Wanderlust: Set up Basecamp in South Lake Tahoe

By Jamie Francisco (Guest Blogger)

A few years ago, I spotted a blinking neon sign off Highway 101 in Santa Cruz, the lights of a motel promising rooms with their very own hot tubs. The allure of the green vacancy sign remained in my memory, but I never returned to check in.

Recently, I was planning a surprise romantic getaway weekend and I thought, this it my chance! I can live out my hot roadside inn fantasy, complete with a vibrating bed!

Then reality hit. When your boyfriend is turning 40, he has reached a milestone birthday worthy of luxury sheets and designer details, not a seedy motel possibly crawling with bedbugs. But where is a good place to go for a short getaway on a budget?

Enter Basecamp, a boutique hotel within walking distance from the casinos at Harrah’s, Harvey’s and the Hard Rock Hotel in South Lake Tahoe.  I was browsing Hotels.com for ideas when I was struck by photos of the hotel’s décor –leather chesterfield sofas in the lobby, impactful touches such as bright orange lanterns and bookshelves adorned with retro cameras and radios. It was cool and chic and a short drive from Sacramento. I booked a room right away.

“We’re actually a hotel, not a basecamp,” said the woman on the phone at the front desk, chuckling after hanging up with a confused customer.  The front desk clerks gave us a spiel about a nascent beer garden, told us the hours of the front bar, and checked us in.

“I love it,” my boyfriend said, as we entered a tastefully appointed room with modern rustic touches, including a screen printed map of Lake Tahoe hung up on the wall behind the king sized bed.

We hopped on our bikes and launched our adventure, stopping first at a taqueria called Super Tacos down the street, where we fueled up on tasty carne asada and taquitos. Unaccustomed to the thinner alpine air, we struggled as we biked up and down the smallest of hills. We explored the area, riding past the casinos across the stateline into Nevada then looped back past the Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course where after a short descent with views of crystal blue water, we stopped for cocktails at the Lakeside Beach House and observed a bride in a cream taffeta ball gown holding hands with her blue suit bedecked groom as they posed for wedding pictures by the lake.

“$40 on 40,” my boyfriend said, as we discussed our plans for the night.

I have to admit that I have never enjoyed gambling or vacations involving casinos. For years, I was stuck babysitting my younger brothers in Las Vegas hotel rooms while my parents played slots downstairs. To placate me, my parents sometimes took us to family friendly hotels such as Excalibur and Circus Circus. As a kid I enjoyed it when it was my chance to go to the arcade, but I never warmed up to casinos as an adult.

“OK,” I said, after we each enjoyed a steak and lobster dinner for $19.99 each at The Timbers, a nearby restaurant. He placed bets at roulette tables while I downed whiskey and stood nearby for support.  During a brief stop at the Cabo Wabo Cantina, we switched briefly to tequila and danced amid bachelorette parties in front of a cover band featuring a chanteuse that belted out an impressive rendition of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’!”

We wandered from casino to casino until our last stop, the Hard Rock Hotel. My boyfriend made himself comfortable at a roulette table and sat next to a local valet throwing down $100 chips who exclaimed he was blowing all his hard earned tips. As I headed to the bar, I admired a framed white Western shirt worn by Elvis in a movie in the 1960s. The title of the film is a blur, thanks to the Japanese whiskey poured by a bartender in a skimpy uniform with expertly blended bright purple eye shadow.

In the end, after doubling his money then losing it, my boyfriend ultimately won $15. The next morning, we passed on the continental breakfast at the hotel, oatmeal and yogurt artfully poured into mini mason jars and returned to the Timbers for a hearty $4.99 breakfast special with bacon and eggs to help cure our hangovers.

As our weekend came to an end, I browsed souvenir t-shirts at the front desk while checking us out of our room. I thought I had found it, a final present for the birthday boy, a t-shirt with the Basecamp logo on the front and the same image of the Lake Tahoe map on the back that had decorated our room. Unfortunately, as the front desk clerk handed me the last sizes, I realized the medium American Apparel t-shirt, while fine for a lanky hipster, would be too tight on a 40-year old with defined guns and strong shoulders built from a youth spent playing football, basketball and lifting weights. I sadly declined the t-shirts, explaining my reason why to the front desk clerk, the same one who had greeted me the day before.


“Muscular is a good thing,” she said with a charming Spanish lilt and a smile.

It was the perfect weekend getaway and a great surprise for a milestone birthday. While Basecamp may not be the typical starting point for a mountaineering expedition, it is definitely worth checking out as a home base for Tahoe excursions. I may even try my own hand at the roulette tables next time.


Basecamp Hotel

4143 Cedar Avenue

South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150

(530) 208-0180



Super Tacos

4113 Cedar Ave
South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150

(530) 543-0988



Lakeside Beach House

4081 Lakeshore Boulevard

South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150

(530) 544-4050



The Timbers

Lakeside Inn and Casino

168 Highway 50

Stateline, NV 89449



Cabo Wabo Cantina

18 U.S. 50

Stateline, Nevada 89449

(775) 588-2411



Hard Rock Hotel and Casino

50 Highway 50

Stateline, NV 89449

(844) 588-7625



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