modern, the crowd boisterous, and the music is pumping and giving life to all who enter its doors. No need to rush here—the staff is not in a hurry to turn over tables like they are at other restaurants. That said, you may have to wait for a table when you first get there.

If you are a light eater or are a vegetarian you may not realize the same type of monetary savings as you would if you were eating higher ticket items such as shrimp and scallops. However, in a day and age where everyone seems to have dietary preferences and/or limitations, Fire and Ice gives diners the option to take control over their own meals and palates—controlling portion size, spice and flavor concentration, and meat content.

Fire and Ice has been recognized by Boston Magazine and was voted "Best Interactive Lunch" by Phantom Gourmet in 2003. For more information on Fire and Ice, visit their website at: http://www.fire-ice.com/
Fire + Ice Restaurant
4100 Lake Tahoe Blvd
South Lake Tahoe, California, 96150
(530) 542-6650

Lake Tahoe Balloons

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by hellotmf on June 11, 2006

A balloon ride with Lake Tahoe Balloons offers a breath-taking view of Lake Tahoe from 10,000 feet above sea level and is one of the few ways to see the lake in its entirety. If the weather and winds permit, you may also be able to fly above the nearby Carson Valley.

Lake Tahoe Balloons is the only balloon outfitter in South Lake Tahoe, and is also the only balloon outfitter in the world that launches its balloon rides from the water. The balloon is launched from the worlds only US Coast Guard certified balloon launch and recovery boating vessel, the “Tahoe Flyer”. Lake Tahoe Balloons has a perfect safety record and all pilots are FAA licensed and certified, making ballooning a very safe and enjoyable activity. (For more information on safety, see http://www.laketahoeballoons.com/about_ballooning.htm)

The ride in its entirety takes about 4.5-5 hours. Guests are picked up from their local area hotels at 5:00am and then they board the “Tahoe Flyer” boat. After boarding the guests will enjoy a free continental breakfast that consists of unlimited juice, coffee, soft drinks, pastries, fruits, and cereals. Be sure to dress warm and in layers as it is cold on the lake, but very warm in the balloon basket because you stand near the engine.

You will ride on one of the two balloon rides. This gives you the opportunity to fly in the balloon and also enjoy watching the other ride take place from the boat. The boat will follow the balloon as it drifts in the air, giving guests on the boat a great ride on the lake.

The ride in the balloon itself is about an hour. The ride is so soft and subtle that you will hardly believe how fast you rise and fall in the air. While gliding in the air, the pilot gives a great description of the area and its history. All of the staff are friendly, upbeat, and add a great deal of charisma to this adventure. To cap off the adventure, Lake Tahoe Balloons offers complimentary mimosas and a free souvenir to remember your trip.

The combination of the breath-taking balloon ride, boat ride, and breakfast make this adventure well worth the time and money. While the price may seem steep, balloon rides in other places around the world, such as Africa’s Serengeti, are $100+ more than the price listed for Lake Tahoe balloons and do not include the boat ride.

Lake Tahoe Balloons offers group rides and even wedding packages. Currently there are no online reservations but you can make a reservation by calling: 1-800-872-9294. Credit cards are accepted, and no fees are charged if weather does not permit flying, however the ride is non-refundable if you cancel after 48 hours and they are unable to re-sell your space. Book this activity early in your trip. If bad weather prevents you from flying you can then reschedule.

This is an adventure of a lifetime!

See Lake Tahoe Balloon’s website at http://www.laketahoeballoons.com
Hot Air Ballooning
Lake Tahoe, California

Woodwind Cruises

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by hellotmf on June 11, 2006

A trip to Lake Tahoe isn’t complete without a boat ride, and The Woodwind II Sunset Champagne Cruise is a great highlight to add to your trip to South Lake Tahoe.

The Woodwind II is a catamaran sail boat, with viewing of the lake from both inside and outside the boat. Inside the boat is a bar which offers unlimited champagne, domestic beer, and white wine—and also sells liquor and imported beer. Outside the boat the staff has set up bean bag chairs as seats for guests. Wrap up in one of the Woodwind’s wool blankets on those especially windy nights while you enjoy the beautiful sunset over Lake Tahoe.

Rides on the Woodwind II take off out of Zephr Cove, on the Nevada side of the Lake on Rt. 50. Woodwind Cruises does not offer transportation, however Zephyr Cove is very close to all the major hotels on Rt. 50 in South Lake Tahoe.

Woodwind Cruises does not accept online reservations so you can call and reserve your space at 1-888-867-6394, or buy your ticket directly at Zephyr Cove. Prices and schedule times are seasonal, but as of June 2006 the cost of this cruise was $36 per person. The cruise starts at 7:00pm and last 2 hours.

The staff is very attentive and will come to you to refill your drinks and offer to take your picture with your camera of your group, both of which are nice touches. Be sure to tip your guides for outstanding service.

Woodwind Cruises has been in operation on Lake Tahoe for 31 years and also offers a variety of other cruises if the Sunset Champagne Cruise doesn’t meet your schedule or budget. They have many boat rides available from basic prearranged boat rides to customized fishing and wedding charters. Boat tours are offered at different times of the day as well and other cruises include food and drinks. See their website for more information:

Woodwind Cruises
605 U.S. Hwy 50
Zephyr Cove, Nevada, 89448
(888) 867-6394


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