Eastshore Drive: Best Views of Lake Tahoe
This drive around the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe packs an incredible amount of natural beauty into twenty-nine miles. In fact, it’s been designated a National Scenic Byway.
Start in Crystal Bay at the north end of the lake, by the California/Nevada state line. While you can travel from the south end of the lake toward the north, your lane will be the one hugging the mountain rather than abutting the lake and convenient pull offs.
The casinos in Crystal Bay seem to have endured one too many Sierra Nevadan winters. The buildings are weather-beaten and have an air of faint embarrassment, as if they unexpectedly had to answer the door and were forced to do so in threadbare pajamas. A few restaurants, stores and church and a bus stop complete Crystal Bay’s amenities.
After waving farewell to Crystal Bay, the scenic byway officially begins, as do the lake views. Lake Tahoe is an unexpectedly vivid blue, often marbled with turquoise, and framed by pine and fir trees.
If you want to take the Mount Rose Highway, or just drive the four miles to the panoramic overlook, take a detour up the 431 at the Incline Village traffic circle. This roundabout has a fetching carved bear at its center and the numerous ‘bear crossing’ signs in the area serve as a reminder that humans are not the only creatures to call Tahoe home.
To remain on the Eastshore Drive, follow Tahoe Boulevard (the 28) through Incline Village.
Incline Village has everything you need: a Raley’s supermarket, a liquor store, an urgent care facility and some of the more reasonable gas prices around the lake. It is also stuffed with artsy boutiques, like Handmade at the Lake. You can watch the owner work as you browse, and the fabric hanging from the walls makes the experience similar to being bundled up in one of the intricate quilts. Everything in the shop is handcrafted.
“Nothing here is made in China,” the owner assured me, a wry smile on her face. Other goods include pottery, jewelry and soaps.
Susie Scoops Ice Cream and Frozen Yogurt is in the same strip mall. The décor is baby shower meets bubblegum and the joint serves Dreyer’s products and offerings from the Tahoe Creamery. If you like your ice cream heavy on the cream, pick one of the Tahoe flavors. Lane chose the peach – one scoop is very generous, weighing in at about 6oz – and proceeded to rhapsodize about it for the next few miles.
If you’re Jonesing for coffee don’t cave when you see Starbucks. Stay the course and pull in at the IV Coffee Lab. This locals’ hang out has an industrial vibe and seriously good customer service. I’ve never been asked if I wanted my drink at ‘kid temperature’ before. It was almost enough to make me borrow the nearest child, just so I could answer yes. There are several blends available and they are wake-a-bear-from-hibernation strong. Not up for mountain strength beans? Even the non-fat hot chocolate tastes rich and gives you that cozy ‘cabin at the lake’ feel. Don’t leave without picking up some fresh bagels (made by the Truckee Bagel Company).
After Incline Village, watch for the visitor’s center on your right. There are bathroom facilities and numerous fliers if you’re stumped for entertainment ideas.
A mile further along Tahoe Boulevard is a scenic overlook. Visitors are only permitted to park for twenty minutes, which is a pity because a path leads down to one of the lake’s best photo ops. Informational signs provide details about Tahoe and its environment. You can pose against some of the boulders that line the shore.
For a more leisurely waterside experience, drive into Sand Harbor, where there is beach and water access, a nature trail and unbeatable views.
The road starts to climb upward then veers inland, bisecting a sprawling mountain meadow. Spooner Lake is on the left if you fancy a spot of fishing. (Your catch is limited to five fish.)
Where the 28 connects with the 50 (also called the Lincoln Highway) keep to the right. Turning left will lead you to Carson City, and you want to stay on the Eastshore Drive.
From here, the road returns to the rim of the lake, via a tunnel bored through the center of Cave Rock. The opposite side of the tunnel is cement lined, but the southbound portion has a rough, craggy surface.
Cave Rock is sacred to the Washoe tribe. Unfortunately, when tunnel construction began in 1931, authorities did not take tribal concerns into consideration. The situation has improved in recent years, when tribe members were finally heard and they were able to restrict recreational activities (like rock climbing) around Cave Rock.
The turnoff for Cave Rock State Park is near the bottom of the hill. This pocket-sized park has a small strip of beach, where swimming and snorkeling are allowed. You can fish from the rocks and there’s also a boat launch. Tahoe is battling the invasion of non-native species such as the Zebra and Quagga mussels. As a result, you need a boat inspection before hitting the water. Please note that every state park we encountered in the Tahoe area charges entry fees on a per vehicle basis (usually between $6-$15).
Next up is the village of Zephyr Cove, where we rented a cabin. We found it a relaxed, peaceful place to stay, as it is well away from the bustle of the casinos. Zephyr Cove has the basics and the Round Hill Village section provides a large Safeway, gas, a bank, and a few restaurants. It is also the place where you can board a paddlewheeler for a cruise across Lake Tahoe.
You’ll know when you’re nearing the Stateline and the end of this drive because the pace of life picks up dramatically. Trees are dwarfed by the Harrah’s and Montbleu casinos and stores are no longer prefaced by the word ‘general.’ The Stateline is the official end of Eastshore Drive.
Hungry? Don’t miss the popular Sushi Pier (on your left, at the entrance to South Lake Tahoe). Aim to show up at happy hour for a killer deal on sake. Sushi Pier offers all-you-can-eat-sushi (contingent on customers consuming the rice as well). The portions are generous and the quality high. The salmon teriyaki was extremely fresh, presumably because salmon is local to the Tahoe area. The sauce lacked the cloying taste that can spoil a teriyaki dish.
Although we were on the Nevada side of the line, Lane pronounced her California roll the best she’s ever tasted (quite the compliment as she’s played the field when it comes to sushi). The restaurant’s California rolls are heavy on the crab and served with orange roe. Lane also inhaled the chicken Katsu skewers (although thankfully not the actual skewers)!
If you’re feeling gutsy, cross into California to visit Emerald Bay, a spot that is extremely popular with photographers.
This is one of those instances where the term ‘scenic view’ signals a nerve jangling drive. We thought the vista outweighed the terror, as the section without guardrails was fairly short. Do you agree?
- You could spend two days exploring all the coves and recreational activities along this drive. A straight drive between the two stateliness takes roughly 45 mins. To complete our version of Eastshore Drive along with the stops mentioned, allow 2-3 hours. You’ll need longer if you plan to do additional shopping in Incline Village or South Lake Tahoe, or if you intend to peel off at Sand Harbor or eat at Sushi Pier.
- Be aware that, although dogs are allowed in some of the state parks, we were unable to find a dog-friendly beach in the Tahoe area.