The waters of Lake Tahoe are crystal clear and the sun beats over the mountains like a flaming, angry saucer.
Early in the morning, the sun rises over Lake Tahoe; it seems to rise much earlier than it does in the Midwest. Before seven a.m., the lake radiated so fiercely with white light that I had to look away.
For two Midwestern kids, the drive to Lake Tahoe felt nerve-wracking. We’re used to driving long, flat distances through corn fields on auto-drive, only pausing it to pass semis. You can’t do that here. The highway winds up through the mountains and around sharp curves hugging drop-offs that make your palms sweat.
Eventually we reached the lake. The cool Sonoma breeze felt like a good, distant dream. Having never visited the mountains, we assumed Lake Tahoe would be cool. During the day we sought shelter from the sun, and, at night, we reached for our sweatshirts.
We stayed at Sunnyside Resort on the north side of the lake. Years ago when my brother used to live in Tahoe, he gave us a gift certificate to the lodge, a gift challenged us to visit somewhere we’d never considered before.
We had no trouble booking a last-minute reservation midweek. Besides Sunnyside’s prime location and expansive waterfront deck, amenities include free wifi, parking, breakfast, and afternoon tea + cookies.
When I hear the description, “Continental Breakfast,” I envision pastries, cereal, and fruit. Sunnyside’s offers all of these things, plus eggbake (ham one morning, vegetarian the next), a food which easily wins my allegiance.
Onsite dining features an upscale dining room and more casual Mountain Grill. The appetizers we ordered tasted thoughtfully prepared. I was amused by how the wings arrived neatly lined-up in a row and fried calamari pieces were carefully pasted onto a smear of aoli.
From what I can gather, North Tahoe tends to run more expensive than the south. Although some restaurants do offer happy hours, many on the lake do not because they simply don’t have to.
There’s a little general store located across the parking lot to which Sunnyside kindly directed us. You can purchase everything from salads and paninis to frozen pizzas and beer.
Our Mountain Grill meals were tasty, with a price tag that matched the view. The sesame-coated salmon and mahi mahi in Jake’s fish tacos tasted especially fresh.
The patio quickly filled with customers and live music. Wasps followed the food. The woman at the North Tahoe CVB warned that wasps are especially fierce this time of year. She was right.
When you eat outside, there’s really only so much you can do. You are in their domain, after all. Our server brought over a ramekin of dryer sheets that was supposed to ward them away. We had better luck sacrificing a small piece of fish on the empty table next to us. This kept them occupied and full.
At dinner we noticed a pair of men sitting one table away, prompting us to do a double take. The younger man was sitting straight up with this eyes rolled back into his head while the older man was hunched over his burger. We didn’t want to make assumptions, wondering if they were saying grace, in a drugged-out stupor, or experiencing a medical emergency? Somehow, the man who looked like he was asleep never dropped his burger! The manager soon arrived to check on them. After a discreet conversation, he offered to pack their meals to-go. The man suspending his burger mid-air sprung to life. “Are you serious?” he replied. “I’m dead serious,” the manager said with a smile. And with that, they shrugged, gathered their food, and left.
We beat the Tahoe heat by jumping in the lake.
Signs of the drought in California were everywhere, from trickling creeks to restaurant signs alerting customers that, per state law, cups of water are only given upon request. Articles from late spring-early summer indicate that lake water levels are rising again.
Parking in Meek’s Bay‘s gravel lot costs $10 a car. A resort employee will give you a parking ticket to place in your windshield after you pay in the lobby. We added two cold beers for $7.
The beach here is sandy and the water is crystal clear. Other beaches are rocky and thick with boats. This is a swimmers-only paradise.
Keep in mind there is no shade around the shore. Bring a hat and pack your shades; you can’t hide from the sun. We envied those taking refuge beneath umbrellas and beach tents. A dip in the cool water remedied the heat.
As you wade farther from shore, the small rocks beneath your feet give way to smooth sand. The bottom gently slopes downward and you can actually wade away from the shore quite a ways, the bottom visible the entire way. When the water turns dark, you’ve reached the drop-off.
The water is still chilly in August. It’s impossible to ease into the water. I tried to adjust to the cool lake, inch by inch, but each gentle splash made me rethink the whole swimming endeavor.
Take heart and jump in. It’s the only way.