Duly caffeinated, I hit the road for a trip around the entire circumference of the lake. My first stop: Inspiration Point Lookout, with a view of Emerald Bay and the lake, mountains looming ahead. I look down the length of the tree-clad bay, the open lake beyond, Fanette Island sitting in the bay (the only island in Lake Tahoe). It’s a perfect Tahoe visit: the snow-clad mountains, deep green water flowing into clear blue, the tall pines, the clean blue skies with just a few puffy clouds. I head towards the car and end up returning to look at the view. I repeat the process, and repeat it again. Something keeps pulling me back to gaze some more as the lake and mountains tell me: slow down.
The same thing happens at nearby Eagle Falls. A short walk from the parking lot takes me to an overlook where, perched on a large flat boulder, I look out at the falls, heavy with recent rain and snow, crashing down the hill. I photograph it. I turn to go. I turn back, sit on a bench, and watch the falls thunder. I spend a half hour watching the clouds moving slowly above a cliff covered in green, an occasional patch of snow remaining.
A few minutes further, and I’m at the entrance to the Vikingsholm Trail, where a mile-long hike down the hills surrounding Emerald Bay takes me to Vikingsholm (10001 Emerald Bay Rd., South Lake Tahoe CA. Tel: 530-541-6498. www.vikingsholm.com), a spectacular lakeside “castle” built in 1929 by Lora J. Knight, taking its inspiration from her Scandinavian travels. You can see this in the furniture she acquired in Norway and Denmark, the Swedish stained glass windows, and the wood ceilings and tapestries. As we tour the house, I’m imagining what it would be like to have this as your private castle-on-the-lake, with your own teahouse on Fanette Island when you wanted to entertain in style. The area is full of such historic buildings, and Vikingsholm, part of Emerald Bay State Park, is one of the classics. The trip back up the hill is punctuated by far more stops, but in the end it’s not as painful as I’d anticipated. Just take it slow, pausing to revel in the scenery and the cool breezes. Another possibility: take a boat tour and avoid the mile-long hike altogether.
Continuing up the lake, I drive up to Tahoe City, and then to King’s Beach, where Java Hut (8268 N. Lake Blvd., King’s Beach CA. Tel: 530-546-0602. www.facebook.com/pages/Java-Hut/169920386382112) lures me, and rather than my usual caffeination, an “Old School” smoothie of peanut butter, strawberries, and bananas sounds so good I can’t pass it up. I sit among the red walls, yellow ceilings, and laidback atmosphere of this sweet little place, and then head down to the beach next door, where I do a little more of my favorite activity, gazing at the lake. A brightly colored parachute drifts above the mountains, and for about a minute I envy the person up there, thinking about how wonderful it would be to be soaring over the mountains. Then I realize that I’m in a pretty enviable position too, standing by this beautiful lake, watching as the parachute lends that extra little touch of color against the snow-clad mountains and cobalt sky.
Tahoe is primo for sports at any time of year. Of course, skiing and snowboarding are prime in the winter, and summer brings hiking, cycling, horseback riding, golf, fishing, whitewater rafting, and much more. I suggest you check the websites of South Tahoe (www.tahoesouth.com) and North Tahoe (www.gotahoenorth.com), where you’ll find plenty of companies to help out with whatever your chosen activity is. (There are also several casinos, if you’re feeling lucky.) My chosen sport is sitting, with some hiking tossed in, and more than a little dining. We’ll get to that later, though: we’re not finished with our drive around the lake.
So, now I head to Incline Village. I’m back in Nevada now, having gone up the west side of the lake and turned across the north side. I’m probably making this sound a lot quicker and more efficient than it actually is, as every few miles there’s a scenic overlook or turnoff point, and I take advantage of just about every one. This is a case where the journey really is as important as the destination. In Incline Village, I stop off at IV Coffee Lab (907 Tahoe Blvd., Incline Village, NV. Tel 775-298-2402. www.IVcoffeelab.com), where a long, irregular wooden plank provides community seating, and there’s a scattering of smaller tables. Great coffee at this spot with a hip and mellow vibe, where I seem to be the only one in there that doesn’t know anyone else.