Your Basecamp in South Lake Tahoe

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Let’s begin 2014 with an uplifting affirmation: There are many principled, conscientious folks in the world doing noble work. Yep, that’s right: I’m referring to the inspired souls that transform old motel properties into design destinations.

I first noted this trend in Palm Springs where hip couples from LA came to the desert to restore mid-century modern gems like the Orbit In, Caliente Tropics and Desert Star. Then Santa Barbara followed with the (recently sold and now changed) Presidio Motel. Add The Pearl in San Diego, Glen Oaks in Big Sur, The Andiron in Little River, The Capri in Ojai, The Sunburst in Calistoga and Shelter Social Club’s handful of properties. The options span the state.

But as the late Tupac Shakur might chide: South Lake Tahoe, where you at? The erratic town holds so many forlorn motels from yesteryear that are begging for hip kids high on trust funds and Dwell magazine. A few years back, I enjoyed seeing 968 Park make inroads with its rustic modern decor but there’s so much more potential.

Alas, we now have Basecamp.

The good folks here have produced what is easily one of the best iterations yet. The stylish, kitschy camp motif feels perfectly at home in South Lake Tahoe’s quasi-urban, forested setting. It’s how Yogi Bear might decorate his loft after having just moved to Brooklyn: repurposed camp lanterns, mini Playmate coolers as ice buckets, and wood-patterned carpeting. The Great Indoors room sports a plug-in faux-rock campfire, picnic table and a canvas tent draping the bed.* It’s retro and comforting like a box of your favorite kids cereal.

But it’s also thoroughly contemporary. Basecamp distinguishes itself from many of its peers with the quality of its restoration. I’ve found that similar remodels are often superficial and/or incomplete: single pane windows remain, poor sound insulation, crummy showers. But Basecamp did a thorough modernization. You’ll sleep tight here.

A central building serves as the main lodge to the property’s 50 rooms. It’s a stylish, comfy place to hang while you sip delicious hot cocoa (only $1!) or a pint of craft beer from their pocket, corner bar. It’s also where you’ll pick up a s’mores kit to roast at one of their two, toasty firepits. Just mind the cold. When I was there in December, setting my drink down for one minute rewarded me with an icy wine pop. That’s when it’s time to hit the jacuzzi overlooking the slopes of Heavenly.

The property is a 5-minute walk to the gondola at Heavenly. Ditto the stateline casinos and bars & restaurants in the Heavenly area. Sadly, I have no good food spots to recommend. For example, at crazy-crowded Basecamp Pizza (no relation) I noted two things: 1) a respectable beer selection, but also 2) an employee that was about to head out on break tell his co-workers that he was “going out to get real pizza.” The family-friendly fare wasn’t quite cheesyblasters, but it was headed in that direction.

*I didn’t actually stay in the Great Indoors room, but in order to get pics, I had to convince two rightfully concerned gals who had the room to let me scoot in and take photos. As my wife noted: You know, just a guy with a camera asking to come into your motel room.

Know of other hip, renovated motels in California? Share ’em in the comments!

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