True Blue

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Touring Around

Put the “tour” in “tourist” with a guided visit to Thunderbird Lodge. (Photo by Jarvis Photography)

Thunderbird Lodge

Known as the “castle in the sky,” this storied estate built by eccentric billionaire George Whittell Jr. in the 1930s is like the Hearst Castle of Lake Tahoe. View the five-story home and its grounds—where Whittell and his exotic pets like Bill the lion and Mingo the elephant lived—on a guided tour, during which you’ll enter a 600-foot tunnel to the boathouse that shelters Whittell’s legendary wooden speedboat, view a hidden passageway to his opium den, and see his Card House with a secret escape door where he played poker with the likes of baseball legend Ty Cobb. For a more extravagant experience, take a boat tour to the mansion or a kayak tour from Sand Harbor, complete with a Continental breakfast or picnic lunch. $39 per adult for regular tour. 5000 Nevada 28. Incline Village. 800-468-2463.

Hellman-Ehrman Mansion

This stunning lakefront mansion, which was completed in 1903, takes you back in time to Tahoe’s early years as an elite retreat, when visitors could arrive only by boat. San Francisco banker Isaias W. Hellman built the stone craftsman-style home on Tahoe’s West Shore, and nowadays a docent will take you on a half-hour tour of the living areas, bedrooms, kitchen and servants’ quarters, decorated in 1930s period furniture with original chandeliers. After your visit, wander down to the boathouse where you can rent kayaks and paddleboards to embark on your own lakeside adventure, or step onto the long swimming dock for panoramic views of South Lake’s mountainsides. $10 for adults. 7360 West Lake Blvd. Tahoma. 530-583-9911.

Tahoe Photographic Tours

For a picture-perfect outing, join one of the popular excursions led by Tahoe Photographic Tours—ranked on TripAdvisor as the top activity in South Lake Tahoe—where you’ll be whisked away to many of the lake’s most visually spectacular sights. Your Instagram-ready journey starts when a guide picks you up at your South Shore hotel (or anywhere else in that area) in a luxury SUV and continues with a leisurely drive to a rotating lineup of picturesque locations like Emerald Bay, Taylor Creek (where bears are occasionally sighted) and Fallen Leaf Lake (a glacier-hewn sapphire oval nestled above Tahoe). You’ll learn about Tahoe’s history and geology, be given plenty of time to snap away at every stop and offered photography tips throughout the tour (no need to take selfies either—the guide will take pictures of you and your group and then email them to you after the trip). Special themed tours are also offered, including ones timed to help you capture the rising or setting sun. $149-$225. 530-577-5264.

UC Davis Tahoe Science Center

Science rules at this high-tech, hands-on education center in Incline Village, housed in Nevada’s first Platinum LEED-certified building, where the whole family can learn what’s below the surface of the country’s second-deepest lake. Take a one-hour, docent-led tour, where you’ll step aboard a virtual research vessel, find zooplankton under microscopes and take a 3D virtual reality flight through Lake Tahoe. Little ones can get their hands dirty at the new Shaping Watersheds interactive sandbox (a guaranteed big hit). Before leaving the center, pick up one of those famous “Keep Tahoe Blue” bumper stickers—or honor your favorite lake scientist with a lesser-known “Have you hugged a limnologist today?” sticker. Free. Sierra Nevada College. 291 Country Club Dr. Incline Village. 775-881-7560.

Vikingsholm at Emerald Bay

Emerald Bay may be one of the most popular destinations on the lake, but less known is the 1929 mansion that sits on its shore. It’s less known in part because it’s only open from Memorial Day until the end of September, and because it’s primarily accessible via a steep, one-mile hike that starts at the parking lot off Highway 89 and descends 500 feet to Vikingsholm (the 6,300-foot elevation doesn’t help either). Those that do brave the walk, however, will be rewarded with the chance to explore the 38-room property built by heiress Lora Josephine Knight. Designed in the style of a Scandinavian castle, the unique sod-roofed home—which includes a custom Steinway piano that Liberace once played—is open for daily 30-minute tours. $10 for adults. California 89. Tahoma. 530-583-9911.

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