The Tao of Tahoe

A longtime coastal chauvinist finds a reason to head east

Photo Illustration by Michele Brown

Editor’s note: Many times, people come up to me, and they say, “Ahnold, if summer in Sacramento is so fantastic, how come you spend so little time here?”

And do you know what I tell those people?

I tell them that the reason I am always on the road is because there are so many other fantastic places just beyond Sacramento where you can go and meet up with the real everyday people of California.

On just a single tank of gas, you can head east and in no time arrive at the Cameron Park Applebee’s. Go west, and you’ll be amazed at what fantastic values can be found at the Vacaville Wal-Mart.

In fact, I frequently fly to Florida, Texas, Washington and other places where I can learn more about the real issues facing Californians and how to solve them.

So, for this Summer Guide, I told the SN&R writers that it’s time to get rid of the boxes--blow them up!--and let people know how to really enjoy Sacramento without actually being here.

By SN&R Summer Guide Team

I used to be a snob for the west.

I’d commuted east down Interstate 80 into Sacramento to work for a couple of decades, so I was justifiably primed to sprint in the exact opposite direction whenever it came time for a break. West was escape. West was freedom. Plus (let’s face it) west had an ocean, that city, a bay, that vibrancy, those bridges … did I mention an ocean?

But this time, for a change, for an anniversary, my husband and I determined to head east.

Forget the ocean. We found a lake.

OK, OK, let’s back up a second. Perhaps you suffer, like I used to, from the notion that Lake Tahoe exists only for the happy people of Ski Nation, with their weekend condos and shiny utility vehicles that tow enormous speed boats in summer. Well, uh, yeah. That’s at least partially true. I’d been to Tahoe before—to the north side at least—and found the experience off-putting, with those swarming casino crowds, touristy shopping malls and gargantuan homes hogging up shorefront views. Plus, there seemed to be few public spaces where regular people could enjoy the area’s pristine beaches, lakeside views and sunset walks.

But my perceptions were about to be turned around. Based on a tip from a friend, we reserved a pine cabin on the lake at Zephyr Cove Resort near South Lake Tahoe, about four miles past Stateline, Nev., where California meets Nevada.

The weekend put an end to my stereotyping.

Zephyr Cove (online at is old but new, with a lodge right there on Highway 50 that, it turns out, skirts a lake instead of the suburban sprawl that has yet to reach that far east. The place has an RV campsite (on the non-lake side of the highway); a restaurant (great brunches!); cabins and two-story chalets (get one facing the lake); and a dock that’s home to an old-time paddle boat (think the Delta Queen but actually mobile) that offers paying customers tours (with daily sunset trips) of the lake and, especially, gorgeous Emerald Bay.

We stayed at a cabin (some of them allow you to bring your dog!) with a deck facing right out at the lake. It’s true that our timing may have been especially good—we were there in April (i.e., between the peak seasons of winter and summer)—but the place (even with its working volleyball courts) seemed specially built in order to feel only sparsely populated. A walk along a shorefront path takes you from your cabin to the dock and then onto a public-access beach—the kind I used to think didn’t exist in Tahoe.

What my husband and I tend to do on weekend retreats is a lot of walking, talking and reflecting. Zephyr Cove was meant for such stuff. But folks seeking a more vigorous itinerary can easily head the few miles back to Stateline and hit the casinos, restaurants, night scene and shopping galore. Also, you don’t have to be a skier or snowboarder to get on the Heavenly gondola for a vertigo-inducing ride up to the top of the mountain, with its reputed best view of the lake.

Saturday night, we sat on a carved-out tree trunk looking out at the magnificent lake as the sun slowly sank purple over the scene with its snow-peaked mountains in the far view. We sipped wine. We marveled. We went outward and upward and inward at once.

It’s true we were not alone. An Indian family—grandparents and a young couple holding a newborn—drifted by equally enthralled by the sunset scene and their newest family member. A young woman dived fully clothed out into the icy lake to impress her boyfriend. A group of teenagers got off a bus and ran onto the beach right as the sun diminished. One of them jumped on a rock right as the sky went crimson, raised his arms to the lake and declared to all within earshot, “I’m king of the world!”

In a based-on-real-life book called The Power of One, author Bryce Courtenay writes, “The answer to any question you could wish to know can be found in nature.” I always thought he meant (like it says in the Tao Te Ching) that the universe already has all the answers—we just have to find a frequency with which to tune those answers in. For me, being in settings of natural beauty is as close as I ever get to that frequency. Or something like that.

I’d already asked for some answers west at an ocean. Now I knew it was possible to do the same east on a lake.