Before telling you what are the most fun things to do in Lake Tahoe, please let me ask you real quick: when you think of California, what do you picture?
Maybe you picture the glamorous Hollywood lifestyle, the commotion of downtown Los Angeles, or the outlandish hippies that populate San Francisco.
Let’s face it: We’ve all thought about these iconic destinations, even if we haven’t physically visited them.
But what if I told you that California is more than that? What if I told you that California has more to offer than just large cities overlooking the Pacific Ocean?
Now picture this: You leave San Francisco behind and you drive northeast towards the Sierra Nevada mountain range.
Eventually, you turn a corner and see a body of water in the distance. At first glance, you can only make out a small sliver of blue. However, as you continue approaching the water you begin to see the details of an alpine lake in stunning clarity.
You may notice a cerulean-blue color that reaches the surface of this lake at all hours of the day. Or maybe you’ll notice a dense cluster of trees and mountainous terrain surrounding the lake in every direction.
In case you skimmed over the title I’m talking about Lake Tahoe, which is located on the border of California and Nevada. This magnificent destination features impressive scenery, abundant nature, and exciting activities.
With so much to do and so little time, let’s jump right in. Here’re the most fun things to do in Lake Tahoe:
Skiing In Lake Tahoe
Let’s start off with Tahoe’s most famous winter activity. There are fourteen different skiing destinations around the lake that become bombarded with snow during the winter season.
The good news?
With so many diverse resort choices, you can enjoy skiing whether you’re a beginner or an expert.
Some of the most popular ski resorts in Lake Tahoe include:
- Squaw Valley
- Sugar Bowl
Quick story: When I was 15 years old, my girlfriend and her family took me skiing in Lake Tahoe; I think it was Squaw Valley. At the time, I had never been to the lake before nor had I ever skied.
My girlfriend and her family were expert skiers, like the type you would see in a commercial for an outdoor adventure store. Needless to say, I was terrified of perishing in the snow as I would attempt to keep up with them on an expert-level slope.
When we arrived at the resort I was told that my girlfriend and I could ski on a beginner slope while the rest of her family would spend the weekend descending down the incredibly steep slopes that are meant for experts.
I was able to fall on my butt as often as I wanted without disrupting the entire family’s weekend! Happy family, happy Michael.
The bottom line is this: It doesn’t matter whether you’re beginner, intermediate, or advanced. What matters is that you’ll be able to find the perfect slope to match your skill level. If you’re an advanced skier you’ll no doubt be able to find several slopes that match your level of expertise. On the other hand, if you are new to the sport then you can just take it easy and learn along the way.
Also read: Best Winter Destinations in Europe
Did you ever think that you’d be able to enjoy a nice beach that’s positioned hundreds of miles away from the nearest coast? Well, I’m here to tell you that you can.
Lake Tahoe offers numerous beaches, both on the California and Nevada side, that can be enjoyed during the summer season. Some are more accessible and crowded while others are more secluded and void of people.
The most popular Tahoe beaches include:
- Sand Harbor
- Kings Beach
- Baldwin Beach
- Lester Beach (located within DL Bliss State Park)
- Commons Beach
- Kiva Beach
- Secret Cove
When I went to Tahoe with my dad this last summer, we were so excited to go to Sand Harbor. We drove by it one day and the water looked beautiful from the road; it was like something that you’d see on a Caribbean island.
We both agreed to wake up early the following day and spend a leisurely afternoon at Sand Harbor. Little did we know how quickly the parking lot actually fills up!
As soon as we came out of a bend in the road I could see a dense cluster of cars covering every inch of the parking lot. In fact, it was so packed that they closed the gate leading into the lot; you couldn’t even drive inside and hope that someone would be leaving.
Confused and disappointed, we continued driving in hopes of finding a nearby alternative.
All of a sudden we started seeing cars parked along the side of the road. We couldn’t see a beach but we knew that there had to be one. So we parked our car and walked downhill for about ten minutes.
At the bottom of this hill was a small collection of sand and rocks called Hidden Beach. What it lacked in size, it made up for in privacy and beauty. We weren’t too far from Sand Harbor so we were still able to enjoy crystal blue water; it was perhaps the most vibrant shade of blue throughout the entire lake.
Similar to my statements about the ski resorts in Lake Tahoe, there’s a beach for every type of experience. Some are centrally located and quite visible from the road, such as Kings Beach and Commons Beach, but these will inevitably draw crowds. Others are a bit more hidden and difficult to reach but are compensated by an overwhelming sense of tranquility.
My recommendation is to Google one or more of these beach names and read a couple of reviews. This should give you a good sense of the pros and cons of that specific beach and will help you make an informed decision before you start driving anywhere.
While skiing and relaxing on a beach are arguably the two most popular Tahoe activities (per their respective seasons), there are plenty of other ways to spend your days at the lake.
There are numerous hiking trails around Lake Tahoe that will plunge the visitor into wide expanses of nature and provide unforgettable views.
The best part?
Many of these trails actually overlook the water from up above and give you the opportunity to really appreciate the size and scale of Lake Tahoe.
Some popular hiking trails include:
- Cascade Falls
- Fallen Leaf Lake
- Mt. Tallac
- Tahoe Rim
- Van Sickle
Related read: Hiking the Appalachian Trail
One activity that I highly recommend is renting a boat and driving it around the lake. There are various boat rental companies that charge you by the hour. I’ve rented a boat through High Sierra Waterski School (located in Tahoe City) twice and I had a great experience both times. You can also rent jet skis and paddleboards through this company.
The Heavenly Ski Resort can be enjoyed in the summer too…just not for skiing. While there’s obviously no snow during summer months, you can still enjoy a breathtaking gondola ride from the base of the mountain up to the summit and then back down. Within the resort itself, there are various things to do like zip-lining and rock climbing. However, the thing that you’ll likely remember the most is the picturesque gondola ride on your way back down the mountain.
Oddly enough, Tahoe is home to numerous historic estates that used to be vacation homes for wealthy San Francisco families in the early 1900s.
The most famous historic site is likely the Vikingsholm Castle, which is located near Emerald Bay. This Scandinavian inspired home was built in 1929 and is currently open for public tours during the summer.
Other great options include the Thunderbird Lodge, the Hellman Ehrman Mansion, the Baldwin Museum, and the Pope Estate. You can check the respective websites for information on tour schedules and availability.
Where to eat in Lake Tahoe
There are seemingly infinite restaurants around the lake that can range from a quick bite to a more refined dining experience. With so many to choose from, I’ve broken up my recommendations between North Lake Tahoe and South Lake Tahoe.
- Sunnyside Restaurant & Lodge (Tahoe City, right next to the High Sierra Waterski School)
- Jake’s On The Lake (Tahoe City)
- Gar Wood’s Grill & Pier (Carnelian Bay)
- Lone Eagle Grill (Incline Village)
- Fire Sign Cafe (Tahoe City)
- Jason’s Beachside Grille (Kings Beach)
- Christy Hill (Tahoe City)
- Base Camp Pizza Company (Heavenly Village)
- Cold Water Brewery & Grill (South Lake Tahoe)
- Jalisco Grill (South Lake Tahoe)
- Sprouts Cafe (South Lake Tahoe)
- California Burger Company (Heavenly Village)
- My Thai Cuisine (South Lake Tahoe)
- Evan’s American Gourmet Cafe (South Lake Tahoe)
Although there are many other restaurants that you could eventually try, these should provide you with a solid starting point for dining out.
There you have it, the ultimate guide for visiting Lake Tahoe. No matter what season you go, which activities you prefer to do, or what type of restaurants you like to eat in, there’s an option for everyone.
Leave California’s big cities behind and venture into this beautiful outdoor playground. Just be ready to stick around longer than you originally planned.