Lake Tahoe is widely known for its epic views and stunning scenery. I recently spent a weekend in South Lake Tahoe and, though you can’t go wrong no matter where you go or what you do, having a basic game plan will help you maximize your time here. You can spend a few days or even a week here and never run out of places to see and things to do!
Planning to visit South Lake Tahoe this summer? Here's the ultimate travel guide to a successful trip with everything you need to know, including where to stay, play and eat!
WHERE TO STAY
When choosing where to stay in South Lake Tahoe, I knew I wanted something centrally located with a view of the lake itself! The convenience of being in the middle of the city made it easy to get around and gave us access to our hotel whenever we needed to take a quick shower or freshen up midday. Plus, it didn’t hurt having a view of the lake straight from our balcony! This bright lakeside property also has an outdoor pool, double decker hot tub, fitness room and bicycles to borrow. We spent one of our mornings biking from the hotel to the California/Nevada Stateline!
Book it: Hotel Azure
WHERE TO PLAY
Whether you’re on lake or land, Tahoe is an adventurer’s dream-come-true in the summertime! Here’s a list of what to do to keep you busy no matter how long your stay may be.
Kayak, Paddleboard or Jetski Around Emerald Bay
Don’t just look down at Emerald Bay from a crowded vista point. The best way to see Emerald Bay is from the lake itself! Try one or more of these fun activities:
- Kayak Tahoe: There are five locations to choose from. The one at Emerald Bay opens at 9:30am and kayaks or paddleboards are available on a first come, first serve basis. I suggest arriving right as they open to avoid a wait. You can rent single ($25/hr) or double ($35/hr) kayaks as well as paddleboards ($25/hr) and make your way to Fannette Island for a totally different view of Emerald Bay.
- Action Watersports: There are four locations in South Lake Tahoe and you can reserve jetskis for $100-$130/hr.
Make the trek down to this hand-built 38-room Scandinavian-style stone castle previously occupied by Lora Knight. Purchase tickets to tour the home or admire the beauty from the outside, but definitely make the short journey to Fannette Island to see the ruins of her tiny stone teahouse perched on top of Lake Tahoe’s only islet. We opted to rent kayaks and paddle to the island, then hiked up to the teahouse.
Finding a hiking trail is as simple as walking outside! Various trails cover South Lake Tahoe and its surrounding area. Choose from the ones listed below, or [safely] go off the beaten path and create your own adventure! Make sure you take plenty of water/snacks and map out your route ahead of time.
- Angora Lakes Trail (Level: Easy)
- Eagle Lake Trail (Level: Moderate)
- Prey Meadows/Skunk Harbor (Level: Moderate) – located on the southern end of the East shore, this trail will get you to secluded beaches and a killer sunset! The hike from the car to the beach is all downhill with multiple switchbacks, so brace yourself for the hike back.
- Rubicon Trail (Level: Moderate)
Straddle the California/Nevada Stateline
This little gem was a little tricky to track down, but I’ve since added it to Google maps! Search for ‘California/Nevada Stateline Marker’ -- you’ll find it inside Van Sickle Bi-State Park.
Win Big at the Casinos
The Stateline area of Tahoe is well known for its casinos and nightlife. There are so many within walking distance of each other. Some of the most popular ones include:
- Hard Rock Hotel & Casino
- Harrah’s Lake Tahoe
- Harvey’s Lake Tahoe
Heavenly Resort Gondola Rides
Ride up in the Heavenly Mountain Gondola for panoramic views of Lake Tahoe. This is a great activity for all ages. Or you can opt for the ride to the top and continue hiking even further up!
Swim in the Coves
Many coves line the East shore and make for the perfect oasis to take a quick dip and cool off. They're even more rewarding when you have to hike to get there!
- Secret Cove: This cove may not sound hidden, but the beautiful blue water that awaits you is reason enough to seek out its location and take a mini hike down to the cove. I was surprised to find this was a clothing-optional spot to take a dip!
- Zephyr Cove: A great place to swim and enjoy the scenery. You can even take a boat out to Emerald Bay from here!
Some scenic hikes transform into something even more magical when there's a waterfall waiting for you at the end! Something about chasing waterfalls makes me oh-so-happy! If you too like to post on #WaterfallWednesday, check out the spots below:
- Eagle Falls
- Alpine Falls
Soak up the sun and feel the sand between your toes at any of Lake Tahoe’s private beaches. We stopped over at Lakeside Beach & Marina to enjoy the last few minutes of our weekend! You might have to purchase a daily pass unless you are a guest staying at a nearby Lakeside Association property.
WHERE TO EAT
- Alpina Coffee Café: This is definitely a café worth visiting if you’re looking for a cute ambiance, cozy indoor/outdoor seating and quality coffee! Plus, I loved that you can order your iced drinks with frozen coffee cubes for just 50 cents!
What to Order: Iced Carmilla Latte with frozen coffee cubes
- A Cup of Cherries: Although I’ve listed this as a brunch spot below, I had to include it twice because the coffee was that good! Pop in to grab a cup to-go or stay and enjoy it with your meal. Their beans are locally roasted from Blind Dog Coffee Roasters in Truckee, CA.
What to Order: Caramel Latte or anything iced with an espresso ice cube!
- Revive Coffee & Wine: A great coffee shop right by the water to grab your usual cuppa joe or, if you’re feeling adventurous, go with one of their specialty drinks.
What to Order: Try their Maple Sage Latte or Lavender Vanilla Latte!
Breakfast & Brunch
- A Cup of Cherries: The cutest little café and staff, this spot has a brunch menu to please anyone. Omelets, French Toast, Pancakes, Paninis and an impressive coffee menu are what you can expect.
What to Order: Island Pancakes, La Matador Panini and a double shot Caramel Latte
- Heidi’s Pancake House: All the brunch essentials are on the menu at Heidi’s! Though I didn’t have enough time to eat here this time around, I’ll definitely be stopping in on my next trip to South Lake Tahoe.
What to Order: The Eggs Benedict, any pancake stack and the Chicken Fried Steak look pretty good!
- Sprouts Café: A variety of creative bagel options, fresh juices and sandwiches to satisfy you through to lunch, this place is the perfect spot to grab a quick bite before heading out on a hike!
What to Order: A.T.O.M Bagel, PB-Banana-Honey Bagel and an ‘All Green Drink’
- MacDuff’s Pub: This adorable little Scottish pub in the middle of South Lake Tahoe serves up a delicious pub fare with generous portions and amazing service.
What to Order: New England Clam Chowder in a bread bowl, Shrimp & Chips and Chicken Pot Pie
- Sonney’s BBQ Shack Bar & Grill: If you’re looking for a spot to fuel up after a long day of exploring, Sonney’s specializes in slow and low BBQ! Full disclosure: you may experience feelings of extreme satisfaction with possibility of a food coma!
What to Order: Chicken Wings (get the dry rub and ask for all the sauces on the side!), BBQ Beef Ribs, Brisket Sandwich, Alllll the sides (mashed potatoes, coleslaw, mac & cheese and fries)
- Lucky Beaver Bar & Burger: Voted the Best Burger in Tahoe for 2015, 2016 and 2017, this is the place to fulfill that late night burger craving!
What to Order: Blackjack Burger, though you can’t go wrong with their classic cheeseburger!
- Primo’s: This had to be my favorite meal, hands down! If you love Italian food, you must dine at Primo’s. With fresh ingredients, handmade pasta and recipes dating back 40 years, you can’t go wrong with anything on the menu here. Plus, the staff is beyond friendly and helpful.
What to Order: Shrimp Calamari, Fettuccini Alfredo, Parmesana, and Tiramisu. Pair it with a glass of the Super Tuscan Red Wine
- Baked Bear: I was excited to see this famous San Francisco ice cream shop make an appearance in South Lake Tahoe! Cookie monsters only, y’all.
What to Order: Any ice cream sandwich!
- Richardson’s Ice Cream Parlor: They’ve got a long list of flavors and extremely generous ice cream servings! I’d probably stick to a kid’s or a single split into a couple different flavors.
What to Order: Chocolate, Chocolate Chip, Kona Coffee, Mint Chip, Mocha Almond Fudge
Just one weekend in Lake Tahoe was not enough to take in all the adventure this place has to offer! I'm already dreaming of going back and I cannot wait to add more activities and restaurants to this list!