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Rebecca Fannin Headshot

Silicon Valley's Sierra Backyard

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California Bay Area residents have all sorts of places nearby as summer weekend getaways. There's Big Sur, Yosemite, Redwood Forests, Half Moon Bay, Pebble Beach and Napa Valley. Nearby Lake Tahoe has normally been reserved for wintertime weekends, when the Sierra Nevadas beckon skiers and snowboarders.

With the economy still sluggish, however, Lake Tahoe has also become a favored destination for that typical all-American family vacation, without the added expense and aggravation of flights during peak season. Just about a four-drive from the Bay Area, it's still far enough away that you can really feel that you've been somewhere different, away from the fog in high elevation with strong sunshine and hot, mid-day temperatures.

What's there to do in summer? Plenty for the athletic. Mountain biking, fly fishing, river rafting, hiking, swimming and boating to name a few of the activities.

Even though the summer season has been shortened with an early return to school by mid-August, the resorts along Lake Tahoe, including the most notable ones on the northern shore -- the Ritz-Carlton, Park Hyatt and the Squaw Creek Resort -- are pretty packed with young families, toddlers in tow. There also are blissed out honeymooners plus some Silicon Valley techies talking shop.

The Ritz is the most upscale of the three, with its elegant dining options such as the French-inspired California cuisine at Manzanita, rooms with a view, a gondola to the village, and a hideaway spa pool.

One drawback to this otherwise exceptional resort is a less-than-helpful attitude of some hotel staffers, the 'Marshmallow Man' who roasts s'mores for the young-hearted aside. I learned that the property is in receivership (one more sign of the economic downturn that won't quit) so that could be one reason the staff wasn't universally cheerful, as is the usual Ritz style. Still, of these three resorts, this is the one most idyllic for romantic couples.

The Squaw resort, which prides itself on skiing is, during summer, heavy on golf. The Robert Trent Jr.-designed course envelopes the property and it's hard to find a good hiking trail without running into golf carts. The resort's multiple pools are filled with youngsters having a great time splashing. If you are not on a family vacation too, it's hard to ignore the kids running up and down the halls and acting up at meal-time.

The hotel itself, a black glass high rise, looks like it would be more at home in Manhattan. On the site of the 1960 Winter Olympics, the mountains here sport six ski lifts -- thus the name of the fine dining option here, Six Peaks Grill.

The main attraction about the Park Hyatt is its lake-front beach and the casino -- it's just over the state line into Nevada. The fact that you can gamble here makes it a popular venue outside of Las Vegas or Reno, just over the mountain range. A renovation is in the works here, ready by the first snow fall.

I doubt that Lake Tahoe can subsititute for the excitement of say, a train journey through Europe. But with the depressed value of the dollar and the exorbitant prices of meals and hotels in European capitals, Lake Tahoe can do.