The Best Things to Do in Lake Tahoe Where to Eat Stay and Play
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An Out-of-Ski Season Guide to Lake Tahoe

How to make the most of a Tahoe trip from spring through fall.

Nestled among snow-capped peaks and towering pines, Lake Tahoe’s cerulean waters have long beckoned travelers to the Sierra Nevada. Formed more than 2 million years ago by the tumultuous movement of Earth’s crust, this large, freshwater body is unique for many reasons: At 22 miles long and 12 feet wide, it’s the largest alpine lake in all of North America. It’s also the second-deepest lake in the United States, trailing only behind Crater Lake. Lake Tahoe is among the oldest lakes in the world, and its 39 trillion gallons of water are so clear that researchers can see a 10-inch white disc submerged up to 70 feet deep. Lake Tahoe also spans two states, California and Nevada.

But these and other superlatives aside, Lake Tahoe attracts 15 million visitors each year because of the sheer breadth and diversity of activities the region offers. From bustling casinos and lively breweries to nearly silent hiking trails and peaceful sunrises, this destination delivers on whatever type of vacation you crave. 

During the winter months, Lake Tahoe overflows with peppy skiers and snowboarders eager to hit the slopes at the dozen or so ski resorts encircling the lake. As the snow melts, the festive, outdoor-focused vibe remains the same, but the focus shifts to warm-weather pursuits like boating, mountain biking, and golfing. Ready to visit Lake Tahoe in the spring, summer, or fall? Here’s how to make the most of your trip.

Getting there

Fly into Reno-Tahoe International Airport, which offers nonstop flights from more than 20 destinations, including New York, Chicago, Seattle, and San Francisco. Upon arrival, hop on either the North Lake Tahoe Express shuttle or the South Tahoe Airporter for drop-offs at the many charming cities and towns around the lake. Several private car services also operate in the area, or you can request a ride via ride-share apps like Uber and Lyft.

Depending on your plans, you may also want to consider renting a car. Travelers tend to stick to one side of the lake or the other—the north side is considered more chill and laidback, while the south side runs livelier—but with a car, you can easily go between the two. Plus, the 72-mile drive around Lake Tahoe itself is stunning.

Road-tripping to Lake Tahoe is another popular option, particularly for travelers coming from the Bay Area. From San Francisco, the 218-mile drive typically takes about three-and-a-half hours, though traffic can slow down the journey. Plan to spend between seven and eight hours on the road if you’re driving from Los Angeles (470 miles away) or Las Vegas (440 miles away).

Lake Tahoe itself is the area's draw during the warmer months for water sports and boating.

Richard Lee/Unsplash

What to do

The lake is the big draw during the warmer months. Water-centric pastimes range from lounging on the sand at Pope Beach and Commons Beach to water skiing, parasailing, kayaking, jet-skiing, paddle boarding, and fishing. Outfitters like Lake Tahoe Boat Rides also offer charter boat rentals, which include a captain to drive around your crew and toys like a floating mat and standup paddle boards. No matter which watersport you choose, remember that the water stays pretty chilly here, even during the peak of summer, with its warmest temperatures hovering between 65 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

Surrounding the lake, Tahoe’s mountains and protected wilderness areas are ideal for exploring on two feet. Get acclimated to Lake Tahoe’s 6,225-foot average elevation by hiking one of the region’s mellower trails, like the 2-mile roundtrip trek to Eagle Falls and Eagle Lake, before leveling up to more challenging routes, like the 10-mile roundtrip hike to the summit of one of Tahoe’s tallest mountain, Mount Tallac.

Long before white settlers and tourists began flocking to Lake Tahoe, members of the Washoe Tribe, or Wá∙šiw, thrived among the plants, animals, and medicines of this region. Tahoe even gets its name from its original inhabitants: Tahoe is a mispronunciation of “Da ow,” the Washoe word for lake. You can learn more about the Washoe Tribe in several ways. The Gatekeeper’s Museum in Tahoe City has one of the largest collections of Native American baskets in the country, while the Lam Watah Washoe Heritage Site protects rocks where Washoe women once prepared and preserved food. Representatives from the Washoe Tribe periodically host cultural tours at Palisades Tahoe, which in 2021 changed its name to drop a slur used against Native American women; the ski resort also has a small Washoe exhibit at its High Camp, which is accessible in the summer via its aerial tram. The new Martis Valley Trail, a 4.6-mile paved route that opened last summer, features interpretive kiosks about the tribe’s history.

Lake Tahoe’s ski resorts have some of the longest seasons in the country, some even offering skiing and snowboarding into May and June. But once the snow melts, these high-alpine resorts transform into summery playgrounds. If you’ve always wanted to learn how to mountain bike, head to Northstar California Resort, which offers group and private lessons, plus bike and protective gear rentals. With scenic gondola rides, hiking trails, a climbing wall, a mountain coaster, gem panning, and a zip line, Heavenly Mountain Resort is ideal for families.

Adventurous travelers can also get their fill of heart-pumping activities in Lake Tahoe. Take a break from the placid waters of the lake and go whitewater rafting down the Truckee River instead with outfitters like Tributary Whitewater Tours and Tahoe Whitewater Tours. Climb up an exposed cliff face—by grabbing onto steel anchors while securely attached to a steel cable—on the Lake Tahoe Via Ferrata, a protected climbing and mountaineering experience led by guides with Alpenglow Expeditions. For even more high-elevation fun, test your mettle on one of the three aerial adventure courses—featuring zip lines, elevated bridges, ropes courses, and other features—run by Tahoe Treetop Adventure Parks.

Many travelers flock to Tahoe’s south side for its nightlife. Just across the Nevada border in Stateline, you’ll find several big-name casinos, including Harrah’s Lake Tahoe Hotel & Casino and Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Lake Tahoe.  

Jake’s on the Lake 's braised piedmontese short ribs with root vegetables, heirloom spinach, pancetta, macadamia nuts, and ginger-chili glaze.

Paje Victoria

The bar area at Jake’s on the Lake

Paje Victoria

Where to eat around Lake Tahoe

On the north side, fuel up for the day’s adventures at Fire Sign Cafe, a beloved institution that’s been serving up Tahoe’s best breakfast since 1978. Before heading out on a hike or kayak adventure, head across the street to pick up gourmet sandwiches, cheese, and charcuterie snacks for a picnic lunch at West Shore Market, an upscale neighborhood grocery and deli.

Treat your eyes and your tastebuds to dinner at Lone Eagle Grill, an Incline Village fine dining restaurant where the sunsets are almost as good as the melt-in-your-mouth-tender bison tenderloin, served with bone marrow butter, mushroom jus, and crispy shallots. In Tahoe City, Christy Hill and Jake’s on the Lake also deliver on lake views and thoughtfully prepared fare.

If you’re staying south, hit up Heidi’s Pancake House first thing in the morning for generous portions of fluffy pancakes and hearty omelets inside a charming yellow, Swiss chalet-style building. For lunch, soak up the sun while feasting on lamb gyros and perfectly seasoned fries on the patio of Artemis Lakefront Cafe, which is located next to South Lake Tahoe’s aptly named Ski Run Marina. 

Stop by Boathouse on the Pier for a quick happy hour drink and a snack, like the fish tacos or the cajun garlic shrimp with watermelon and mint, while enjoying even more views of the water. For a cozy, romantic dinner, reserve one of the coveted tables at Cafe Fiore, a small-but-mighty Italian restaurant with an extensive wine list and decadent house-made white chocolate ice cream. Another intimate fine dining option is Evan’s American Gourmet Cafe, which is nestled among pine trees inside a repurposed vintage cabin on the far western edge of town. The menu is classic, with savory favorites like ​​rosemary and garlic marinated racks of lamb and grilled beef filets bringing diners back again and again.  

Craft breweries are thriving on both sides of the lake, so if you’re a fan of hoppy IPAs and malty amber ales, you’ve come to the right place. Plus, even though ski season has ended, apres drinks are still very much a thing here—just replace skiing and snowboarding with hiking, mountain biking, or paddleboarding. A few to bookmark: South of North Brewing CompanyCold Water Brewery & Grill, and Stateline Brewery on the south side, plus Bear Belly Brewing CompanyFiftyFifty Brewing, and Alibi Ale Works on the north side.

Black Bear Lodge is a woodsy, intimate hotel on the lake's south side

Sarowly Photo/Black Bear Lodge

Where to stay in Lake Tahoe

From budget-friendly campsites and renovated 1960s motels to upscale resorts, Lake Tahoe has lodging for all types of travelers. On the south side, Edgewood Tahoe Resort sits right next to the water, which means there are stunning views from its lakeside pool, 18-hole golf course, three fine dining restaurants, full-service spa, and immaculate grounds. And last fall, Edgewood opened new multi-bedroom, residential-style villa suites that offer a little more room to spread out, complete with private patios, hot tubs, and fire pits.

For a more intimate south-side experience, check into Desolation Hotel, a new dog-friendly micro-resort with a Scandinavian-meets-Japanese design that opened in August. The property’s 21 guest rooms range from cozy studios to spacious townhomes, each with its own private balcony and outdoor soaking tub. Here, you can grab a bite at the on-site restaurant Maggie’s, take a dip in the saltwater pool, unwind in the cedar sauna, and enjoy access to a private beach. Other south-shore hotels to consider include the retro Stardust Lodge, the recently expanded Coachman Hotel, the woodsy Black Bear Lodge, and for something more luxe there's The Landing Lake Tahoe Resort & Spa.  

On the north side, the newly renamed Everline Resort & Spa is ideal for families, thanks to its kid-friendly outdoor swimming complex, championship golf course, guided nature walks, private ponds for fly fishing, bike rentals, and spa, to name a few warm-weather amenities. The 405-room property is situated at the base of Palisades Tahoe, which makes it easy to access the ski resort’s summer offerings.

Another north-shore favorite is The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe, which is situated mid-mountain at Northstar. This posh property has all the tasteful touches you’d expect, from an indulgent 17,000-square-foot spa to a slope-side heated outdoor pool. Even if you don’t stay here, Manzanita, the resort’s fine dining eatery, is worth visiting for alone. 

If you’re overwhelmed by the sheer number of activities to choose from, book a room or lakeside cottage at Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe and let the hotel’s adventure team do the planning for you. Staff at this property, located on Lake Tahoe’s northeastern shores in Incline Village, organize a variety of complimentary outings ranging from guided hikes and slacklining workshops to morning meditation sessions. And though nearby Diamond Peak Ski Resort is closed during the summer, you can still hike and mountain bike on the mountain.