My Guide to Tahoe–Summer Edition

This post has been a long time coming…and I’m just warning you now, it’s a pretty long post!

Over the past couple of months, I’ve actually had multiple people reach out to me regarding recommendations on things to see and do on their visit to Tahoe, and I’ve been really bad about responding.  (My apologies if you’re one of those people!) I’ve said I’ve been planning on putting together a post of my favorite things in Tahoe for months now, but with Memorial Day being this weekend (so crazy!) I figured it’s high time to share! 
First of all, I need to start this post by saying that Tahoe is really beautiful year round. Winter is definitely a popular time to visit as there is a lot of really great skiing in the area. I personally am very partial to Heavenly because it has incredibly stunning views of the lake (and it’s 3 minutes from my house). Northstar, which is located on the north side of the lake (as the name would suggest) is also really nice and has a great little village area with nice shops and restaurants. (You can check out a few of my Tahoe winter posts here, here, and here). And although I’m not a huge fan of the cold, there is something so beautiful about seeing everything covered in snow!

However, an expression that we’ve heard many times since moving to Tahoe last January is that while many people come to here for the winter, they end up staying for the summer and it’s SO true. Summer in Tahoe is the very best time of year in my opinion. The weather is sunny and warm (but not too hot/humid), the lake is gorgeous, and there is an abundance of things to do. I figured that it would be easiest to break this post up into a few different areas: Things To See & Do // Places To Eat // Where To Stay–so here we go!

Things To See & Do

Ride the Heavenly Gondola: This would probably be my top recommendation for a must-do “touristy” thing while in Tahoe. Heavenly Ski Resort in South Lake Tahoe has a gondola that leaves from the center of their village area, and in the winter it’s packed with skiers and snowboarders riding up to the mountain from town. But in the summer, you can buy a ticket to just to ride the gondola up to the observation deck which is above 9100 feet! At $38 per ticket for the ride, it’s one of those things that most people would probably question whether or not it’s really worth it–but in my opinion it totally is as it’s the best way to see the lake and really experience the beauty that is Tahoe! (I know that my fellow blogger Katie would agree with me on this!) We did this with both my parents and with my sister and her boyfriend when they came to visit, and I would highly recommend it!

See Emerald Bay: This is a must when visiting Tahoe; it’s supposedly the most photographed spot on the lake and for good reason! If you’re driving towards Emerald Bay from South Lake Tahoe, my suggestion would be do drive past the first parking area where most people usually stop, and park by either the Eagle Falls Trailhead or the parking lot that goes down to Vikingsholm Castle (which is a fun little walk as well, we did that when my sister was in town recently) as both offer spots better views of the lake/Fannette Island.

Drive around the entire lake: This is a great way to get a real sense of the area and it’s a fun way to spend a day while you’re here. It’s 72 miles around the lake, but you can definitely make a day of this gorgeous drive by stopping in to visit some of the little towns along the way. Our typical itinerary when we have guests is to eat breakfast in South Lake Tahoe in the morning, drive up the west side of the lake, stop and take pictures at Emerald Bay, keep driving north to stop in either Truckee or Tahoe City for lunch, then head down around the other side of the lake, stop for an ice cream cone at Char-Pit (more on that in the food section), stop for more photos at the Logan Shoals vista point (located just before the famous Cave Rock, pictured above) and then make it back to South Lake Tahoe by mid-afternoon.

Visit Truckee: This charming town isn’t located on the lake, it’s actually about 20 minutes north of Tahoe City, but it’s definitely worth a stop if you’re driving around the lake! There are great views of the mountains from town and the little downtown area is really cute. They have some more interesting choices for shops and restaurants then we have here in South Lake Tahoe, so it’s a great place to stop for lunch and walk around. It’s also located very close to Northstar Ski Resort, and it’s only about 35 minutes from Reno as well.

Go hiking: This is obviously a favorite summer activity for Cameron and I and there are a wide range of hikes in the Tahoe area. (You can find links to my hiking posts here) Off all the hikes we’ve done, Mt. Tallac was by far my favorite. The hike itself is just under 10 miles and it offers incredible views of both Lake Tahoe and Fallen Leaf Lake, as well as the beautiful mountains here in Tahoe. However, this hike is fairly challenging, so keep that in mind. Another important thing to consider if you’re planning on hiking while on vacation in Tahoe is the elevation. The lake itself sits at 6225 feet, so if you’re coming from sea level you might notice the effects of the altitude so trying to do a strenuous hike on top of that might not be the best idea. This two mile loop around Spooner Lake that Cameron and I did a few weeks ago might be a good choice if you’re looking for something a little easier 🙂

Try stand-up paddleboarding: Paddleboarding is a lot of fun and Lake Tahoe is a great place to try it if you haven’t before. There are a couple different places around the lake that rent stand-up paddleboards, but my recommendation in South Lake Tahoe would be South Tahoe Standup Paddle. They have a shop right on Hwy 50 in the center of town, and it’s right near El Dorado Beach/Lakeview Commons, which is a really happening area in the summer! You can actually go down and pick your paddleboard up on the beach vs. trying to have to deal with strapping it to your car and driving somewhere, which is also nice. Paddleboarding isn’t too difficult and it’s just a great way to spend time on the water.

Go kayaking: There are quite a few places around the lake where you can rent canoes/kayaks, and in addition to being able to paddle around the lake there are also rivers in the area that offer great options as well. Last summer, we kayaked a portion of the Upper Truckee River that ends up in Lake Tahoe (near the marina in South Lake); that section was longer than we anticipated as the water was fairly slow moving, but it was still a fun afternoon. I know there are an abundance of other kayaking options in the Tahoe area as well, so it would be a great thing to plan to do on a vacation here.

Float down the river: If kayaking isn’t your thing, floating down the river in an inner tube or raft is another fun summer option here in Tahoe. We did this with some of Cam’s coworkers last summer and it ended up being such a blast! We started in Tahoe City, and then floated down the Truckee River to a place called the River Ranch; there were tons of other groups doing the same thing and everyone seemed to pull their tubes out at the River Ranch for lunch, so it was definitely a happening place! They’ve got lots of outdoor seating and a casual summer menu, so it was a really fun experience–highly recommend it! It’s great to do with a group, that way you can be sure you have multiple cars so you can leave one at River Ranch to get everyone back to where you started!

Go golfing: So I’m not really a golfer but Tahoe does have quite a few different options of courses in the area. Edgewood is located right here in South Lake Tahoe and it’s a gorgeous course, but there are also some more economical options located throughout the area. Also, if you happen to be in Tahoe during the third week of July, that’s the annual Celebrity Golf Tournament! You can buy a ticket to go walk around and watch all the different celebrities (mainly athletes) play, and Cam and I had a lot of fun doing that last summer.

Take a boat cruise: Getting out on the water while in Lake Tahoe is a fun experience, and one way to do that is by taking a cruise on one the two paddlewheel boats that make trips across the lake. There is one, The Tahoe Queen, that leaves out of the marina in the center of South Lake Tahoe and another one, the MS Dixie II,  that leaves out Zephyr Cove, and they’re both pretty popular tourist attractions. Cameron and I took the MS Dixie II out of Zephyr Cove last June (you can read about it here) and it was neat to see Emerald Bay from the water. The cruise itself can be chilly if you choose to sit outside, so be sure to bring a jacket! When we went, there were a ton of big families and so it was a little annoying/tough to find a seat inside, and we weren’t really able to hear the audio narration around the lake at all during the day, so that was kind of disappointing. Honestly, if I had to choose between this and riding the Gondola, I’d definitely pick riding the Gondola but the paddlewheel cruise can still be fun if you’re looking for something else to do!

Relax and enjoy the beach: If you don’t do anything else while you’re in Tahoe but this, you’ll still have an amazing trip. Being able to sit and stare out at the crystal clear water with the stunning snowy mountains in the distance is an experience like no other. The water in the lake isn’t warm by any means, but it’s definitely tolerable for swimming in the summer. As for the beaches we usually go, Nevada Beach in Zephyr Cove is very nice and depending on what part of the beach your own, you can often find a little more secluded area. Lakeview Commons/El Dorado Beach is smack dab in the center of town, so it’s usually pretty busy, but they do have picnic tables and grills there so it can be a fun spot for a picnic. And finally, Pope Beach is located at the south end of South Lake Tahoe in Camp Richardson, which is a really popular as well. Camp Richardson is a beautiful area, there are some restaurants there, you can rent bikes, and it’s just a fun spot.

* If you want to get in a workout while you’re here, I’d highly recommend Elevated Fitness. It’s right in the Heavenly Village area, they have fun and challenging classes (that are a good mix of both guys and girls), and you can buy a day pass if you want to check it out! Cam and I have been going here for the past year and we love it!

Where To Stay

This is an area that I don’t have a ton of insight into seeing as we live here (obviously), however, here are my thoughts on what part of the area to stay in if you’re planning a trip.

South Lake Tahoe
This is the biggest city on the lake and it’s a great base for a Tahoe vacation…and I’m a little biased though considering this is the area where we live! There are a fair amount of restaurants and things to do here in South Lake, and there are also a handful of casinos as well; that’s not my scene, but for a lot of people that’s why they choose to stay in this area. As far as where to stay specifically, you have a variety of options to choose from in the South Lake Tahoe area. The casinos have lots of hotel rooms, so that’s a popular option that can be economical, depending on when you’re staying there. There are some hotels closer to the water as well, along with a lots of private rental properties all over the area. However, if you are staying in South Lake Tahoe, my personal hotel recommendation would be to stay at Basecamp Hotel. We had the chance to attend an event at the hotel with our young professionals group and we got to tour the property, and I just think it’s so cool the way they have it decorated! It’s got this awesome modern rustic style, and the lobby is so adorable. If I were vacationing in Tahoe, it’s definitely where I’d stay!

They actually have a room called The Greater Indoors that has a tent over the bed and is supposed to simulate camping out in the woods, while having all the amenities of a modern hotel…such a fun concept for Tahoe! (However, if you’re looking to actually experience the great outdoors, there are a number of great campgrounds around the Tahoe area as well that would be perfect to stay at in the summer).

Outside of South Lake Tahoe, my other recommendations for places to stay would probably either be Tahoe City, CA or Kings Beach, CA, which are both around the north shore of the lake. Both towns are a little quieter than South Lake Tahoe, but are beautiful and seem to be popular options for summer tourists. But honestly, the entire area is gorgeous so I truly feel that no matter where you end up staying you really cannot go wrong!

Places To Eat

I saved my favorite topic for last, because in my opinion food is definitely one of the most important parts of any vacation. And I’ll be the first to tell you, you don’t take a vacation to Tahoe for the food by any stretch of the imagination because compared to other cities, the restaurant scene is nothing to write home about. Many of the places are pretty average yet very overpriced for the type of food that they serve, but there are a few gems here and there.

Restaurants with views of the water/on the water in South Lake Tahoe 
(along with a few of the pictures I’ve snapped at some of the places)

Freshies: This is definitely a local favorite, and for good reason, the food is delish! It’s a casual atmosphere with a Hawaiian feel, but they have a pretty wide range of dishes on the menu. Everyone seems to love their tacos (myself included–my favorite are the shrimp!) and they also have a lot of salads and lighter dishes, wish is nice for summer. The restaurant itself is actually on the opposite side of the street from the lake, and the building is super weird (it’s kind of feels like you’re in a strip mall/doctors office, it’s very odd) but the best part is they have a rooftop deck where you can get great views of the lake. It’s a great place to watch the sunset (it’s where I snapped the photo above!), and it’s one of our favorite spots in the summer. But be warned, the service here is notoriously slooooow so I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re in a hurry.

Edgewood: There are actually two restaurants here, a more upscale traditional restaurant and then Brooks Bar, which is a more casual place with an awesome deck. The building at Edgewood is gorgeous and the views of the lake are amazing, I’d highly suggest it if you’re looking for somewhere a little nicer to eat!

Riva Grill: This place is right off Ski Run Blvd where you board the Tahoe Queen paddlewheeler and they have a deck that overlooks the lake. I’ve actually only eaten fish tacos here (that’s something they do on Friday nights during ski season) but they’re known for their frozen drink, the Wet Woody. My impression is that their food is probably a little overpriced for what you get (which is most restaurants in Tahoe) but the location is great.

Fresh Ketch: This place is further into town by the marina, and it’s very similar to Riva Grill. I’ve actually only eaten lunch here, but it seems to be decent food with nice outdoor seating.

The Beacon: Located at the south end of South Lake Tahoe in Camp Richardson, this place gets PACKED in the summer and is kind of a scene to be honest. The Beacon is famous for their “Rum Runners” frozen drink, and then they have pretty All-American fare in terms of food. If you’re looking for a party atmosphere in the summer, this is a great place to go…but if that’s not your cup of tea, then I’d probably skip it.

Lakeside Beach Grill: This place is pretty much the only spot I know of in Tahoe that you can actually eat right on the beach, but I think that it’s actually closed now and under new ownership? When we ate here last summer, the food was really not good but we witnessed one of the most amazing sunsets and it was so cool to be able to eat right on the beach. I think it’s reopening under new ownership this summer though, so it might be worth checking out if you’re here!

Chart House: This place is not actually on the water, but it’s about halfway up to the top of Kingsbury Grade and offers some views of the lake from a little bit higher up. It’s definitely a more fancy restaurant with a very traditional steakhouse feel, but they have a really awesome happy hour that’s definitely worth checking out! I’m pretty sure it’s Monday-Friday from 4:30pm-6:30pm and you have to sit in the bar area to get the happy hour prices, but they’ve got great drink specials and awesome appetizers–it’s a great deal!

Sprouts Cafe: So this isn’t technically on the water, but it’s located right near in the center of town, and so what’s fun is to get your food to go and then walk over to the Lakeview Commons on El Dorado Beach and eat there (that’s what the photo of those nachos in front of the lake at the top of this section is from!). Sprouts is very healthy fare and they have juices, smoothies, and lots of vegetarian options. Their nachos are awesome, and they’ve got some good sandwiches/wraps as well, so it’s a great place for lunch or a light dinner. Definitely popular with the locals!

Breakfast Joints

Red Hut: This place is your typical greasy spoon but there are a couple different locations in South Lake Tahoe. Cam and I usually go to the Kingsbury Grade location, and it’s a good place for a quick breakfast.

Heidi’s: The also serve traditional breakfast fare, but with a larger menu than Red Hut. They’ve got giant portions so it’s a good place to go if you’re really hungry!

Driftwood Cafe: This place is right in the middle of Heavenly Village and also has a good little breakfast/lunch menu. Nothing too out of the ordinary, but pretty good!

The Getaway Cafe: This place is located in Meyers (so basically the south end of South Lake Tahoe) and they have a little bit more creative breakfast menu. It’s still a casual place, but there are some interesting options.

Our Favorite Restaurants

Off the Hook: I love sushi and this is probably my favorite place in Tahoe. They’ve got some interesting rolls and while it’s not the best sushi I’ve ever had, it’s pretty darn good. I also like The Naked Fish, one of the other sushi places in South Lake Tahoe, as well!

Artemis: This place is pretty unassuming from the outside, but it’s a local favorite and a Cam and I really like their food. It’s a Mediterranean style menu, and honestly everything we’ve ever got here has been really good. Plus, I think that’s the prices are really reasonable for the food you get, which is not true of a lot of restaurants in this town. I would highly recommend their baklava, it’s delicious!

Basecamp Pizza: This place always seems to be really busy considering it’s located right in the middle of Heavenly Village, and it’s got kind of a fun atmosphere. Their pizza is good, so it’s a good place to go for a casual dinner. (Blue Dog Pizza across the street by Raley’s grocery store is also pretty delicious if you’re in the mood for pizza!)

Blue Angel Cafe: This place has a cozy atmosphere and they have a very eclectic menu. It’s one of the better casual places in town and it’s good for a group because the serve a variety of cuisines so everyone should be able to find something they like.

Himmel Haus: Located right by the California base of Heavenly, this is another popular spot with locals. They’ve got a good selection of German beers and German-style food, but be warned it’s fairly heavy fare!

Cafe Fiore: This is a great spot for a more special dinner, but I’d highly suggest making a reservation because the restaurant is really tiny. The food is Italian style and it’s got a really romantic ambiance.

Evan’s: This is my top pick for a nice dinner in Tahoe. Although the decor of this place is fairly dated, the food is excellent. Cam and I have come here for multiple special occasions and everything we’ve tried has been awesome. This is a restaurant that puts a lot of artistry into the presentation of every dish, but the food tastes even better than it looks.

Around the Lake

Char-Pit: This is a total dive burger joint in Kings Beach, but they have the most ridiculous soft serve ice cream cones. They’re the perfect summer treat, and we always stop and get one when we’re driving around the lake!

Capisce: Located just up the road from South Lake Tahoe in Zephyr Cove, this is some of my favorite Italian food. It’s sort of overpriced and not the best Italian food I’ve had, but their pasta dishes are pretty good-I particularly liked the Pesto Chicken Pasta!

Bite: Located in Incline Village, this place is nothing special from the outside (it’s hidden in a strip mall, as many Tahoe restaurants are) but it’s got a nice atmosphere and creative American tapas style food. My favorite thing is their desserts because they come out with 4 little bites, so they’re perfect for sharing!

Fifty Fifty Brewing Company: Truckee has quite a few good restaurants, but this is probably our favorite. It’s similar to a Portland-style modern casual brew pub with good beer and good food. I so wish this restaurant was in South Lake!

So there you have it, my official guide to Tahoe in a nutshell! Feel free to share this guide with anyone you know that may be vacationing in Tahoe this summer, and please don’t hesitate to reach out to me with specific questions!

Also, keep in mind I’m still somewhat new to Tahoe having only lived here for a year and a half, so be sure to check out Natasha and Tiara’s blogs as they’re both Tahoe locals and have done lots of posts about the area. In addition, the Tahoe South blog is also a great resource (and I’ve actually guest posted for them a few times!) to check out if you’re going to be staying on the south shore of the lake.

There’s really nowhere like Tahoe in the summertime, so hopefully this information will be helpful if you have plans to travel to Tahoe in the near future! And if not, maybe it will inspire you to plan a trip to visit! Xoxo