When you circumnavigate Lake Tahoe's 72 miles of shoreline by car, the question is not "What do we do?" Rather, it's "What do we do next?"
If you've never driven around the 2 million-year-old lake, or haven't done so in awhile, you might take along Darin Talbot's self-guided tour, "Around Tahoe" ($19.95). The two-CD set features 48 tracks of Tahoe legends, history, tips and points of interest, plus songs written and sung by Talbot. It's informative, entertaining and good company.
Talbot is the Tahoe basin's resident troubadour-cheerleader. He's 37, grew up on the East Shore "enjoying the Tahoe outdoors lifestyle and then writing songs about it and singing them," he said.
"My dream has been to become Mr. Tahoe. I was always fascinated with how John Denver was connected to the Rocky Mountains and Jimmy Buffet to (the Florida Keys). So I thought I could do something like that with Lake Tahoe."
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Talbot is on track. Since 1999, he has released four Tahoe-related music CDs before the new "Around Tahoe," and now plays host aboard the Tahoe Queen paddlewheeler on its two daily sightseeing excursions from Ski Run Marina on the South Shore (Tuesdays-Sundays; 800-238-2463).
Meanwhile, our recent daylong journey included some of the attractions on "Around Tahoe," along with some of our own.
We started in Stateline on the South Shore and took Highway 50 toward the "Y," where 50 meets northbound Highway 89. The journey was clockwise, to keep the lake on the right.
Here's the rundown:
Harrah's is the dominant player on the Stateline casino-hotel scene. For dinner, consider Gi Fu Loh, a high-end Cantonese restaurant that recently lowered some of its prices (775-588-6611).
Much more casual is Fatburger. The juicy hamburgers are grilled to order and the banana milkshake is tops (775-588-6611).
Next door is Heavenly Village, a collection of shops and restaurants. There we found Explore Tahoe: An Urban Trailhead, a nerve center that details local outdoor recreational and cultural activities. It's a great place for guidance and directions (530-542-2908 and www. recreationintahoe.com/ explore_ tahoe).
The best attraction at the village is the gondola ride to Heavenly Mountain Resort ($26 to $30). First stop is the 17,600-square-foot metal deck, where "eco rangers" will fill in the details of the incredible view. At the summit, you'll find three hiking trails (easy, medium and difficult), a climbing wall, and food and drink. From there, you can access the Heavenly Flyer, a thrilling zip line ($40). Information: (775) 586-7000 and www.skiheavenly.com.
Also: Two of our favorite restaurants on this route are the Blue Water Bistro at Timber Cove Marina (530-541-0113) and Izzy's Burger Spa (530-544-5030).
At the "Y," we turned onto northbound Highway 89. For a bike ride, stop at Anderson's Bike Rentals at 13th Street, on the right. The 10-mile round-trip Forest Bicycle Trail begins just two blocks away (530-541-0500).
Near historic Camp Richardson Resort & Marina (founded in 1926; 800-544-1801) is the beachfront Beacon restaurant-bar, where the Rumrunner cocktail goes well with the excellent blackened mahi-mahi sandwich (530-541-0630).
Also nearby is the Tallac Historic Site, a multiacre compound of wood-and-stone buildings that once served as summer homes for wealthy families from San Francisco. The area offers walk-friendly trails, guided tours and special events (530-541-5227 and www.fs.fed.us/r5/ltbmu/ recreation/tallac).
Farther up Highway 89, on the right, is the Taylor Creek Visitor Center and children-friendly Rainbow Trail. A few hundred yards along on the left is the trail to the top of 9,735-foot Mount Tallac.
Many residents say "the West Shore is the best shore," which is debatable. However, the view of Emerald Bay from the vista point shows why it is said to be the second-most-photographed site in the United States, after Niagara Falls.
Back on the road, look on the left for the Eagle Falls Picnic Area parking lot; the trail to Upper Eagle Falls and Eagle Lake is there.
A hundred or so yards beyond that lot is another one, the Emerald Bay Overlook. Walk down the switchback logging road to Vikingsholm on the beach area of Emerald Bay – where there's a trail to Lower Eagle Falls.
Vikingsholm itself is a 38-room stone-and-wood mansion modeled after Swedish castles and Norwegian churches, and built in 1928. For tour details and other information: (530) 541-6498, (800) 777-0369 and www.vikingsholm.org/tours.html.
Continuing on Highway 89, we came to the Meeks Bay Resort & Marina (877-326-3357 and www.meeksbayresort.com), which offers powerboat and kayak rentals and an exquisite beach. Parking is $10 a day weekends, $7 a day weekdays. For cheaper parking – but a rockier beach – pull in to the Meeks Bay Campground a few hundred yards before the resort.
One of the most interesting attractions on the lake is the Pine Lodge, also called the Ehrman Mansion, at Sugar Pine Point State Park, on the right.
The compound was once the summer retreat of San Francisco banker Isaias Hellman and his family. Hellman built the main house – a turreted, three-story, 11,703-square-foot mini-castle – from native stone and lumber, completing it in 1902.
Tours ($5 adults, $3 ages 6-17) are at noon, 1 and 2 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, and on the hour from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekends through Sept. 30.
Make time to walk the delightful mile-long Dolder Nature Trail to Sugar Pine Point Lighthouse; the trailhead is just beyond the visitors center.
We found the Tahoe Maritime Museum in Homewood, a $4.3 million wood-and-glass marvel that displays a historical slice of boating on the lake .
Among the gorgeous mahogany Chris-Crafts and nautical memorabilia is the skeleton of the steam- powered "Shanghai" from the 1890s. The 25-foot launch was recovered from the depths off the Homewood shore.
Information: (530) 525-9253 and www.tahoemaritime.org. The museum's summer hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily except Wednesdays. Tours are 2 p.m. on weekend days through August.
The North Lake Tahoe Historical Society offers a free 90-minute guided walking tour of Tahoe City, with emphasis on practical information for families (activities, restaurants, bike rentals), plus history and local lore. The tour will start at 10 a.m. Aug. 8, 15 and 29 at the visitor information center, 380 N. Lake Blvd. (530-583-1762 and www.northtahoemuseums. org).
In Tahoe City, Highway 89 crosses Fanny Bridge and heads north toward Truckee while Highway 28 follows the lake toward Kings Beach.
An option is to stay on Highway 89 (turn left) and detour to Squaw Valley USA (530-583-6985 or www.squaw.com) and/or the Resort at Squaw Creek (530-583-6300 and www.squawcreek.com) for shopping, dining, activities, events and a general look-see. Along the way, look on the left for the River Ranch Lodge on the Truckee River (530-583-4264 and www.riverranchlodge.com). The patio hosts a nonstop party scene all summer.
If you make that left onto 89, turn right at Fairway, just past the Chevron station. A few blocks down is the trailhead to one of the legs of the Tahoe Rim Trail.
We turned onto Highway 28 and stopped at the lakeside Boatworks Mall. Inside, Jake's on the Lake has a solid menu served in an indoor stone-and wood restaurant and on the sunny deck (the place to be) overlooking the marina (530-583-0188 and www.jakestahoe.com).
Upstairs is Tahoe City Chocolates, where the blueberry-pecan-jalapeño cluster in dark chocolate is amazing.
We cruised along Highway 28, enjoying world-class views, and came to Captain Jon's restaurant in Tahoe Vista. The compound was built in 1903. The main restaurant and the deck are fine for dinner (seafood and steak specialties), and the Boathouse is ideal for a casual lunch and happy hour. It sits over the water, next to a dock (7220 N. Lake Blvd., 530-546-4819).
The Cal-Neva Resort in Crystal Bay straddles the California-Nevada state line. Literally, you can swim from state to state in the hotel pool and stand in the Indian Room with one foot in California and one in Nevada.
Though the "Lady of the Lake" is looking sleep-deprived, she's worth a visit because of her legendary past. Such as the drama during the 1960s involving Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack, Marilyn Monroe, John and Bobby Kennedy, and Chicago mobster Sam Giancana.
The Celebrity Showroom is dark, but the hallway leading to it is lined with photos of the stars who appeared there.
The Circle Bar – used as a set in a few movies – sits beneath a marvelous glass dome made of 7,000 pieces of hand-cut German crystal.
Information: (775) 832-4000 and www.calnevaresort.com.
In Incline Village, we turned right onto Lakeshore Boulevard and drove past multimillion-dollar homes to the gorgeous Lone Eagle Grille. The showcase restaurant is reminiscent of a massive Old Tahoe stone-and-wood lodge, but the shaded outdoor patio is better yet. As waves lapped the beach, we found the slushy tequila-based Golden Eagle cocktail to be the best of its kind on the lake. Signature dishes include wild salmon, buffalo tenderloin and seared elk chop (775-886-6733 and www.loneeaglegrille.com).
Yes, Sand Harbor State Park is home to the annual Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival (through Aug. 23), but don't overlook its boulder-strewn coves and sandy beaches. If you want a swim, it's one of the best sites on the lake (775-831-0494).
On the outskirts of Incline Village is the incredible Thunderbird Lodge, built between 1936 and 1940 by the late multimillionaire eccentric George Whittell Jr. The 40,000 acres of lakeside property he bought is why the East Shore is largely undeveloped to this day.
If you have time for only one special event, make it a tour of the multi-building compound.
There's no parking at the lodge, so arrange your visit via a reservation through www.tahoe.activitytickets.com or www.thunderbirdlodge. org.
The Tahoe Adventure Co. sponsors guided kayak tours out of Sand Harbor to the Thunderbird Lodge at 9 a.m. Tuesdays through Sept. 30 (other times and dates can be arranged). Once kayakers land at the beach, they get the full tour of the compound, followed by lunch. The price is $124.
Information: (530) 913-9212 and www. tahoeadventurecompany. com.
Also: Woodwind Cruises' classic motor yacht leaves for the lodge from the Tahoe Keys Marina (888-867-6394 or www.tahoeboatcruises. com).
As Highway 28 approaches Highway 50, look on the left for Spooner Lake State Park (775-831-0494). The two-mile loop trail around the tranquil lake features shaded benches and informational signage.
On westbound Highway 50, headed back to the South Shore, be on the lookout for Sam's Place on the left (775-588-2844). The pizza is good, the burgers are better. And while we're thinking about it, barkeep, we'll have another pitcher of cold beer. It's been a very long day.