Lake Tahoe – Insider’s Guide to Summer in Tahoe


One of my favorite weekend trips from the Bay Area, Lake Tahoe is an amazing destination any time of year. My favorite time to visit is in September, where there is still summer weather but less crowds than the peak summer months. South Lake Tahoe is at 6,225′ elevation, so make sure you hydrate and get a lot of rest your first day. You might want to keep some Advil on hand as well. You can make your visit exciting and adventurous with outdoor sports, relaxing and luxurious with beaches and spas, or glitzy with the casinos and nightlife.

Need to Know:

Currency: US Dollar

Language: English


RNO (1hr drive)

SMF (2.5hr drive)

SJC (4hr drive)

SFO (4hr drive)

Electrical Outlets: 120V supply voltage and 60Hz

Planning Your Trip

Accommodation – We enjoy staying at Airbnbs when in Lake Tahoe because they are the perfect accommodations for groups. When just two of us went, we enjoyed this quaint little cabin with a hot tub, and then our group of four loved this ski condo. There are also many hotels and ski resorts in the area.

Food – I was pleasantly surprised by the food scene in South Lake Tahoe. I mainly ate a quick breakfast at the Airbnb before heading out for the day’s activities, but for a slower morning, I highly recommend Driftwood Cafe for fresh coffee, outstanding bloody mary’s, and a nice breakfast. My favorite dinner stops are Artemis Lakefront Cafe for their fries and great patio, and Base Camp Pizza Co., one of the best gluten free pizzas I’ve ever had.

Getting Around – I highly recommend having a car in South Lake Tahoe to make the most of your trip. You will need it to get into town and then to get around as there is limited public transportation. That being said, there is also limited parking, so I recommend getting to popular destinations early to snag a spot, and utilizing rental bikes or scooters to go shorter distances. If you are visiting Tahoe in the winter, make sure you check the road conditions to see if you need chains for your tires.

Top Experiences in South Lake Tahoe

Kayaking or SUP Kayaking or paddle boarding is a great (and affordable) way to get out on the water and see the lake! We actually went out twice, once at Sand Harbor and once at Cave Rock. I would recommend the earlier the better because the water gets pretty choppy later in the day. There are many wake boarding boats that can throw some pretty big waves. In Sand Harbor we rented through Sand Harbor Rentals and at Cave Rock we rented through Day Go Adventures. Sand Harbor was absolutely breathtaking and totally worth the whole parking drama involved (read about this in my Tahoe blog), but Cave Rock was also incredible and a much smoother experience as the company offered a parking shuttle and there were way fewer people.
Biking There are many options for biking in South Lake Tahoe, from mountain biking to beach cruising. Another benefit of renting bikes is getting from place to place without having to deal with the insane summer parking. We rented bikes from Shoreline Rentals which has plenty of parking and is located right by a great bike path. We took the bike path to both Nevada Beach and Round Hill Pines Beach, then continued on across Hwy 50 to some of the wooded bike trails.
Hiking The majority of the hiking we did was in Emerald Bay State Park, but there are other great places to hike in South Lake Tahoe. We also hiked in Van Sickle Bi-State Park. We hiked a ways up the Van Sickle Rim Trail Connector, a nice hike with a few scenic overlooks and a little waterfall. You can hike as little or much as you want on this trail. Another spot that was recommended to us is Cave Rock, but we didn't have time to check it out this time around.
Rent a Boat This is a great activity if you have a group, otherwise it can be pretty expensive. We rented at Tahoe Sports from the Tahoe Keys Marina. We took the boat out for four hours starting at 10am. This was perfect because the sun was up and starting to warm up, but it was before the lake gets really wavy and choppy in the afternoon. We drove the boat over to Zephyr Cove, Cave Rock, then across into Emerald Bay. In Emerald Bay we anchored and swam for a bit. This was probably our favorite activity of the weekend!

Top Hikes in Emerald Bay State Park

Eagle Lake and Falls: Outside of the official state park, this is a great hike for some stunning views of both Emerald Bay and Eagle Lake and Falls. From the parking lot, Eagle Falls is a short hike in. You can stop at the lower falls viewpoint and then climb up onto the bridge to see the upper falls view. You can then cross the bridge and start climbing up towards Eagle Lake. There is a sign that says “permit required” but we didn’t meet anyone that had a permit. A little over a mile later, you’ll reach Eagle Lake where people will likely be swimming and floating in the summer months.

Rubicon Trail: This is a great trail that follows the shore of Lake Tahoe in Emerald Bay. We hiked down from the park entrance, past the Vikingsholm visitor center, and onto the Rubicon Trail. We hiked out to Emerald Point and back (about 5 miles round trip from the visitor’s center). There are a bunch of little spots with lake access, so it is perfect if you want to swim with a little more privacy. Emerald Point even had a nice secluded beach area that is a good place to hang out! It is common for boats to anchor close to shore for the warmer waters, so even though the beach spots are secluded, you will definitely have some friends off-shore.

Vikingsholm: We didn’t go see this 38-room historic mansion on the shores of Emerald Bay, but we walked by the visitors center on our way to the Rubicon Trail. This popular tourist destination offers tours in the summertime but had limited access when we visited during the COVID-19 pandemic. In normal times, there is also an option to take a ferry out to the Fannette Island Tea House.

Top Beaches in South Lake Tahoe

Sand Harbor: Sand Harbor is probably the most iconic spot in Tahoe. This is where you will see crystal clear waters with big boulder rock structures lining the coast. The logistics of getting into Sand Harbor are a nightmare, so make sure you do your research. The parking opens at 8 AM, and cars will start lining up as early as 6 AM. On weekends, you have to arrive before 7:30 AM to have any chance of getting a spot in the lot, but there won’t be space in the car line. There is just a short stretch of road that is 3 lanes where the cops let cars line up to enter without blocking traffic. If this queue is full, find a safe spot to pull off the road but stay in your car close to the entrance. At 8 AM, start driving towards the entrance and see if you can jump in the line. Be sure to have $10 cash for the entrance fee.

Pope Beach: Pope Beach, Kiva Beach, and Baldwin Beach are three of the most popular beaches in South Lake Tahoe. They are located just outside of town, with beautiful lake access. Since they are so popular, they are also very busy with limited parking. We went to Pope Beach later in the afternoon and found a parking spot on the side of the road where we did not need to pay. We then had to walk about .3 mi to the actual beach which was filled with people. The spots by the water were completely packed so we found a little spot further back. This is a popular beach for big picnics, family parties, and lots of groups blasting music and having a good time.

Nevada Beach: Nevada Beach is the least busy and the longest beach we visited the whole weekend. The sand has quite a few pine needles so make sure to bring sandals, but this is definitely the best choice we found for avoiding crowds. There is a nice bike path that takes you there so I would highly recommend getting bikes since parking will always be a mess in the summer. We rented at Shoreline Rentals and from there the bike path also takes you to Round Hill Pines Beach and Resort. This beach down the road has a bar and grill, as well as many boats anchored right off shore. Be aware that if you are biking, you will enjoy a nice downhill cruise to the beach, but heading back is quite the climb!

My Tahoe Essentials


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