Nestled in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Lake Tahoe is the largest and second deepest alpine lake in the country. It’s renowned for its breathtaking scenery, with crystal clear blue waters and stunning mountain and forest vistas. It’s also a wonderful summer adventure playground. With dozens of beautiful beaches and parks, hundreds of miles of trails, Tahoe offers plenty of activities and attractions for outdoor adventurers, nature lovers, and those that want to just relax and enjoy the views.
This guide on the best things to do in Lake Tahoe in the summer was written to help you make the most of your time, with a curated list of ideas on where to stay, play, eat, and drink.
I’ve been fortunate enough to call Tahoe home for the past 7 years and have spent much of it exploring all the wonderful outdoor activities the area has to offer.
Heading to Tahoe in the summer? Don’t miss this perfect 3 day Tahoe itinerary to help you plan your trip.
Planning a Trip to California? We’ve got plenty of California travel guides to help you plan an amazing trip.
- 3 Days in San Francisco: A Complete Long Weekend Itinerary
- 14 Incredible Day Trips from San Francisco
- How to Spend a Perfect Weekend in Los Angeles (2 Day Itinerary)
- How to Spend One Amazing Day in Los Angeles (2 Ways!)
- The Best Places to Stay in Los Angeles (An L.A. Local’s Guide)
- A Perfect Weekend Itinerary For San Diego (2 Days)
- How to Spend One Amazing Day in San Diego
- Where to Stay in San Diego: A Complete Guide from a Local
- A Complete Joshua Tree Itinerary (Weekend Guide)
- A Complete Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip Guide (SF to SD)
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Where to Stay in Tahoe Over the Summer
Lake Tahoe is 20 miles long and 12 miles wide. It takes an hour to drive from one side to the other, so where you stay is an important decision. There are three main areas to consider when looking at places to stay: the South Shore, West Shore, and North Shore.
South Lake Tahoe is the main city on the South Shore. It’s the largest city around the lake, and offers many amenities, including restaurants, bars, shops, and casinos (just over the border at Stateline). It makes for a great base for those looking to be in the thick of things.
Camping: Located on a promontory at the entrance to Emerald Bay, Eagle Point offers more than 100 campsites, many with stunning lake views. In Stateline, Nevada Beach offers mostly shaded sites, with filtered lake views through the trees, and easy beach access.
Airbnb: Located right in Midtown, this centrally located Studio on Lake Tahoe Boulevard is ideal for a couple. It’s been fully renovated with thoughtful design and is walking distance to many restaurants and bars. Situated in the heart of South Lake Tahoe, this adorable two bedroom, two bath Tahoe Cabin Oasis is the perfect base for exploring Tahoe for families and groups, with a fully fenced in yard, hot tub, fire pit, and grill.
Hotel: Located just minutes from Heavenly Village and the lake, Basecamp Tahoe South is an affordable, stylish, and eco-friendly option for the outdoor adventurer. You can even book a room with a giant tent. Amenities include a rooftop hot tub, and outdoor beer garden with fire pits and live music nightly.
Beautiful and charming, the West Shore is one of the most desirable areas around Lake Tahoe. Tahoe City is the largest town, and offers a laid-back atmosphere.
Camping: You have a choice of five campgrounds at scenic D.L. Bliss State Park on the southwest shore, including Beach Camp, located near two beaches. The William Kent Campground on the northwest shore offers tent, RV, and yurt sites on Forest Service land, with lake access located across the street.
Airbnb: For couples, the Modern Alpine Studio near Alpine Meadows offers luxurious furnishings, modern amenities, a hot tub, and direct access to trails. For families and groups, this light-filled Mid Century Modern Cabin in Homewood offers plenty of space, an expansive outdoor deck, hot tub, and grill.
Hotel: Located in the heart of Tahoe City, and just minutes from the lake, Basecamp Tahoe City is great for couples or families. Book a room with bunk beds to fit the whole gang. Additional amenities include a sun terrace and a cozy lobby bar.
The North Shore has several notable towns, including Incline Village and Kings Beach, where you will find a good balance of amenities and seclusion. The quaint town of Truckee is also here, though it’s not near Lake Tahoe.
Camping: Located west of Truckee, the Donner Memorial State Park campground offers history, amenities, and access to trails and Donner Lake. Enjoy seclusion and easy trail access at the Mount Rose campground, located 9 miles away from Lake Tahoe, at an elevation of 9,300 feet.
Airbnb: This Modern Retro Cabin in Tahoe Tiny Home Village in Kings Beach is located just one block from the beach, and offers everything a couple needs for a cozy stay. For a small family or group, the Tahoe Hideaway Freestanding Luxury A-Frame Home in Incline Village offers plenty of light-filled space, including a spacious wrap-around porch.
Hotel: Located in Tahoe Vista, the Cedar Glen Lodge is an eco-friendly hotel offering a mix of cozy cabins and lodge rooms, with pool, hot tub, putting green, fire pit, and a sandy beach across the street.
What to Do in Tahoe in the Summer
Here are our recommendations for the best Lake Tahoe summer activities, though it is by no means an exhaustive list.
Hiking ranks at the top of what to do in Lake Tahoe in the summer. It’s not surprising, considering there are hundreds of miles of trails, multiple mountain ranges, wildernesses, national forests and parks, and more than 150 lakes around the Tahoe basin. Many of the hikes offer incredible views of mountains, forests, lakes, waterfalls, or meadows full of wildflowers, and range from easy strolls to thigh burners.
Top choices that most people can do include Eagle Falls and Eagle Lake and the Rubicon Trail. Other great hikes include Echo Lakes, Five Lakes, and Winnemucca Lake. For something more challenging but with truly epic views, try Mount Tallac.
Interested in hiking in Tahoe? Check out our guide to the 15 Best Hikes around Lake Tahoe for more detailed recommendations.
2. Explore Tahoe’s Best Beaches
With 72 miles of shoreline and more than 40 beaches around the lake, you’re spoiled for choice when it comes to Tahoe beaches.
Sand Harbor near Incline Village is one of the prettiest and most popular beaches around the lake, and a great spot to soak up the sun. It’s full of amenities, has watersport rentals, and is home to the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival in the summer.
King’s Beach is also family friendly and offers lots of rentals.
For live music, check out Commons Beach in Tahoe City and Lakeview Commons at El Dorado Beach in South Lake Tahoe.
Nevada Beach is a local favorite, with a long stretch of sand. Zephyr Cove offers lots of activities and rentals, and has a great beach bar. On the South Shore, Kiva Beach is a hidden gem that is also dog friendly. For those willing to put in some effort to get there, beaches such as Secret Cove, Chimney Beach and Skunk Harbor on the East Shore offer scenic beauty away from the crowds.
If you plan on swimming, just be aware that the water will be cold, especially in the beginning of summer. The water never gets warm, but visit later in the summer for warmer waters.
3. Sunrises and Sunsets
Tahoe is home to truly magical sunrises and sunsets. One of the best spots to catch a sunrise is at Emerald Bay. There’s a reason it’s one of the most photographed places on the planet. Sunsets at Emerald Bay are pretty spectacular too. But the best sunset viewing spots can be found on the East Shore (not surprisingly).
Sand Harbor is a great spot to watch the sunset, and you can easily combine it with a day at the beach. The nearby East Shore Trail, and the many small beaches that it provides access to, is another great spot. Photographers may want to head to Bonsai Rock to try to capture sunset from this iconic spot. For an elevated 180-degree viewpoint, head to Cave Rock. It’s a 10-minute hike up to the top of Cave Rock but the views will be worth it.
The magic doesn’t stop at sunset. Tahoe is also home to an incredible night sky, with a dazzling array of stars. Summer is also the best time to see the Milky Way. Find a spot away from the lights and prepare to be amazed.
4. Boat Cruises
Get out on the water to enjoy some of the best views of Lake Tahoe and the surrounding mountains. One of the most popular options is the M.S. Dixie II paddle wheeler. Choose from their daytime sightseeing cruise to Emerald Bay, or a sunset dinner cruise.
For a quieter experience, sail around the lake on the Woodwind II (with indoor space and two underwater observation windows) or the Sierra Cloud (with a webbed netting you can sit out on). Luxury yacht options include the Safari Rose and the Tahoe Bleu Wave. Thrill seekers and speed demons will love the 800-horsepower Tahoe Thunder.
5. Standup Paddleboarding and Kayaking
To really experience the lake, get out on the water on a stand-up paddleboard. Not only is it a great workout, it’s also an easy way to access the many hidden coves and beaches around the lake. Plus you’ll also have a great vantage point to truly appreciate the crystal clear waters of Lake Tahoe. Go out in the morning when the lake is calm and smooth like glass. You can even combine a yoga session on your SUP.
Kayaking is another great way to explore the lake, if you’d rather be closer to the water in a more stable craft. For a real treat, try paddling around on a transparent kayak from Clearly Tahoe.
SUP and kayak rentals are available near most beaches around the lake. Find easy launch points at Sand Harbor, Zephyr Cove, Kiva Beach, D.L. Bliss State Park, and Carnelian Bay.
6. Drive Around the Lake
Summer is a great time to drive around the lake. It’s an incredibly scenic drive, with many vista points and points of interests, including beaches, parks, and cute mountain towns. You can complete the drive in 2.5 hours if you don’t stop, but the whole point is to make lots of scenic stops. Plan on a whole day to maximize stops and not have to rush. And while you can drive in either direction, I recommend going clockwise as it will be much easier to pull out at the vista points and overlooks (on the lake side).
Starting from South Lake Tahoe, recommended stops include: Camp Richardson and the Tallac Historic Site, Emerald Bay, D.L. Bliss State Park, Sugar Pine Point State Park, Gatekeepers Museum and Fanny Point, Tahoe City, Kings Beach, Crystal Bay, Incline Village, Sand Harbor, Cave Rock, and Zephyr Cove.
Here’s a map of that route.
7. Scenic Gondola Rides
Tahoe’s ski resorts also offer fun summer activities and sightseeing opportunities. In South Lake Tahoe, Heavenly Mountain offers a scenic 2.4-mile gondola ride to 9,100 feet. A 14,000-square-foot observation deck offers sweeping views of the Tahoe Basin and Carson Valley. Further up, there’s a full adventure park with ropes courses, zip lines, tubing, rock climbing, an open-air mountain coaster, and scenic hiking trails.
On the North Shore, you can take the aerial tram at Squaw Valley to High Camp at 8,200 feet. Enjoy the scenic views, then explore a wide range of amenities that include a pool, hot tub, skating rink, disc golf, tennis, geocaching, hiking trails, restaurant, and bar.
8. Mountain Biking
Tahoe is also a top mountain biking destination, home to hundreds of miles of world-class trails. One of the best is the Flume Trail, which offers sweeping views of the lake along a ridge above the East Shore. The Tahoe Rim Trail also offers a lot of great options along half of its 165-mile loop around the lake.
Other great trails include Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and the Cold Creek Loop on the South Shore, and Sawtooth Ridge and Emigrant Trail on the North Shore. For easy riding on flat, paved trails, try the Pope Baldwin Bike Path near South Lake Tahoe, the Tahoe City to Sugar Pine Point Trail on the West Shore, or the East Shore Trail near Incline Village.
9. Rock Climbing
The Tahoe Basin offers a wide range of climbing routes, suitable for climbers of all levels and styles, including bouldering, sport climbing, and trad climbing. The rock here is largely granite with some volcanic options.
Lovers Leap, near Strawberry, offers great multi-pitch trad lines. Several crags near Eagle Lake offer solid rock and stunning views. The Big Chief offers some of the best sport climbing on the North Shore, while Donner Summit offers a wide variety of routes.
10. Wild West History
Explore the region’s Wild West history with a visit to a nearby frontier town. Located 40 miles northeast of Lake Tahoe, the silver mining town of Virginia City was once called the “richest place on Earth” and makes for a great day trip. You can even combine some hiking to make it a full day.
On your way there, stop at Spooner Summit for a quick hike. The 2.5-mile Spooner Lake Trail is a nice and easy, mostly flat loop around Spooner Lake. Alternatively, head to the Comstock Trail just south of Virginia City. It’s a moderate 4.5-mile loop that passes by several mines and historic sites, including the Occidental Mine.
Virginia City is home to more than 15 museums, mines, mansions, and more. Learn about Mark Twain’s two years working here at the Mark Twain Museum. Take a narrated ride on the Virginia & Truckee railroad, browse for antiques, curios, and unique souvenirs, then grab a bite or drink at the historic Delta Saloon or the Bucket of Blood Saloon.
Other highlights include sweeping 100-mile views across the desert, the Chollar Mine and Ponderosa Mine tours, Piper’s Opera House, and The Way It Was Museum. Several places are also said to be haunted, including the Silver Queen Hotel and the Washoe Club.
On the way back, stop for a drink at the Gold Hill Hotel & Saloon, the oldest hotel in Nevada, just down the hill and one-time watering hole of Mark Twain. Closer to Tahoe, stop at the Genoa Bar, Nevada’s “Oldest Thirst Parlor,” located in Nevada’s oldest settlement, Genoa. Or stop by nearby David Walley’s Resort for a soak in the hot springs or a pampering spa treatment.
Lake Tahoe offers excellent inshore and freshwater fishing, and summer is one of the best times to cast a line. Head into deep waters on a charter fishing boat to try your luck catching Mackinaw trout (April through June) and Kokanee salmon (July to October). For shore fishing, the best spots include Cave Rock, Rubicon Point, Kings Beach and Tahoe Keys.
There are also plenty of other lakes, rivers, and streams in the basin to fish. Try Donner Lake for a wide variety of fish and the Truckee River for fly-fishing. Sawmill Pond is stocked with fish for kids age 14 and under.
12. Scuba Diving
Scuba diving the incredibly clear waters at high altitude is truly an unforgettable experience. The visibility here is nearly 80 feet! There are more than a dozen sites around the lake, with options that include beach dives, boat dives, and wreck dives. Top choices include Sand Harbor, Rubicon Point, and the Maritime Heritage Underwater Trail.
Where to Eat & Drink in Tahoe
After a day of checking out all that Tahoe has to offer, you’re bound to have worked up an appetite and thirst. Here are some great places to eat, drink, and be merry, with outdoor patios so you can enjoy the sunshine and nice weather.
Where to Eat in Tahoe
Fire Sign Cafe: This local favorite in Tahoe City serves up some of the best breakfasts and lunches around the lake. Enjoy the sunshine and any of their made-from-scratch dishes with a bloody mary on their outdoor patio. An annex serves coffee, tea, and drinks while you wait and grab-and-go options for your day of adventure.
Artemis Lakefront Cafe: Located at Ski Run Marina in South Lake Tahoe, Artemis offers tasty Greek and Mediterranean dishes from breakfast to dinner. Enjoy lake views from their outdoor patio. A must is the Artemis fries, with their special sauce. They also offer a good selection of cocktails, beers, wine, and an espresso bar.
Heavenly Village: Find several great dining options, most with outdoor seating, near the Heavenly Gondola. Start your day with breakfast at Driftwood Cafe or craft sandwiches at Social House (also home to the Community Speakeasy). For dinner, top options include gourmet pizza at Basecamp Pizza, deluxe burgers at California Burger Co., tacos and tequila at Azul Latin Kitchen, and American tapas at The Loft.
Lone Eagle Grille: For fine dining and excellent wines in an elegant setting, head to the Lone Eagle Grille at the Hyatt Regency Tahoe in Incline Village. Situated on its own private beach, enjoy epic lake views through the floor-to-ceiling windows, or better yet, the outdoor patio. Time your visit for just before sunset for an unforgettable dining experience.
Cottonwood Restaurant & Bar: Enjoy classic American food, and tasty cocktails, in a casually elegant atmosphere at Cottonwood in Truckee. It’s housed in one of the oldest ski lodges in the country and the outdoor deck offers sweeping views over downtown. Enjoy live music on Thursdays and Fridays.
Where to Drink
Beacon Bar: Nothing says summer like downing a Rum Runner or three at the Beacon Bar. Enjoy classic pub fare on the spacious deck near the water’s edge at historic Camp Richardson. For the ultimate experience, pull up to the dock on a boat.
Sidellis: Microbrewery Sidellis is a favorite neighborhood hangout in South Lake Tahoe. There’s a lovely back patio to enjoy the sunshine and warm weather while tasting a wide variety of interesting craft beers. They also offer games and a good assortment of hearty pub foods.
The Hangar: Located Midtown South Lake Tahoe, the Hangar doesn’t brew their own beer, but they offer a wide and rotating selection of local and regional brews. They also have a massive patio, with astroturf, picnic tables, fire pits, and lawn games. Bring your own food or order from the occasional food trucks.
Gar Woods: Located lakeside at Carnelian Bay, Gar Woods is known for their famous Wet Woodys, made from different rums and mixers. Choose from over 20 varieties as you enjoy the lake views from their spacious deck. Upscale dining and bar fare are also available.
Alibi Ale Works: Local craft brewery Alibi offers a large rotation of seasonal and interesting beers, brewed with Lake Tahoe water. They also offer three locations: Truckee Public House, Incline Public House, and the original Brewery & Barrel House in Incline. All three offer outdoor seating, and have food options.
Getting to Lake Tahoe
Where is Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe is located around 200 miles northeast of San Francisco, California, and 58 miles south of Reno, Nevada. It straddles the California and Nevada border, and sits at an elevation of 6,224 feet.
Driving From San Francisco
It takes around 3.5 hours to drive from San Francisco to Lake Tahoe, though expect a longer trip if you’re traveling at the peak weekend travel times of Friday evening and Sunday. Take I-80 to Sacramento, then either continue on I-80 to areas on the North Shore, or take US-50 to South Lake Tahoe.
Flying From Elsewhere
Reno-Tahoe International Airport is the closest airport to Lake Tahoe. It takes around 45 minutes to drive to the North Shore and 1 hour to drive to South Lake Tahoe. You’ll find several rental car agencies right at the terminal.
You can catch shuttle buses to both the North Shore and South Shore, and rideshares such as Uber and Lyft from the airport, but a rental car is recommended to make the most of your time in Tahoe. There is limited public transportation around the lake, and rideshares can be sporadic and expensive.
Sacramento International Airport, located around 100 miles away, is another option to consider.
Best Time to Visit Tahoe During the Summer
Summer in Lake Tahoe means endless sunny days. Temperatures typically range from a high of 70s and 80s during the day to a low of 40s and 50s at night. Most of the snow has melted, making it a great time for outdoor recreation. It’s also peak season, which means large crowds, increased traffic, and higher prices. You’ll want to book your accommodations well in advance.
Plan your visit to Lake Tahoe in June and you’ll have lots of fun events to choose from. Weekly events such as Truckee Thursdays and the summer concert series at Commons Beach and Lakeview Commons all kick off in this month. Other big events include the Tahoe Brewfest, the Valhalla Renaissance Faire, and Adventure Sports Week. There’s likely to still be winter snow at higher elevations, and there might even be a fresh dusting.
July is the most popular month, so expect the largest crowds in Lake Tahoe in July. July 4 is a huge celebration here, with several great fireworks displays around the lake. The annual 3-day Wanderlust yoga and music festival is typically held in July at Squaw Valley. The Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival at Sand Harbor also kicks off in July, with shows most nights of the week.
Visit Lake Tahoe in August for the warmest water temperatures and the most manageable crowds, for the summer at least. It’s probably the best month to visit Lake Tahoe, at least in the summer. The Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival runs through the end of the month. The Brews, Jazz & Funk Fest is typically held this month as well. August is also when you can expect nearly all trails to be snow-free, even at higher elevations.
Plan an Unforgettable California Adventure
Heading to California? We’ve got all sorts of super detailed, in-depth California travel guides written by locals to help you plan an amazing trip.
- San Francisco: We’ve got a guide to spending 3 days in SF, one day in San Francisco for planning a shorter trip, and a complete guide to finding the perfect place to stay in San Francisco. We also have guides to 14 perfect weekend getaways from San Francisco and the best day trips in the Bay Area. Oh, we almost forgot, here are the 15 best hikes near San Francisco, written by two Bay Area locals.
- Los Angeles: Read our perfect 2 Day L.A. itinerary, our guide to spending one amazing day in L.A. (with two versions!), and a guide to helping you figure out where to stay.
- San Diego: Learn how to spend a day in San Diego, a weekend in San Diego, and where you should stay.
- Lake Tahoe: Plan the perfect summertime adventure with our 3 day Tahoe itinerary, guide to the best hikes, and our guide to the best things to do in Tahoe.
- Santa Barbara: We have a guide to planning a weekend in Santa Barbara, and a guide to a day trip to Santa Barbara from Los Angeles if you’re pressed for time.
- Mammoth Lakes: To plan a perfect getaway in the Eastern Sierra, read our guide to the best things to do in Mammoth Lakes in the summer. Plus, our guide to the best hikes in Mammoth, featuring the epic climb to the top of Duck Pass.
- Big Sur: Plan the perfect weekend away with our complete Big Sur itinerary.
- Yosemite National Park: Plan an amazing trip with our guide to planning an amazing Yosemite itinerary, and our guide to choosing where to stay at Yosemite.
- Joshua Tree National Park: Plan the perfect trip with our perfect weekend itinerary (or a day trip, if you have less time), a guide to the best hikes, and some cool places to stay in Joshua Tree.
- Death Valley National Park: We have a SUPER detailed guide to planning the perfect Death Valley itinerary, and a guide to the best hikes in Death Valley National Park.
- California Road Trips: See the best of the Pacific Coast Highway on our San Francisco to San Diego road trip, or make the trip up Highway from on a Los Angeles to SanFrancisco road trip. If you’re more into mountains than beaches, a Highway 395 road trip from Los Angeles to Lake Tahoe might be more your speed.