Our must-read South Lake Tahoe, California travel guide features the best things to do, where to stay, what to pack, how to get there, and more!
Nestled in the southernmost region of Lake Tahoe, South Lake Tahoe is a resort city known for its unreal views and unbridled nature. While this is a popular destination in the wintertime among skiers and snowboarders, it holds it own in the summer too due to the clear blue waters, miles of sandy beaches, and tons of outdoorsy activities to experience.
South Lake Tahoe in Summer: Best Things to Do, Where to Stay & More!
How to Get to South Lake Tahoe
Unless you’re on a road trip, the easiest way to get to South Lake Tahoe is to fly into Reno and then rent a car (I use this site).
Personally I flew from Long Beach into Reno with Jet Blue (I love that they have WiFi and unlimited snacks!) From Reno, the drive is about an hour.
If you don’t plan on renting a car, you can choose between a shuttle that goes to South Lake Tahoe straight from Reno airport, Uber and Lyft which both operate in the area, or you can always take the bus.
Read more: How To Find The Cheapest Flights To Anywhere
How to Get Around South Lake Tahoe
As there is so much to explore and limited public transportation in the area, renting a car is the most convenient option for getting around South Lake Tahoe. However, if you prefer to avoid driving, then there is a shuttle service that will take you to some of the parks as well as to and from your hotel, or consider renting a bike with Lime Bike Rentals.
Read more: Northern California Packing Guide
Things to Do in South Lake Tahoe
Located just twelve miles north of South Lake Tahoe, Emerald Bay State Park is an oasis with gorgeous crystal-clear blue waters, fantastic vantage points, and some of the best hiking trails in the region.
If you plan on hiking, then it’s worth checking out Cascade Falls Trail. This 40-minute walk is filled with beautiful scenery and ends with, you guessed it, gorgeous waterfalls!
It’s been said that taking a trip up the east shoreline of Lake Tahoe is one of the most beautiful drives in America. Between the glassy waters, gorgeous beaches, mountains, and trees for miles, the whole trip is a feast for the eyes.
While you’re heading up the East Shore, stop in at Sand Harbor where you’ll find crystal-clear waters and cool rock formations. While at Sand Harbor, picnic in the shade, go for a swim, or hop on your kayak.
Bonsai Rock is another site worth checking out on your East Shore drive. Located just south of Sand Harbor, the site itself is a uniquely shaped boulder with trees growing out of it. This site is especially popular among photographers so be sure to bring your camera gear!
D.L. Bliss State Park
D.L. Bliss is an amazingly beautiful park on Lake Tahoe’s west shore, just north of Emerald Bay. Made up of silky sand beaches, hiking trails, a lighthouse, and campgrounds, the park is open from sunrise until sunset, and gets rather busy in the early afternoon hours – so come early or wait until after the midday rush.
While you’re in D.L. Bliss State Park, I personally recommend checking out the Rubicon Trail. The 5-mile (one way) trail starts in Bliss and then ends in Emerald Bay and, with the trail sticking to the shoreline most of the time, has absolutely unreal lake views along the way.
Heavenly Gondola & Mountain Resort
At 4,800 acres, Heavenly Gondola & Mountain Resort is one of the largest ski resorts on the continent. However, slope-lover or not, the resort is just as magical in the summertime as it is in the winter.
For what is perhaps the best view at South Lake Tahoe, hop on the gondola — the first stop of which is at 9,123 feet high and will give you an unreal shot of Lake Tahoe. From here, you can either stop for a while and have a drink at the observation deck, or continue up the gondola a few minutes until you get to the top of the mountain.
I highly recommend getting an Ultimate Adventure Pass to get access to the rollercoaster, ropes course, tubing, the gondola, a zip line, and more.
Read more: The Best Photography Locations in California
Magic Show at the Loft Theater
For something a little different but just as awe-inspiring, check out the Magic Show at the Loft Theatre. This nightly magic fusion production features award-winning magicians from far and wide.
Kayak on the Lake
To truly experience Lake Tahoe and get out on the lake, I highly recommend renting a kayak. Clearly Tahoe offers clear kayak rentals that they’ll deliver straight to your hotel or Airbnb! They also give you a cooler with snacks and boxed water, reef safe sunblock, Bluetooth speakers to connect your music, and options of daytime or sunset guided tours!
Where to Eat in South Lake Tahoe
Sprouts Natural Foods Café is a great option in Lake Tahoe for fresh, healthy food sure to fuel you up for your adventures. Their menu features amazing vegan selections and fresh juice.
Cold Water Brewery
If you’re looking for a relaxed environment and some great handcrafted beer, then Cold Water Brewery is a great place to go. They brew their all-grain beer on site, and have awesome weekly events and dining selections.
Another great craft beer option, Tahoe AleWorx is all about where the outdoor adventure lovers meet craft beer and delicious pizza. Their Taproom is home to 30 taps including three for wine, one for kombucha, and one for nitro coffee!
Azul Latin Kitchen
Located in Heavenly Village, Azul Latin Kitchen offers a “lighter, fresher, and healthier” take on traditional Mexican and South and Central American food options. The chef’s at Azul use local, organic, and sustainable items whenever they can.
Also, if you’re into a tequila-fueled evening, this is the place to go.
Read more: The Ultimate Packing Checklist for Campers
Where to Stay in South Lake Tahoe
Camp Richardson Hotel
Featuring 27 rooms decorated in Old Tahoe style, this charming two-story hotel is a great option for your time spent on the South/West Shore of the lake. The hotel is part of the Camp Richardson Historic Resort & Marina, and has a wide selection of amenities.
Tahoe Lakeshore Lodge
A beachfront resort, one of Tahoe Lakeshore Lodge’s claims to fame is that every room in the hotel features both lake and mountain views. Situated on the east shore of the lake, the hotel is also home to Elements Spa — a perfect place to wind down and relax.
I recommend splitting your time between these two hotels. That way you have the ability to explore all that both the East Shore and the South/West Shores of Lake Tahoe have to offer.
South Lake Tahoe Packing Essentials
Inflatable Kayak: If you plan on being out on the lake for a lot of your trip, then I suggest bringing along your own inflatable kayak.