A four hour drive from San Francisco brings you to one of the most breathtakingly beautiful lakes in the world. The border between California and Nevada bisects the Lake, which is over six thousand feet above sea level. The water is so cold that cowboys drowned in past centuries are said to be perfectly preserved on the bottom.
Lake Tahoe offers the choicest selection of ski-ing in the US in winter, and a centre of a host of outdoor pursuits in summer, OutUK's Stevie Gardiner has been exploring this unique holiday destination.
Just hours from the desert plain that Sacramento sits in, Lake Tahoe is set amidst tall granite peaks and thickly wooded forests. Think a massive Norwegian fjord and you've got a perfect picture of what Lake Tahoe is like. In the summer the towns and campsites around the lake are full of jetskiers, sailors and anglers, while in the winter months it's skiers and snowboarders.
Courtesy LTVA.
There's an extra attraction too. The fact that it's on the California/Nevada border means that cross one street and you go from pine forest surrounded chalets and low-rise motels, to a mini-Las Vegas with casinos such as Harrah's and Caesar's Palace in the town of Stateline. While it makes the place pretty schizophrenic, it does mean that whatever time of year you go, you can get fit during the day , and get plenty of Las Vegas style nightlife and gambling the rest of the time. The casinos also pay a fortune to keep the roads open, so however much it snows, you'll always be able to get to the slots.
Look west and it's California, look east and it's Nevada.


No-one goes to Lake Tahoe for the gay nightlife. There's only one specifically gay bar on the Lake which is Faces. It's really just a neigbourhood bar and features a pool table, fireplace, arcade games and dancing, though it is open till 4am seven nights a week. The fact is that most everyone gravitates to the casinos which offer 24 hour food, drink and gambling at least once during their stay. If you're a ski or snowboarder then you might want to come for the gay Winterfest which takes place every March.


South Lake Tahoe is a popular weekend destination for people from San Francisco and Sacramento, but you can often get good deals midweek. The casino hotels offer standard Las Vegas style accommodation with the usual all-you-can eat buffets, and there are the usual American chains too. But if you want to experience the best of Tahoe you should try a bed-and-breakfast, which bear no comparison with their English equivalent
We stayed at the beautiful Black Bear Inn which in a few years has amassed an excellent reputation for luxury and hospitality. Described as "straight-friendly" by co-owners and partners Jerry Birdwell and Kevin Chandler, it's a lovingly recreated development of three alpine style wooden cabins and a main lodge with five guest bedrooms.
It's furnished with impeccable taste and a mixture of original antiques and designer furnishings.

Set amongst pine trees and gardens there's a hot tub to replenish weary limbs after a day's snowboarding or hiking, and it's minutes away from the lift to the Heavenly ski run and just a five minute drive from the casinos in Stateline. Like the name suggests, the views from Heavenly's runs are stunning.

The rear of The Main Lodge overlooking the garden.
The Black Bear cost a cool two million dollars to create, and offers a sensational mix of traditional Tahoe hospitality and contemporary facilties. Every evening at 5 there's complimentary wine and cheese so you can get to know your fellow guests, and a sensational home-cooked gourmet breakfast featuring dishes like Eggs Benedict every morning.
Jerry and Kevin, co-owners of the Black Bear Inn, are exceptionally proud of what they've created. "We wanted to retire and get out of the rat race in Dallas, so we just decided we would open a bed and breakfast" said Jerry. "We found this property, we designed the entire project and had it built. We had a local architect we worked with, but we wanted the rustic Tahoe look." "We wanted to build something that was new, but looked like it had been here for many years," added Kevin.
Owners Jerry Birdwell and Kevin Chandler.
Believe it or not it was dealing with the local bureaucracy which was the biggest challenge. "It took us three years to acquire the permits because of the environmental aspects of the Lake, that was the worse part."
Jerry, a former Judge and defence attorney, and Kevin, a software engineer, both love the Lake and the surrounding mountains.

"The winters are a great season because of the ski resorts, the summers are great too because you've got boating, biking, hiking just a lot of outdoor activities around here."

The Hot Tub and one of the luxury Chalets.
Kevin says "We want guests to come here and be able to relax and feel like they're in one of the lodges of the Old West." For both of them, running the Inn is a labour of love, but they feel it's definitely worth it. "Everybody who comes here is in a good mood, happy and on vacation."


Virgin and British Airways fly non-stop to San Francisco and it's a simple four-hour drive to South Lake Tahoe, but beware the Friday night traffic getting out of the Bay Area. You can also fly to Reno-Tahoe airport and there's a coach transfer to South Lake Tahoe. Lake Tahoe airport is closer but offers more limited services.


Black Bear Inn (1202 Ski Run Blvd. South Lake Tahoe CA96150; T: +1(530) 544-4451) Website
Faces (Kingsbury Grade off Highway 50; T: +1(775) 588-2333)
Lake Tahoe Visitors Guide Website
Lake Tahoe Ski Information Website

Revised February 2015.


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