Lake Tahoe and Chicago: The Perfect Summer Night

photos courtesy of Lynn Armitage

Our guest post comes from Lynn Armitage, a radio news producer, columnist and freelance writer. She loves to travel whenever she can — even if it’s to run a few errands. Lynn lives in Northern California.

As a teenager, Chicago was my band. I didn’t go to many concerts back then, but I saw Chicago three different times. I couldn’t get enough of those guys! Their love songs made me ache, their harmonies uplifted my spirits and the sounds that came out of their horns were simply beguiling. Everything they sang always hit the right note with me. Although . . . there is one song that I never quite understood: “25 or 6 to 4.” Great melody, but what exactly does it MEAN?

Anyhow, when I discovered that Chicago and the Doobie Brothers – a bonus band – were coming to Lake Tahoe to perform on the same stage, on the same summer night, I couldn’t buy tickets fast enough. The allure of beautiful Lake Tahoe, the music of Chicago and an opportunity to feel young again called to me like the Pied Piper, and so I planned a spur-of-the-moment summer getaway for me and my guy.

The Marriott Timber Lodge

South Lake Tahoe offers a lot of options for where you can rest your head at night: Hotels, vacation rentals, cabins, condos, time-share units. On this trip, we opted for the Marriott Timber Lodge mostly because it was within easy walking distance to the concert at Harvey’s outdoor amphitheater, as well as to Heavenly Village, which is a virtual Disneyland for shopaholics, like me.

We had never stayed at the Timber Lodge, so we really had no expectations beyond that it was owned by the Marriott. So yes, I guess we did expect AT LEAST a Marriott-quality experience. But we were beyond impressed!

The Timber Lodge is a time-share resort and hotel, all in one. It is undergoing a multi-million-dollar renovation, and we stayed in one of the newly renovated one-bedroom villas with a fully-equipped kitchen. Everything you could possibly need in a kitchen was there, all the way down to marble countertops, a dishwasher and the all-important wine-bottle opener.

Vacationers who stay at the Timber Lodge usually come for extended stays, so it is far more than a “hotel for the night.” The villas are designed to feel like a home-away-from-home, with a flat-screen TV and DVD player, jetted tub, a stacked washer/dryer unit and plenty of space to stretch out in.

Lots of attention has been paid to making guests feel as comfortable as possible, including the Tempur-Pedic mattress on the sleeper sofa. (Good to know, in case someone has to sleep in the dog house that night.)

The Extra Touches

When you check in your car with the valet ($25/night fee, which is rather high, I think), don’t plan on seeing it for a while because you can walk to everything: the casinos, restaurants, shopping, the gondola ride to Heavenly Valley, the movie theater and, best of all – Timber Lodge guests have access to a private, beach where you can wiggle your toes in white sand just inches from the lake. If you’re feeling energetic, you can walk there. I saw plenty of couples footing it. But I know how I feel after a lazy day in the sun, so we drove.

Of course, you’ll find all the amenities you would expect to find in a vacation resort like the Timber Lodge: heated swimming pool, spa services, a weight room and fitness center that has private TVs on each of their treadmills and elliptical machines, which is the ONLY way I like to exercise.

If you’re planning a romantic getaway – with your kids – there is ample entertainment to keep them busy and entertained. The Cub House is a supervised activity center for young kids, offering finger painting and crafts and all those things kids like to do when you’re not around. Teens can hang out in The Den, a beautifully designed, newly renovated space where they can play video games, enjoy mock-tail parties, take part in Wii tournaments, watch movies or flop on the comfy couch and just be teens.

Fire + Ice Restaurant

One of the most popular attractions at the Timber Lodge is their restaurant, called “Fire + Ice.” It is a Mongolian-barbecue-style restaurant created with the ski set in mind. It sits adjacent to the Heavenly Valley gondola, and although it was summer, I imagined cold, tired skiers coming down off the mountain and rushing to one of the fire pits outside the restaurant for cocktails and warmth – inside and out.

Diners customize their own stir-fry by selecting, buffet-style, from a variety of fresh, uncooked meats, seafood, noodles, veggies and sauces on ice. Then you walk your plate over to the highly entertaining chef at the scalding-hot, 400-degree giant wok to cook it for you.

He dazzled us with his acrobatic cheffing, if there is such a word, throwing spatulas and bowls in the air and behind his back, and flipping sauces without spilling a drop. Quite a show. You almost forget that you came to eat.
You pay a flat rate –about $27 per adult and $10 for kids – a bit pricey, but it’s all you can eat. So if you’re really hungry, you can definitely get your money’s worth.

Day Trip To Squaw Valley

The morning after the Chicago concert, we lazed around in our “villa,” basking in the memory of all that great music and nostalgia.
We decided to ditch the South Shore for the day and go for a late lunch at Squaw Valley. I had heard great things about Sandy’s Pub there, and we wanted to give it a whirl. I was up for a stroll around Olympic Village.

The best part about a day at Squaw Valley is the drive to get there. It takes about an hour and a half, but the drive is 90 minutes of postcard-perfect scenery, as you carefully wind around mountain roads that drop off –frighteningly in spots – to the azure lake below.

We slowed down around Camp Richardson, which is bustling with campers in the summer. With its own General Store and ice cream parlor, it’s really a world unto itself.

Sandy’s Pub is on the bottom floor of the Squaw Valley Resort. The weather that summer day was ideal for sitting on the restaurant patio. Talk about a view! We were surrounded by the pine-tree-covered Sierras on all sides. Note to myself: Book a room here someday, preferably in the winter.

Our lunch lived up to its expectation. I ordered the Stella Beer-battered Fish and Chips, a tender piece of Pacific Cod served with Cajun tartar sauce and coleslaw. Perfect! My companion was feeling creative and customized a burger with applewood-smoked bacon, melted Swiss cheese and grilled onions. The presentation was impressive, and I couldn’t wait to see how he was going to fit that huge burger in his mouth.

Sandy’s Pub is one of those hidden gems in Lake Tahoe because you don’t see the restaurant from the street. It’s tucked away inside the Squaw Valley Resort, way back toward Olympic Village. Trust me, it is worth finding. And the view alone is worth the drive.

Speaking of hidden gems, we stopped at Meeks Bay Resort & Marina on the way back to the South Shore. It’s a quiet, public beach resort operated by the Washoe Indians, so there’s real, authentic history there. The beach is clean and white and unspoiled, offering a front-row seat on your towel to some of the best views of Lake Tahoe I have ever seen.

We watched the sun set over Meeks Bay, and honestly, it was the perfect finale to a wonderful, spur-of-the-moment weekend in Lake Tahoe that started with the Chicago concert down memory lane.