Outdoor Weekend Getaway in Lake Tahoe

  • Distance from San Francisco: 191 miles
  • Best time: April to November
  • Best for: FamilyGirl's GetawayOutdoor

Historically, the word "Tahoe" has been synonymous with one draw in particular: world-class skiing at the resorts surrounding the alpine lake for which the region is named. But in recent years, Lake Tahoe's reputation has skyrocketed as a year-round destination featuring warm-weather sports, superb restaurants, and even wine and food festivals. Popular ski resorts such as Squaw Valley have upped the ante for adventure-centric activities, and hiking and biking trails abound, with both family-friendly flat terrain and more rugged paths for the serious athletes. Opportunities abound for whatever's on the itinerary, but here are some winning picks designed for an outdoor-oriented, family-friendly trip when the skis are packed away for the season. – By Blane Bachelor

Friday

Lake Tahoe Cheat Sheet

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1Get your itinerary started on a merry (and musical) note at the River Grill Tahoe, a festive outdoor restaurant that serves up California-centric dishes and an impressive wine list, as well as live music. Toast to the weekend amidst twinkling lights and candles on table tops, with views of the Truckee River in the backdrop. Arrive by 5 p.m. to take advantage of happy hour prices on drinks and appetizers until 6:30 p.m.

2For dessert, indulge sweet-toothed travelers with a stop at Batch Cupcakery, at The Village at Squaw Valley, where daily rotating confections include such flavors as the Epic (a German chocolate cupcake) and Tahoe Toffee. The shop closes at 8 p.m.

3Enjoy adults-only, after-dinner drinks at Uncorked, Squaw Village's quaint wine bar. No wine snob attitudes here, just a well-edited selection of mostly California vintages, as well as flight tastings. The bar is also great for pre-dinner appetizers and drinks.

Saturday

Insider Tip If your summer weekend getaway lasts through Monday, check out the Concerts at Commons Beach on Sunday evenings. Parents can picnic and groove to the tunes, while the kids hit the playground.

1Fuel up for the day's activities at local favorite Fire Sign Café, near Tahoe City. This local favorite has all the essentials of a great brunch spot: friendly service, a laidback atmosphere, affordable prices, and hearty, delicious fare. The kielbasa-sausage scramble and the gouda omelette are two popular choices, and there are also great vegetarian options. The wait on the weekends is worth it.

2Take a casual bike ride along the 8-mile lakeside path that runs from Tahoe City to Squaw Valley. The trail is ideal for children and newbie riders, as it has no cars. There are also several shorter rides nearby. Bike rental shops abound in the area, but one that's been around for decades is Olympic Bike Shop. Another option for outdoor adventure: Jump on the paddleboarding craze with an afternoon lesson with Tahoe Paddle & Oar, so you can tool around the cobalt waters of the spectacular lake.

3Enjoy scenic natural beauty and wildlife at the Taylor Creek Visitor Center, located on the south shore of Lake Tahoe and at the hub of four self-guided trails in the area. Take the Rainbow Trail a quarter mile to see the remarkable Stream Profile Chamber, which allows visitors to see a diverted section of Taylor Creek through a panel of aquarium-like windows and a diorama that illustrates life above and below the water.

4Lunch with the locals at Cornice Cantina, which, in addition to its reputation as a popular après-ski and dance spot at The Village at Squaw Valley, makes some mean Mexican dishes. Grab a spot on its sunny deck and tuck into hearty burrito bowls and nachos, which are grande enough to share.

5Wind down at the High Camp Pool & Hot Tub, located at the top of the 8,200-foot High Camp at the Village. The trip up via the Aerial Tram offers spectacular views of the surrounding Sierra Mountains. Once you're there, frolic in the palatial free-form pool or take a soak in the 25-foot-diameter hot tub.

6Dig into old-school Italian favorites in a relaxed, warm atmosphere at Lanza's, located on the north shore of the lake. Walking into the homey restaurant, a Tahoe institution, feels more like the dining room of an Italian friend who's a master in the kitchen. Choose from classic dishes like hearty spaghetti and meatballs and baked lasagna, along with homemade bread.

Sunday

1Lounge over a leisurely brunch against views of the lake at the handsome Lone Eagle Grille, located at the Hyatt Regency in Incline Village. Afterward, take a stroll out on the pier and soak up the views.

2Rest tired muscles by lounging at beautiful Sand Harbor State Beach on the Lake Tahoe shore, just outside of Incline Village. This popular family spot has bathrooms, a snack bar, and fine sand perfect for building sandcastles. More adventurous trekkers can scale a lakeside boulder or two.

3For a final taste of Tahoe that's on the way home, stop by Truckee's favorite old-school diner, Jax at the Tracks. Choose from well-executed classics such as homemade chili and turkey melts or opt for the signature All Day Addiction, a monster mix-up of fried eggs, hash browns, avocado, and mixed greens with basil pesto.

Where to Stay

For a splurge, consider the upscale Ritz Carlton Highlands Court, Lake Tahoe (rooms from $319/night), the first luxury property to be built in the area, featuring floor-to-ceiling windows, a heated swimming pool, and posh décor. The sporty and eco-friendly Cedar House Sport Hotel (rooms from $170/night) offers a great value, with a queen bed or double rooms.

When to Go

Lake Tahoe is a year round destination, but this itinerary works best after the ski season ends, usually around early May. Summer is the ideal time for biking, hiking, and other warm-weather activities in the Tahoe area.

For a girls-only weekend, the Lake Tahoe Autumn Food and Wine Festival, in early September, is a winner, with free outdoor cooking demonstrations, wine tastings, and talks—and it's all outside, set against the mountainous backdrop at the Village at Northstar. Foodies are flocking in increasing numbers to Tahoe South Restaurant Week, which happens in mid-January.

How to Get There

By car: Car is the most popular, and perhaps convenient, way to reach Lake Tahoe, which is about 200 miles from the Bay Area. To reach North Lake Tahoe, take Interstate 80 East toward Reno and Exit 89 South to Tahoe City. Going via South Lake Tahoe offers a more scenic ride: Take I-80 through Sacramento and continue onto Highway 50, which eventually merges with California 89 and takes you into South Lake Tahoe. Keep in mind that Sunday traffic returning into the Bay Area can be thick.

By bus/train: Amtrak runs a combined bus/train service from several pickup points in San Francisco (with a stop in Emeryville, California) to South Lake Tahoe and also to Truckee (where you'll have to catch local transit, also known as TART, though its service isn't frequent). Depending on the route, the entire trip can take 6-7 hours.

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