In today’s post, I’m sharing our Lake Tahoe travel guide.
Like many, I assume, Lake Tahoe is one of our favorite places in the world.
Tyler and I both grew up coming to Lake Tahoe with our families, so it’s a special place to both of us. I have such fond memories of camping at Sugar Pine Point and racing up and down the bike trails to the beach with my little sister. There’s nothing quite like the freedom you feel as a ten-year-old on a bike path in the woods.
I’ve always felt this pull to Tahoe, a nostalgic, romantic tethering, if that makes sense.
A few weeks ago, we did a big road trip loop around California. We drove up to SLO, over to Lodi, and finished up with a few days at Lake Tahoe before driving home to San Diego. (Check out last week’s post about our tips for taking small kids on a road trip here).
Our stay in Tahoe was actually the first getaway we’ve done since having Emmie with just the four of us. We had a blast and bonded so much as a family. It was just nice to be totally AWAY with just the girls–not to mention in one of the most beautiful places in the world.
Despite having visited several times since starting this blog, I’ve never written a post about Lake Tahoe! I think I just felt overwhelmed by creating a Lake Tahoe travel guide because it’s SO big and there are so many different towns and areas to explore.
I always keep a running note on my phone for places we go (what we liked and didn’t like, what we want to do the next time we go, etc). I realized on this last trip that my Tahoe list had grown quite a bit, so I decided to finally take on the challenge for the blog!
It seems like we’ve stayed in a different area every time we’ve come in the last five years, so the list is kind of all over the place. I am linking all of our Tahoe recommendations on this Google Map–all you have to do is follow the link and save the map to your account. That way, the next time you’re in Tahoe, all of our saved spots will populate on your phone when you go to look around and find something to do or eat.
In today’s Lake Tahoe travel guide, I’m kind of covering it all: planning and logistics, where to stay, what to eat, and how to spend your time. And again, this post isn’t necessarily comprehensive–there is still SO much we want to explore in Lake Tahoe. This is just a list of our favorite things so far.
(I have to thank my brother-in-law, Tim, our resident Tahoe expert, for fielding exactly one million clarifying questions and offering up a bunch of recs to add to this list. He has the exact same travel taste as we do–better, even–so we always cross-reference our plans with his).
When to visit Lake Tahoe:
At the risk of sounding like a dad, Lake Tahoe is one of those places that just kicks butt all year around. I’ve been in almost every season at this point, and each time of the year has something to offer.
The winter skiing in Tahoe, of course, is world-renowned (not that I’m a skier per se, I’m really a “two runs to earn my après-ski and that’s it” type of girl). But if you’re into winter sports at all, Tahoe is MUST. And even if you’re not into the ski/boarding scene, Tahoe in the winter is other-wordly. The snow, the pines, the frosted Sierras towering over the deep blue water–it’s a VIBE. Tahoe in the winter is one of my favorite places to be cozy.
BUT. Tahoe in the summer, to me, is heaven on earth. I can’t stress this enough. There’s just something about Tahoe summer air: it’s fresh and crisp and invigorating in every way. The trees and mountains seem to come alive, and the water takes on this ultra-radiant shade of sapphire and becomes *just* warm enough to wade into. The weather is nearly always perfect–low 80’s, and there is SO MUCH TO DO.
If you want to avoid crowds, though, I’d stick to the shoulder seasons. Post-snow spring and fall are the quietest times to visit.
Where to stay in Lake Tahoe:
The options are endless, so I’ll just list a few. If you’re craving a peaceful, down-to-earth vibe, try the West Shore (look for Airbnbs near Homewood or Chambers Landing). If you love a quaint downtown, shoot for Tahoe City (walking distance would be ideal!). If you are craving some night life or some low-key late-night black jack, South Lake Tahoe is your answer.
How to get to Lake Tahoe:
If you’re flying, your best bet is to fly into Reno. The Reno airport is super easy and sits just outside the city on the way to Tahoe. Depending on where you’re staying, the drive to Tahoe takes anywhere from 45-60 minutes.
Alternatively, you could fly via Sacramento which is around 2-2.5 hours from Tahoe.
You will definitely want a car in Tahoe, but instead of using a traditional rental company, we suggest Turo! We use it exclusively now when we travel, if it’s available. Turo is basically Airbnb for cars which may sound odd but, trust me, it’s SO much better. Instead of waiting in line for an hour at Enterprise or whatever, we just walk right out of the airport and straight to the parking lot and get into a car that the owner has left for us (the key is usually in a lock box). Maybe I’ll do a whole blog post about this one day.
(We actually started renting our Jeep out through Turo here in San Diego this last year–a little side hustle that I highly recommend, btw!).
What to do (and eat) in Lake Tahoe:
I decided to organize this section by area so it’s easier to navigate.
South Lake Tahoe
South Lake is definitely the most lively spot in Tahoe. It’s right on the California-Nevada border, so there are a bunch of hotels/casinos on the Nevada side of town. Because of this, South Lake has the most to offer in terms of entertainment and nightlife. And the Heavenly ski resort sits right in the middle of town, making this the perfect location for those who want to ski during the day and play black jack at night (my brothers, usually).
If you find yourself in South Lake Tahoe in the summertime, Heavenly resort has a ton of summer activities too: the scenic gondola, the Ridge Rider Mountain Coaster, and ziplining for kids.
If you’re traveling with a group, renting a cabin or condo is the way to go; otherwise, check out the Coachman Hotel or Basecamp Hotel for a trendy, affordable stay. (Check out South of North Brewing which is onsite at Basecamp Hotel!).
South Lake has one of my favorite beaches in Tahoe: Baldwin Beach, up the 89 past Camp Richardson on the way to Emerald Bay. This beach is MASSIVE, and the sand is much softer than a lot of other Tahoe beaches. The water is insanely perfect here, and my girls loved this spot. My recommendation is to get there really early though. We arrived at 8am on a Saturday and there was already a line to get in; and while we were still able to find a parking spot, I noticed a huge backup of people waiting for parking spots around 9am already. Parking costs $10 for the day.
Head to Sprouts Cafe for a host of healthy lunch options–sandwiches stuffed to the brim with fresh veggies and clean protein, homemade soups, etc.
We love the breakfast burritos and sandwiches at Black Cabin Coffee, and the coffee is an absolute must. Black Cabin is super cute and has a nice outdoor seating area in the back that feels very “woodsy” and quaint.
Base Camp Pizza has the best takeout pizza for early nights in (one of my favorite things to do on vacation–I love a takeout night once every few days. ESPECIALLY during the winter).
Heaven’s Little Cafe is a great place to grab food if you’re skiing or shopping at Heavenly, but bear in mind it gets really crowded in the morning and might not be the best option if you’re in a rush.
If you’re in South Lake Tahoe with kids, I recommend Thomas F. Regan Memorial City Beach. This beach has a really pretty waterfront park. Grab an iced coffee on your way and let the kids burn some energy off.
Another idea for kids would be the Magic Carpet Mini Golf course in South Lake.
If the casino scene isn’t your vibe but you’re still looking for a night out, Flatstick Pub is a super fun bar that also has an indoor mini golf bar. If you’re into beer, don’t miss South Lake Brewing and The Hangar Taproom.
Tyler and I play the same old game every time we’re in Tahoe: if we could afford a house here, WHICH AREA WOULD WE LIVE IN!? For me, the answer is the West Shore. While the Nevada side is more desirable from a tax perspective, nothing beats the laid-back vibes of the West Shore. I just love it so much.
One of my best tips on this Lake Tahoe travel guide: try to get an Airbnb in the Chamberlands neighborhood near Homewood (this one looks like a good option!?). If you can land a spot in this area, you have access to the Chambers Landing private beach and pool which is, to me, peak Tahoe summer vibes. We stayed here on our last trip and were within a 5 minute walk to the beach. And you better believe Tyler and I helped ourselves to one or five of the iconic Chamber’s Punch drinks from the Pier Bar (open to the public and well worth a stop either way! Bonus points if you show up in a boat).
The bike path that lines the West Shore is amazing, so my recommendation is to either bring or rent bikes so you can take full advantage. We didn’t do this on our last trip, but we did walk quite a bit which was really nice too.
We love West Shore Market for lunch, and they also have this cute little grocery section with a ton of great snacks and drinks to take home for later. It’s also worth mentioning that Tyler thinks they have the best coffee on the West Shore. Fire Sign Cafe is a must for breakfast or brunch.
We had takeout pizza from The Dog and Bear Tavern in Tahoma twice on our last trip–everything we ordered was amazing. And right next door, there’s a little gelato spot called Where We Met which the girls loved, of course.
The Eagle Rock hike in Homewood is on our bucket list for when the girls get a little older but I really wanted to include it on this Lake Tahoe travel guide because it’s such a beautiful spot.
You could easily spend a day walking around Tahoe City. Head to the waterfront to check out the boats off the dock and make your way over to Commons Beach, a 4-acre park that offers beach access, grassy areas for picnicking, and a really nice playground (not to mention relatively clean bathrooms!). Oh, and don’t forget to grab an ice cream from the Little Truckee ice cream truck. This shopping center reminds me a little bit of Switzerland and makes me so happy.
For a quintessential Tahoe experience, don’t miss the chance to raft down the Truckee River in early summer–also on our bucket list for when the girls get a little older.
If you follow any of my advice on this Lake Tahoe travel guide, make a reservation at Gar Woods ASAP. This spot fills up fast and for good reason. This restaurant is right on the water in Carnelian Bay (basically equidistant between Tahoe City and Incline Village) and has the most amazing food in Tahoe, if you ask me. Our favorite items on the extensive menu are the lobster devilled eggs, the coconut prawns, and the “Wet Woody” drinks which, somehow, taste like Maui in a glass? Make sure to show up early for your reservation so you have time to walk out on the dock and take some pics at sunset.
Incline Village + Kings Beach
Incline Village has major “second home” energy. You know the one–that sleepy, used-once-a-year vibe that can make the area seem a little too quiet at times. But, we still love it.
Settle in for a day at the beach at Sand Harbor, one of the most picturesque beaches in Tahoe.
Truckee + Squaw Valley/Palisades
If we’re driving over from Sac or Lodi, we usually make a pit stop in Truckee on our way in. Truckee is the cutest little town, the type of place your mom definitely wants to spend a morning shopping in.
Hit Squeeze In for a divey but delicious breakfast. And take it from us, you’re going to want to plan around the Truckee coffee scene: Coffeebar, Dark Horse Coffee Roasters, and Drink Coffee Do Stuff should all be on your list.
Word After Word is a bookstore in downtown Truckee that has an awesome selection of all genres, including a big “California” section at the front that has a bunch of fun souvenir/coffee table books. They also have a dreamy little kids’ corner in the back. And if you’re a music person, check out Rock Cellar Records downstairs.
Another Tahoe must: check out the Squaw Valley/Palisades area. In the summer, take the Aerial Tram ride to the top of the mountain and check out High Camp for a ton of family-friendly activities. Or, win some major wifey points and send your husband golfing here one morning.
One of the most glamorous things to do in Tahoe is to ride the Northstar gondola up to the Ritz Carlton for brunch. The views of the lake are staggeringly beautiful, and the food is amazing. This is a perfect “special occasion” activity.
Okay, I think that covers everything! Thank you so much for checking out our Lake Tahoe travel guide. Like always, I’ll make sure to update this as we find new spots over the years. Let me know in the comments if I’ve missed anything crucial!