I am so fortunate to live near Lake Tahoe. Growing up in Sacramento I have long appreciated the fact that I live approximately an hour from some of the most epic destinations in the world. I live close to San Francisco, the wild California coast, Yosemite, Lake Tahoe, the Sierra Mountains, big trees, Napa, etc, etc, etc.
Growing up I spent a lot of time in Lake Tahoe. I have never lived there but I have always felt like it was my go to place to escape the heat and lay on the beach even when the water is generally too cold to swim in for very long! (Remember it is filled up primarily of snow pack run off. Brrr.)
So, people ask me all the time, “What would you recommend to do in Lake Tahoe?” Well, how much time do you have? The answer depends on what you are in to because Lake Tahoe has it all and then some. Gambling, hiking, watersports, world class skiing, great food, bicycling, tubing on the Truckee river, shopping, antiquing, and more.
So, by popular demand below are some of my favorite things to do in Tahoe starting with the 72 mile drive around the lake allowing visitors the luxury of stopping wherever strikes their fancy.
1. Whether you take highway 50 or highway 80 from Sacramento to Truckee and then highway 89 to Tahoe City one must embark upon the 72 mile drive around the Lake. If you do nothing else other than drive around the lake you will be rewarded with some of the most epic views anywhere this side of Switzerland. If driving around the windy roads isn’t your bag hop on the Tahoe Trolley and help Keep Tahoe Blue with multiple stops around the lake.
2. From highway 89 Stop by Squaw Valley, home to the 1960 Winter Olympics, and hopeful home of upcoming Olympics. Ski, mountain bike, take the tram to the top and ice skate, shop at the lovely boutiques, or simply sit and eat in any of the wonderful cafes. My favorite thing to do in Squaw Valley is to walk the trail in the valley and take in the gorgeous views. You will quickly forget you are in California and immediately start singing like you are in the Sound of Music.
3. Take in some sun at Kiva Beach. I have been going to this beach since I was a girl. It is quiet and easy to park. And there is a wonderful walking path towards the beach that takes you through original pioneer buildings at Talloc Historic Site. The buildings have been updated since I was a tot but they are wonderful in the summer and in the winter if you want to snow shoe in. You will be rewarded with a lovely beach, great mountain views, pine tree shade canopy, and the sound of the lapping lake. Just try and not relax in this place! I dare you.
4. Visit Taylor Creek and take in the Rainbow trail. Gorgeous views of the lake can be had at this park. But most importantly visitors can see the wetlands systems that help keep Tahoe so blue. They also keep local beavers, salmon, and other fish thriving in their local habitats. Children can take a small trail teaching them about Smoky Bear and hiking/camping wildfire safety. Visitors can also enjoy an underground glass fish viewing area particularly interesting when salmon are spawning.
5. Rent a bike. The lake has a great trail system and there is no better way to see, smell, and enjoy the lake than on a bike. It allows you easy access and no parking fees along with the quick ability to stop anywhere. Keep in mind the elevation changes quickly on the lake so monitor this depending on your skill level and desire to sweat.
6. Visit the Camp Richardson Valhalla Renaissance Fair. Don’t forget to dress up and bring a mug for beer. This event is wonderful for children with multiple activities to keep their interest occupied from meeting the Queen to learning how to shoot a bow and arrow to learning Renaissance games. You can even see a real life Parrot show.
7. Eat at the newly remodeled Burger Lounge if not for the food but for the enormous and amusing sign. Stop by Camp Richardson for an ice cream cone if your calorie count isn’t high enough after your burger and fries.
8. Rent a kayak, paddleboard, or canoe. Take them out early in the morning before the waves and current get too strong. (Trust me, I learned the hard way.) Carnelian Bay, Pope Beach, Crystal Bay, and Kings Beach all are wonderful places to get out on the water. But, the important part is that you get out on the water anywhere you can.
9. Take in an outdoor concert at Harveys outdoor venue. While there is sadly no lake view it is a wonderful place to take in top musical acts outdoors in the cool summer weather. Afterwards take in a club or some gambling at any one of the great Casinos.
10. Spend your gambling winnings by eating at the fantastic and comfortable little organic café Sprouts in South Shore.
11. Take in the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare festival. While there is no lake view at Harvey’s the Shakespeare festival encourages theatre goers to bring a chair and a blanket and some wine and enjoy the show on the beach. I doubt Shakespeare ever had this venue in mind when he was writing his plays but it makes perfect sense to me! Et tu Brute?
12. Stroll along Truckee’s trendy main street. If you would have asked me years ago if I thought Truckee would be a go too destination I would have laughed. But, consider staying in Truckee or spending a nice afternoon walking along and enjoying the shops of Truckee. Multiple interesting and trendy restaurants have popped up as well at breweries to enjoy a pint. Pay special attention to parking restrictions or the meter maid will give you a ticket! (I also learned this the hard way.)
13. Learn about California history at Donner Lake and Donner summit visiting the Donner Party memorial. You can better understand what it really meant for pioneers to travel cross country for the thought of a better life. And most importantly, you will have a glorious lake view surrounded by more glorious mountain views. Sit back, close your eyes, smell the pine, hear the birds, and feel the sand in between your toes.
14. Visit Cal Neva Tahoe Biltmore & Casino for an Old Tahoe Casino charm and nearby Crystal Bay to admire beautiful architecture and pricey wooden boats.
15. Visit the Concours d’Elegance where tons of vintage wooden boats are on display. Visitor’s are even allowed to step on board many of the boats to admire the craftsmanship.
16. Take the Heavenly gondola up to the top of the Sierras to get a 360 degree view of the lake and the Carson valley on the other side. You will feel like you are in Switzerland. When you descend back down to earth visit any one of the fun and youthful outdoor sport clothing shops to buy a new bathing suit or pair of sunglasses.
17. Lastly, No stop to Lake Tahoe is complete without visiting Emerald Bay. The Bay gets its color from the lake soil and the reflection from the sky. This spot on Tahoe is one of the most spectacular sites on the lake and arguably in anywhere in California. Hike down to Vikingsholm to see a wealthy pioneer home built in the style of the Vikings. See the tea room built on a small island dotting the middle of the Bay. If you still have energy go the other direction and walk up to Eagle Falls to cool off in the brisk mountain water.
There is something in Tahoe for everyone. I have been going here all my life and Tahoe always seems like the place I want to go to relax, to think, to have fun, to go swimming, to hike, to enjoy by myself, with the bulldog, or with a group of friends. Everyone loves something different about Lake Tahoe, but I dare you to find someone who doesn’t fall in love with it in their own way over and over again every time they visit.
Have you ever visited Lake Tahoe? Did you visit in the summer or the winter? Tell me your favorite part of Lake Tahoe!