A Local's Guide To South Lake Tahoe In The Summer: What To Do, Where To Eat, Where To Stay!
Updated: Jun 20
In this post, I'm sharing the best activities, where to stay (for every budget), and my top picks for coffee houses, bars, and restaurants in South Lake Tahoe.
At the time of writing this, I've lived in South Lake Tahoe for almost three years. And before moving here, I would road-trip to Tahoe from LA several times a year. So, I guess you can say I've had some time to experience much of what South Lake Tahoe has to offer.
The hikes, activities, and restaurants mentioned in this post are what I recommend putting at the top of your list when visiting South Lake Tahoe in the summer. Consider this a local's guide to the best things to do in South Lake Tahoe.
*When visiting Lake Tahoe, keep it beautiful by practicing the Principles of Leave No Trace.
*I am not sponsored by any of the businesses mentioned in this post.
Just for clarification, I consider South Lake Tahoe to be the section between D.L. Bliss State Park on the southwest side and Cave Rock State Park on the southeast side.
What To Pack
Here is a quick checklist of packing essentials when visiting Lake Tahoe in the summer:
There is so much to do and see around Lake Tahoe, so having a car, whether you're renting or driving your own, is a must for getting to popular attractions, hiking trails, and different sides of the lake.
With that being said, most of the bars and restaurants are within walking distance of many hotels in South Lake Tahoe, particularly in Stateline (the most walkable and touristy section in South Lake Tahoe). If you want to get from one side of South Lake Tahoe to the other, for example, Stateline to the Y section, Uber is an option.
A word of caution: There are a lot of cops around South Lake Tahoe. It's not worth it to speed. You will more than likely get a ticket. And it goes without saying, definitely don't drink and drive.
Where to Stay
You will find the biggest selection of budget hotels and motels in the Stateline area of South Lake Tahoe. And if you visit during the week, prices will be cut by more than half. I'm big on budget traveling, and when I used to road-trip up to Lake Tahoe, I would always stay in Stateline for price and convenience. Here are 3 of my top picks:
Here are 3 mid-range hotels in South Lake Tahoe that I would recommend:
For those looking for an upscale experience in South Lake Tahoe with all the luxurious amenities:
There are many campsites around South Lake Tahoe. I haven't camped in Lake Tahoe myself, but I have driven by and hiked past a few campgrounds. I think these are two of the prettiest.
Where to Eat + Drink
There are quite a few local coffee houses around South Lake Tahoe that have those rustic, cozy, woodsy, and all-around adorable coffee house vibes. Nothing against Starbucks, but I recommend checking out one of these local, uniquely Tahoe spots to grab a coffee, pastries, and a breakfast sandwich.
I've been to a handful of restaurants in South Lake Tahoe. Here are some of my favorites. I picked these spots based on the quality of the food, the beer and drink selection, and the atmosphere. I like restaurants that have great food and fun vibes! These spots are great for lunch, happy hour, or dinner.
If you are looking for a fun place to go out with good drinks and maybe a little live music in South Lake Tahoe, here's a nice mix of options. I've included everything from local dives to touristy casinos.
There are tons of options in terms of outdoor activities in South Lake Tahoe, especially in the summer. These are some of the top experiences that I would highly recommend during your visit to Lake Tahoe.
Kayaking in Lake Tahoe is an awesome adventure in its own right, but kayaking in a completely transparent kayak along Tahoe's turquoise shoreline is turning it up a notch. Not to mention, you'll get some pretty epic photos.
I wrote a blog post about my own experience clear kayaking in Lake Tahoe. You can check it out here. The company I went with is called Clearly Tahoe. They offer clear kayaking experiences from South Lake Tahoe and Incline Village.
Clear kayaking photos by: @ludofekete
If you google the best places to paddleboard in the US, Lake Tahoe pretty much comes up on every list. With its crystal clear water and picturesque mountain backdrop, Lake Tahoe and paddleboarding go hand in hand.
Tahoe's east shore is my go-to spot for paddleboarding, but Zephyr Cove and Emerald Bay are great spots for paddleboarding in South Lake Tahoe. Both of these locations offer paddleboard rentals during the summer months.
RENTING AN E-BIKE
South Lake Tahoe is home to a well-paved, scenic bike path that runs along Emerald Bay Road. One super fun thing to do is rent an E-bike and zip up to Pope Beach and Camp Richardson. Camp Richardson/Beacon Bar charges a steep parking fee, but it's free if you enter by bike.
I love the E-bike experience because you can get as much exercise as you're in the mood for. Personally, I'm all about that pedal-assist 😄. One place I recommend renting E-bikes from is Pine Nut Cycle Cafe. They are right off the bike path and have an awesome juice bar!
SWIMMING IN REMOTE COVES
Swimming in Lake Tahoe might sound like an obvious choice for a summer activity. But you'd be surprised how many people don't swim in Lake Tahoe because they think the water is too cold.
Yes, Lake Tahoe is known for its cold water temps, but in the summer months, swimming in Lake Tahoe is not only refreshing but also so much fun! I would stick to the coves where the water is warmer. And don't forget to bring a tube float for a little extra fun!
POWERED HANG GLIDING
Here's one of the most adventurous things you can do near Lake Tahoe- Powered Hang Gliding. I did this the first time I visited Lake Tahoe back in 2015, and the experience was nothing short of epic!. This activity is a splurge but very much worth it, particularly if you appreciate a good adrenaline rush combined with spectacular scenery. The company I used is called Hang Gliding Tahoe.
*I am not sponsored by any of the businesses mentioned in this post.
Here are my top picks for hikes in South Lake Tahoe. These hikes are doable for most and the views are some of the best in Lake Tahoe.
Cave Rock is one of my go-to hikes in South Lake Tahoe. Located on Hwy 50, the Cave Rock hike is short, easy, and leads to gorgeous 180-degree views over Lake Tahoe. Starting from the parking lot, the hike takes about 12 minutes or so to get to the base of Cave Rock. And then a short scramble to reach the top viewpoint.
Maggie's Peak features one of the best vantage points of Emerald Bay, an alpine lake, jaw-dropping views of Lake Tahoe and Desolation Wilderness, and it's quite the workout, which always feels rewarding at the end of a hike. The trail to Maggies Peak is located across Inspiration Point along HWY 89 in South Lake Tahoe.
Here's a video of the Maggies Peak Trail:
The Vikingsholm Trail is a 1.7 mile out and back trail located right in Emerald Bay State Park. After taking in the views from the Emerald Bay Scenic Overlook, you can pick up the Vikingsholm Trail which leads to the bottom of Emerald Bay.
Once at the bottom, you can check out the Vikingsholm Castle, rent a paddleboard or kayak (in the summer), pick up the Rubicon Trail, or hike to Lower Eagle Falls.
The Rubicon Trail is one of the most beautiful trails in Lake Tahoe, and it's one of my absolute favorite hikes near South Lake Tahoe! It connects D.L. Bliss State Park and Emerald Bay State Park and has stunning views of the shoreline the whole way. If you only have time for one hike during your visit to Lake Tahoe, this is the one you should do!
Here's a video on hiking the Rubicon Trail from D.L Bliss to Emerald Bay State Park:
For more hikes around Lake Tahoe check out this post: 13 Spectacular Hikes in Lake Tahoe.
I'll admit that when it comes to beaches in Lake Tahoe, the east shore is my go-to. And it's only a 30-minute drive from South Lake Tahoe. But, if you are looking for a few great beaches right in South Lake Tahoe, here are a few spots.
Zephyr Cove is an easily accessible and mildly commercialized beach area in South Lake Tahoe. It features a large stretch of sandy beach as well as smaller, more secluded coves. During the summer you can rent kayaks, paddleboards, and other small watercrafts right from the beach. There is also a bar and restaurant within walking distance as well as a campground right across the street.
LESTER BEACH AT D.L. BLISS
Located on Lake Tahoe's southwest shore, DL Bliss State Park is home to the stunning Lester Beach and Calloway Cove. Both beaches have a sandy shoreline and crystal clear turquoise water. I think that DL Bliss is one of the most picturesque areas of Lake Tahoe. As mentioned earlier in the post, D.L. Bliss State Park is where you can pick up one of the best hiking trails in Lake Tahoe- The Rubicon Trail.
Emerald Bay State Park is home to a few great beach spots. The hike down to the bottom of Emerald Bay via the Vikingsholm Trail will lead to Emerald Bay Beach, which features a wide-open sandy beach area, a pier, and picnic tables. You can rent paddleboards and kayaks directly from the beach and paddle out to Fannette Island. Additionally, there are numerous secluded coves that dot the bay that you can hike to from the bottom of Emerald Bay.
I hope you enjoyed my South Lake Tahoe Summer Guide! Let me know some of your favorite summer activities in Lake Tahoe in the comments! Also, make sure to subscribe to the blog so that you don’t miss the latest blog posts, videos, and announcements!