50 Things to Do in Lake Tahoe, California (From a Regular Visitor)

Reviewed by Suneel Jain
Last updated:

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TL;DR: The best things to do in Lake Tahoe vary depending on the season, but our favorites are summer days at Sand Harbor Beach and hiking up to Cascade Falls, winter sports in Squaw Valley, and taking in scenic views year-round. Here are the best things to do by season:

  • Spend a summer day at Sand Harbor Beach, hiking to Cascade Falls and Eagle Falls, and whitewater rafting or kayaking out on the lake.
  • During the winter, hit the slopes for skiing and snowboarding, snowshoe or cross country ski on scenic trails, and hot tub with mountain views in Squaw Valley.
  • No matter the time of year, you can explore charming boutiques in nearby villages, enjoy scenic overlooks from the road, or take the Heavenly Mountain Gondola and Squaw Valley Aerial Tram for spectacular views.

Even though I grew up in California, only a few hours southwest of Tahoe, I didn’t visit Lake Tahoe for the first time until I was 27.

I heard fond anecdotes about Lake Tahoe trips from other friends throughout my childhood, but I somehow missed out on this California rite of passage.

things to do in lake tahoe, california

When I finally visited for the first time, I realized what all the hype was about.

The lake was even more beautiful than the pictures made it seem, and the hushed natural scenery was a unique juxtaposition to the casinos and busy streets of downtown South Lake Tahoe.

Once I moved to the Bay Area, I quickly made Lake Tahoe an annual (and sometimes bi-annual trip). In 2020, I even spent a month in North Lake Tahoe to experience more of the lake at a slower pace. 

From those trips and the many hours I’ve spent exploring the Lake Tahoe area over the years, these are my picks for the 50 best things to do in Lake Tahoe. 

Enjoy your time around the most popular alpine lake in California!

what to do in lake tahoe

Table of Contents

Best Things to do in Lake Tahoe in the Summer

Spend the Day at the Beach

Heading to the beach is by far one of my favorite summer activities in Lake Tahoe. 

Lake Tahoe has 72 miles of shoreline and a variety of beautiful sandy beaches to enjoy. They’re some of the best places to take in the lake’s clear aquamarine waters.

The water is definitely cold but on hot days in the summer, there’s nothing more refreshing than going for a dip in the freshwater lake.

One thing to note about Lake Tahoe beaches is that parking is always a pain in the summer. To reduce the hassle of finding a parking spot, I’d recommend going early in the day. 

Two of the best North Lake Tahoe beaches include Sand Harbor Beach and Kings Beach State Recreation Area

Sand Harbor is full of soft white sands and crystalline waters and is a must-visit as the most popular beach in Lake Tahoe. 

A few more of the best beaches in Lake Tahoe that are worth visiting include Meeks Bay, Zephyr Cove, and Pope Beach.

If you’re looking for a more hidden beach with fewer crowds, head over to Chimney Beach

Read my full guide to the best beaches in Lake Tahoe.

Spend the day at the beach, best beaches in lake tahoe

Hike One of the Many Trails Near the Lake

While it’s possible to spend all day lounging on the gorgeous Tahoe beaches, there are also a lot of scenic trails to explore near the lake if you want to stretch your legs.

Looking for waterfalls? Cascade Falls and Eagle Falls are both easy to moderate hikes that will take you to 60-90-foot falls.

For a tougher hike, Shirley Canyon Trail is a heart-pumping five-mile hike that features steep inclines, high altitudes, and Shirley Lake.

D.L. Bliss State Park is another great place to hike.

While you’re there, be sure to hike to the highest elevation lighthouse in the US (the Rubicon Point Light) and tackle my favorite trail in Lake Tahoe – the Rubicon Trail

For the most epic Lake Tahoe hike, you can either hike part of or the entirety of the Tahoe Rim Trail. This trail takes you around the perimeter of Lake Tahoe and takes several days to complete.

Another option is hiking part of the Pacific Crest Trail around South Lake Tahoe. You can start as early as Echo Summit and end at Desolation Wilderness or Highway 80.

Rubicon Trail, hiking near the lake

Enjoy Truckee’s Thursday Night Street Fair

Wondering what to do around Lake Tahoe in summer? 

Summers in Truckee are an absolute delight with temperatures hitting a comfortable high of 70-80 degrees.

Even better are the night adventures to be had on Truckee Thursdays, a weekly street fair that features local and regional vendors, live performances, and a beer garden.

Tour the Tallac Historic Site

The site of two historic homes, artifacts, and exhibits, the Tallac Historic Site is one of the best things to do in South Lake Tahoe, especially for anyone who’s a history enthusiast. 

Run by the Tahoe Heritage Foundation, the Tallac Historic Site includes the Pope-Baldwin Estates that are open for tours during the summer, gardens, the Tallac Museum, and a Vintage Clothing Exhibit. 

If you’re looking to take a step back in time to explore what Lake Tahoe was like over 100 years ago, this is a good attraction to visit. 

best things to do in lake tahoe in summer - tallac historic site

Hang Glide or Paraglide over the Lake

Lake Tahoe is approximately 192 square miles of pure blue, which means that any view from the top is going to be mind-blowing. 

So it’s no surprise that one of the best things to do around Lake Tahoe for those who love lofty views is to go flying over the lake. 

Depending on your personal preference for flying high, you can either go hang gliding or paragliding with Uprising Paragliding.

Whitewater Rafting on the Truckee River

If you’re looking to get your thrills on the water, a good day trip and one of the best things to do near Lake Tahoe is to go whitewater rafting on the Truckee River. 

Truckee River is full of thrilling rapids and peaceful scenery, perfect for a vacation with family and friends.

Tahoe Whitewater Tours, Tributary Whitewater Tours, and I.R.I.E. Rafting Company are the companies that you can reserve a half-day, full-day, or multi-day excursion with.

Or, if you’re looking for something a little less aggressive, you can do lazy tubing down a different part of the Truckee River instead. 

Parasail at Kings Beach State Recreation Area

Located on the North Shore of Lake Tahoe, Kings Beach is not only one of the best places to visit in Lake Tahoe, but it’s also a popular spot to go parasailing with friends.

When you parasail at Kings Beach, you are lifted to heights as far up as 800 feet, giving you a stunning vantage point of the entire lake and then some.

As a bonus, you get to sail for free on your birthday if you fly with North Shore Parasail.

Go on a Scenic Horseback Ride from Camp Richardson Corral

Camp Richardson Corral is a riding school that lets you live out your Pony Express dreams without the threat of harsh conditions.

You can ride through Lake Tahoe National Forest on a guided tour and experience the tranquility of Fallen Leaf Lake and Taylor Creek on horseback.

Camp Richardson Corral also offers hay wagon rides, pony rides, pack trips, and boarding facilities. It’s a fun thing to do in Lake Tahoe for the whole family, by yourself, or as a couple. 

Go Tubing and Wakeboarding

I tried this for the first time last fall and even though I was terrified the whole time, I’ll admit it was a fun day out on the lake. 

There are a number of boating rental spots around the lake where you can rent a boat by the hour with a captain and go tubing and wakeboarding off the back of it. 

Unlike the lazy tubing on a river, tubing in Lake Tahoe is when you attach an intertube to the back of a boat and hold on for dear life. 

The place we went with was High Sierra Waterski School and our captain was great with going as fast or as slow as we wanted. 

You can also test out your wakeboarding skills since most of the boats come with a tube and a wakeboard. Or, if you want a little more one-on-one instruction, you can take wakeboarding or waterskiing lessons with them too. 

This is one of the best activities to do in Tahoe if you’re looking for a challenging water activity and don’t mind getting wet. 

Tubing and Wakeboarding in lake tahoe

Dinner Cruise on The MS Dixie II Paddlewheeler

Zephyr Cove Resort not only gives you prime access to a mile-long beach, it’s also where you can take a Lake Tahoe cruise on the MS Dixie II Paddlewheeler.

On the cruise, you can purchase fine wines and delicious cocktails on top of enjoying a fresh and locally sourced dinner with stunning scenery against the backdrop of Emerald Bay.

Grab tickets for the MS Dixie II Sunset Cruise here

Jet Ski on the Lake

Thanks to its usually calm nature, Lake Tahoe is a water wonderland where you can swim, sail, and even go jet skiing. 

Several companies such as Tahoe Sports or Action Watersports offer services that allow you and a couple of friends to zip around on jet skis that you can rent for a half-day or full-day.

Jet skiing can cost a pretty penny though so make sure you shop around for the best options.

Visit Vikingsholm

One of the best things to do in Tahoe, or at least the most eccentric, is to visit Vikingsholm – a Viking-inspired castle near Emerald Bay.

Vikingsholm is a tribute to fine Scandinavian architecture and seamlessly blends in amidst the trees. Since tours are only available in the summer, this is one of the best summer things to do in Tahoe. 

Vikingsholm is accessible via a steep one-mile trail after you park near Highway 89 or a less steep 1.5-mile trail from Eagle Point Campground Campfire Center.

Emerald Bay Beach in south lake tahoe

Get your FREE California Travel Planner – including printable checklists and my favorite two-week itinerary for the state. 

SUP or Kayak to Fannette Island

If you’re looking for Lake Tahoe summer activities, SUPing or kayaking is an ideal way to explore the lake. 

And one of the best places to kayak Lake Tahoe is to paddle out to Fannette Island in Emerald Bay.

Fannette Island is close enough to the shore to be accessed by SUP or kayak so you can easily explore the island at your leisure.

Just note that there’s nowhere to launch your kayak or standup paddleboard at Emerald Bay, but you can leave from Baldwin Beach and paddle over. There are kayak and SUP rentals at Baldwin Beach as well. 

Once you get to the island, there’s an abandoned tea house perched at the very top of the hill, so be sure to make the 10-minute climb and treat yourself to views of the gorgeous emerald waters.

Visit the Hellman-Ehrman Mansion

Back in the late 1800s, businessman I.W. Hellman bought enough land at Sugar Point to create a summer estate that later became dubbed the Hellman-Ehrman Mansion.

After he passed away, his daughter Florence Hellman Ehrman inherited the property where she and her family entertained visitors for decades.

Today, it’s maintained as a house museum and is a stunning example of Tahoe summer vacation mansions. 

It’s one of the more interesting things to see in Tahoe for those who want to like to explore historic estates. Plus, the surrounding Sugar Pine Point State Park is a fun place to spend a day and go swimming. 

Visit the Hellman Ehrman Mansion

Helicopter or Hot Air Balloon Ride Over the Lake

Looking to get a good Lake Tahoe view from above?

Going on a helicopter ride or hot air balloon ride over the lake can be a magical experience. 

Helicopter rides can be done year-round at the lake, but I recommend them as a summer activity because I think the shades of the lake are more stunning from above in the summer. 

Plus, you can see more of the Lake Tahoe landscape when it’s not covered in snow

For helicopter rides, Tahoe Helicopters offers various rides that explore different areas of the lake and last from 10 minutes to one hour. 

The most stunning ride they offer is probably their Lake Tahoe at sunset ride, which lasts for an hour and allows you to see a breathtaking Tahoe sunset from the sky. 

If you’d prefer a hot air balloon ride over Lake Tahoe, Lake Tahoe Balloons offers tours that take you on a calm and scenic ride above the lake. 

Tours leave at sunrise and last for about 45 minutes to an hour, concluding with a champagne toast upon landing.

Note: Hot air balloon rides only run from May through October.   

Rent a Boat to Explore Hidden Coves Around the Lake

One of the best activities in Lake Tahoe for those with a sense of adventure is to rent a boat and explore the hidden coves around the lake by yourself or with a few friends. 

Renting a boat in Lake Tahoe starts at around $160/hour, which isn’t bad if you’re splitting it with a group of friends. 

Grab some Bluetooth speaks, a cooler of drinks, and enjoy a sunny day out on the water doing your own cruise around the lake. You can find boat rentals at most of the main marinas around Lake Tahoe.  

Experience the Tahoe Via Ferrata or Go Rock Climbing

If you’re new to the sport or you don’t have an interest in doing traditional rock climbing, I highly recommend experiencing the Tahoe Via Ferrata in Squaw Valley. 

We did it last fall and it’s basically a guided rock climbing experience that’s reminiscent of a ropes course, no experience necessary. 

Due to it being 2020 at the time, we did a private three-hour tour and spent the afternoon enjoying the lofty views over Squaw Valley while climbing up and over a bunch of rocks.

They’re now offering two or three-hour group tours again, as well as private tours. It’s a very fun way to test your fear of heights and take in some good views along the way. 

If you’re looking to do more traditional rock climbing, Tahoe has a lot of options. You can tackle one of the most popular crags in Tahoe with a few friends or do a guided tour with Tahoe Adventure Company

Tahoe Via Ferrata

Best Things to do in Lake Tahoe in the Winter

Hit the Slopes at One of the Many Ski Resorts 

Although snow levels seem to be getting lower each year, if the snow happens to be good, an obvious must-do in Lake Tahoe is to go skiing or snowboarding. 

Hitting the slopes is one of the best things to do in Tahoe in winter and an adrenaline-induced way to experience a winter wonderland in California.  

A few of the best ski resorts in Tahoe include: 

Squaw Valley Ski Resort

Lake Tahoe is legendary as the best place in NorCal to “shred the gnar,” boasting plenty of luxury ski resorts.

Squaw Valley recently acquired Alpine Meadows, which means you get twice the terrain to cover with the price of one lift ticket.

That, plus its large variety of slopes and less-crowded lifts, makes Squaw Valley a popular choice for daredevil snowboarders and skiers who like to zip down from the mountain top.

Heavenly Ski Resort 

Famed for its unparalleled groomed snow, Heavenly Mountain Resort might be more costly than other resorts in the area, but it makes up for it in a huge variety of runs and terrain.

If you ski or snowboard at an intermediate level, Heavenly will keep you entertained on all of its trails.

Or if you don’t feel up to braving the lifts, you can go off on your own adventure and snowshoe through all that luscious powder.

Northstar Ski Resort 

Not too far from Squaw Valley, you’ll find another North Tahoe ski resort by the name of Northstar

With 3,000 acres of skiable runs, Northstar is a good-sized ski resort that offers terrain for all skill levels. 

Although Northstar is known for its luxury accommodation and pricey lift tickets (starting at around $150 per day), it’s also known for its laid-back atmosphere. 

Northstar also has some of the best terrain parks in Tahoe, including one that has a superpipe designed by Olympian Shaun White. 

Read our guides to the best snowboard gloves and the best women’s snowboard pants.

Lake Tahoe winter - Northstar Resort

Ice Skate at Heavenly Village

One activity that should be on your winter in Lake Tahoe to-do list is ice skating.  

Heavenly Village boasts an open-air ice skating rink from November to April, so you can enjoy gliding around in the morning before lunch or at night underneath the lights.

Go Hot Tubbing in Squaw Valley

Another one of the best Lake Tahoe winter activities is hot tubbing. If you don’t have one at your accommodation, the next best thing is heading to Squaw Valley. 

There’s no better way to apres-ski (AKA relaxing so hard you turn into a limp noodle after spending all day in uncomfortable ski boots) than hitting the hot tub in Squaw Valley.

The hot tub at High Camp will give you stunning views of the granite peaks while all your muscles relax.

Party at WinterWonderGrass Festival or Tahoe Snowfest!

With so many tourists gathering in Lake Tahoe during the winter, it’s no wonder the city wants to throw as many cool events as possible.

WinterWonderGrass Festival showcases the best of the big-name bluegrass talents like Trampled by Turtles, Greensky Bluegrass, and more.

Tahoe Snowfest, on the other hand, seeks to celebrate the best of the local community with the intensity of Mardi Gras.

Ski races, ice carving contests, polar bear swims, and pancake breakfasts are some of the many cool events you can participate in during this weeklong festival.

Snowshoe Around Camp Richardson

If you’re visiting Tahoe in the winter, you can go sledding, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing on Camp Richardson’s carefully groomed trails.

The Camp Richardson trails take you along the shores of Lake Tahoe and are perfect for any skill level.

This is one of the best things to do near the lake if you want to explore the local trails in winter but you’re looking for a guided experience in the snow.

Snowshoeing is also one of the best cheap things to do in the Lake Tahoe area in terms of winter activities (which can otherwise get very expensive).  

Lake tahoe winter-snowshoeing
If you’ve never been snowshoeing before, Lake Tahoe is an ideal place to learn.

Take a Snowmobiling Tour with Lake Tahoe Adventures

One of the more adrenaline-inducing snow activities in Lake Tahoe is to go on a snowmobiling tour. 

And you can speed through the breathtaking Hope Valley on the back of a snowmobile with Lake Tahoe Adventures.

Helmets, boots, gloves, and, of course, the snowmobile are included in the reservation and you can rent goggles and a snowsuit for an additional fee.

Once you’re feeling adequately suited up to brave the cold, you’ll get to pilot a snowmobile and follow the instructor as he or she takes you on a two-hour adventure through pure alpine bliss.

Go on a Self-Guided Craft Beer Tour

If you’re looking for unique things to do around Lake Tahoe, one of my favorite experiences is exploring the delicious craft beer scene in Lake Tahoe.

There are plenty of options for a self-guided craft beer tour through Lake Tahoe but these would be my top picks: South Lake Brewing Company, South of North Brewing Co, The Brewery at Lake Tahoe, Lake Tahoe AleWorx, and Cold Water Brewery and Grill.

Cozy Up on a Sleigh Ride

If you’re visiting Lake Tahoe during the holidays, think about hopping on a sleigh ride to cruise in the snow in style. 

If you’re looking for romantic ways to explore the area or an activity that’s good for the whole family, a sleigh ride is one of the more unique things to do near Lake Tahoe. 

The most popular company to go with for sleigh rides in Tahoe is Borges Family Sleigh Rides, which operates rides in both North and South Lake Tahoe.  

Rides go for an hour and include warm blankets, plenty of photo opportunities, and a local guide that recites poems and stories about popular landmarks. 


Take in the Tahoe Landscape While Cross Country Skiing 

If you’re not a fan of downhill skiing or snowboarding but you still want to enjoy being active in the snow, cross country skiing can be a good option. 

You can either choose to go on ‘groomed’ cross country skiing areas at local ski resorts or near larger cities or go off-track to explore backcountry cross country skiing areas.  

A few of the most popular places for cross country skiing in Lake Tahoe include Luther Pass and Hope Valley/Carson Pass (although this spot is better for more advanced skiers). 

winter actitivies in lake tahoe - cross country skiing

Enjoy an Apres-Ski Happy Hour 

With how popular snowboarding, skiing, and other winter sports are in Tahoe, it’s no surprise that there are just as many ways to enjoy apres-ski. 

After a full day of hitting the slopes and falling in the snow, one of the best things to do is find a cozy spot to relax with a drink in hand and good company. 

A few of the best places to go for a good apres-ski happy hour in lake Tahoe are California Burger Co., Lake Tahoe Aleworx, Azul Latin Kitchen, Las Panchitas, and Chart House

Best Things to do in Tahoe Year Round

Visit Donner Memorial State Park

If you’re looking for things to do near Tahoe and you’re an American history buff, Donner Memorial State Park is an ideal place to go in Lake Tahoe. 

You might remember how the Donner Party met its tragic fate in the Sierra Nevadas during a brutal winter.

Today, this site has been converted into the Donner Memorial State Park, which is considerably more visitor-friendly than it used to be decades ago.

You can visit the Donner Memorial State Park Visitor Center to check out its history museum or stop by the Pioneer Monument.

Enjoy a Massage at Stillwater Spa and Salon

If you’re looking for relaxing things to do around South Lake Tahoe, why not have a spa day? 

Located at the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort, the luxurious Stillwater Spa and Salon boasts several services, including an infinity room, dry cedar sauna, and eucalyptus steam room. 

Wrapped in a fluffy robe, you’re in relaxation central. 

Visit the Olympic Museum

After Squaw Valley hosted the Winter Olympics in 1960, the Olympic Museum opened to the general public.

Today, it’s one of the most interesting things to see near Lake Tahoe and home to unique Olympian memorabilia, videos, and news articles.

Talk about a blast from the past and a chance to geek out over your inner hockey/ski/snowboard/skating fanatic. 

Spend the Afternoon in Tahoe City or Downtown Truckee

One of the best things to do in North Lake Tahoe is to spend an afternoon in Tahoe City or Downtown Truckee

Tahoe City is a community hotbed filled with locals and tourists who are always looking to unwind and explore after hitting the slopes.

As a result, the amount of places to shop, eat, and check out in Tahoe City is pretty impressive.

For example, the Gatekeeper’s Museum is a great place to learn about the Washoe Tribe, the logging and mining eras, and the establishment of the tourism industry in Tahoe.

After you check out the museum, you can go from village to village to shop around at the charming boutiques.

Or you can head over to downtown Truckee, home to plenty of artisanal boutiques and mom-and-pop shops.

If you have a hankering for olive oil, visit the tasting room at Tahoe Oil & Spice to sample over 50 olive oils, balsamic vinegar, and spice blends.

Grabbing dinner in Tahoe City

Explore Heavenly Village 

If you’re sticking around Heavenly Resort then you definitely can’t miss out on exploring Heavenly Village, one of the most vibrant places to see in Lake Tahoe. 

Heavenly Village is home to over 40 shops, a stellar dining scene, and great music.

Let your Stomach Enjoy the Best Foodie Spots

Since South Lake Tahoe attracts so many visitors, it’s no surprise that the dining scene is on point.

Need to load up on carbs before a hard day of hitting the slopes or after enjoying a full day of Lake Tahoe sightseeing?

Grab breakfast at the Getaway Cafe or burgers at California Burger Co.

Feeling Italian? Primo’s Italian Bistro has some great charcuterie and Scusa! Italian Ristorante has hearty portions of pasta.

Otherwise, check out Artemis Mediterranean Grill if you want to treat yourself to some hummus and falafels.

Go to a Magic Show at The Loft

Fill your night with laughter and awe as you watch a Magic Fusion show at the Loft Theatre & Lounge in Heavenly Village.

Blending comedy with magic, Magic Fusion is hosted every night of the week in an impressive 107-seat auditorium.

Not only can you witness some dazzling performances, but you get to wine and dine at the same time. Be sure to buy your tickets in advance if you want good seats.

Ride the Heavenly Mountain Gondola or Squaw Valley Aerial Tram

Heavenly Mountain Gondola 

Hop on the Heavenly Mountain Gondola to ride for 2.4 miles until you reach the observation deck.

From there, you can enjoy breathtaking panoramic views while enjoying a hot cup of cocoa from Cafe Blue. 

One thing to note is that tickets for the gondola aren’t cheap at $50/person. 

Because of this, it’s best to ride it if you’re going skiing or snowboarding at Heavenly Resort since daily lift tickets include the Heavenly Gondola. 

With that said, it’s also beautiful to experience in the summer because you can see so much of the Lake Tahoe landscape below. It just depends on if you’re willing to splurge that much for a gondola ride. 

lake Tahoe attractions - Heavenly Gondola

Squaw Valley Aerial Tram to High Camp 

You know High Camp at Squaw Valley is a special place when they choose to host the Winter Olympics there.

The Squaw Valley Aerial Tram is one of the top things to do in the Lake Tahoe area (literally, ha!) and features 360-degree views of the lake.

Similar to the Heavenly Mountain Gondola, the tram isn’t cheap at around $50 per person, but if you’re skiing at Squaw Valley it’s included in the price of your lift ticket. 

Once you arrive at the top, you can indulge in several outdoor activities, including hiking, playing lawn games, roller skating, geocaching, and more. 

Dance the Night Away on the Tahoe Club Crawl

There is truly something for everyone at Lake Tahoe, including the masses of party-going twenty-somethings that bring a lot of energy to Tahoe’s nightlife.

If you’re looking for nightlife activities, the Tahoe Club Crawl is a fun option for those between 21-30.  

The pub crawl takes you through multiple venues (all with welcome shots, duh) and ends at Opal Nightclub, where you can proceed to dance your pants off.

Go Gambling on the Nevada Side of the Lake

Gambling might be a no-no in most of California, but risk-takers can take their chances gambling on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe.

Hard Rock Hotel and MontBleu Resort are ideal for trying your hand at poker, blackjack, slots, and more.

Hopefully, luck will be on your side so you can spend your newly-earned dough on some luxury experiences around Tahoe.

Best Free Things to do in the Lake Tahoe Area 

Take in the Scenic Views of Lake Tahoe

If you’re looking to take in the best of Lake Tahoe scenery, there’s no better way to do this than from the scenic lookout points that are nestled around the lake

This is one of the best free things to do around Lake Tahoe – all you need is a car and an afternoon to hit a few popular lookout points. 

These are a few of the best viewpoints in Lake Tahoe to really take in the natural beauty of the Lake Tahoe area.

Take in the views of Fannette Island

Picnic at a State Park 

Although the state parks around Lake Tahoe charge a day-use parking fee of $10 per vehicle, having a picnic at one of the beautiful state parks is priceless. 

One of my favorite parts about Lake Tahoe compared to other lakes in California is that 80% of the Lake Tahoe basin is under public ownership. 

This means there are a ton of state parks to enjoy on all sides of the lake – eight to be exact (counting both California and Nevada state parks).

Make sure you have cash for the parking fee and head to one of these state parks for a picnic in the sunshine. 

Picnic at a state park in tahoe

Drive Around the Lake 

If you want to go another level up from taking in the most popular scenic viewpoints, driving around Lake Tahoe is a fun way to spend the day. 

The perimeter of Lake Tahoe is 72 miles and takes around three hours to drive around with no stops. 

Of course, you should be stopping a lot with all of those good views, so I’d recommend giving yourself a minimum of five hours up to a full day if you want to have longer stops. 

A few stops around the lake that shouldn’t be missed include:

  • Meeks Bay
  • Sugar Pine Point State Park (and the Ehrman Mansion)
  • The Tahoe Maritime Museum
  • Gatekeeper’s Museum
  • The Watson Cabin Museum
  • Kings Beach
  • Crystal Bay
  • Stateline Lookout
  • Mt. Rose Lookout
  • Memorial Point
  • Sand Harbor Beach
  • Spooner Lake
  • Cave Rock Vista Point 

If you have enough time, I’d also add on stops at the Olympic Museum, the Donner Party Museum, and Truckee.  

Driving around the lake is one of the best ways to get your bearings and check out the main highlights in Lake Tahoe in one day.

Drive Around Lake Tahoe

Visit the Lake Tahoe Historical Society Museum

The Lake Tahoe Historical Society Museum is home to many precious artifacts that date as far back as the Gold Rush Era in Tahoe.

Learn more about the Pony Express, Chinese railroad workers, and the Indigenous Americans who once lived in the area from the carefully curated exhibit.

Admission is free but the museum tends to have limited hours and is usually closed from January to May so check their website ahead of time for current hours. 

Visiting this museum is one of the best South Lake Tahoe activities to do if you’re looking to learn more about the history of the area. 

Ride the Free Gondola at Northstar

Available year-round, the free Highlands Gondola near the Village at Northstar takes you up into the air and through the stunning vista that is Lake Tahoe and its surrounding landscape.

Once you arrive at the resort at the top of the mountain, you can go hiking and picnicking in the summertime or play in the powder during the winter.

Backpacking in Desolation Wilderness

If you like the idea of getting away from the crowds and roughing it in the wilderness, Desolation Wilderness is the best place near Lake Tahoe to do just that. 

This protected wilderness area covers close to 64,000 acres and offers plenty of backcountry hiking and camping opportunities for the adventurous traveler. 

If you’re looking to go backpacking in Lake Tahoe, this is one of the best areas to do it. 

In Desolation Wilderness, you can expect to find granite peaks, alpine forests, as well as lakes and valleys that were formed by glaciers. 

Just note that both day and overnight permits are required for entering Desolation Wilderness. 

Day permits can be picked up at the start of trailheads but overnight permits should be booked at least a day in advance on recreation.gov

If you’re looking to purchase a backpacking tent, check out my post on the best 4-person tents for camping & backpacking

best place near lake tahoe - backpacking desolation wilderness

Stand in Two States at Once

Okay, it might not be as cool as standing in four states at once (I’m looking at you, Four Corners Monument), but you can still stand in California and Nevada at the same time.

The 1872 California-Nevada State Boundary Marker sits in South Lake Tahoe and is marked by a simple line across the road.

Head to the marker if you want to enjoy a small detour from the casinos and other Lake Tahoe attractions.

Best Things to do in Tahoe With Kids

Devour the Specialty S’mores at Northstar

It’s pretty hard to beat the holy trinity of chocolate, graham crackers, and marshmallows, but Northstar has s’mores-making down to an art.

During the winter, the Village at Northstar makes complimentary s’mores, some of them simple and some decadent.

We’re talking bacon-wrapped s’mores, s’mores with chili or mint-flavored chocolate, and sprinkle-covered s’mores.

The s’mores alone make Northstar one of the best places to visit in Lake Tahoe in the winter. 

And it’s also easily one of the best things to do in Tahoe with kids if you’re looking for a special treat after a day on the slopes.  

best things to do with kids in lake tahoe - eat s'mores at northstar

Get an Adrenaline Rush at Granlibakken

A Tahoe resort that doesn’t only focus on skiing or snowboarding. 

Granlibakken features a Treetop Adventure Park that is sure to get your heart pumping.

The Treetop Park has 97 tree platforms, 10 ropes courses, 27 zip lines, and 60 bridges that allow you to navigate from one tree to another with no problem.

If you’re looking for a sporty activity to challenge your family all day, look no further than the Treetop Park.

Go Tubing at Hansen’s Resort

One of the best Lake Tahoe family activities, tubing at Hansen’s Resort never fails to delight kids and adults.

You can either buy an all-day pass or pay an hourly rate to use the tubes and saucers they have on-site.

The Snow Tube Run is approximately 400 feet long, so you’ll have a fun workout running up the hill and tubing all the way down.

Ride the Ridge Rider Mountain Coaster at Heavenly

It might seem a little out of place, but hopping on the Ridge Rider Mountain Coaster is one of the best Tahoe activities if you’re looking for an adrenaline rush.

This gravity-powered coaster sails through the trees and rock formations and can be booked as part of the Ultimate Adventure Pass or Scout Sampler Pass.

If you’re looking for a little more adventure to spice up your vacation, check out more of Heavenly’s Epic Discovery.

This summer playground features a ropes course, zip lines, and a climbing wall.

Since you can’t go skiing or snowboarding in the summer, these are some of the best Heavenly summer activities for the whole family to enjoy. 

Tahoe City Winter Sports Park

For a fun place to play in the snow for the whole family, head to Tahoe City Winter Sports Park

The park offers a sledding hill, cross country skiing trails, a snowshoeing loop, an ice skating rink, fat biking (if you want to try biking in the snow), and plenty of hot chocolate for the kiddos.  

Tahoe City Winter Sports Park is conveniently located right in the heart of Tahoe City and offers a good variety of activities for all ages of kids. 

Tahoe Science Center

Run by UC Davis, the Tahoe Science Center is a unique museum in Lake Tahoe that’s geared for teaching kids about the ecosystem of Lake Tahoe through interactive exhibits. 

The museum is both educational and fun and it can be a great place to visit when the weather is gloomy or if you’re simply looking for a break from the usual Tahoe attractions. 

Besides learning about the ecosystem of Lake Tahoe, there’s also a focus on sustainability efforts and how they’re working on keeping Lake Tahoe blue. 

Docent-guided tours are offered Tuesday through Friday from 1 pm to 5 pm, with tours beginning on the hour. The exhibits are recommended for children who are eight and up. 

Where to Stay in Lake Tahoe 

Since tourism is the lifeblood of Lake Tahoe, rest assured that there are plenty of accommodations ranging from budget-friendly to luxury digs all around the lake.

If you don’t feel like staying in a hotel or you’re part of a large group, Airbnb and VRBO cabins are a popular option for short-term rentals as well.

Where to stay in lake tahoe

South Lake Tahoe


North Lake Tahoe

Read our complete guide on where to stay in Lake Tahoe. Or, if you’re more interested in pitching a tent, read our guide to the best campgrounds in Lake Tahoe.

Tips For Visiting Lake Tahoe 

Lake Tahoe is a year-round destination in California that features a diverse mountain landscape, various elevations, and activities for every season.  

It’s also a popular weekend trip from San Francisco, so it makes a difference to plan out your Lake Tahoe vacation before you arrive. 

Tips for Visiting Lake Tahoe
  • Book early and know when the busiest times are to visit – Since there are so many places to visit in Lake Tahoe, it’s good to book hotels and restaurants in advance. Summer edges out winter in terms of popularity, so expect hotel rates to be more expensive during this time, especially Thursday-Saturday and holiday weekends. If you want fewer crowds, plan to visit in the fall or spring.
  • Be mindful of the higher elevation – Lake Tahoe is an alpine lake that sits at over 6,000 feet above sea level. The lake’s higher elevation means oxygen is not as plentiful, so hiking and other strenuous activities might take a greater physical toll on your body than anticipated. The sun is also much stronger so put on extra sunscreen and drink a lot of water.  
  • Check road conditions in the winter – If you’re driving up to Lake Tahoe in the winter, check the road conditions a couple of days before you make the drive. Roads can get icy and highway checkpoints might require you to put snow chains on your tires before you proceed. If you don’t have them, you’ll be forced to turn around. In the summer, it’s worth it to check air quality ahead of time since forest fires can happen in the Lake Tahoe area.  
  • Bring layers – Even if the weather is hot in the afternoon, temperatures can plummet once the sun goes down. Nights can be breezy and cool by the lake. Bring extra layers and a warm jacket to stay warm in the evenings, even if you’re visiting at the height of summer. 
  • Plan how to get around – Although there’s public transit in Lake Tahoe, it’s not the most convenient or reliable way to get around. If you’re going to popular spots where parking is a nightmare, by all means, hop on the bus. Otherwise, you’re mostly going to want your own set of wheels to get around the lake, especially for more remote locations. 

Which Part of Lake Tahoe is the Best?

It depends on what type of experience you’re looking for. 

The south part of the lake is a good jumping-off point for seeing some of the most popular sights around Lake Tahoe. 

South Lake Tahoe is also known for its casinos and nightlife, so if you’re looking for that kind of energy, the south side of the lake is a better option for going out. 

There are casinos in North Lake Tahoe as well, but they’re not as big or as boisterous as what you’ll find in the south. 

North Lake Tahoe is more remote and relaxed and a good place to go if you want a slower pace and fewer crowds. 

If you’re looking for beaches and skiing or snowboarding, both North and South Lake Tahoe have their own set of beautiful beaches and ski resorts. 

This means you’ll be spoiled for choice no matter which side of the lake you base yourself on. It really just depends on what kind of energy and atmosphere you’re looking for.

For a full run-down, check out my guide to North vs South Lake Tahoe

Which part of lake tahoe is the best

How Many Days Do You Need in Lake Tahoe? 

You’ll want to give yourself at least a weekend or 2-3 days in Lake Tahoe. 

This will allow you to get a feel for what the area has to offer and fit in a few outdoor activities while you’re at it.

If you have more time, spending a week in Lake Tahoe will let you experience a good chunk of Lake Tahoe attractions and sights. 

how many days do you need in lake tahoe

When is the Best Time to Visit Lake Tahoe?

Lake Tahoe is a year-round destination but the lake is busiest during the summer and winter seasons. 

If you’re looking for lower prices and fewer crowds, I’d recommend visiting from March to May or September to November. 

In my opinion, the best time of year to visit Lake Tahoe is in September or October, just after most of the tourists have left and the weather is still gorgeous. 

But I’m also more of a hiker than a skier or snowboarder so I prefer the sunny weather for getting on out on the trails. 

If you’re more interested in snow activities, the best month to visit Lake Tahoe is in March when you can usually catch the tail end of the skiing and snowboarding season. 

In fact, March is probably the best time to enjoy the slopes in Tahoe because it’s less crowded, lift tickets tend to be cheaper, and there’s still usually plenty of snow.

When's the best time to visit lake tahoe

Is it Expensive to Visit Lake Tahoe?

Yes, it can be. There’s no way around it, Lake Tahoe has become an expensive destination to visit in California due to its popularity. 

With that said, there are ways you can cut down on costs with a visit to Lake Tahoe. The best way to do this is to visit during the shoulder seasons mentioned above – from March to May or September to November. 

During these times, accommodation prices tend to be lower. Plus, you get the added benefit of fewer crowds. 

Another popular way to visit Lake Tahoe on the cheap is by going up with a large group of at least four or more people. 

This will allow you to split the price of a cabin in a cost-effective way and cuts accommodation prices down by a lot. 

In terms of state parks, most day parking fees will set you back $10 for each park you visit. 

And for ski resorts, lift tickets are around $100 for a one-day pass at the main resorts (Heavenly, Squaw Valley, and Northstar).

What to Pack for Lake Tahoe

As I mentioned above, Lake Tahoe is a great place to visit all seasons of the year but temperatures can fluctuate dramatically. Because of this, it’s best to pack for either a moderate to hot summer or snowy winter.

This is what I’d recommend bringing in your overnight bag, depending on the season. 

A woman on a hiking path in Lake Tahoe, looking out towards the trees--best gifts for outdoorsy women.

If you’re packing for a summer stay:

If you’re packing for a winter vacation, bring these items along:

How to Get to Lake Tahoe 

How to Get to Lake Tahoe from San Francisco

If you’re planning a trip to Lake Tahoe from San Francisco, the easiest way to get there is by car. 

South Lake Tahoe is around 200 miles from San Francisco and takes around three to four hours to get there, depending on traffic. 

Most people take I-80 to CA-50 to get to South Lake Tahoe from San Francisco. 

If you’re going to North Lake Tahoe, it’s about the same time in the car, you’ll just stay on I-80 for the majority of the drive and then cut over on CA-267 once you get to Truckee.

If you’re driving to Lake Tahoe in summer, I highly recommend visiting mid-week and avoiding holiday weekends if possible.

If you can only get up to the lake for a weekend getaway, try and leave before noon on Friday from San Francisco to avoid the worst traffic.

There are bus and train options from San Francisco that drop you off near Lake Tahoe, but I wouldn’t recommend visiting the lake with public transportation. 

Public transportation up to the lake involves transfers and takes much longer. And once you get up to the lake, public transit isn’t the best outside of the main Lake Tahoe cities. 

It makes a huge difference if you can have your own car to get around the Lake Tahoe basin. 

how to get to lake tahoe

How Far Is Lake Tahoe from Yosemite? 

Yosemite may seem like it should be close to Lake Tahoe since it’s also in the Sierras, but it’s about a three-hour drive to get from Lake Tahoe to Yosemite.  

It’s a little far for a day trip from Lake Tahoe but it can be a worthwhile detour on a tour of the Sierras.

Or if you have the time to stop at Yosemite for two or three days on your way back to San Francisco that can be a good option too.

Read our two days in Yosemite itinerary.

Get your FREE California Travel Planner – including printable checklists and my favorite two-week itinerary for the state. 


Find accommodationbook your rental car, or sign up for a local tour.

Book a vacation rental on Airbnb (and get $40 off your first booking).

Buy your Lake Tahoe Guide here.


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Mimi McFadden
Founder & Editor-In-Chief

Mimi McFadden grew up in Santa Cruz, California, and founded The Atlas Heart in 2013. Mimi has always been into fashion to some extent, but really started paying attention to it more at the age of 28 when she no longer lived out of a backpack as a full-time traveler. Once she started owning her personal style (and had an actual closet), she focused on finding the perfect balance of comfort and versatility for her wardrobe. As one of the main clothing testers at The Atlas Heart, she is always on the lookout for fun new clothing brands to try out that can add style and comfort to her travels around California, especially those that focus on sustainability.

Looking for more bucket list ideas for California? Check out my related posts below!

Best Things to do in Lake Tahoe, California
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Hi, I'm Mimi! I'm an outdoorsy Californian who has spent over 28 years immersed in the incredible natural beauty that California has to offer. My goal is to inspire others to get out and find their next adventure in California. Whether it’s escaping to an alpine lake in the Sierras, finding peace among the giant redwoods, or road tripping down the PCH, there’s always more to explore in this beautiful state.


2 thoughts on “50 Things to Do in Lake Tahoe, California (From a Regular Visitor)”

  1. This Lake Tahoe, California guide is incredibly helpful. You’ve really thought through everything you need to know before planning a trip. Thank you for this helpful resource. Saving this guide for later!

  2. What a comprehensive list! Wow! Great job as always!!! So many fun things to do and you say there is much more! I have never been to the Lake Tahoe area but this makes me want to visit! You provide such great information! Lovely photography, even of the Minnie Winnie! ?? Happy for you that you live in such a nice area. It was great to see all the options on top of the individual places you wrote about in previous posts. If I had 3 days in the Tahoe area, what would you recommend the most from this list (or anything you kept out) if coming in the spring to summer time period? I like the outdoors and adventure, enjoy the water, but also am into museums, history, and places that are interesting but not in the typical way (like a great restaurant in Dallas where the owner said the upstairs was haunted. Of course we all went upstairs and explored anyhow!)


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