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Day Trip to Lake Tahoe – Lake Views and Cocktails!

a glass of orange juice on a table

Day (or two) trip to Lake Tahoe, California


While summer may be behind us, the weather in California still holds promise for days spent sitting outside and enjoying a plate of zucchini fries and a cocktail by the lake. And by lake, I mean THE lake.  Lake Tahoe! One of the clearest, most pristine lakes in North America, and only barely, a two-hour drive from Sacramento. What better way to spend an afternoon, or weekend, than playing tourists in one of California’s premier destinations? We feel so lucky to be able to live in Sacramento and live so close to so many amazing destinations. And Tahoe is the perfect location to indulge your wild side, and then reward yourself with excellent food, drinks, and views.

We started our day early and headed up the I80 to North Lake.  We brought our brand new mountain bikes and our first stop was Alpenglow Sports in Tahoe City.  The staff there is awesome and super helpful. They gave us lots of good suggestions for where we could ride given our different ability levels. They also have a really nice selection of clothes, books and all sorts of things you must have.  I showed some self-control and only purchased a mountain bike trail book, a bouldering book, and some natural sunscreen.

We took the staff’s suggestions and headed to the North Tahoe Nordic Center.  North Tahoe Nordic Center is a cross country ski area during the winter, and hosts multiple mountain bike trails for various skill levels, once the snow has melted.  What’s great is that they have a parking lot! And a little welcome center and store, with bathrooms!! For beginners, the maps are a little confounding, but in the end, we realized, you can’t really get lost.  You just head up the trail, and anyone of the trails will take you down. The trails are marked like ski runs; green for beginners, blue for intermediate and black for advanced. We had a blast exploring the shady single tracks and even discovered a little hidden pond.

After a few hours of riding, we were ready for some serious eats and adult beverages.  One of our favorite spots with the best lake views is Gar Wood’s Grill and Pier in Carnelian Bay.  Gar Wood’s is legendary for many things, but especially for their signature drink, the Wet Woody. It’s a delightful frozen rum drink that will knock the barnacles off that boat you drove up in.  We arrived by car and thankfully not only secured a parking spot in their lot, but also a table outside on the deck. Did I mention lake view…? My go-to at Gar Wood’s when it’s not before noon, in which case is a Pork ‘N Mary, is their Trader Vick’s Mai Tai.  Oh man, are these good. Perhaps, second only to Monkeypod’s Mai Tai in Ka’anapali, Maui. Third best Mai Tai would have to be Merriman’s in Kapalua, Maui. Which is odd, since Monkeypod and Merriman’s are under the same ownership, and the Mai Tai’s are the same recipe…and the view is not bad at Merriman’s….  But still, we love Tahoe, and it’s much easier to get to from Sacramento than Maui is. But back to drinks at Gar Wood’s. My husband had a regular Blood Mary, no pork, my brother had a beer, and our daughter had a very tasty mango smoothie.

Now that the drinks are taken care of, let’s talk about the food.  We started with Beer Battered Coconut Prawns. My husband and I had the Grilled Fish Tacos and my brother had the Hawaiian Chicken Sandwich.  Our daughter just nibbled off of our plates, after hogging most of the shrimp. The fish tacos are SO good! They grill snapper, and top it with a chunky mix of jicama and tomato, on a grilled flour tortilla.  There is nothing like a bad tortilla to ruin a taco, and thankfully Gar Wood does it right. The Hawaiian Chicken Sandwich is made with pulled chicken in a guava BBQ sauce, also excellent.

Exhausted and pleasantly full, we headed to our Airbnb just up the road from Gar Wood’s and napped.  That night we experienced a one of a kind evening by enjoying a Shakespeare play, The Taming of the Shrew, in the open-air theater at The Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival.  They have a wonderful venue RIGHT on the lake in Incline Village, just over the state line in Nevada. We got there early and ordered from their concessions. They offer everything from charcuterie plates to salads to burgers.  They sell drinks and yes, alcohol, and you can also bring your own food and beverages. The festival just runs during the summer months, as it gets pretty chilly once the sun goes down, even in August.

The next morning we dug deep and got up early and headed to King’s Beach to rent clear kayaks. If you want a one of a kind experience, then this is for you. I recommend the two-hour rental, as one hour really isn’t enough time to get to the best viewing area to really take advantage of that clear bottom.  If you are a kayak enthusiast, just stick to regular kayaks, they are easier to paddle and you can just lean over to see the crystal clear bottom of Lake Tahoe. Remember, it’s the second clearest lake in North America!

We decided to really pack this day full of activity and after kayaking headed down the lake to D.L. Bliss to find some good bouldering spots.  The granite there is world-class, blissful, in fact. We parked at the overflow parking lot near Balancing Rock. It’s just a short hike to a cluster of huge boulders, and balancing rock, which is worth the hike just to see nature at her fiercest.  Of course, all this activity made us mighty thirsty.

Next stop, Sunnyside Resort to nab a table on their very popular deck, with lake views of course!  I had to have another Mai Tai…for research purposes. While it’s tough competition between Gar Wood’s and Monkeypod’s, Sunnyside’s is served in a glass that is way too fun to drink out of, and irresistible to take pictures of.  There is no better feeling than after a good hike, soaking up the sun on one of the decks taking in the view of the bluest lake there is, well second bluest.

Do yourself a favor and get in your car this weekend, or take the train, and head up to Lake Tahoe for the day.  Ride a bike, take a hike and find a deck on the water to enjoy the view.

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