The north shore’s commercial hub, Tahoe City straddles the junction of Hwys 89 and 28, making it almost inevitable that you’ll find yourself breezing through here at least once during your round-the-lake sojourn. The town is handy for grabbing food and supplies and renting sports gear. It’s also the closest lake town to Squaw Valley.
Truckee & Donner Lake
Cradled by mountains and the Tahoe National Forest, Truckee is a thriving town steeped in Old West history. It was put on the map by the railroad, grew rich on logging and ice harvesting, and even had its brush with Hollywood during the 1924 filming of Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush.
Lake Tahoe’s densely forested western shore, between Emerald Bay and Tahoe City, is idyllic. Hwy 89 sinuously wends past gorgeous state parks with swimming beaches, hiking trails, pine-shaded campgrounds and historic mansions. Several trailheads also access the rugged splendor of the Desolation Wilderness.
The nirvana of the north shore, Squaw Valley played host to the 1960 Olympic Winter Games and still ranks among the world’s top ski resorts. The stunning setting amid granite peaks, though, makes it a superb destination in any season, and this deluxe family-friendly resort stays almost as busy in summer as in winter.
The utilitarian character of fetchingly picturesque Kings Beach lies in its smattering of back-to-basics retro motels all lined up along the highway. But in summer all eyes are on Kings Beach State Recreation Area, a seductive 700ft-long beach that often gets deluged with sun-seekers and leashed dogs.
Ed Z’berg Sugar Pine Point State Park
About 10 miles south of Tahoe City, this woodsy state park occupies a promontory blanketed by a fragrant mix of pine, juniper, aspen and fir. It has a swimming beach, over a dozen miles of hiking trails and abundant fishing in General Creek. A paved cycling path travels north to Tahoe City.
Sunnyside is yet another lakeshore hamlet that may be just a dot on the map, but that has a couple of detour-worthy restaurants. To work off all that dang-good eating, rent a bicycle from another outpost of West Shore Sports, where you can get the scoop on all sorts of local outdoor information.
Another blink-and-you’ll-miss-it lakeside outpost, Tahoma has a post office and a handful of places to stay and eat. Cute but not too kitschy, the red cabins of Tahoma Meadows Bed & Breakfast Cottages dot a pine grove. Each has classy country decor, thick down comforters, a small TV, and bathrooms with clawfoot tubs.
Crossing into Nevada, the neon starts to flash and old-school gambling palaces pant after your hard-earned cash. Though closed at research time for a multimillion-dollar remodel, historic Cal-Neva Resort literally straddles the California–Nevada border and has a colorful history involving ghosts, mobsters and Frank Sinatra, who once owned the joint.
DL Bliss State Park
Emerald Bay State Park spills over into DL Bliss State Park, which has the western shore’s most alluring beaches at Lester Cove and Calawee Cove. A half-mile round-trip nature trail leads to Balancing Rock, a 130-ton chunk of granite perched on a natural pedestal. Pick up an interpretive trail guide to park ecology and wildlife from the visitor center near the entrance.
Emerald Bay State Park
Sheer granite cliffs and a jagged shoreline hem in glacier-carved Emerald Bay, a teardrop cove that will have you digging for your camera. Its most captivating aspect is the water, which changes from cloverleaf green to light jade depending on the angle of the sun.
With a wide sweep of shoreline, sleek and shallow Meeks Bay has warm water by Tahoe standards and is fringed by a beautiful, but busy, sandy beach. On the west side of the highway, a few hundred feet north of the fire station, is another trailhead for the Desolation Wilderness.