Lake Tahoe is famous both for its great summer activities and for its winter sports. The area attracts nearly three million visitors per year and South Lake Tahoe is the most popular city.
The slopes normally open late November, prior to Thanksgiving, and close mid-to-late April. The rest of the year it’s all about hiking, biking, water sports and just in general enjoying nature. But whatever time of year you visit South Lake Tahoe, this mountain town will keep you entertained!
South Lake Tahoe has the highest concentration of restaurants in the area and is well known for its casinos. So whether you are looking for an active and adventurous trip or a relaxing break, away from it all, South Lake Tahoe is perfect for both.
I had been looking forward to my short trip to South Lake Tahoe for quite a while because I had heard nothing but great stories. And they were true. South Lake Tahoe is a lovely mountain town, Lake Tahoe is absolutely stunning and there is just so much to do in and around South Lake Tahoe!
8 of the Best Things to Do on a Short Trip to South Lake Tahoe
1. Paddle Boarding & Other Water Sports in South Lake Tahoe
I love paddle boarding. I have paddle boarded in quite a few places, mainly in Europe (in Montenegro, Valencia, Leiden, and Mallorca, to name a few) and think it’s a great activity when you are on vacation. It allows you to explore in a different way.
Paddle boarding for me is both a great exercise and a perfect way to relax my mind. And a gorgeous lake like Lake Tahoe is just perfect for it.
We rented our paddle boards through South Tahoe Standup Paddle. Their shop is located next to Revive Coffee & Wine but they keep most of their paddle boards on the beach so that you don’t have to carry a board to the lake yourself. You can simply rent a board or take a lesson and they rent out kayaks and pedal boats as well.
South Tahoe SUP also offers paddle boarding tours to explore the best parts of Lake Tahoe.
Tip: paddle boarding is definitely a great thing to do in South Lake Tahoe. If it’s your first time paddle boarding one hour is probably enough. If you have paddle boarded before and are fit you can easily stay out for longer.
There are several other water sports you can do around South Lake Tahoe such as water skiing, sailing, etc. Check Tahoe South’s list of water sports around South Lake Tahoe.
2. Hiking Around South Lake Tahoe
If you are on a short trip to South Lake Tahoe and only have time for one hike then I highly recommend hiking to Vikingsholm Castle in Emerald Bay State Park. The views from the top (where you will park and start the hike) are absolutely stunning and the hike down to the castle is an easy walk that’s also perfectly suitable for kids. You end up at a beach by the lake with some great views. Check out the castle and if the weather is nice you could even spend a few hours at the beach.
But, the area around South Lake Tahoe offers a lot more when it comes to hiking. Whether you are looking for short, easy trails to viewpoints and waterfalls or longer, more challenging hikes, there are dozens of trails just a short drive from South Lake Tahoe.
Alltrails offers good information about the best trails around South Lake Tahoe, including distance, difficulty and additional information.
Mountain biking around South Lake Tahoe
If, instead of hiking, you’d rather go mountain biking around South Lake Tahoe then TrailForks offers great information about the best mountain biking trails around South Lake Tahoe.
3. A Wine Tasting Cruise on Lake Tahoe
Sampling some great wines while cruising on Lake Tahoe… do I need to say more? 😉
This, to me, was an afternoon well spent!
Tahoe Tastings offers daily cruises on their small, vintage boat. You get to sample eight wines from various wine regions in Northern California while cruising towards Emerald Bay Park.
What I really loved about this cruise is that it’s on a smaller boat with a small group of people. This way it feels much more like a private cruise than a touristy sightseeing boat trip.
The wine tasting cruises take around two hours. Check out their website for more information.
4. Yoga on the Beach in South Lake Tahoe
South Lake Tahoe has some surprisingly stunning beaches. So when I heard I could do yoga on the beach I decided that’s worth a try!
Lake Tahoe Yoga organizes classes on the beach just north of downtown South Lake Tahoe, if the weather allows it. They also offer paddle yoga and indoor yoga classes.
Our teacher was great and after an active day of outdoor activities, a yoga class on the beach while the sun sets is just perfect!
5. Heavenly Ski Resort in Summer & in Winter
Lake Tahoe is well known for its great ski slopes, but Heavenly Ski Resort in South Lake Tahoe is both great to visit in summer and in winter.
For a breathtaking view of South Lake Tahoe and the surrounding area, you can take the scenic gondola ride from Heavenly village to the top of Heavenly mountain. Heavenly village is located in downtown South Lake Tahoe and also offers a good number of shops worth checking out. On your way up in the gondola, stop at the Observation Deck for photos. Once you get to the top, head up the Tamarack Express chairlift with your Scenic Gondola ticket for some of the best views of Lake Tahoe and access to a number of hiking trails, ranging from beginner to expert.
In summer Heavenly offers activities such as zip lining and tubing, and in winter Heavenly is one of the most popular ski resorts around Lake Tahoe that is often the first one in the season to open its slopes and the last one to close.
Check their website for more information.
6. Casinos, Nightlife & Events in South Lake Tahoe
I am not a big casino person. So much so that when I finally visited Last Vegas I wrote an article about what to do in Las Vegas when you are not a big gambler.
But, for those who do want to check out a casino, South Lake Tahoe has got some good options! Conveniently located in downtown South Lake Tahoe, there are five casinos: Harrah’s, Harveys, MontBleu, Hard Rock and Lakeside. And apart from being a great place to test your luck they also offer shows and are good options if you want to check out South Lake Tahoe’s nightlife.
There is a lot going on in South Lake Tahoe year round. From live music to food festivals and various shows. Click here for a list of current events in South Lake Tahoe
7. A Spa Day in South Lake Tahoe
If you are planning a trip to South Lake Tahoe to get away from it all and relax, then a spa day might just be what you need! Or if you spent a few days enjoying outdoor activities around South Lake Tahoe some pampering can be perfect.
There are several good spa options in South Lake Tahoe. Click here for a list of day spas.
8. Go to the Beach in South Lake Tahoe
Going to the beach might not be the first thing you think of when planning a trip to Lake Tahoe, but South Lake Tahoe actually has some really nice beaches. They are all very well maintained, often offer picnic tables and barbecue spots, with several also offering water sports, bars and other facilities.
Some of the most popular beaches around South Lake Tahoe are Camp Richardson Resort Beach, Pope Beach, Baldwin Beach, Lakeview Commons Beach and Round Hill Pines Beach Resort.
Where to Eat & Drink in South Lake Tahoe
1. Tahoe Pourhouse
I really like this place. And the fact that they have 20 different wines on tap might have something to do with that 😉
With a fun card system you get to pour your own wine and this way can try small (or large) amounts of different wines. And apart from their wines on tap they also have a good selection of bottles. They focus largely on wine from the region, plus some more unique wines from all over the world.
But, Tahoe Pourhouse is definitely not just a wine bar. They offer many sustainable farm to table recipes and products, certified fair trade coffee, breakfast items, salads, sandwiches and small plates.
It’s the little details here that made me really like this place. For example, they don’t have a deep fat fryer, which means no greasy fried food. Instead, they focus on fresh ingredients and their award-winning chefs create unique dishes with them.
I also like that you can choose to order a smaller version of the salads (yes, I am still European and struggle with these huge American portion sizes). Their terrace is dog-friendly and has heating so that it can stay open most of the year. They share their terrace with neighboring restaurant Lake Tahoe AleWorx who which organizes regular live music.
2. Lake Tahoe AleWorx
Where Tahoe Pourhouse has a large selection of wines on tap, Lake Tahoe AleWorx, which is located next door, is all about their beers on tap.
This craft brewery, bar and restaurant is the perfect spot to unwind after an intense day of outdoor activities. Similar to Tahoe Poorhouse they allow you to serve yourself from their large selection of beers on tap.
But what surprised me more than their good selection of beers was their great quality food. They basically offer pizzas, a few salads and some small bites. But their salads and small bites are creative and of high quality and their pizzas are delicious and completely customizable.
And, where as a European I sometimes complain about feeling rushed in American restaurants, here you can eat and drink at your own pace. Since you pour your own beer you decide when you want more. And the same goes for the food: you go up to the counter to order whenever you are ready. So that allowed us to have more of a break between our appetizers and main courses than you would often get in restaurants in the US.
Sit outside by one of the fires, listen to some live music and unwind after an active day around South Lake Tahoe.
So, even if you are just planning a short trip to South Lake Tahoe I highly recommend venturing to this part of town (it is a drive from downtown) to visit either Tahoe Pourhouse or Lake Tahoe AleWorx. Or both of course.
3. Sprouts Cafe
If you are looking for healthy food in South Lake Tahoe, Sprouts is the place to go.
They focus on organic food, they offer plenty of vegetarian dishes and some good vegan options. I love their breakfast options and their healthy juices and smoothies. But they also have good lunch options and could even be your go-to place for a healthy dinner. An early dinner that is, because they do close at 8 PM.
And a nice added touch: they have a play area for the kids.
4. Revive Coffee & Wine
Revive is my place of choice to relax with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine.
The atmosphere is just so nice and the staff so friendly that I could spend hours here. And, they even have games such as chess and Jenga to keep you entertained!
Besides good coffee and wine Revive offers delicious pastries, breakfast items, sandwiches, salads and small plates.
Check out the garden at the back of the cafe if you are looking for a quiet place to relax.
5. The Red Hut Cafe
The Red Hut Cafe is your typical American diner, perfect for an all-American breakfast.
They serve the standard American breakfast options such as all sorts of eggs, waffles and pancakes. Additionally, they have a wide range of lunch options and they offer both breakfast and lunch all day long.
Note: Red Hut Cafe has different locations. I only visited the one on 3660 Lake Tahoe Blvd. But I am sure they are all good options.
6. Creative Crepes
If you are looking for a sweet snack in the downtown area of South lake Tahoe, Creative Crepes is a good option. They will package their crepes so that it’s easy to eat them on the go.
They also have a nice selection of savory crepes and even some breakfast crepes.
7. Ten Crows BBQ
Ten Crows is well known among the locals as the go-to BBQ restaurant.
They smoke their meat for up to 14 hours in a blend of hickory and fruit wood to achieve fall-off-the-bone tenderness and maximum flavor.
They have live music every night and a lovely outdoor seating area with picnic tables and fire pits.
Where to Stay in South Lake Tahoe
Hotel Review: Hotel Azure
When visiting South Lake Tahoe I stayed at Hotel Azure.
If you are looking for an affordable hotel in South Lake Tahoe, right by the lake and just outside of the downtown area, which can get quite busy and noisy, Hotel Azure is a great option. Plus the hotel is dog-friendly, has a great jacuzzi and a heated outdoor pool!
Quick hotel facts
- 99 rooms & suites
- Year-round outdoor heated pool and 2 tier hot tub
- Fitness room & Game room
- 24 hr front desk
- 16 lane bowling alley with sports bar and pizza restaurant
- Event space
- No resort fees
- Free Wi-Fi and parking
- On-site laundry
- Seasonal complimentary bike rentals and complimentary snowshoe rentals
Our hotel room was very spacious, clean and nicely renovated. Our room was also one of the few rooms with a lake view. However, because of the wide road between the hotel and the lake the view isn’t as spectacular as we hoped.
The bed was comfortable, the bathroom just fine and the extra sink outside of the bathroom was a nice addition.
In all, the room offered all we needed for a comfortable stay.
Hotel Azure has everything you need for a short stay in South Lake Tahoe. Ample parking, 24 hour staff, a nice pool and jacuzzi, a small gym. Everything is clean and well maintained.
Unfortunately Hotel Azure doesn’t offer breakfast. But, there are several breakfast places within walking distance from the hotel such as Sprouts and Revive.
I really like Hotel Azure’s location. It’s an easy drive to the state parks, you are just across the street from Lake Tahoe and there are several cafes and restaurants within walking distance.
It’s only a 5-minute drive to downtown South Lake Tahoe with its casinos and more active nightlife. This way you are close enough to enjoy it all, but just far enough away to get a good night sleep if you need one. Plus, it just feels a little bit more as if you are staying in a small mountain town instead of in Lake Tahoe’s most popular tourist destination.
With prices starting around $100 per night Hotel Azure offers decent value for money. Especially considering the size of the rooms, the location and the amenities.
Other Accommodation Options in South Lake Tahoe
If you are visiting South Lake Tahoe in summer there are some great RV parks and campgrounds worth checking out.
Of course another great option while staying in a mountain town like South Lake Tahoe is renting a cabin. Many cabins can be found on AirBnb. Lastly, South Lake Tahoe has a wide range of hotels to fit pretty much any budget and every type of traveler. I recommend using Hotelscombined.com to compare hotel prices.
Facts About Lake Tahoe and South Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe is a large freshwater lake in the Sierra Nevada of the United States. Lying at an altitude of 6,225ft (1,897m), it straddles the state line between California and Nevada.
Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America. The lake is known for the clarity of its water and the panorama of surrounding mountains on all sides. The area surrounding the lake is also referred to as Lake Tahoe, or simply as Tahoe.
Lake Tahoe is a major tourist attraction in both Nevada and California. It is a popular destination for winter sports and summer outdoor recreation. Ski resorts are a significant part of the area’s economy and reputation. Lake Tahoe offers some of the best skiing and snowboarding in the United States.
About South Lake Tahoe
South Lake Tahoe has grown from several smaller towns into one large area consisting of approximately 24,000 permanent residents. The population fluctuates massively though because of the town’s popularity both in summer and in winter.
Probably the best-known part of South Lake Tahoe is ‘Heavenly Village’; a town center created at the foot of the Heavenly Mountain, comprising shops, restaurants and resort hotels. In this downtown area you will also find all the casinos and the larger hotels.
For the outdoor enthusiast there is so much to do, no matter what season you visit South Lake Tahoe. And, for those with less outdoorsy ambitions, South Lake Tahoe offers gambling, shopping, fine dining, and, of course, stellar views of the lake and surrounding mountains all year long.
You could easily spend a week in South Lake Tahoe and still you wouldn’t be able to do everything this part of Lake Tahoe has to offer. But, even if you only have two or three days, South Lake Tahoe definitely is perfect for a short trip away from it all.
I visited South Lake Tahoe from San Francisco. And although it is almost a four-hour drive, a trip to South Lake Tahoe is definitely a perfect break from the hustle and bustle of a city like San Francisco!
I hope you enjoyed my tips on what to do in South Lake Tahoe and enjoy your time there!
My next stop? Sunny San Diego!
And, if you love the outdoors, trips to mountain lakes and a stay in a cute mountain town then do check out my article about Big Bear Lake as well.
Map of What to Do, Where to Eat & Drink and Where to Stay in South Lake Tahoe
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Featured image by Josiah Roe. Check out his Instagram account for more incredible pictures!
Disclosure: My stay in South Lake Tahoe was sponsored by Tahoe South. This however in no way affects my opinions. I would never recommend anything I didn’t enjoy myself and I only share my honest opinion.
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