Travel: Lake Tahoe’s South Shore

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Straddling the border of California and Nevada, Lake Tahoe’s South Shore is perhaps best-known for its four high-rise casinos towering above the country’s second-deepest lake. Yet the South Shore
region, which includes the city of South Lake Tahoe, Calif., and the unincorporated Stateline, Nev., is not just a gaming and entertainment mecca but an outdoor lovers’ paradise, where you can hike the backcountry, paddle a kayak and wiggle your toes in the sand.

Soaring Above It All

Hop aboard the Heavenly Gondola for a view worthy of expert mountain climbers. The gondola departs from Heavenly Village, traveling 2.4 miles to 9,123 feet above sea level. Two-thirds of the way up, stop at the observation deck and peer through high-powered telescopes aimed at Lake Tahoe and Desolation Wilderness. On top of the mountain, trek along one of three trails. 
     Ever wonder how a bald eagle feels as it soars over the mountains? Then ride the Heavenly Flyer, at the top of the gondola. The elevated zip line propels riders at speeds up to 50 mph as they cruise above treetops and gaze over the lake. At 3,300 feet, it’s the continental United States’ longest zip line.
     Another way to capture a bird’s-eye view: helicopter tours. Choose a 10-minute Emerald Bay excursion or a one-hour sunset tour through Lake Tahoe Tours.

American Century Celebrity Golf Championship
Actors and sports stars converge on Edgewood Tahoe July 17–19 to compete in an event as serious as a professional tournament and as wacky as a comedy show. Jack Wagner of “The Bold and the Beautful,” NHL legend Mario Lemieux and former NHL star Dan Quinn satisfy the need to watch good golf while former NBA All-Star Charles Barkley and “Everybody Loves Raymond” star Ray Romano entertain spectators. At night, visit Harrah’s Casino Center Stage lounge to rub shoulders with tournament participants who join singers on stage for impromptu celebrity karaoke.

Nightlife
Catch headliner entertainment at Harrah’s South Shore Room and MontBleu’s showroom, or laugh the evening away at the Improv Comedy Club at Harveys. At the Horizon, things get a bit, well, confusing at Carnival Cabaret, with its female impersonators.
     Listen to some of your favorite bands at Harveys Outdoor Concert Series on select weekends throughout the summer. Earth Wind & Fire (with Chicago) performs Aug. 1. Or enjoy free waterside concerts at the Lakeshore Lodge & Spa Thursdays and Sundays through Sept. 3.

Tahoe Rim Trail

If you’re in shape, explore a section of the Tahoe Rim Trail stretching from Kingsbury Grade to Star Lake, which rests at the base of three of the Tahoe Basin’s tallest peaks. On foot or mountain bike, huff and puff your way up through the forest to see panoramic views of the high desert and the Pine Nut mountains beyond.

Beach Hopping
At Zephyr Cove Resort, treat yourself to a beach massage, rent personal watercraft or play volleyball. Cabins and lodge rooms are steps from the water. If solitude sounds better, stroll the short Lake of the Sky Trail to the Taylor Creek Visitor Center beach, located near a wildlife sanctuary where the willow flycatchers swoop down from the sky to snag insects.

Meals With a View

Order the filet mignon or seared ahi at Friday’s Station Steak & Seafood Grill on Harrah’s top floor. Or catch the view at 19 Kitchen Bar on the 19th floor of Harveys. Back down to Earth, feast on lobster tails or lentil nut loaf at Blue Water Bistro on the Timber Cove Marina pier, an over-the-lake restaurant known for its commitment to organic produce and wines. For front row seats of sunbathers and sunsets, visit The Beacon Bar & Grill on the beach at Camp Richardson, where you can sip a Rum Runner with your lunch or dinner.

Boat Rentals
Rent a kayak at Zephyr Cove and view Cave Rock, where the profile of the “Old Woman of the Lake” gazes back at you from the stone. Prefer someone else do the paddling? Sail on the Woodwind II, a catamaran departing daily from Zephyr Cove Marina for sightseeing, happy hour and sunset champagne cruises.

Fallen Leaf Lake
Surrounded by glacial-sculpted scenery, this alpine lake is tucked away at Mt. Tallac’s base. Take an easy walk to the dam or claim a spot on one of the pebbled beaches.

Tallac Historic Site
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Tallac Historic Site once was a 1920s retreat for San Francisco’s elite. Take a guided tour of the Pope Estate, built in 1894, and interact with artists stationed inside. At the Valhalla Grand Hall, admire the open wood-beam ceiling and 20-foot-high stone fireplace. Events held there throughout the summer include plays, concerts, and festivals celebrating reggae and Native Americans.

Insider’s Tip—Drive the scenic route (Highway 88) home to avoid the Highway 50 traffic and to take a 2.5-mile-one-way hike to one of the most spectacular wildflower displays in the Sierra, near Winnemucca Lake. Red paintbrush, lavender asters, purple lupine and yellow mule ears are set against a backdrop reminiscent of the Alps. (As Highway 50 leaves South Lake Tahoe, take a left on Highway 89. Follow it over Luther Pass and turn right on Highway 88. Approximately one mile west of Carson Pass, turn left by the Woods Lake Campground sign. Proceed to day use parking.)       

Insider’s Tip—To avoid the crowds at South Shore’s four grocery stores, visit Grass Roots Natural Foods in South Lake Tahoe, known for its fresh-baked bread and cheese-smothered garlic rolls the size of plates.    

Getting There
From Sacramento, take Highway 50 east to South Lake Tahoe. After descending into the Tahoe Basin and passing Pioneer Trail, turn right on Lake Tahoe Boulevard (Highway 50) at the busy four-way intersection (by Raley’s/McDonald’s) to go to the casinos or Zephyr Cove. Or continue straight through the stoplight to Highway 89/Emerald Bay Road to reach the Tallac Historic Site, Fallen Leaf Lake and Taylor Creek Visitor Center.