The drive from San Francisco to South Lake Tahoe was a beautiful one.
We passed over the Bay Bridge, leaving the City behind and up to Sacramento, before joining Highway 50 and passing though the Eldorado National Forest – we were in The Gold Country.
Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America, and the second deepest in the States, at over 1,600 feet deep. It is also one of the coldest. In fact, it is so cold that perfectly preserved cowboys have been recovered from the bottom. I think I’ll pass on taking a dip!
South Lake Tahoe
South Lake Tahoe, the biggest town on the lakeside, is popular all year round and is home to Heavenly ski resort.
The original plan had been to ride the gondola up to the top and enjoy the views. Unfortunately, we’d picked one of the few days where the summer season had ended and winter season hadn’t started.
We parked the car and headed down to the lake for a walk. Boy, was it cold! A few days previous, we were wandering around in shorts and t-shirts, now it was hats, jumpers and gloves.
Despite the chill, the beach was gorgeous and the water so clear, framed perfectly by the surrounding mountains. We weren’t quite brave enough to take a paddle.
California Burger Co
Hungry after our 3 hour drive and in need of warming up, we stopped at the California Burger Co for a burger, of course. Jamie ordered the ‘Honorary Texan’, over spilling with bacon, cheese and BBQ sauce, and I had the ‘Plain Jane’.
They did give me a frown when I asked for my ‘patty’ to be cooked through. I don’t know how anyone can eat a raw burger with all the goo coming out of it, its no fillet steak!
The restaurant had a great ambience, with walls covered in art and a huge selection of drinks behind the bar. Apparently, there’s live music here too on an evening.
We watched on as two girls, who were both back in their hometown for a get together, started slamming tequilas just after midday. “I wouldn’t want to be their hangover tomorrow if they’re starting this early,” I sniggered.
Since we couldn’t ride the gondola, we decided to drive to Emerald Bay, for that famous shot across the lake.
Highway 89 twists and bends as you leave South Lake Tahoe and Camp Richardson behind, giving you glimpses of the lake. The road flattens out slightly and you’re rewarded with jaw dropping views.
The parking up here is must sought after, so grab a space when you spot one!
The island is called Fannette Island, and is the only one in the lake. You can just about make out the vandalised remains of a 1920s teahouse, which belonged to Lora Knight.
She oversaw the building of Vikingsholm Castle, a summer home inspired by Scandinavia, in 1929. You can visit the castle, but only from May to September.
Base Camp Pizza
We dropped the car off at the AirBnB and risked the cold to walk into town.
“I proper fancy a pizza,” Jamie announced, “I’ve read about this nice place called Base Camp Pizza, if you want to go there?”
When we arrived, there was a massive queue. “Hi, table for two? It’s a 30 minute wait, or 5 minute if you don’t mind sitting outside?”
I was getting rather hungry, so even though it was cold, we agreed we would sit outside. But it wasn’t outside at all. We were shown through a door onto a patio area, with a roof and heaters. There was also a live band playing pop rock music.
We took our seats and ordered a medium smoky BBQ chicken and bacon pizza to share. A medium? I hear you cry. Well yes, the medium was actually a 12 inch – that’s almost the size of a large pizza from Dominoes in the UK. Plus I already had my eye on the Cookie Dough dessert!
I’m not sure if it was the music, the laid back feel, the mountains soaring above, or a mixture of each, but this was the best pizza I’ve ever had (sorry Italy).
Feeling full, the only thing to do was brave the cold back and jump in the hot tub in our garden.
Was it worth the detour?
Adding in a night at Lake Tahoe meant we had less time to spend in San Francisco. But, while we may not have found actual gold in the Sierra Nevada – we definitely found a sparkle in the lake. After a week by the coast and in the city, it was nice to just take it easy and soak up the atmosphere.
South Lake Tahoe was the obvious place for us to stop en route to Mammoth Lakes, but the north of the lake is meant to be even more spectacular with a quieter, small town feel – with no casinos lining the bank. You can drive round the 72 mile shoreline, and make up your own mind which side is best.