By Esme Roberts
Summer in Tahoe is finally back, and after a long, hard winter, my friends and I are all eager to revisit our favorite spots and embrace the warm weather. Lake Tahoe is a wondrous place. However, the lake is large, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed and miss the best spots.
A person’s experience is heightened when they know where to go. Ranging from Truckee to North Tahoe to Incline to South Lake and all points in between, below is a collection of what my friends and I believe to be some of the best places around.
If it is an exceptionally warm day and the blue water is too tempting to dismiss, my friends and I drive east straight past Commons Beach, through Tahoe City, and all the way to Skylandia State Park and Beach. With its long, pebbly beach and single pier, Skylandia is a true gem. The crystalline waters reflect the beautiful mountain view, and the lengthy shore makes for a perfect picnic spot. On quiet days, when no breeze disrupts the water, it’s is the perfect place to set up and take to the lake on a paddleboard or kayak. Helping to make the location first class, there is a bakery less than a half a mile away. Sugar Pine Cakery is hidden along Lake Forest Road, and holds some of the best offerings in all of North Tahoe, including coffees, pastries, and my favorite, the Caprese sandwich. The bakery and the beach combined make a splendid outing for families and teens alike.
When we feel like mixing it up, we head towards the West Shore, making sure to stop at Tahoe House for what, in my opinion, is the best chai latte you will ever have. Farther down the shore lies the West Shore Market, offering a coffee bar as well as a gourmet deli. This little market is perfect for grabbing lunch before heading out.
Not every hangout spot is on the lake. Emerald Pools along the Yuba River is one of the most astounding places in the area, but it requires about a 30 mile drive from Truckee and an easy, half-mile hike along the Pioneer Trail followed by some rock-hopping to get down to the first swimming hole. There are a number of pools that come with amazing views and beautiful, crystal-clear water, as well as fun spots all along the shoreline that are ideal for cliff jumping accessible to both beginners and experienced adventurers.
When we want to get our hearts pumping, Olympic Valley holds many beautiful hikes, including, but not limited to, Shirley Canyon. This trail, starting at the base of the mountain, climbs all the way up to High Camp and passes along Shirley Lake, where we always stop for a quick and refreshing swim. The hike is just as grand as the destination, ascending next to cascading streams and waterfalls, and accompanied by lengthy granite slabs. There are various places along the creek where you can stop to refresh in the snowmelt after trekking under the hot sun. Wildflowers and delicious thimbleberries, along with spectacular views of Palisades Tahoe, are sprinkled throughout the trail all the way to the top of the tram. High Camp is a place of fun, with a restaurant and roller-skating rink, making it the perfect place to hang out, especially after a long hike. When you’re done enjoying High Camp, you can ride the tram down and take a spin around the Village, where there are a number of shops and restaurants. Euro Sweets, serving frozen yogurt, gelato, and other treats, is a great reward.
Truckee also has its share of fun hangout spots. Donner Summit holds a stunning lookout over Donner Lake. Donner Lookout is a small pullout that gives you a full view of the lake and the majority of Truckee. The sunsets at the lookout are nearly impossible to beat, whether you watch them from your car or you venture out onto the rocks. With no trail, the boulders just outside the parking lot are incredible to explore and give you the opportunity to find the best spot to watch the sunset.
Not far from the lookout are the old Donner Pass Train Tunnels, famous for their modern graffiti. Some are solely accessible by a three-hour hike up the summit, while others can be reached with a short walk from a nearby parking lot. You can walk through them, above them, and around them, and you can sit on top and hang out, or hike about to find a memorable vantage point. The train tunnels are a true hidden gem, and if you miss the turnout for Donner Lookout, this is another amazing place to watch the sunset light up the lake – but don’t forget to enter the tunnels to see the brightly colored, modern works of art.
If you make it to Donner Lake and need a meal after your morning adventure, Donner Lake Kitchen is the restaurant for you. Operating since the mid-1970s, it’s one of the longest running restaurants in Tahoe, and serves one of the best breakfasts and brunches in Truckee. From the location right on the water to its fluffy pancakes that will fuel any adventure you wish to go on, the kitchen should be a must on your bucket list.