Dive into fun at Lake Tahoe. PHOTO BY MICHAEL MARFELL

Summer Fun in Lake Tahoe

A wealth of new don’t-miss developments keeps this famed ski destination rocking even after the last snow has melted

BY BILL FINK / PHOTO BY MICHAEL MARFELL — SUMMER 2017

At last the lake burst upon us — a noble sheet of blue water lifted 6,300 feet above the level of the sea and walled in by a rim of snow-clad mountain peaks that towered aloft full 3,000 feet higher still…. I thought it must surely be the fairest picture the whole earth affords.”

So wrote the usually cynical Mark Twain about his first visit to Lake Tahoe in 1861. While the scenery remains just as spectacular as it was more than 150 years ago, a lot has changed since the days Twain camped on the deserted shores of the lake eating salt pork.

Lake Tahoe, which straddles the border of California and Nevada about a three-hour drive northeast from San Francisco, has come alive with new offerings in luxury lodging, fine dining, and recreational activities over the past several years. While the ski resorts saw the initial investments, the focus of Lake Tahoe development has now shifted to summertime, with major new offerings on the beachfront, in golf, and in hiking and biking adventures on the nearby mountains and at the shores along the 72-mile circumference of the lake.

Here, some of the best new or improved summer attractions scattered along Lake Tahoe’s popular northern and southern shores that might have impressed even the famously grumpy Mr. Twain.

North Lake Tahoe

Along the north shore, Tahoe City, Calif., and Incline Village, Nev., offer prime beachfront access for swimmers and boaters to experience the lake’s dazzling blue waters. The California mountain resorts of Northstar and Squaw Valley — north and northwest of the lake, respectively — host luxury lodging with front-door access to some of the world’s best hiking and biking trails. The old rail town of Truckee, Calif., north of the lake, now injects a new sophistication into its dining and shopping scene, best experienced in the summer when you don’t have to slip and slide in your snow boots.

LAKE CLUB, THE RITZ-CARLTON, LAKE TAHOE
Opening June 27, this new luxury lakefront development combines food and activities with an awe-inspiring vista of Tahoe. Guests staying at the Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe in the mountains north of the lake will now be able to take part in the Lake Club’s exclusive surf-and-turf experience. After hiking or biking in the hills around the Northstar resort, home base for the Ritz, guests can hop a shuttle for a 20-minute ride from the hotel to the Lake Club. The facility and its private pier will provide beach access and connection to a slew of water activities, from sailing to kayaking to waterskiing and parasailing. After playing in the lake, guests can take in the views along with their food and drink on the Lake Club’s dining terrace, soak in the outdoor whirlpool, and roast s’mores over a fire pit. Also this summer, the Ritz launches an “Après Adventurist” package, offering a collection of exclusive curated lakeside activities along with a room stay.
Details: 7170 N. Lake Blvd., Tahoe Vista, Calif.; 530-562-3000; ritzcarlton.com. Rooms at the Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe from $300.

NORTHSTAR’S SPECIALIZED BIKE ACADEMY
The Northstar California resort centers its summer operations on one of the best lift-accessed mountain biking courses in the U.S. The terrain ranges from easy cross-country paths for scenic pedaling to double black diamond runs. This season at the resort’s year-old Specialized Bike Academy expect upgraded trails, enhanced classes, and the latest mountain bikes for rental. Also, book both beginner and advanced clinics, as well as women-specific clinics and individualized lessons for kids. Last February, county officials approved the Northstar Mountain Master Plan, so look for further expansion of terrain and facilities for years to come.
Details: Between Truckee and Kings Beach, Calif., off of Highway 267. 800-466-6784; northstarcalifornia.com. Packages from $239.

OLD TOWN TAP
Not your typical mountain town pizza pub, this restaurant and bar opened in mid-2016 on historic Truckee’s main street as a passion project for husband-and-wife team Marlena John (the pizza fanatic) and Luke Bill (the cocktail connoisseur). With bare brick walls and unadorned glossy wood tables, the Old Town Tap creates a modern hipster vibe within a comfy diner setting. The menu features oddball craft cocktails such as the whiskey-walnut-banana “Chunky Monkey,” artisanal pizzas with locally sourced toppings (kohlrabi, anyone?), inventive dishes such as deviled shrimp (above) and a rotating beer selection exotic enough to please even mustache-twirling hops geeks snacking on seasonal pickles. You can also fill up on traditional short ribs or a sausage pizza and wash it all down with a PBR.
Details: 10164 Donner Pass Road, Suite 1, Truckee, Calif.;530-563-5233; oldtowntaptruckee.com. Pizzas $12-$15, cocktails $9-$10, cans of PBR $3.

SQUAW VALLEY’S HIGH CAMP
This year, the Squaw Valley ski resort launches new summer-focused activities. The gondola-serviced midmountain High Camp recreation area, at 8,200 feet elevation, has been transformed into a full activity center with a fresh slate of experiences and ticket packages, as well as expanded hiking trails and a disc golf course. Combine this with the hiking, a huge swimming pool, and roller-skating rink and you have a critical mass of high-elevation fun. On the heels of a record winter for snowfall, the resort plans to open the ski lifts for some Fourth of July skiing. To get prepped for all these activities, start the day in the Village at Squaw Valley at the Coffeebar, opened in February, with tasty baked goods and freshly brewed coffee drinks. For an even higher-elevation overview, the Resort at Squaw Creek introduces summer helicopter tours over the resort and Lake Tahoe, lifting off just outside the resort’s hotel.
Details: Squaw Valley Resort, Olympic Valley, Calif.;800-403-0206; squawalpine.com. Adventure Package, including pool access and tram rides, $45. Sightseeing Package, including access to hiking trails and scenic observation deck, $36. Family Pass, including all High Camp activities and tram rides, $124 for two adults and four kids.

TRUCKEE TAVERN AND GRILL’S “BLUEPRINT OF THE COCKTAIL” CLASSES
Co-owner and bar manager Ryan Dierks will lead weekly cocktail classes at this popular upscale restaurant’s bar this summer. During the 90-minute classes, you’ll mix, shake, and sample six different cocktails, from the classic to the creative, with pauses for reflection over cheese and charcuterie plates. You’ll not only learn how to select ingredients and mix drinks at home,but also what to order at the bar.
Details: 10118 Donner Pass Road, Truckee, Calif.; 530-587-3766; truckeetavern.com. Classes held Saturdays from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. in July and August. Reserve your spot in advance, $75 per person. Maximum class size: 10 people.

South Lake Tahoe

With its strip of high-rise casinos, bars, and clubs, South Lake Tahoe has rightly earned the reputation as the lively side of Lake Tahoe. After losing some of its luster over recent decades thanks to its rows of cheap motels and strip malls, South Lake Tahoe has executed a major makeover over the last five years, with new hotels, refurbished old ones, and bright new shopping areas, along with an extended lakeside bike trail network and new beaches and hiking trails.

The investments and improvements from 2014 to 2016 alone read like a slot-machine jackpot: $60 million at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Lake Tahoe; $25 million at Zalanta Resort’s condo and retail development; $24 million at MontBleu Resort Casino & Spa; $20 million at the Landing Resort & Spa; $12 million at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe; $8 million at Lake Tahoe Resort Hotel; $8 million at Beach Retreat & Lodge; $2 million at Ridge Tahoe’s Castle Rock event space; $2 million at Postmarc Hotel & Spa Suites; $1.2 million at 7 Seas Inn; and the list goes on. These latest South Lake Tahoe offerings are enough to bring back old visitors and entice new ones, whether you’re a golfer, hiker, swimmer, or just a devotee of great mountain meals.

HEAVENLY MOUNTAIN RESORT’S EPIC DISCOVERY
The Heavenly ski resort dove big into the summer business a couple of years ago with the introduction of its midmountain Epic Discovery. Activities range from climbing walls (above left) and three ropes courses (above right) to an inner-tube slide, multiple zip lines, and a 3,400-foot-long gravity-powered downhill roller coaster (top left). This year’s additions include the East Peak (Silver Rush) Zip Line Tour. Zip through the trees at 40 mph, with views overlooking the Carson Valley — if you’re brave enough to keep your eyes open — and ride back to the top on an ATV. For the less extreme, ride the scenic gondola to an observation deck and mellow hiking trails — but mind the 9,000-foot elevation.
Details: 4080 Lake Tahoe Blvd., South Lake Tahoe, Calif.; 775-586-7000; skiheavenly.com. Ultimate Adventure Pass, including all Epic Discovery activities and scenic gondola ride, $94; “Little Explorer” kids pass, $54.

HOTEL BECKET
Named for a sailing knot that ties two ropes into one, the Hotel Becket, which opened last December, leads the latest South Tahoe renovations along the main strip by combining two old properties into a single boutique experience. Choose from an eclectic variety of 167 rooms, ranging from rustic to contemporary, all with modern mountain touches such as reclaimed barn doors and recovered mining lumber. Take a short walk from the hotel for private Lake Tahoe beach access or to the vibrant Heavenly Village, with gondola access to the Heavenly Mountain Resort summer programs. Ten Crows, the hotel’s new restaurant, features rib-sticking Southern barbecue and an expansive beer and craft cocktail menu. The pet-friendly Becket not only welcomes dogs accompanying guests, it even provides one if you don’t have your own. Through the “Borrow a Bernese” program, you can take out Remington, the hotel’s Bernese Mountain Dog, for a nature walk.
Details: 4003 Lake Tahoe Blvd., South Lake Tahoe, Calif.;530-544-6000; hotelbecket.com. From $175.

IZABELLA RISTORANTE ITALIANO
As Twain said back during his visit, “Three months of camp life on Lake Tahoe would restore an Egyptian mummy to his pristine vigor and give him an appetite like an alligator.” Satisfy your well-earned appetite at this restaurant in the heart of the hotel strip along the state line. Since opening last June, it has been getting rave reviews for its hearty Italian meals, including classic pasta dishes, veal parmigiana, and chicken saltimbocca, plus an extensive Italian and Californian wine list and free focaccia bread. Top it off with an Espresso Mud Pie for dessert. The restaurant features a friendly low-key atmosphere, nice for a casual night out on a lakeside holiday.
Details: 3967 Lake Tahoe Blvd.,South Lake Tahoe, Calif.; 530-544-0400; izabellatahoe.com. Entrees $17-$30.

LAKE HOUSE
Despite the name, this new fine-dining restaurant with a casual vibe is not actually on the lake, but rather at the southwest edge of South Lake Tahoe along a revitalized section of town around the “Y” — a three-way intersection of highways 50 and 89. The Lake House has a classic steakhouse decor with comfy booths and dim lighting, but with the quirky Tahoe twist of nautically inspired artwork and hanging driftwood. The filet mignon in peppercorn sauce (left) is worth the drive from the lake, and a jalapeño-infused ceviche appetizer and roasted trout entree provides a seafood treat for those inspired by Tahoe.
Details: 1181 Emerald Bay Road, South Lake Tahoe, Calif.; 530-541-3433; thelakehousetahoe.com. Entrees $30-$45.

THE LODGE AT EDGEWOOD TAHOE
Scheduled to open in late June, this massive $100 million resort project on the Nevada side of South Lake Tahoe creates a new hotel on the grounds of the lakeside Edgewood Golf Course — home to July’s annual American Century celebrity tournament. The Lodge opens with 154 luxury rooms, each with its own balcony or terrace and a gas fireplace. A towering classic mountain-style main lodge anchors the property, which includes a spa (above), bar, restaurant, and large event space. On the 235-acre lakefront grounds, the golf course upgrades with lodge access and a new ninth fairway and lakeside green. The lodge’s access to an adjacent public swimming beach with watersport rentals and walking paths ups the incentive to get outdoors. After a day on the lake or golf course, retire to the Pool Bar and watch the sunset over the shimmering Lake Tahoe waters.
Details: 100 Lake Parkway, Stateline, Nev.; 888-881-8659; edgewoodtahoe.com. Rooms from $350; green fees from $150.

Read Bill Fink’s report on exploring the British Virgin Islands aboard a sleek yacht

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