Summer Swan Song from the Lake

What is summer without at least a few days at The Lake? My stomping grounds are Meeks Bay on the West Shore in Tahoe, and every August a group of us from Sausalito arrive en masse for what evolves into a raucous week-long, progressive house party, going back and forth between two of our homes, consuming copious quantities of good wine.

That being said, I am also a staunch advocate of doing absolutely nothing up there other than savoring the mountain air, the lake view and rustling pines, reading on the deck, walking the dog, a quick dip in the lake and napping. But for those who are inspired to get out and about, the following are my favorite West Shore haunts and my Basic Rules of Summer at the Lake. These rules are not meant to discourage visitors, just advise them!

RULE #1: Avoid weekend outings if at all possible. The summer crowds can be heinous, traffic at a standstill and the parking lots jammed packed.  

RULE #2: Even mid-week, always start your outings early in the morning. Again the crowd level soars as the day wears on.

RULE #3:  Avoid leaving the West Shore area at all – it can take up to an hour to get to Tahoe City or South Shore from Hwy 89. There are two exceptions to this summer rule that warrant venturing afield:

  • The Farmers Market in Tahoe City which starts at 8 AM, Thursday morning (located by the school yard). Don’t miss Sierra Valley Farms amazing organic produce.
  • The Overland Meat & Seafood Market in South Shore – just past the Hwy 89 & Hwy 50 junction towards state line – well worth the trip for outrageous farm fresh meats and great seafood (opens at 10 a.m.). You might want to stop at Sonny’s BBQ on Hwy 89 on your way back… a classic BBQ joint.

Preferred West Shore Watering Holes & Foodie Options

The Tahoe Trinity or triptych of restaurants on this stretch of the Lake is – Sunnyside, The West Shore Café and Chambers Landing…all on West Lake Blvd or the “west shore.” All three are iconic venues perched on the lake with access by land or by lake; all three offer outdoor dining and great views. All three can also be a swarm of humanity on any given summer day with long waits for tables. I often rate the ambiance of a restaurant by the shirts the patrons wear – the shirt code of affairs follows.

Sunnyside (just outside Tahoe City): Short sleeve golf shirts, collar up; the crowd is multi-generational, but predominantly well-heeled, preppy Gen-Ex. It’s a loud, noisy, generally packed place. Casual, lake-hip. Extensive menu and full bar.

West Shore Café (Homewood): Long sleeve tailored, crisp, collared oxford shirts; an older, more sophisticated, old-Tahoe and affluent crowd. Full bar, marvelous martinis and some of the best food on the lake in my opinion. Reservations recommended.

Chambers Landing (between Homewood & Tahoma): T-shirts, bathing suits, flip flops. A very casual venue. The beach and the pool are for the exclusive use of Chambers residents, but the bar and grill are open to the public. Be advised, parking can be a challenge. In the summer, the place is packed with kids, teenagers and families, but it also draws the Millennials. The signature drink at Chambers is a vile-looking orange concoction called Chambers Punch (laden with rum) that you can’t believe you’d ever drink, but then you want three more, (they do offer Rombauer Chardonnay by the glass for the fainter of heart). The boathouse bar on the pier is allegedly the oldest structure on the lake, but my favorite place to hang there is the bar at the grill which overlooks the lake – a wooden bar that is (by the way) constructed of old seats from the former Memorial Stadium at Cal.

Lake-Like Things to Do in the Hood

I have cousins who have a huge place on the lake at Rubicon with every boy-toy created for the water, a sandy beach and 100-foot pier, all of which can translate into Water Sports 101. But most of us are not so fortunate. From my far more humble abode at the lake, if you’re looking for hiking, biking and water sports there are plenty of terrific options:

Meeks Bay Marina: Rent a kayak or a paddle board; set up camp on the sandy beach. They have a snack bar and small market for emergency provisions.

Emerald Bay: Pack a knapsack with a picnic lunch, be sure you have plenty of water to hydrate and hike around this Tahoe gem on one of several trails that circumvent it, but start early or you’ll never find a place to park!  D.L. Bliss State Park is one such trailhead with one of the prettiest beaches on the lake. Catch it early morning before the crowds.

Sugar Pine State Park: A beautiful lakeside venue with picnic tables, bike paths, a visitor’s center/gift shop (the only shopping I ever do here!) as well as a small natural history museum. It is also the site of the stunning Pine Lodge – the former Hellman-Ehrman Estate – which is well worth a look. Overlooking a grassy slope and the lake, the Ehrman house was built in 1903; guests would take the train from San Francisco to Truckee; switch trains to Tahoe City and take a steamer boat to the  estate dock. Imagine that! A far preferable mode of transportation if you ask me. There is $10 admission fee per car; free tours of the estate, and dogs on leash are allowed everywhere outdoors except the beach. Sugar Pine also offers a variety of summer evening programs put on by the Sierra State Parks Foundation ranging from music and winetasting, to the ghost of Mark Twain (McAvoy Layne).

The Lake Tahoe Concours d’Elegance Classic Wooden Boat Show: You missed it this year (it was last weekend) but it’s at Obexer’s Boat Company & Marina in Homewood every August and well worth the price of admission. Even non-boaters will thrill at the beautifully restored Gar Woods, Rivas, Chris-Crafts and other vintage boats that line the docks. In addition to the show, there are food booths, vendors, and this year, a wine tasting village which added to the festivity.

Other than all this, I wouldn’t stress myself. Make sure you allow a lot of time for all that reading and napping.

WESTSHORE TRAVLER ALERT: Traffic is especially slow moving in parts of the Westshore right now because of road construction that reduces the flow of traffic to one lane morning, noon and night. (Drainage ditches are being constructed around the lake to filter run off into the lake. “Keep Tahoe Blue”, remember?) Travelers can experience up to 30 minute delays. Thankfully, there is no road work on the weekends.