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North Lake Tahoe

Hit the beach for surefire fun at the Sierra’s favorite summer playground.

main street of Tahoe City, image
Photo caption
North Lake Boulevard in Tahoe City, Calif., is a main thoroughfare for tourists in summer.

She's sleek, sexy, and pampered, and she spends every summer at the North Shore of Lake Tahoe.

No lady of leisure, the Forty Pines is in fact a 28-foot, 1941 Gar Wood triple-cockpit runabout with a Scripps V-12 motor, mahogany hull and deck, and chrome fittings that glint in the clear mountain sunlight. Each summer she joins dozens of other rare and restored vintage motorboats that draw more than 5,000 spectators to Wooden Boat Week, a series of events that includes a knockout concours d'elegance.

The boats serve as a reminder of the good old-fashioned outdoor fun that for generations has been a hallmark of summers along the northern expanse of the largest alpine lake in America.

The North Shore stretches from south of Tahoe City, Calif., to beyond Incline Village, Nev. Dotted with public beaches, parks, and forests, the landscape remains only lightly developed outside of a few towns. During the roughly 13-mile drive along the North Shore, you'll pass the occasional bear crossing sign or mini golf course as well as family motels, restaurants, and impressive log-and-stone homes. The air smells of warm sun on pine pitch, and the view of the lake is as stirring as it was when Mark Twain visited in 1861: "A noble sheet of blue water lifted six thousand three hundred feet above the level of the sea, and walled in by a rim of snow-clad mountain peaks," he wrote.

The North Shore boasts many hiking and biking options, including the Flume Trail—a challenging cycling route near Incline Village—and portions of the 165-mile Tahoe Rim Trail. But you don't have to conquer the great outdoors to have a good time. The three-quarter-mile nature walk in North Tahoe Regional Park, near Tahoe Vista, Calif., for example, leads you to massive ponderosa pines with their deeply crackled bark, and you may even spot a red-tailed hawk or a chatty Steller's jay. Along the Truckee River, the only outlet from the lake, a paved trail lets walkers, in-line skaters, and cyclists get right next to the burbling water, home to beavers. For a more leisurely river experience, try a two- to three-hour float with one of the rafting companies near Tahoe City's Fanny Bridge, named for the rumps of those hanging over the rail to gawk at the cutthroat trout below.

Most activity at the North Shore centers on the lake. You can windsurf, kayak, snorkel, jet-ski, or hop aboard a chartered sailboat. The water never gets toasty—figure on a maximum of about 70 degrees at the surface and close to shore—but summer air temperatures often reach into the 80s.

North Shore beaches come in a variety of styles. With its picnic tables, lawn, and climbing rock, newly renovated Commons Beach in Tahoe City is a pocket-size gem that attracts families with small kids. For a beach-party scene complete with boom boxes, head to the wide stretch of sand at Kings Beach State Recreation Area, where you can also see a big fireworks display on July 3. Idyllic Lake Tahoe–Nevada State Park offers fine swimming and boating at Hidden Beach or lounging on the massive granite boulders at Sand Harbor, the setting for one of the premier summertime events, the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival. Grab a blanket and settle in for the action onstage, backed by a natural show of lingering light on the lake and the Sierra Nevada. Summers don't get sweeter than this.

This year at the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival, July 13–August 20, you can see Othello and The Compleat Wrks of Wllm Shkspr (abridged), a romp through most of the Bard's canon. Sand Harbor, (800) 747-4697,

Photography courtesy of Finetooth/Wikipedia

This article was first published in July 2005. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.