A Few of Our Favorite Haunts around Carson-Tahoe

*above photo taken from the inner courtyard of Vikingsholm in Emerald Bay State Park, CA

Soon Michael and I will be hitching up the Falcon for our next adventure. I have shared in other posts that Michael is a travel nurse who works in the ER. Each contract he takes lasts for at least three months, and then we have to decide to renew the contract for another three months (which is not always an option) or start a new contract elsewhere. We have been in the Carson Valley of Nevada for two contracts, plus an extra five-week extension, and we’re ready to see new sights. Honestly, I miss my kids. They are far away on the East Coast, and it’s strange for me to be away from them for so long. After so many years of being there for everything, it’s odd not to see them for months at a time. I also miss the trees and the green of the Northeast. While I have enjoyed exploring the desert and the mountains (see my post about hiking if you enjoy exploring, too), I really miss the woods. The forest which surrounds Lake Tahoe is beautiful, but it just isn’t the same as deciduous trees, and this desert region doesn’t have much in the way of those.

As we wrap up our time here in Carson-Tahoe, I thought I would share some of the places we visited in the region. We have tried quite a few restaurants, shopped in a few fun stores, and discovered a few other interesting things going on around here. We tend to seek out quirky, unique spots that offer something a little off the beaten path.

Shopping. If you are looking for gifts or just for a fun day of discovering things to decorate your home, we have a couple of great spots for you. A to Zen has a huge selection of vintage and collectible items ranging from the interesting (a hidden compartment behind a painting) to the ordinary (self-help books, anyone?). Wander through the store and you can find all sorts of fun tchotchkes like figurines or wall hangings, but they also have furniture, a wide array of clothing, and plenty of collectibles for music fans and antiquers. The zany décor will keep your eyes busy with every corner, nook, and cranny filled with fun. They even have a section for kids, so bring them along and let them explore, too. Mike Epps, the owner of the shop, is a friendly guy who also opens the shop every Friday night for an open mic, and you can hang out and enjoy the treats for sale while listening to music, hearing poetry, or even see some magic, depending on who shows up to take their 15 minutes at the mic. Mike also plays for every show, and you can expect a treat when he takes the stage to play and sing. This place is one of our absolute favorites in the Carson Valley! Visit their Facebook page to learn more: https://www.facebook.com/a.tozen.9/.

Another spot we enjoyed is the Dancing Deer in Genoa. Again, I have mentioned Genoa in other posts, and its claim to fame is the oldest settlement in Nevada (though I said oldest European settlement—ehem). You can check out some other places in Genoa, too, like the museum in the park on the corner (you can’t miss it), and some of the other shops on the main drag. Everything to see in Genoa is pretty much located on one street, so set aside a day and wander. The Dancing Deer offers a range of unique gifts, along with hand-crafted soaps and lotions, polished stones, jewelry, candles, knives, and lots more. The store is set up to be inviting and colorful, and you can easily get lost for a long time. For more information, check out their website: www.dancingdeergenoa.com. Remember to visit the Genoa Country Store right next door, too. They have fabulous lunch fare, homemade bear claws and cinnamon rolls (get there before noon!).

One of our absolute favorite places to eat anywhere in the Carson Valley is The Basil Thai restaurant on N. Carson Street in Carson City. Michael and I both love Thai food, and The Basil is divine. Everything we have eaten there has been delicious, the dining room is refreshingly clean and beautifully decorated, and the service is always outstanding. If you head there for lunch, you get soup and salad with your entrée, a real bargain. We also love that it doesn’t break the bank, and there are options for vegetarians. You can learn more at www.everythingcarson.com and search for The Basil. Other places we’ve eaten in Carson are Red’s Old 395 Grill, which has a funky décor with lots of interesting old-time cowboy and mine-related items (seriously, this stuff is incredibly cool) like an old coal-operated steam engine and a buggy hanging from the ceiling. The food is great bar fare straying in the direction of a steak house, and they have a wide variety of beers (101, according the website). If you go on Friday and Saturday between 6-8pm they have an in-house magician performing tricks at the tables. A really fun place for either family or gatherings with friends. Again, the website: www.reds395.com.

If you love pizza, Chicago Mike’s in Gardnerville is fantastic. We had the deep dish, and I was pleasantly surprised to have it cooked to perfection. It’s not easy to get a deep dish pizza to cook all the way through, as the middle is usually doughy in most places outside of Chicago. Chicago Mike’s does it well, and the dining room is a sports fanatic’s dream. Go informal and enjoy a good pizza and brew. They also have cheesecake. Need I say more? www.chicagomikes.pizza/. My favorite Mexican food was at Francisco’s in Minden. If you come to Nevada, you really do have an obligation to try Mexican food at least once, since this region (and I mean from Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, etc) is known for its Mexican cuisine. I loved Francisco’s tasty food (I had a shrimp enchilada that was fabulous), and they have a great variety of specials which offer a slightly more elevated cuisine than your average Mexican fare. The food is cooked to perfection, the plates are generous, the service is excellent, and the prices are fair. Really excellent choices, even for vegetarians. Their website: www.franciscos.net.

I’m saving one of the most fun places for last. If you come to the Carson Valley, you really must set aside time to visit Virginia City, which is North of Carson, and is famed as one of the wealthiest mining communities of Nevada at one time. Many famous people passed through, performed, or even lived in Virginia City in its heyday (most notably, Mark Twain), and then even in the 60s and 70s (such as the Grateful Dead). You can find a treasure trove of history, shopping, restaurants, and historic tours. I advise starting with the bus tour of the downtown, as you will hear about all the most interesting and notable places and people, and then you can make choices about which places you most want to visit. We took a couple of trips to Virginia City, and had lots of fun visiting the Delta Saloon, where one can see the infamous “Suicide Table” and some interesting background on Mark Twain, Ripley’s Believe It or Not (which filmed an episode in town), and some of the history of gaming in Nevada. The Red Dog Saloon is a great place for music lovers, and is where Janis Joplin took part in an event with several other famous musicians in 1965, and still offers an open mic once a week. Many films and TV shows, along with lots of stories, have been set in Virginia City, one of the most notable being the TV show Bonanza, and the 1940 film Virginia City, which starred Errol Flynn. Go visit the infamous Bucket of Blood Saloon and hear the story behind the name. For more refined tastes, take a tour of Piper’s Opera House for a few dollars. They still offer shows there, so you can look it up prior to your visit to find out what’s running. For more information, you can find lots of info about Virginia City by looking it up on Wikipedia, but there is plenty of travel info online to guide you. If you have a sweet tooth, this place is chock full of candy stores, but you can also find a good variety of places to eat a good meal. Enjoy your trip! It’s a must-see, in our opinion.

I could share plenty of other spots from the Valley, but here I offer just a few highlights. In other posts, I have shared what we loved about the Lake Tahoe outdoors, and you can find those posts by visiting my archives. Honestly, I think my favorite place in Tahoe is Vikingsholm, the “castle” built by Lora Knight in 1929, and is now registered as a historic place. You can tour the mansion for a fair price, and see some of the most incredible Scandinavian craftsmanship in the finishings of the home (if you love all things Celtic, this is for you). It still has all the furnishings of the original décor, and you can learn about an amazing woman who was responsible for funding Charles Lindbergh’s famous flight in the Spirit of St. Louis, the plane he named for Ms. Knight, a little-known fact about that time. The scenery in gorgeous Emerald Bay is nothing short of jaw-dropping, and you are guaranteed a delightful day if you take the trip. Do note that to get to the mansion, you must walk at least a mile downhill, which means also climbing back up to leave. This is considered high elevation at above 6,000 feet, and if you aren’t used to it, you will find the climb is arduous. Be prepared with water and expect to take your time. They do not offer tram service, and there is no other means for getting down to the mansion. Visit their website for more details: www.vikingsholm.com. Another option, however, is to see the bay by boat (you can find places which offer day-long rentals), and there is a dock where you can moor your boat while you wander the park or take the tour. No climbing if you arrive by boat! I am told by a local that this is the best way to see Emerald Bay.

If you are the adventurous type and you visit during the warmer months, Tahoe Treetop Adventure Park might be a great choice for you. We absolutely loved the fun of this “aerial trekking course” which offers options for several levels of ability. It’s all quite safe, as you are fitted with a harness which hooks to the lines across all the courses, and then you get to test your sense of adventure by climbing and ziplining in the trees. If you’re afraid of heights, this might be tough for you, but I am terrified of heights and managed just fine. Like I said, the safety harness ensures a perfectly safe interaction with all the courses. It does tire you out, and because it’s in Tahoe, it’s high elevation. You will need time to adjust to elevation change before trying out this type of strenuous activity, but it’s worth the wait. We took my niece and nephew, and we all had a blast on the inventive courses. The staff are friendly and helpful, give great tutoring sessions prior to your session, and will even rescue you if you get stuck and want to bail. Their website is www.tahoetreetop.com if you want to check it out.

Also in nice weather months, South Lake Tahoe offers a free concert series on the beach every Thursday night. We were fortunate enough to hear about it from some locals who took us to a show, and we had a glorious evening on the lake. Can you imagine anything better than sitting on the beach at sunset while you listen to some great tunes? Honestly, this place has a stellar view, and all are welcome to bring a picnic, blankets, chairs, and even swim if you like. Whether looking for a romantic evening or a family outing, this hits the mark. You can visit the website to find out when the concerts begin for the season, and the line-up of music: www.tahoesouth.com under “Events” and titled “Live at Lakeview: Free Summer Concert Series.” Do note that if you choose to swim, the water tends to be quite chilly due to its depth, though we went in August and the water felt just fine. 🙂

If you are a winter arrival, I understand Heavenly is a great place to ski (or so I was told by a visitor who has come here every winter for the last four years), though you can also find places to partake in other winter sports. I am not a skier, and Michael and I spent our winter avoiding the snow, so this aspect of Tahoe is not in our wheelhouse. For the most part, I have enjoyed living in the sunny valley with relatively fair temperatures during the day. If you love winter sports, though, this place has a great reputation for whatever your heart desires. Even though Lake Tahoe is often billed as a place for the wealthy, Michael and I have found plenty of free and inexpensive fun there. Then again, I excel at finding the free and cheap adventures anywhere I go. This goes to show that even where the wealthy find their fun, the rest of us can find fun at our level of affordability, too. Let this be a lesson to those dreaming of travel: before you scoff at a place for its reputation, do a little research. You might find gems of adventure for very affordable visits. As always, I hope those who know the region will feel free to share in the comments if they have favorite places they want to promote. Remember to be thoughtful and kind when you comment, and please also feel free to add to the info I offer in this post. Get out there and do something fun today!



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