Tahoe, Yo!


Kayaking on Lake Tahoe at dawn.

The truth is, although I was a bona fide world traveler in my twenties, my thirties have seen me sticking rather closer to home.  As in, we pretty much go to Tahoe and that’s about it.  I sometimes look at friends who bundle their tots off to Italian ski resorts and Japanese food capitals and Spanish beaches and think, Huh.  So that’s a possibility.  But Tahoe is so close, and, with kids, so fabulously fun and so incredibly easy in that there is so much to do and so little formality.  My parents bought a condo there about ten years ago, and thanks to their generosity we have a little mountain home base where LittleMan and Babygirl have the chance to really live outside the city for several weeks out of the year, with all the sand and water and ice and wildlife they could ask for.

Over the years, a few of my various Facebook and Instagram acquaintances have inquired about the Tahoe fun-ness I post about, so after…oh…maybe, like, four years of promising I’m actually posting it!

Yes’m, this is happening NOW, for no particular reason other than that I finally got around to it.

A couple of caveats:

ONE: Obviously Tahoe is great for skiing and hiking and watersports.  I’m not going to waste your time writing about that.  This is more of an “everything else” kind of list.

TWO: Check websites and then call and double-check again.  Time in Tahoe tends to be a little…fluid.  Schedules can be unreliable.  Nothing is worse than bundling all your children and all their kit into the car and driving for forty minutes only to find that your chosen activity is closed for the day.  Or the season.

THREE: Everyone who spends time in Tahoe has her own favorites and must-do’s.  You’re going to send this Tahoe City post to your friend who has a place in Incline and she’s going to be all, “Girl, what?  No way!  Incline has the best beach.”  In that spirit, I am going to make an earnest call for audience participation here: feel free to add your favorites in the comments section and we can get a really comprehensive thing going.  Yeah!

Beyond the Slopes: The Official Less on the Floor Guide to Tahoe 

  • Anyone who spends any length of time in the Tahoe area with children under six or seven should absolutely get familiar with the KidZone Museum.   Located in a hangar in Truckee, it’s an indoor playspace with a science/geography educational bent: interactive exhibits, climbing structures, books, art room, and a big train table, and even a separate area for pre-walkers.  In the summer there is an outdoor play — but it’s ideal in the winter if you need a break from the cold.
  • Most people who are into sledding hit Granlibakken.  We did that last year, and honestly it was positively harrowing: a sheer cliff of ice with squads of teenagers rocketing at light speed.  Babygirl, who by nature is a little more daring than I might like, was terrified, and together we huddled at the bottom of the slope and hoped LittleMan and my husband would be safe.  So now, we go to Tahoe City Golf Course, a mellower, slower, softer sledding experience without the trauma. (They also offer cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and — oh yeah — nine holes of golf.)  Plus: the clubhouse.  Sunken bar, football on the TV, french fries, hot cocoa, and brews.  All in all, the perfect winter afternoon.

Sledding at Tahoe City Golf Course.  Note that everyone is smiling, not sobbing in terror.


  • With so many awesome outdoor activities, we sometimes struggle with what to do when the weather is bad; there are only so many hours of Play-Doh a family can take.  One stormy day last summer, a friend recommended Bowl Incline and we LOVE it: a tiny little arcade, a round of bowling, a bar, old-school vending machine.  It’s good old fashioned family fun.  (A quick bowling-related aside: Did you see this??  Hilaaaarious.  And also a little bit scary because this is totally LittleMan’s technique.)
  • My husband insists (and he’s right) that I cannot publish a Tahoe guide without including Video Stop: quite possibly the last (and best) surviving video store in America.  We spend HOURS here: it’s like being 13 again, when browsing every single title at Blockbuster constituted a rocking Friday night.  They have new releases (you know, the ones you usually stream on your portable electronic device in these modern times) as well as an enormous cache of family favorites, which we rent by the armload and binge watch all year long.  The owners’ knowledge of film is encyclopedic and joyful.  And they sell popcorn, give out Hershey kisses, and are conveniently located next to our favorite family restaurant in town (see below).
  • Every single day we are in Tahoe City, snow or rain or shine, we hit the Commons Beach and Playground.  This place is great.  There is space to run around, throw a frisbee, build a snowman, or simply explore the water’s edge.  There is a terrific playground suitable for pre-walkers to pre-teens.  You can rent kayaks and stand-up paddle boards right on the beach, and wade out into the water for crawdad fishing (pro tip: clip some salami to a string for bait).  In the summer they show family movies every Wednesday night, and hold funky Tahoe-style concerts every Sunday afternoon, and the whole town comes out and boogies and drinks and eats from food trucks while the kids run amok.  Honestly, there is probably something similar in Kings Beach (and in any other Tahoe town).  But we love our TC.

LittleMan looks for crawdads on Tahoe Commons Beach, 2009


Babygirl cruises the Tahoe City Bike Path in her concert festival dress. Oh, and the owner of Video Stop gave her that dinosaur when we rented Jurassic Park.

  • That said, the beach shots I post on Instagram are 90% taken at Meeks Bay.  Located on the West Shore, Meeks is a fantastic day trip (trust me on this and don’t resent the $10 price tag to enter and park).  Where a LOT of the Tahoe shoreline is rocky, Meeks boasts a soft, sandy beachfront, with clearly defined swimming areas and paddle boats and kayaks for rental.  There’s a shop where you can buy sundries (which in our case means beer and ice cream), as well as a proper snack shack/grill getup. The drawback is you really have to get to Meeks early; it’s also a “resort” (when you go, you’ll understand why I put that word in quotes) and a campground, so people grab the best beach real estate at dawn and take over with their beach tents and chairs and whatnot.  (Another pro tip: totally get a beach tent.  I spent about an hour playing Go Fish and Old Maid in our beach tent with the kids last summer, with ice cream melting everywhere and the little waves crashing in front of us, and honestly it was one of the best days of my life.)

Babygirl at Meeks Bay in the pre-beach-tent era, 2012. You see why I recommend this investment.

  • Speaking of resorts, Tahoe does have plenty of them, and even if you stay in town you can check out the Village at Northstar or Squaw Valley.  Both have loads of activities for kids in winter and summer (trampoline, zipline…and, yes, crafts), as well as pretty good restaurants and ridiculously expensive shopping.
  • Magic Carpet Golf.  Mini-golf and arcade.  ‘Nuff said.  Such a pretty drive to get there, too, no matter which direction you come from.  A little Journey on the radio, the sunroof open?  Perfection.
  • If you get bored of the lake (ha) the Truckee River also offers a little bit of something for everyone: a long, lovely bike and running path, lazy rafting in the summer (provided water levels are high enough), the chance to see salmon and trout, general splashing fun.
  • After all this fun you are probably hungry.  Our go-to spot is Tahoe Mountain Brewery.  This place opened about three years ago and every time we go we are reminded that it’s exactly what the town needed.  They are SO NICE and there are always lots of families there.  It’s less “formal” (can you say that about Tahoe?) than the ever-popular Jake’s on the Lake, with decent food and good beer (yes, we drink a lot of beer in Tahoe).  We also like the Bridgetender, but be warned that although many a child (ahem, LittleMan) has fallen happily asleep in a plateful of Bridgetender waffle fries, the place does not have high chairs, which can present a serious logistical issue when you have a squirmy toddler.
  • For date night, my husband and I always go to River Grill.  I just love this place.  We sit outside, and there is a fire pit and a solo guitarist strumming away…Sigh.  It is so worth it, despite the cost of the sitter.
  • Okay, I have to recommend Sierra Sitters.  The pricing is insane, but we figure it’s our treat to ourselves to have one adult night on vacation, and every sitter we’ve ever had has been wonderful.  As a bonus, they arrive with literally a suitcase full of toys and activities and supplies, which is totally ideal if you are staying in a hotel or a house that isn’t really set up for kids.  My kids have so much fun they barely notice we’re leaving.
My final pro tip: Go on a date in Tahoe — even if that date is with yourself.  Go on a hike or just wander along the Lake for an hour.  Breathe deeply.  Be silent.  Hold the hand of someone you love and don’t say anything or do anything for a little while.  Marvel at the scale of the mountains and the depth of the water.  Get up early and watch the sun rise over the Sierras.  Find a pier and count the boats as they come in at dusk.
I won’t speak for you, but I go and I go and I go and I go, and then we take a vacation and we go some more.
So wherever you go, wherever your travels take you: be sure to stop.  If only for a short time.  We call it Tahoe Time, and it’s the best part of it all.  Seriously.

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