If you can imagine the shoreline of Lake Tahoe as a glittery necklace, Emerald Bay would be its most radiant jewel.
No first-time visit to the area is complete without spending some time around this gorgeous body of water situated on the western edge of Tahoe's most southern point. You can cruise into it – and around tiny Fannette Island – aboard the paddle-wheeler M.S. Dixie II. Or you can drive along it on one of the most awesome stretches of curvy Highway 89, the road that takes you around the lake. Check ahead for winter road closures.
Either way, it's time well-spent. Drivers should stop at the Inspiration Point Vista, which towers 600 feet above the shoreline. Just don't forget to bring your camera because this is the most photographed piece of scenery in all of Tahoe.
Other sights to see in the area include Eagle Falls, just up the road, and the Vikingsholm castle. One quick warning: Parking is often in high demand around Emerald Bay, so it's best to get there early or avoid weekends and holidays.
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In 1969, Emerald Bay was recognized as a National Natural Landmark by the federal Department of the Interior. In 1994, California State Parks included the surrounding water of the bay as a part of the park, making Emerald Bay one of the first underwater parks of its kind in the state.
Details: Emerald Bay State Park, 138 Emerald Bay Road, South Lake Tahoe; www.parks.ca.gov.