Lake Tahoe may look like one blue blob on the map, but insiders know it as a place of multiple moods, faces and personalities. On the one hand, there’s the "Nevada (east) side" of the lake, which has gaming; and the "California (west) side," which does not.
From a psychological, practical and marketing standpoint, however, the more significant way to think about Tahoe is not east/west, but north/ south. Picture Lake Tahoe as an oval set on end, draw a horizontal line across it about halfway down, and you get the idea.
The "North Shore" and "South Shore" each encompass pieces of California and Nevada, but their personalities are relatively distinct.
In a nutshell: South Shore’s reputation is centered on the highrise casino hotels that provide round-the-clock action at the southern tip of the lake. North Shore is known for smaller, quieter venues tied to outdoor pursuits.
>>Where Meetings and Nature Converge
Kym Dreher, events manager for the Sacramento-based California Landscape Contractors Association, gravitates to the North Shore for just that reason.
She chose the Village at Squaw Valley USA as a venue for the organization’s "Family Extravaganza" meeting last summer because of its position as a launching pad for outdoor activities ranging from hiking and ice-skating to whitewater rafting and golf.
"Plus," Dreher notes, "there were kitchens in the rooms, so families didn’t have to go out."
The North Shore is home to all but two of the Tahoe Basin’s 17 winter snow-sport resorts, which are concentrated on the crest of the Sierra. Two of them, Squaw Valley USA and NorthStar-at-Tahoe, boast extensive on-site lodging and meeting facilities at the base areas and have well developed summer recreation programs.
The region’s population nucleus is Truckee, a 19th-century mining town that in recent years has become not just a four-season tourist magnet with great shopping, but a restaurant mecca that has attracted some of the country’s top chefs.
Its best known eatery is Moodys Bistro & Lounge, where the eclectic menu features fresh, locally-sourced food and a music venue plays host to nationally touring jazz acts. Celebrities frequently turn up here, among them Paul McCartney, who has sat in more than once on a jam session.
One of the newer dining venues in town is Jax at the Tracks, housed in a landmark 1940s-era streamline moderne diner and offering what owner Bud Haley calls "decadent comfort food with an edge."
"America is a melting pot, so we’ve taken ideas from many areas and made them our own," Haley says of the eclectic menu that includes such specialties as Kobe meatloaf and crab-cake sliders. With a private dining room that can seat 60 to 70 and entrees that top out at $23, Jax is an appealing venue for groups on a moderate budget.
For innovative style, intimate feel and definite "green appeal," North Shore’s standout venue is Cedar House Sport Hotel, a new, 41-room lodge and conference center that takes its cues from European ski hotels, but with a twist.
The innovative architecture fuses recycled cedar, a garden roof and other green building features with an environmentally conscious yet thoroughly user-friendly eco-vibe.
Cedar House has no sit-down restaurant as such, but a hearty breakfast and afternoon antipasto spread are included in the rates. An onsite culinary venue, Stella, functions as a cooking club, demonstration kitchen, breakfast room and dining venue for meeting and event guests.
Last year, owners Jeff and Patty Baird opened a stunning new conference and event center connected to Stella by a pair of patios. It includes an intimate meeting or dining space for 10 to 12 as well as a main meeting room, with full AV capability, that can accommodate 30-80 participants.
"During non-snow season, this facility is totally indoor-outdoor," emphasizes Patty Baird, who, in keeping with the "sport hotel" concept, customizes outdoor activities for meeting and retreat groups as well as regular hotel guests. "Everything here is sized to about 80 people," she says, "although in summer we can host from 125 to 140."
Because of its small size, Cedar House also can offer a complete buy-out of the property to groups holding meetings and events on site.
Also new on the North Shore is the long-awaited The Ritz-Carlton Highlands, Lake Tahoe, a spectacular new luxury resort that opened in December 2010 at the Northstar-at-Tahoe resort.
Perched like a castle on a ski-in, ski-out site at mid-mountain, the six story, 170- room property takes its architectural cues from classic mountain retreats like the Ahwahnee in Yosemite and Timberline Lodge at Mount Hood. The awe-inspiring lobby is centered by a massive, 55-foot-high stone tower that spirals up several levels past five fireplaces with sitting areas.
Earth-tone colors and a tree theme predominate throughout the property, with natural light pouring into hallways and public areas. Event spaces include two ballrooms, two pre-function areas, a boardroom, five flexible meting rooms and a stunning terrace with dramatic fire and water features and panoramic views.
"The interior catering space can service two functions simultaneously," notes Steven Holt, public relations director for the property.
The newest Ritz also features a 17,000-square-foot spa and a signature restaurant, Manzanita, overseen by San Francisco chef Tracy Des Jardins.
While the North Shore has its share of high-end properties, it’s also home to more modest but highly popular venues such as Granlibakken Conference Center and Lodge. A favorite with associations, nonprofits, academics, scientific groups and families, Granlibakken got its start as a 1940’s ski hill and has evolved to include 190 guest rooms and 16,000 square feet of meeting space in a woodsy, campuslike setting.
"It’s a place for working conferences, combined with fun," says general manager Kay Williams, noting that the location is highly convenient to skiing, hiking, state parks and beaches. "We have many groups in winter who meet in the mornings and ski in the afternoons."
Accommodations at Granlibakken range from standard, motel-like rooms to suites with kitchens and even a separate eight-bedroom, 10-bath building that can be reserved for family reunion and retreat groups. Full breakfast is included in the rates.
"We have a 75 percent return rate," Williams said. "That speaks for itself."
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