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Sierras & Gold Country Vacation and Travel Guide

Lake Tahoe Tourist Attractions

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No matter the season, Lake Tahoe’s pristine beauty makes it an ideal destination for your California vacation, holiday or weekend getaway. How can you miss, really, when your playground includes America’s second-deepest natural lake, some of its most spectacular mountains, 274 days of sun, 300+ inches of snow and year-round activities for kids of all ages? Indeed, the variety of ways you can spend your time may be the most inviting of all Lake Tahoe tourist attractions!

You’ll find over 15 alpine resorts and numerous cross country skiing centers (as well as a whole host of other wintertime activities such as snowmobiling, snow-shoeing and snow-tubing, ice skating and sleigh rides), and summer brings just about every imaginable outdoor recreation to the table (boating, parasailing, water skiing, kayaking, fishing, biking, horseback riding, rafting, rock climbing, hiking, camping, tennis, golf, hot-air ballooning, hang-gliding and helicopter tours).

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Then, of course, there’s also the razzle-dazzle of the casinos’ year-round fun (including featured performers, cabarets and musical reviews). There are five casino resorts in South Lake Tahoe and another three in North Lake Tahoe.

There are also some interesting homes remaining from the days when Northern California’s wealthiest families built summer lake residences (perhaps the closest thing to “Lake Tahoe tourist attractions” that you will find) and some interesting museum offerings, as well. From north to south, they include:

Emigrant Trail Museum, Truckee – Located in the Donner State Memorial Park and open year-round, this museum focuses on the people who were prominent in the area’s history, including local Native Americans, the ill-fated 1846 Donner Party and the Chinese laborers who built the Central Pacific Railroad (the California-to-Utah portion of North America’s first transcontinental railroad). Pioneer Monument nearby depicts the Donner Party’s Murphy family cabin site and the depth of snowfall that tragic year. A self-guiding nature trail (a one-half-mile loop) begins at the museum, and staff-led hikes, special events and campfires start in late June. (parks.ca.gov/?page_id=503)

Downtown Truckee - Lake Tahoe tourist attractions

Historic Downtown Truckee – This old logging, mining and railroad town preserves much of its original architecture in what are now distinctive shops, excellent restaurants and fun bars. (Fun bars count as Lake Tahoe tourist attractions, right?) (truckeehistory.org)

Squaw Valley Ski Resort, Squaw Valley – Host to the 1960 Winter Olympics, you can enjoy breathtaking views of Lake Tahoe and the High Sierras on a cable car ride to High Camp, where dining, ice skating and other fun activities are available. (squaw.com)

Gatekeeper’s Museum, Tahoe City – Sitting on the location of a known Washoe Indian campsite, this eclectic Tahoe history collection includes photographs, maps, written materials, artifacts, clothing and furniture. The museum is now open year-round; please see website for further information. (northtahoemuseums.org/gatekeeper)

Marion Steinbach Indian Basket Museum, Tahoe City – Added to the Gatekeeper’s Museum in 1992, this world-class collection includes over 800 utilitarian and fine baskets from 85 tribes throughout western North America. (northtahoemuseums.org/basket)

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Watson Cabin, Tahoe City – This 1909 log cabin is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the oldest house built on site in Tahoe City and currently serves as a living history exhibit showcasing Lake Tahoe pioneer life. The cabin is open Memorial Day through Labor Day. (northtahoemuseums.org/watson)

Tahoe Maritime Museum, Homewood – This museum preserves and celebrates Tahoe’s intriguing maritime history and is open from Memorial Day through Labor Day. The collection includes eight boats (including Shanghai, an 1890s launch discovered on the lake bottom), an engine collection and a steamer room. Activities for children (including line tying, boat building, watercolors and arts and crafts) are featured making it a popular Lake Tahoe tourist attraction for families. (tahoemaritimemuseum.org)

Hellman-Erhman Mansion, Tahoma – From the turn of the century until 1965, the lands of what is now Sugar Pine Point State Park were owned by financier Isaias W. Hellman, and later by his daughter Florence Hellman Erhman. This Queen Anne Victorian, a grand-but-informal summer home they called Pine Lodge, is a remembrance of the opulent post-mining period when wealthy businessmen built elegant summer homes at Lake Tahoe. Tours are available Memorial Day through Labor Day; please call for parking information. (parks.ca.gov/?page_id=991)

Vikingsholm Door - Lake Tahoe tourist attractions

Vikingsholm, Emerald Bay – Built as a summer home by Mrs. Lora Josephine Knight in 1929, this magnificent “castle” – a unique blend of Nature’s spectacular beauty and man’s architectural ingenuity – is now part of the Emerald Bay State Park. Tours are available seven days a week from mid-June until the end of September. A short trail leads from the castle to beautiful Eagle Falls – it’s a must-do for hikers! Emerald Bay has been declared a National Natural Landmark, and when you see it you’ll know why. (vikingsholm.com)

Tallac Historic Site, near South Lake Tahoe – Home to the archeological remains of the Tallac Resort and three large summer estates built by wealthy San Franciscans, this 74-acre tract is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The three estates – the Pope, Baldwin and Valhalla – are open to the public in different capacities. The Pope Estate, built in 1894, is open for guided tours and houses changing art exhibits, while Valhalla, built in 1923, is a Grand Hall with beautiful wood floors and a 20-foot-high stone fireplace. It is now the site of summer concerts and the Cultural Arts Gift Store, and it is also available for rental. (valhallatahoe.com/visiting)

Heavenly Gondola and Adventure Peak, near Stateline – This year-round sightseeing opportunity is a must-see-and-do attraction. Eight-passenger gondola cabins whisk you 2.4 miles up the mountain, and in 12 minutes you arrive at Adventure Peak, complete with restaurant, cross-country ski rentals and trails, snowshoe rentals, snowbike rentals and more!

The Thunderbird Lodge, Lake Tahoe, NV – This six-acre estate (previously known as the Whittell Estate) is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and is one of the last and best examples of a “Tahoe society” residence. Located on the east side of the lake, it is surrounded by over 40,000 acres of Forest Service and Nevada State Parks land. Open for guided tours Tuesday through Saturday from June through mid-October (and other times by prior arrangement), visitors may arrive via land-based shuttle buses or by water on a tour boat embarking from South Lake Tahoe’s Tahoe Keys Marina. (thunderbirdlodge.org)

A sightseeing cruise offers an enjoyable “overview” of Lake Tahoe tourist attractions, and Woodwind Cruises 80-foot motor yacht “Safari Rose” will help you sightsee in Lake Tahoe with style. Departing from Tahoe Keys Marina, the four-hour tour includes stops and/or photo opportunities at Fleur-du-Lac (the estate where the movie “Godfather II” was filmed which is now a private resort), historic Chambers Landing, Sugar Pine Point State Park (site of the Hellman-Ehrman Mansion), Fannette Island (for Eagle Falls and the Vikingsholm Mansion) and the Tallac historic site. (sailwoodwind.com/westshorecruise.htm)

Photo of Truckee by zemistor via flickr (Creative Commons); Photo of Vikingsholm door by Vards Uzvards via impernity (Creative Commons).

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Related posts:

Lake Tahoe Tourist Information

Sierras and Gold Country Vacation Ideas

Planning Your Gold Country Vacation or Getaway

Misc. Travel Resources

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