A locals’ guide to bar hopping by boat, responsibly, around Lake Tahoe

Wakeboarding in Stillwater Cove, near Crystal Bay on Lake Tahoe’s North Shore, is a great way to start your boating adventures. Photo: Eric Gwiazdowski
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published in the Summer 2017 edition of Tahoe Magazine. It was first published on this website in August 2018 and is presented in its original form.

The number one reason why many people come to Lake Tahoe is because they are drawn to the big blue body of water that offers many opportunities to cool off and recreate on a hot summer day.

There is a lot you can do on the lake, from wakeboarding, parasailing and jet skiing to just cruising around and taking a peek at the backyards of the million dollar houses on Lakeshore Bulevard.

However, a lot of people don’t realize that Lake Tahoe is also unique in the sense it offers easy access to on-water restaurants and bars dotted all around it.

On a friend’s first visit to Lake Tahoe from Costa Rica last summer, we did a day-long marathon session on the boat, starting at 8 a.m. and getting back in when the afternoon wind kicked up at about 6 p.m.

We launched from Lake Forest in Tahoe City and worked our way down to South Shore on the west end of the lake, stopping at Tahoe City, Sunnyside, Camp Richardson, Emerald Bay and the Tahoe Keys along the way.

Along with enjoying some of Lake Tahoe’s signature cocktails (alcoholic and non-alcoholic, of course), we did a little wakeboarding, wake surfing and hiking up to the Vikingsholm tea house on the very much photographed Fannette Island.

For someone who had never been to Lake Tahoe, Charlie had a hell of a good time and created a ton of memories for his first United States experience.

So if you can get access to a boat and want to enjoy all that Lake Tahoe has to offer, consider grabbing a bite to eat or a signature drink at one of these on-water spots to break up your day out on the lake. And, of course, please drink responsibly:

Northeast Shore:

If you launch from Sand Harbor on the East Shore of Lake Tahoe, here are some nearby spots to pull the boat up at:

Pier 111: If you head north toward Incline Village, you may want to make a pit stop at the 275-foot floating dock attached to the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe’s private beach. A favorite place for locals and visitors alike, Pier 111 serves creative cocktails all summer long.

Char-Pit Sand Harbor: If you decide to stay close to the boat ramp or get tired out wakeboarding along the East Shore, you can go right back to Sand Harbor State Park to grab a bite to eat at Char-Pit. Although it can get busy in the summer, the Char-Pit hut serves the standard burgers, fries and shakes, along with tacos, portabella burgers and a variety of beers on tap.

Week day mornings at the beaches on Lake Tahoe’s East Shore, if timed right, offer plenty of solace for boaters. Photo: Eric Gwiazdowski

Southeast Shore:

If you launch from Cave Rock on Highway 50 heading toward South Lake Tahoe, here are some places you can zip on over to if you need any food, drinks, provisions, or just need to spend some time on the beach:

Zephyr Cove: At this popular marina, you can grab a bite to eat at the park’s restaurant, do some shopping at the Zephyr Cove Lodge gift shop and general store, or just suntan on the beach for a while and relax with a cocktail at the Sunset Bar & Grille. There is plenty to see and do here even if you don’t have a boat, including parasailing and fishing, as well as horseback riding offered across the street. It’s also fun to launch from here and take the boat to Edgewood Tahoe during the American Century Championship celebrity golf tournament (July 11-16 this year) and join the festivities on the beach while Charles Barkley and Justin Timberlake are teeing off.

South Shore:

There are all kinds of activity happening around the south side of the lake and plenty to see and do on and off the water. Here are some places to launch and troll around:

Round Hill Pines: Past Zephyr Cove but before Nevada Beach, this huge pier and mooring field offers a place to tie up and grab a burger at the Beach Grill or Rum Bar. Plant your toes in the sand for a bit and cool down in the hot Tahoe sun with the Pain Killer — Round Hill Pines’ signature drink made of pineapple, coconut, a variety of rums and a special secret ingredient.

Ski Run Marina: There are plenty of boutique shops, art galleries and restaurants all within a few hundred yards of where you can tie up and stretch your sea legs. Stop by the Riva Grill and grab a signature Wet Woody frozen cocktail as you admire the dramatic emerald blue waters off the South Lake shoreline.

El Dorado Beach and Boat Ramp: When water levels are up, this is a good beach to tie up to the floating dock, grab a water toy at the nearby concession stand, throw a blanket down and sunbathe on the turf, hold a picnic and rehydrate. This beach is right past the casinos with a bike trail that runs alongside it and is right next door to the Beachcomber Inn.

Take a break from boating and swim over to Fannette Island in Emerald Bay; this is the view from inside the tea house at the top. Photo: Eric Gwiazdowski

Southwest Shore:

As you make your way up toward the West Shore, it’s fun to check out the houses through the Tahoe Keys, take a jaunt around Emerald Bay and watch people jumping off rocks at D.L. Bliss. But before you get too far west, check out:

The Beacon: Located at Camp Richardson, The Beacon Bar and Grill is home of its special Rum Runner mix that has been voted Tahoe’s Best Drink year after year. Along with a cup of the special fruit juice, nectar and rum blend, there’s a good chance you can catch some live music and let loose on the dance floor.

West Shore:

Continuing up the Rubicon Bay and Sugar Pine Point State Park, there’s another cluster of on-the-water bars along the West Shore with boat ramps at Obexer’s and the Homewood Marina. Or if you are coming from the North Shore, the Lake Forest Boat Ramp offers a safe harbor and plenty of parking close to all of the West Shore bars. In between wakeboarding sets, here are some places to grab some food and a drink:

Chambers Landing: Built in the late 1800s, this small wooden clubhouse sits perched out on the lake as Lake Tahoe’s oldest bar. In 1920, the property was sold to David Henry Chambers, hence the name. This historic site is more accessible by boat than by land and has plenty of moorings around its floating dock. It’s a must-visit on your West Shore day on the lake.

West Shore Café: Across the street from Homewood, this upscale café has a nice shaded patio and offers an incredible sunrise (just in case you want to get some early morning fishing in). Offering a full bar with wine, beer and cocktails, it’s easy to get sucked in and stay a bit longer than intended, especially if you consume too many Mountain Mules (made with Tahoe Blue Vodka, lemon, fruit puree, and topped with ginger beer).

Sunnyside Restaurant and Lodge: Despite its name, Hurricane Bay gets good smooth water great for wakeboarding, paddleboarding and other water activities, and luckily the Sunnyside Market, restaurant, and on-water gas station are right within paddling distance too. While you fill up the tank, feel free to indulge in some pub grub including fish tacos and rice bowls with a special Sunnyside margarita or non-alcoholic selections like a cucumber soda or First Breeze.

Tahoe City Marina: Motor 10-15 minutes north by boat and tie up at the Tahoe City Marina to see what’s going on in town. Right next to the Boatworks Mall, Jake’s on the Lake and Commons Beach, the marina has several short-term tie up spots on the dock with lots of entertainment, dining, and recreation opportunities next to the marina.

North Shore:

In the dead center of North Lake Tahoe, the Tahoe Vista Boat Launch is a hop, skip and a jump away from popular sitting spots like Garwoods and Captain Jon’s. Although the Kings Beach pier about 20 minutes to the east, it is hard to access in low water conditions and already highly used by parasail and commercial ski companies.

Garwoods: As the North Shore sister restaurant to South Tahoe’s Riva Grill, this gorgeous Carnelian Bay setting also features the Wet Woody, a blended rum drink with Bacardi 151 floater. However, if you’ve had the Wet Woody before and want to try something a little different, go for the Wet Dream — that same rum punch blend with added cream and a Sailor Jerry’s floater. It tastes like a Creamsicle.

Captain Jon’s: Built in 1909, this boathouse was once a waterfront casino, post office and a stop for those cruising on the Tahoe Steamer. Within walking distance to the Tahoe Vista Boat Launch, Captain Jon’s hosts an all-day Happy Hour on Mondays with $7 appetizers and specials on Beach Whiskey drinks that are smooth and clear just like Lake Tahoe.

Wrapping up the day:

From Tahoe Vista you can cruise past Kings Beach and around the corner over to Crystal Bay and relax in the deepest part of the lake, or hug the Crystal Bay shoreline to get the smoothest water for wakeboarding.

Motor along toward the east and view the backsides of the Lakeshore Drive homes, as well as the three restricted-access beaches owned by the Incline Village General Improvement District.

No matter how many stops you get in, you’re bound to have a good day by simply having the luxury of being on Lake Tahoe … until the wind kicks up.

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