Weekend Trip to Lake Tahoe - feature photo - Emerald Bay including island from a boat cruise on the lake

Weekend Trip to Lake Tahoe | USA

After a crazy summer travelling all the way across Canada and then back again across the USA, my trip was almost complete. Having already visited much of the California coast earlier this year, there was one more place in the state I wanted to visit. A weekend trip to Lake Tahoe seemed the perfect end to my trip, for a couple of days of relaxing and taking it easy! I was coming from Yosemite, after finishing my small group tour there. They dropped me off in Modesto to pick up a rental car and drive myself northeast to South Lake Tahoe for 2 nights.

Weekend Trip to Lake Tahoe - second feature photo - mountains and forests at sunset from a roadside viewpoint, with the lake visible in the background

South Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe itself is a pretty large lake that straddles California and Nevada. The elevation is high enough for snow, so it’s a popular ski resort in the winter. This is also why I didn’t come back in April, as I was looking to escape winter then! The size of the lake means you have to pick which of the surrounding towns to base yourself in. I believe the North shore is a little quieter, but I chose South Lake Tahoe just for convenience. It was already a 3-hour drive there, and the North would have been even further.

South Lake Tahoe is full of accommodation, shops and restaurants to cater the many visitors to the area. It’s right on the Nevada border, too, with the town of Stateline right next to it. Stateline has plenty of casinos due to Nevada’s more liberal gambling laws. But I didn’t need another Vegas-like experience to be honest! My exploration of South Lake Tahoe mainly consisted of getting takeaway from restaurants on the main boulevard each evening, while staying at an inn a couple of streets over.

Lake Tahoe Cruise

After arriving late on a Friday evening, my Saturday was mainly taken up by a cruise on the lake. I was interested in seeing Emerald Bay, one of its prettiest corners, so I made sure to pick a cruise that went there. The MS Dixie II sails from the Zephyr Resort in Nevada, with a few experience options to choose from. It takes a few hours to cross the lake to Emerald Bay and come back again, and for most of that you can just relax onboard.

There was audio commentary at times, about how the lake formed and the history of the area. It was nice to get to learn something along the way, as I might have got a smidge bored on my own otherwise. There’s also a bar and dining room, where I had lunch about halfway across the lake and took a cocktail back out on to the decks after. They have a gift shop and indoor seating too, but I mostly stayed on the outer decks to enjoy the scenery.

Emerald Bay

The vast blue lake stretched out into the horizon, with only the outlines of mountains between it and the sky. It was a little hazy so you couldn’t see that far beyond the lakeshore even at the closest point to the boat. Emerald Bay didn’t disappoint either, easily the most scenic part of the cruise. The bay is in the southwest corner of the lake, with bright emerald green waters, as the name suggests! It helped that it was a lovely, sunny day as well. Mountains and forest encircle the bay, painting the whole scene in blues and greens.

We could spot Vikingsholm, a manor house built in the 19th century, one of the first holiday homes in Lake Tahoe. Fannette Island is tucked in the centre of the bay as well, with its tiny tea house perched atop. It’s all so idyllic and you can easily see why a weekend trip to Lake Tahoe has been a perfect getaway for over a hundred years!

Lakeside Beach

Returning to South Lake Tahoe for the afternoon, I chilled back in my room for a while before heading out again. Lakeside Beach was a short walk from the inn, a short stretch of sand along the lake’s southern shore. I spent the rest of the afternoon and early evening just chilling out here. The sparkling turquoise water looked inviting enough for a dip. However, it’s an alpine lake and therefore, freezing! So it was a fairly quick dip before I hopped out again. Although it was sunny, it was well into October now, so not the warmest weather.

The sun began to sink low in the sky, and I lingered to watch the sunset. I watched the sailboats drift across the lake’s surface, with their silhouettes painted black on the orange background. It was all very pretty and scenic and relaxing! The beach had gotten quite busy though, and I didn’t hang around much longer as it started to get dark. I headed back into town, picking up dinner again for a quiet night in. Definitely one of the slowest days I’d had in months!

Van Sickle Bi-State Park

My weekend trip to Lake Tahoe was to end today, with the drive back west to San Francisco ahead of me. I wasn’t in a rush though, and stuck around for the morning first. I’d done enough hiking over the last couple of weeks that I wasn’t looking for a big trail. But there are some shorter walks around the area. Van-Sickle Bi-State Park seemed to fit the bill well, as I parked up by its entrance. They’ve marked the road where the state border is, so you can straddle the line and be in two places at once (bonus points if you know what film that’s referencing).

I followed the Van Sickle Trail up a short but fairly steep climb, along a rocky path peppered with pine trees. It didn’t take long to reach the viewpoint I was looking for, though you have to be careful climbing on and off the large rock. You can’t see anything for the trees if you don’t though! Atop the rock, the view of the lake opens up, a blue and green vista of waters surrounded by the California mountains under the sun. I drank it in for a while, before climbing back down. The trail does go on further, but I was ready to retrace my route down the hill again. From there, it was time to refill the car, grab some lunch and tackle the 4-hour drive to San Francisco…

One Day in San Francisco

I only stayed one night in San Francisco, but my flight to Vancouver wasn’t until the evening so I had a day to explore a little. Of course, I saw a lot of the city during my week here earlier in the year, which ticked off plenty. There is always more to discover though!

I started with a visit to Coit Tower, the tall, white beacon perched atop Telegraph Hill. I already knew San Francisco’s hills were unforgiving, but trekking up the endless stairs to the tower wasn’t exactly a relaxing start to the day! It was worth it in the end though. The inside of the tower has dozens of huge murals painted all over, depicting urban scenes from around the city. After admiring these, I headed up the tower’s spiral to the lookout platform on the top. From here, you can see all across San Francisco and the Bay, which was a wonderful refresher of all the areas of the city I saw last time.

My afternoon was spent at the Exploratorium, including lunch at the cafe there. It’s a science museum full of hands-on exhibits. My error was visiting on a public holiday Monday (for both Canada and the USA), as it was chockfull of children. I probably would have enjoyed it more on their adults-only evenings, the same as the California Academy has. I was still able to make my way around most of it though, watching many of the exhibits rather than participating myself. The Great Animal Orchestra was my favourite though! A dark room where you can sit on pouffy stools and watch sound waves dance around the walls as the soundscapes of various wild habitats plays. It’s so soothing and immersive, I couldn’t sat there much longer than I did!

Weekend Trip to Lake Tahoe

Eventually, it was time to head to the airport, bringing to a close not just my weekend trip to Lake Tahoe, but my entire USA trip. I had crossed from coast to coast, starting in Boston on the Atlantic and ending here on the Californian Pacific once more. Despite being all one country, the USA is so vast that I definitely noticed differences along the way, whether it be the landscapes, the people and local culture, or just the vibes of a place! Tahoe was a nice way to end it – at least for now! – with a couple of days to take it slow and easy and unwind again. Especially since it was back to work the next day after a few weeks off, and then only a couple of months until my next big adventure was to begin!