Like most people living in Northern California, we regularly visit Lake Tahoe throughout the year. It’s one of the purest freshwater lakes in the world, covering the CA and NV border. The South Shore of Lake Tahoe is vibrant, bustling, and social. It’s known for its beaches, crystal clear waters, hiking, skiing, and immeasurable beauty. Because of this, South Lake Tahoe has the unique ability to be an amazing time any month of the year.
And in the summer months, it’s a great place to escape to when we need to beat the heat of the valley. When I checked the temperature for the week and saw it was going to be 109 all weekend, I immediately started planning a weekend trip to Tahoe.
So, if you’re thinking about visiting South Lake Tahoe this summer, keep reading!
How to Get to South Lake Tahoe
You can fly in from two airports:
RNO: The closest airport is Reno-Tahoe Airport (RNO). It’s about 60 miles away and roughly a 1.5-hour drive. There are hundreds of flights daily into this airport. There are also many options for shuttles from the airport to South Lake Tahoe hotels: https://www.visitrenotahoe.com/plan-your-trip/transportation/shuttles/
SMF: The other option is Sacramento Airport (SMF). It’s about 115 miles away and roughly 2.5 hours away (no traffic). There are also hundreds of flights daily into this airport. There aren’t any shuttles, but plenty of rental car options. Check them out here.
You can also attempt to fly into San Francisco (SFO) or Oakland (OAK). These airports are at least 4 hours away though and traffic will be tough. Unless you are combining a trip to the Bay Area with a trip to Tahoe, I really wouldn’t recommend flying into these airports to drive into Tahoe unless absolutely necessary.
Where to Stay in South Lake Tahoe
South Lake Tahoe has all types of accommodations—cabins, casino resorts, hotel rooms, family suites, vacation rentals, and campgrounds (but don’t ask me about camping though, def not my vibe).
Scattered in between the lake shore and Heavenly Village—full of shops, food options, and even a gondola—the South Shore is the prime area to stay. Staying here will make your stay much more walkable. Some of the best places to stay on the South Shore with a family are:
- The Landing. A beachfront hotel with all the bells and whistles. There are a couple of options for suites and only the 3-bedroom option includes a kitchen.
- Marriot Grand Residence. In the middle of Heavenly Village. All units have a kitchen included, and you can choose from 1 or 2 bedrooms.
- Lake Tahoe Resort Hotel. All suite hotel with free breakfast in Heavenly Village. All suites come with a kitchen and choice between 1or 2 bedrooms.
- 3 Peaks Resort and Beach Club. In the middle of Lakeside Beach and Heavenly Village. 1-or-2-bedroom suites with a kitchen included are available.
- Beach Retreat and Lodge. Newly renovated and beachfront. Only offers standard rooms, no suites or kitchens are available.
There are also many different amazing options for apartment, condo, or house rentals. Check some out here.
If you’re into gambling and staying right in the action, Stateline is for you. Plus, it’s also only a 15-minute walk to Heavenly Village or Lakeside Beach. You can’t go wrong with any of the casino resorts on Stateline, plus they each have options for one-bedroom suites (but none offer kitchens).
TIP: Sign up for a rewards program for any of the casino resorts and get all kinds of freebies (sometimes even a free room!)
How to Get Around South Lake Tahoe
You can easily park your car and get by walking for a day or two if you stay in the central area. You can walk to the lake in the morning and then head over to Heavenly in the evening (that’s what we did!)
While you can plan your trip so that you don’t NEED a car, I would still recommend getting one so that you can explore. South Lake Tahoe is full of amazing places that you just shouldn’t miss. Check out your options here.
South Lake Tahoe is a Bike Friendly Community and there are plenty of safe bike paths all over town. There are multiple bike rental shops with all kinds of options (with attachments for kids too, obvi). A bike rental is roughly $10/hour or around $40/day.
There are now Lime Electric Scooters available in South Lake Tahoe. They were very popular when we visited and looked like a ton of fun! They are $1.00 to start a ride, and $.015 per mile.
What to Do in South Lake Tahoe
Always the first on my list! Lake Tahoe is filled with beautiful beaches with sparkling, clear cobalt waters, and an alpine backdrop. (The sand does have small pebbles in it and can get very hot, so I recommend getting water shoes for the kids.)
You can’t go wrong with any beach, but these are the ones that I recommend:
1. Lakeside Beach
This beautiful beach could easily fill your whole day. It has a sit-down restaurant, water rentals (kayaks, jet skis, paddle boats, and motorboats), a playground, volleyball nets, picnic tables, trees for shade, and a parking lot with street parking.
TIP: This is a private beach so the entry fee is steep, but if you’re just looking for a water rental, go to the left side (boat entrance) and rent from there directly so you can bypass the entry fee. There is a waiting area on the beach that you can relax at while you wait.
Entry fee: $25/adult, $15/ages 6-17, free for under 6.
2. Camp Richardson
We happened to stumble upon this beach and I’m SO glad we did. It has a sit-down restaurant with outdoor seating on a deck overlooking the water, volleyball nets, water rentals, live music on certain days, picnic tables, trees for shade, and a ton of parking.
Parking fee: $10/car
Get here early—the parking lot gets full very quick (if you have a bike, it’s a very easy ride down the Pope/Baldwin bike path). This beach has a more relaxed vibe to it, a perfect place for a swim and a beach picnic under the shade of the trees. Kayak rentals and a concession stand are available on site.
Parking fee: $10/car
Another beach you have to get to early if you’re looking for parking. A long, expansive beach that offers kayak/SUP rentals, volleyball nets, and picnic tables. No shade here though, so come prepared with your own and lots of sunscreen.
Parking fee: $10/car
Get on the water
If you’re only going to do one thing in South Lake Tahoe in the summer, it has to be getting on the perfectly clear water. The views from the water are beautiful, the air is fresh, and the water is calm. It’s bliss!
Many of the beaches (like Lakeside and Camp Richardson) offer rentals for kayaks, paddle boards, paddle boats, jet skis, and motorboats. Or you can go on a boat tour and have someone else show you around.
Full of shops, restaurants, activities, live music, and even a gondola, Heavenly Village is the social hub of South Lake Tahoe. Enjoy some of the best cuisine and desserts in the area. Take the kids to a movie or play a game of mini-golf. If you really want an adventure, take the gondola up the mountain for tubing and a mountain coaster.
Check prices and buy tickets here: https://www.skiheavenly.com/explore-the-resort/activities/epic-discovery/scenic-gondola.aspx
For real breathtaking views, look at Tahoe from above. There are plenty of options to do this, but Emerald Bay is one of the best. You can hike it, but for an easier experience with kids, you can easily drive and park at one of the lookout spots or on the side of the road for amazing pictures.
Take a hike
A hiker’s paradise, South Lake Tahoe offers many different hiking trails for all levels. Three that would be best with young children are Rubicon Trail, Van Sickle Bi-State Park, or for an added bonus of a waterfall, Eagle Falls.
Where to Eat in South Lake Tahoe
There hasn’t been a meal I didn’t enjoy in South Lake Tahoe, but here are a few of my faves. Note that there’s almost always a wait, but most of the restaurants now let you put your name on the waiting list on their website without actually having to wait there.
Breakfast: Social House, Driftwood
Pizza: Basecamp Pizza, Blue Dog Pizza
American: Red Hut Cafe
Mexican: Azul Latin Kitchen
Mediterranean: Artemis Lakefront Café
Sushi: Naked Fish
Have you been to Tahoe? What are your favorite parts about it? Tell me in the comments!
need help booking your trip? use my favorite resources!
I always start with Kayak when I book flights. It searches hundreds of travel sites for the lowest prices plus the flexible calendar tells you which days are the cheapest to fly. you can also set price alerts for a specific flight.
My favorite booking site is booking.com. It's easy to use and gives options for all types of lodging. When I know I want a big rental house, I use VRBO.
My first stop for rental cars is rentalcars.com. It scans multiple agencies at your destination to give you the best price.
I love searching Get your Guide and Viator for activities. You can search for a specific activity, or just see everything that is available at your destination.
Read over my full list of the best sites to book with on my Resources page.