Overwhelmed by the choices? Get in your car and take a leisurely drive around the lake. It's only 72 miles, but plan on expending several hours, even in the best of weather. In the worst of weather, don't try it! Parts of the road, if not closed, can be icy and dangerous. On a mild day, it will be a memorable experience. If your car has a CD player, consider buying a self-guided CD audio tour that contains facts, legends, places of interest, and just about everything else you might want to know about the lake. You'll find them at many gift shops and bookstores around the lake.
We'll start at the California-Nevada border in South Lake Tahoe and loop around the western shore on Hwy. 89 to Tahoe City and beyond. U.S. 50, which runs along the South Shore, is an ugly, overdeveloped strip that obliterates any view of the lake. Keep heading west and you will be free of this boring stretch.
First stop is the Tallac Historic Site, site of the former Tallac Resort and a cluster of 100-year-old mansions that provide a fascinating glimpse into Tahoe's past. In its heyday, the resort included two large hotels, a casino, and numerous outbuildings. Throughout the summer, the Valhalla Festival of Arts and Music (tel. 530/541-4975; www.valhallatahoe.com) showcases jazz, bluegrass, rock, mariachi, and classical music. Summer highlights include June's Valhalla Renaissance Festival, July's Native American Fine Arts Festival, and August's Great Gatsby Festival.
From here the highway winds north along the shore until you reach Cascade Lake on the left and Emerald Bay on the right. The Emerald Bay Lookout is a spectacular picture-taking spot. Emerald Bay's deep green water is the site of the only island in Lake Tahoe, Fannette Island. The small structure atop the island is the teahouse, built by Ms. Lora Knight, who also constructed Vikingsholm (www.vikingsholm.com), a 38-room Scandinavian castle built in 1929, at the head of Emerald Bay. Tours of this unique structure are available from mid-June to Labor Day every half-hour from 10am to 4pm. Even if you don't want to take the tour, it's a pleasant walk from the parking area down to the beach and the mansion's grounds. Just remember that you have to walk back up. Across the highway, there's another parking area. From here, it's a short, steep .25-mile hike to a footbridge above Eagle Falls. Then it's about a mile farther up to Eagle Lake.
It's only about 2 more miles to D. L. Bliss State Park (tel. 530/525-7277), with one of the lake's best beaches. It fills up in summer, so arrive early for a parking place. The park also has 168 campsites and several trails, including one along the shoreline.
In about 7 miles you will reach Sugar Pine State Park (tel. 530/525-7982), the largest (2,000 acres) of the lake's parks and also the only one that has year-round camping. In summer, you can visit its beaches, plus a nature center and miles of trails; in winter, you can cross-country ski on well-maintained trails.
Continuing on through the town of Homewood (site of the ski resort), Sunnyside, on the right, is a great place to stop for a lakeside lunch. Or, if you feel like taking a stroll, drive on to Tahoe City, with its beautiful paved path along the Truckee River. Check out the big trout at Fanny Bridge first. If you would like to see Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows, take a left at Hwy. 89. A ride on the Squaw Valley cable car (tel. 530/583-6985) will reward you with incredible vistas from 2,000 feet above the valley floor. It runs year-round and costs $24 for adults, $18 for seniors and youth 13 through 18, and $6 for children 12 and under. Back on Hwy. 28, as you leave Tahoe City, you will pass a string of small malls at 700-850 N. Lake Blvd. If you like to wander around, this is a good area to stop and eat, watch the activity at the Tahoe City Marina (parasailing, cruises on the Tahoe Gal, and boat rental), or visit the shops.
Continuing around the lake on Hwy. 28, you'll reach Carnelian Bay, Tahoe Vista, and Kings Beach before crossing the state line into Nevada. Kings Beach State Recreation Area (tel. 530/546-4212), a long, wide beach and picnic area, is jammed in the summer with sunbathers and swimmers. As you approach Crystal Bay, you will know, from the string of small casinos, that you have crossed the state line. The Cal-Neva Resort, Spa & Casino, on the right, was once owned by Frank Sinatra and has a celebrity-studded history. The state line goes right through the lodge, and gambling is allowed only on the Nevada side (it's worth stopping to see).
Your journey next takes you to woodsy Incline Village, arguably the most beautiful community on the lake. Take a right on Lakeshore Boulevard to view the elegant estates. Lunch or dinner time? The Lone Eagle Grille, at the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe, offers gorgeous panoramic lake views, as well as superb food.
The east shore of the lake is largely undeveloped and very scenic. Drive about 4 miles south of Incline Village to Sand Harbor (tel. 775/831-0494), one of the lake's best-loved beaches, and home to the very popular Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival (tel. 800/747-4697; www.laketahoeshakespeare.com) every mid-July through August. In addition to turquoise blue water dotted with big boulders and a wide sandy beach, you'll find nature trails, picnic areas, and boating.
Going south, you will come to an outcropping called Cave Rock, where the highway passes through 75 feet of solid stone. The historic Thunderbird Lodge (tel. 800/GO-TAHOE [468-2463]; www.thunderbirdlodge.org), former home to the eccentric and wealthy George Whittell, is available for tours by reservation. Farther along is Zephyr Cove Resort and Marina, home to the MS Dixie II and a beehive of watersports activity. You'll then return to Stateline and South Lake Tahoe, your original starting point.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.