View of Lake Tahoe with Mount Tallac in the distance from Van Sickle Bi-State Park Trail as taken from my iPhone
Lake Tahoe is a pristine lake at the top of the Sierra Nevada Mountains at a surface elevation of 6,225 feet. At a size of 122,160,280 acre feet, it is the largest alpine lake in North America and the second largest in the world behind Lake Titicaca in South America. Lake Tahoe is also known as the Lake of the Sky. It acts like a prism and reflects the color of the sky. When it is sunny, the water is turquoise. When the sky is overcast or stormy, the water is black. At the shallow parts of the lake, the color actually appears emerald green. The combination of mountains surrounding the entire area, the sheer size of the lake, and the beautiful colors of the water on a clear day make Lake Tahoe a special place to visit and experience.
There is not a bad time of year to visit Lake Tahoe. Interestingly, the main body of Lake Tahoe never freezes because of the stored heat in the massive amount of water below the surface that is significantly greater than the surface area. Regardless, it is gorgeous all year round whether it is covered in snow or green. Similarly, it offers skiing in the winter and water sports in the summer. Accordingly, your ideal time to visit depends on what activities you want to do while you are in Lake Tahoe. Obviously, the heart of winter is the perfect time to ski. Water sports can be enjoyed from late spring to early fall. Nonetheless, the lake never freezes so visitors can definitely enjoy a cruise on the lake all year round, weather permitting. Of course, it is more comfortable to enjoy it in warmer weather. In terms of hiking, after July usually provides ideal conditions like many places that need the mountains to thaw after the winter. I visited Memorial Day Weekend in late May. The snow was melting but it was still in the middle of the process and I could not complete summit hikes.
The most popular area is South Lake Tahoe, in the southeast corner of the Lake, where the Nevada and California state lines meet. There are plenty of resorts, hotels, and restaurants. Moreover, there are casinos on the Nevada side of the state line. Naturally, the views of the lake are magnificent there. Nevertheless, Lake Tahoe is massive. There are plenty of towns, hotels, and vacations homes to stay at other spots by the lake that are more low key. The closest airport to the Lake is in Reno. It is approximately an hour drive from Reno to South Lake Tahoe.
- M.S. Dixie Cruise
Since Lake Tahoe is one of the most stunning lakes in the world, I highly recommend taking a boat ride to survey the beauty from the water. Not surprisingly, private boat charters are not cheap. They make sense if you have enough people in your party to split the cost. The larger cruise ships are more economical. My friend and I took a 2 ½ tour from Zephyr Cove to Emerald Bay on the M.S. Dixie II. We opted for the morning cruise that set sail at 11 AM. It was the cheapest fare of the day at $64 and had the least amount of riders. The ship is big and comfortable for the number of people we sailed with in the morning. We were happy not to squeeze into the two later cruises. The boat ride was an amazing experience. The route from Zephyr Cove to Emerald Bay cuts through the most scenic section of the lake, which is the south end. In my opinion, cruising past Mount Tallac was the most photogenic moment of the trip. The turn into Emerald Bay was incredible and the most memorable part of the cruise. Most riders will go up to and sit or stand on the top deck. The views are obviously great there. I also suggest going down to the lowest deck at some point during the ride for an eye level view of the water. Although we did not try any of the food, there is food and drink for purchase on the boat. Ideally, it will be sunny during your ride. We booked the cruise the day before so we could check the weather forecast. Parking at Zephyr Cove is $10. We took the complimentary shuttle that picked us up at our hotel.
With the mountains surrounding Lake Tahoe, it is no surprise that there are plenty of hiking trails to embark on and enjoy. For example, the Tahoe Rim Trail runs 165 miles through the rim of the mountains around the lake. Of course, it is more manageable to connect to the Rim Trail via a significantly shorter trail that can be completed during a day. The best time to hike is July or later after the mountains have fully thawed from the winter snowfall. I visited in late May and felt a little shortchanged by my hiking experience at Lake Tahoe. Nevertheless, it was still worth the time to hike and enjoy the Lake from the trails.
- Mount Tallac (10.2 miles roundtrip/ 3,290 feet elevation change)
The two main summit hikes at Lake Tahoe are Mount Tallac in the south and Mount Rose in the north. I had plans to summit both peaks for great views of the lake from both ends. Unfortunately, I was visiting Lake Tahoe in late May before the snow thawed out at those high peaks. As such, I could not hike to the top of either of them. In terms of Mount Rose, it has an elevation even higher than Mount Tallac. As such, even the beginning of the trail was still full of snow. I could not even start it. In regards to Mount Tallac, I completed most of the hike but could not get past the last stretch of the trail to arrive at the summit. In general, it was significantly more difficult than it would have been in the middle of the summer when the snow is melted and the trail thawed out. First, the water from the melting snow ran down the mountain and made some paths looks like streams. At those points, I swerved away from the actual trail a few times and had to use my GPS to get back on track. When I reached the switchbacks that connect to the top, they must have been washed out by the winter because they ended well before the top. I ran into one hiker who made it to the top via an alternative route. He noted it was much more difficult than he anticipated. I also saw two people at top of the ledge who went there to slide back down on the snow. The trek to the top appeared to be a steep slog through snow. On the other hand, it was cloudy anyway. The clouds covered all of the top and there would not have been a view of the lake to enjoy. Consequently, it was not going to be worth it to attempt a summit, especially when I was not entirely sure how other hikers got up there. Regardless, I would definitely suggest picking a clear day, when the peak is not completely covered by clouds, to do the hike in the summer.
Nonetheless, the hike was still very fun. A permit was required for the hike but it does not cost anything. They are obtained from a wooden box on the map at the beginning of the trailhead. You fill out a permit and deposit it in the box. You tear away a piece of it to show if requested. On the other hand, camping overnight would require a permit with a fee. Shortly after the trail begins, you ascend up to a small ridge that overlooks a lake south of Lake Tahoe, Fallen Leaf. Next, the path runs through a Douglas fir forest and gradually increases to the Bowl then eventually the switchbacks to the top. The views of the lake from the Bowl are good. Obviously, the scene from the summit is significantly more impressive. Nevertheless, the views from the Bowl and the unique sections of the trail make the hike fun regardless of whether the conditions are ideal to summit.
Again, the melting snow ran down some of the paths and it made it difficult to tell trail from stream. Regardless, the signs could be better on the trail. In general, you veer to the right at forks in the road on the way up and bear left on those same forks on the way down. However, I missed a sharp left on the way down and moved west toward Fallen Leaf instead of heading towards the ridge to the east of the Fallen Lake and overlooking it. On the other hand, cell signal is fine on the hike. As a result, I recommend checking Google Maps periodically to verify you are on the correct path. My phone ran out of power on the way down so I was going in circles trying to retrace my steps. Nevertheless, stay alert for signs that the trail is heavily trafficked. For example, there are fallen trees that have a path cut through them to help hikers to and from the top of the mountain on the main trail for the Mount Tallac hike. They are a good indicator that you are on the correct trail. When I was lost, I was hopping over and around fallen trees instead of through them via manmade paths that were obviously carved through downed trees.
- Van Sickle Bi-State Park Trail (3.6 miles one way from trailhead to start of The Tahoe Rim Trail/ 1,361 feet elevation change)
This trail has the best views of Lake Tahoe for the least amount of work. It is a good alternative to paying a steep price to go up the Heavenly Ski Resort Gondola for views of the Lake. The beginning of the trailhead is approximately a mile from the Harrah’s Casino or Heavenly Resorts in South Tahoe. As a result, you can walk up the road or drive up and park at the trailhead. The best vista point of the Lake from the trail is approximately 10 minutes in. It takes 20-30 minutes to get to the “waterfall”, which I consider more of a medium sized stream running down the mountain. I recommend only continuing to hike up as long as you are still enjoying the views. There is no great payoff if you follow the trail to its end. It goes into the mountain where it connects to The Tahoe Rim Trail. Around that point, you can look to the other side of the mountain to get views of Carson City, which is ordinary compared to Lake Tahoe. If you continue to the end, you will walk through the ski resorts where there is no lookout point for the Lake. In general, there is nothing to see during the last 1.5 miles. Again, once you are satisfied with your views of the Lake, turn around and head back down.
- Rubicon Trail (11.9 miles/ relatively flat around Emerald Bay)
My friend and I drove to a lookout point, Inspiration Point, to overlook Emerald Bay. We also took a boat ride into the Bay. It is one of the most gorgeous and breathtaking points in the park. Although I did not hike any of the Rubicon Trail, I did see some hikers walking along the trail around Emerald Bay, which is basically flat. For a relaxing walk around the Bay, I definitely recommend that stretch of the Rubicon Trail.
- Drive around the Lake
My friend and I spent a few hours driving around the perimeter of the Lake. The only great views of the lake on the drive were located in the Southwest corner, especially Inspiration Point overlooking Emerald Bay. For the purpose of views of the Lake, that corner is the only section of the drive that is really worth the time. Once you move north of Vikingsholm mansion, there is not much to see besides towns and rental homes. If you are not staying there or not curious to just know what exists around the lake, it is not worth the time and effort.
- South Lake Tahoe
South Lake Tahoe, on the southeast section of the Lake, is where the Nevada and California state line is located. Two of the casinos, Harrah’s and its sister casino Harvey’s, are right on the border since gambling is obviously legal in Nevada and not in California outside of the ones on Native American Reservations. It was funny taking a turn out of Harrah’s and having Google Maps welcome me to California. Not surprisingly; due to the location of the state line and the views of the lake from South Lake Tahoe, it is the busiest part of Lake Tahoe. The casinos and the main ski resort, Heavenly, are situated there along with many restaurants and hotels. My friend and I stayed at the Harrah’s Lake Tahoe (15 US-50, Stateline, NV 89449). The suite we were in was great. We definitely enjoyed the food in the area. If you prefer to stay somewhere quieter, there are plenty of rental home options and other towns to stay in.
1. Creative Crepes (4118 Lake Tahoe Blvd, South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150)
I highly recommend Creative Crepes for…. well… crepes. The dough was excellent: sweet and crispy. Moreover, it was the perfect thickness as it was still thin but held together the entire time I was eating the crepe. I ordered fresh raspberries and blueberries with Nutella. It was amazing and I would definitely recommend that combination. However, they all looked good and my friend enjoyed his selections too.
- Poke ROK (4125 Lake Tahoe Blvd I, South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150)
It is a great spot for poke at Lake Tahoe. Considering the fish is not local to Lake Tahoe [no commercial fishing is allowed anyway], the fish was as fresh as it possibly could be at its location. In addition, the toppings were unlimited. I highly recommend some avocado, which was so fresh. Other great toppings for the poke were the seaweed salad and crunchy seaweed strips. Moreover, there were many more toppings you can choose from for your bowl. The chipotle mayo was also excellent as a sauce for the poke bowl.
I was so impressed by the poke bowl that I returned to try the acai bowl. I should have stopped while I was ahead. The honey on top was really good. The granola and chocolate chip made it crunchy. However, the bowl uses a slushy machine to make acai slushy as the base. It was the first time I had an acai bowl that did not have the acai base made fresh. It was also the only time I had it in slushy form. It was terrible. The use of an acai slushy is a non-starter for me trying it again.
- JoAsis (31 US-50 #106, Stateline, NV 89449)
It is a hole in the wall spot that can be easy to miss since it is between the Harrah’s and Montbleau casinos. I ordered the large and it was the largest acai bowl I have ever had. I was handed a bowl in the shape and size of a blender. The base was unique from what I have tried before with spinach, berries, dates, beets, and apple juice. Nevertheless, it worked. The texture was like soft serve. I prefer it to be thicker like a sorbet but it was fine. On the other hand, the base was very chilled like it should be. It gave me a brain freeze from eating it too quickly. Next, the toppings were very good. The bananas were fresh. The granola was good and I liked that it was on the top and the bottom. The only thing I did not like in the bowl were the mangoes. The chunks were frozen and hard to chew.
- The Forest Buffet (Inside Harrah’s Casino/ 5 US-50, Stateline, NV 89449)
It is the casino buffet on the 18th floor of Harrah’s. I definitely recommend it for dinner on Saturday night when they feature “Seafood and Steak Night”. The prime rib and filet mignon [available that night] was legitimately delicious: tender and juicy. They also have crab legs, which I do not eat but are another premium item. Nevertheless, the steaks alone made it worth the money. The other food is decent but I probably would not pay for the buffet without the steak. If you are lucky and get a window seat on the south side of the restaurant, you will also get an amazing view of Lake Tahoe while you dine.
- The Sage Room (Inside Harvey’s Casino/ 18 Stateline Ave, Stateline, NV 89449)
It is a legitimate, top-notch steakhouse inside Harvey’s Casino. I ordered a Beef Wellington. It is difficult to cook properly with the breading on the outside. Nevertheless, the steak was cooked perfectly to the medium rare I requested. In addition, my friend enjoyed his lamb chops. We also liked watching the dishes that were made right in front of other tables. The quaint ambience in the steakhouse is also maintained because it prohibits the use of cell phones.
- Heavenly Donuts (4080 Lake Tahoe Blvd, South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150)
It is a kiosk inside Heavenly Village. They are basically funnel cake that are shaped like small donuts. Naturally, they were very good. I recommend the donuts with oreo bits and raspberry sauce.
- The Baked Bear (4118 Lake Tahoe Blvd #5, South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150)
It is an ice cream sandwich shop that customizes and makes them to order for its customers. It is one of my favorite dessert spots in San Diego and I was pumped that they had a location in Lake Tahoe. The ice cream is excellent. The cookies are good. They may not blow you away but they are made fresh since they are made to order ice cream sandwiches. I usually go for the cookie dough ice cream and two M&M cookies.
- Ten Crow’s BBQ (4011 Lake Tahoe Blvd, South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150)
It is a solid barbecue joint in South Lake Tahoe. The ribs were very good. They were not fall off your bone tender but tender enough. They were also marinated very well. On the other hand, the brisket was dry. In terms of the sides, the mac and cheese was very good. It was very creamy, which is my preference. The hand cut fries were made in house and excellent.
- Lotus Pho (3838 Lake Tahoe Blvd, South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150)
It is a decent spot for pho. The noodles were bleh but edible. The soup was very good. I ordered the pho with brisket, rare beef, and tendon. The meat was what I expected but nothing out of the ordinary. I initially went to Lotus pho to try the chicken lettuce wrap and pork meat bun. Unfortunately, both dishes were prepped with peanuts already in them and I am allergic.
- Clyde’s Coffee Roasting Co. (292 Kingsbury Grade Rd #33, Stateline, NV 89449)
It is a coffee shop just off the main road in South Lake Tahoe. I was not expecting any decent specialty coffee shops in the area. Accordingly, I was pleasantly surprised by Clyde’s. There was a hint of bitterness, which means the beans could have been extracted slightly better, at the top of my latte. It was also a little bit watery initially. However, the latte definitely got smoother as I worked my way down the cup. Nonetheless, I prefer my lattes to be a little thicker in texture and richer. I did observe that the cup used for the drink was a little bit big. I usually see coffee shops struggle with using the ideal water to milk ratio with bigger cups. Nevertheless, I have lower expectations when I make my way away from major cities. Overall, I was very content with finding Clyde’s during my stay at Lake Tahoe. I also tried a bear claw pastry. It was good but not a must try.
Reno is dubbed “The Biggest Little City in the World”. Obviously, its biggest appeal for tourism is its proximity to Lake Tahoe. The second biggest draw are its casinos. If you do not like to gamble, there is not too many tourist attractions within the city limits except for spending a couple hours on the Riverwalk. On the other hand, you will not struggle to find a plethora of options for good food in the city. Moreover, the coffee scene is very representative. As a city to pass through on route to Lake Tahoe, it is fine. As a travel destination itself for visitors who do not care to gamble, it may not be too exciting. I will note that a lot of the residential neighborhoods, that I drove through and past while I was heading to Lake Tahoe and later exploring the city waiting for my redeye, looked fine. Consequently, it felt like a better place to live than visit.
- Riverwalk District/ Downtown
I did not have the best experience in downtown Reno. I walked out of the Harrah’s casino and was next to the main Reno sign. I stood there for a minute and a homeless man across the street shouted a racial slur at me and gave me the finger. Accordingly, I did not feel like I was in the best neighborhood and walked a few blocks to get to the Riverwalk.
In terms of the Riverwalk, Reno features a beautiful one. The two other Riverwalks I have been to are in Tampa Bay and San Antonio. In my opinion, Tampa is the prettiest of the three. San Antonio is the most touristy with restaurants, businesses, and hotels hovering over the river. It is also the busiest and most crowded of the three. Moreover, the water is dirty so it looks better at night when you cannot see the color of the water but can see the lights on the boats and surrounding buildings. Personally, I feel the Riverwalk in San Antonio is vastly overrated. I rank Tampa Bay on the top of my list. I liked the Riverwalk in Reno more than the one in San Antonio. The Truckee River is a pretty river that cuts through Reno. There are multiple photogenic spots along the Riverwalk for beautiful views that mix the natural beauty of the river with the backdrops of a manmade city. In addition, there are various calm points along the Riverwalk where people can go into the river. Of course, there are many restaurants and shops along the Riverwalk but the path is big enough where it does not feel like they are overwhelming it and there is room to walk. The east end of the Riverwalk is Lake Street and just south of the downtown area. The west end connects to Riverside Dr. It is definitely worth the time to continue west on Riverside Dr. for a little bit as you enter a much quieter, peaceful residential neighborhood with gorgeous homes on the other side of the river.
There are plenty of options for casinos in Reno. I stayed at the Peppermill (2707 S Virginia St, Reno, NV 89502) for a night and stopped by Harrah’s Reno Hotel & (219 N Center St, Reno, NV 89501). The casino inside the Peppermill was vastly more modern and massive. I also prefer the midtown area that the Peppermill resides compared to the downtown area where Harrah’s is located. Next, my room in the Peppermill was clean and comfortable. I also tried their Asian restaurant, Chi, when I was looking for a spot to watch the NBA playoffs and waiting for my redeye flight home. The bar at Chi was a good spot to find a seat to watch the game compared to the crowded sportsbook area. It is definitely more Americanized Chinese than authentic Chinese food. I ordered a garlic tofu, mushrooms, and snow peas dish. It was decent but had more garlic than it needed.
1. Hash A Go Go (Inside Harrah’s/ 219 N Center St, Reno, NV 89501)
I am a big fan of Hash A Go Go in Las Vegas. I was excited to find out that there was a location in the Harrah’s in Reno. Hash A Go Go features “twisted farm food”. The food is very good and comes in huge portions. The presentation is also top notch and extremely photogenic. I always go with one of their two most popular dishes: the Sage Fried Chicken & Waffles or the Chicken Pot Pie. I ordered the chicken and waffles in Reno and it lived up to the expectations from my memories of the one I devoured in Las Vegas. The chicken was seasoned well. The waffles were very good. On the other hand, I could have lived without the bacon that was baked into waffles. The bacon was ordinary so I do not really care for it.
- Basik Café (740 S Virginia St, Reno, NV 89501)
I had been to the location in Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii. The ingredients were great. However, I did not like that they got rid of their blender and the acai base came in thick solid chunks, like an Italian ice, that was difficult to eat. Ideally, the texture is in between watery like a smoothie and thick like a sorbet. At the Reno location, I ordered the “Puna” without the spirulina. The granola was very crunchy and sweet. The bananas and strawberries were good. On the other hand, the blueberries were ordinary and seemed store bought. In terms of the texture, it was excellent and much closer to the ideal balance than the acai bowl I had in Kona. I am glad they have a blender in Reno. From my experience, a good honey really adds to an acai bowl. The Puna had a good honey on top that was a tad sweet. It was $14 for a large. However, it was definitely large and you get your money’s worth.
- 999 Pho (309 Kietzke Ln, Reno, NV 89502)
I had the best Pho I have eaten in a while at 999 Pho. I ordered the pho with the rare beef and tendon. The meat was excellent. Next, the two key components in a great Pho are the noodles and the soup. The noodles were great. The broth was delicious. It had the rich beef flavor and thick but not too thick. Like all great bowls of pho, the noodles soaked up the broth to provide the exceptional taste.
I was pleasantly surprised by the coffee scene in Reno. While I was not blown away by one in terms of putting it in the top 5 among all coffee shops I have tried in my travels, all three I tired were excellent and I did not have a bad drink in Reno.
- Old World Coffee (104 California Ave, Reno, NV 89509)
Overall, I probably had my best latte in Reno here. My drink was smooth and rich. I prefer the texture slightly thicker but I am also nitpicking. Next, there was no bitterness which means the beans were extracted perfectly. Finally, it had the best latte art among the coffee shops I tried in Reno. The shop is also large and a good spot to sit and do work.
- Magpie Roasters (1715 S Wells Ave, Reno, NV 89502)
I had an excellent latte at Magpie Roasters. There was no hint of bitterness. Moreover, the latte art was great. The texture was smooth and rich. On the other hand, the drink was slightly watery. I prefer it a little bit thicker. Again, I am nitpicking.
- Hub Coffee Roasters (727 Riverside Dr, Reno, NV 89503)
It has a great location off the Riverwalk in a residential neighborhood. It is a beautiful shop with indoor and outdoor seat. The latte was excellent. It had a smooth and rich coffee taste throughout the drink. There was no hint of bitterness so the beans were extracted perfectly. On the other hand, I prefer the texture slightly thicker. The art was also good but I thought the other lattes I had in Reno were a bit better with the art.
About Pat Wong
Patrick is a contributor for Rookerville. He is an avid sports fan. Before joining Rookerville, he was part of a defunct New York Yankees message board, NYYankeefans, where he was its top poster and was inducted in its Hall of Fame for his contributions. Patrick is also a passionate fan of movies. He has enjoyed reading movie reviews over the years and is excited about the opportunity to review movies. Patrick is also a passionate foodie. He is Yelp Elite for three years in a row and shares his great finds in New York and his travels.