Staff Writer Rachael Medina
Rachael Medina is the senior content writer and operations manager for California.com. She was born and raised just outside the Mojave Desert in Southern California and moved to the redwood forests o…See full bio
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Meandering meadows, densely packed pines, and crisp air greet you around every corner as you navigate the twists and turns of Highway 50. The road undulates along with the mountains, providing stunning views of the Eldorado National Forest and evoking a butterfly-inducing excitement for the things to come.
Traffic slows as the stop signs signal that you have arrived in South Lake Tahoe—though you can’t quite believe it until you gaze upon the glistening turquoise waters in front of you and feel a mixture of relaxation and anticipation bubble up to the surface. Get ready to enjoy an epic vacation in this vibrant city on the lake, using our guide to direct you to the top destinations, experiences, and things to do in South Lake Tahoe.
There is something about the warm days, the cool breeze, the scent of Jeffrey pines, and the invigorating atmosphere that creates lasting memories and a longing for adventure that only Tahoe can cure. Perched at 6,237 feet, South Lake Tahoe’s elevation creates a crisp air that overwhelms the senses with anticipation. A single look at the sparkling waters will make you want to jump right in, so head straight to SUP Tahoe to satisfy your hankering. Rent a stand-up paddleboard for the day, but consider adding the overnight option, just in case the day gets away from you. SUP Tahoe is also the only spot in the area that provides a car rack for free, so you can paddle wherever your adventure takes you. Board secured, you’re ready to hit the lake whenever you want.
Drive to the Camp Richardson Marina to paddle on the clear waters, soak up the California sun, and take in the views of the surrounding snow-covered mountains. The hours tick by as the pure bliss of standing on the lake washes over you, and before you know it, a grumbling stomach indicates that lunchtime has arrived. While you may be reluctant to leave the waters, disembarking from the board is necessary, if only for a short while.
Luckily, you don’t have to go far. Lunch is served lakeside at The Beacon Bar & Grill, so once the boards are stashed atop the car, your nose will lead you to the door. Settle in and look out onto the gorgeous waters that have kept you afloat all morning, and start with an order of the wild mushroom toast. The decadent blend of toasted focaccia, melted cheese, and caramelized onions mixes with an aioli of maple syrup, black pepper, and bacon to create an experience that is so good it shouldn’t be allowed. After much deliberation between the burger and the cod sandwich, the seafood is the winning dish and best paired with garlic fries—a fitting reward for the morning’s exercise.
Jump back into the car, and travel east to Lakeside Beach, which is situated close to the state line. Take a relaxing walk along the pristine shoreline, and savor the awe-inspiring vistas. Once your sandy toes have been satiated, the water calls once again for a final paddle—after all, paddleboarding is one of the best things to do in South Lake Tahoe.
With a full afternoon under your belt, the comfort of a relaxing hotel room beckons, so check in to one of the most incredible South Lake Tahoe hotels: The Coachman Hotel. Once you step inside, you are greeted by the scent of freshly brewed Stumptown coffee and the warm, welcoming tones of the bohemian decor, which stand in stark contrast to the industrial fixtures—creating a trendy lounge space instead of a typical lobby.
Settle into your modern, stylish room featuring lush bedding and handcrafted wardrobes. If you’d like to meet some of the other guests, head to the firepit for the complimentary s’mores served every evening. Take a look around the property, then go on a five-minute walk to the Heavenly Mountain Gondola for spectacular panoramic views of Lake Tahoe and the ultimate photo op.
After soaking up the beauty surrounding you, hunger has likely reared its head once again, and a delicious pizza is just the ticket to satisfy it. Make the six-minute walk over to Blue Dog Gourmet Pizza, and order the “Walk the Dog”—a glorious combination of creamy white sauce, gooey mozzarella cheese, succulent chicken, crispy bacon, and fresh spinach. For something lighter, opt for “The Roma,” a bright pizza topped with gorgonzola, roasted garlic, Roma tomatoes, fragrant basil, and mozzarella cheese. Walk it all off as you saunter back to the hotel for a cozy night in, feeling grateful that of all the places to stay in South Lake Tahoe, you chose this central locale.
Emerge refreshed from an eventful day and a relaxing night at one of the best hotels in South Lake Tahoe. Enjoy a perfectly balanced latte at the coffee bar in the lobby before setting off on a new day of adventure. Start the morning with a sunrise hot-air balloon ride by boarding the “Tahoe Flyer”—the only hot-air balloon recovery vessel in the world—with Lake Tahoe Balloons. The breathtaking ride high above the ground affords rare views of the lake’s depths; witness the hues changing from sapphire, to cobalt, to azure as you drift farther from the shore. Savor every minute in the clouds before drifting back to land with a new perspective on life.
With the sun high in the sky and your feet back on the ground, breakfast time is officially here. The Getaway Cafe is a short drive away and full of mouthwatering dishes such as coconut-crusted French toast. Piled high with three thick slices of coconut-crusted sourdough and fresh bananas—all drizzled in a rich, house-made coconut cream sauce—this dish is a total showstopper. For a more savory route, opt for the veggie eggs Benedict featuring fresh produce, creamy avocado, delicately poached eggs, and silky hollandaise sauce over a soft English muffin.
After a satiating breakfast, hop back on Highway 50 and drive toward the state line to return to SUP Tahoe so you can switch out the paddleboards for kayaks and embark on an entirely new adventure to enjoy all of South Lake Tahoe’s activities. Starting just east of Camp Richardson at Pope Beach, kayak westward along the shores to experience a portion of the Lake Tahoe Water Trail, which extends around the entirety of the largest alpine lake in America. Paddle for roughly 1.5 miles to Cove East for an easy 3-mile round-trip trek, or go for the 10-mile excursion and paddle all the way to the state line and back.
The calm waters are a welcoming outdoor escape, serving as a respite from the stresses of everyday life. A refreshing paddle around the South Tahoe rim of the lake inspires further adventures; indeed, the 72 miles of the Lake Tahoe Water Trail can easily be broken up into a seven-day expedition—a future experience that you will undoubtedly want to plan.
After spending a perfect morning on the lake and dreaming of trips to come, a bit of rest is in order. Swing by SUP Tahoe to return the kayaks, and then head back to the hotel for some downtime before the excitement continues. Sink back into the comfort of the lobby couches, pamper yourself with Malin & Goetz bath products, go for a relaxing dip in the pool, and play a round or two of cornhole as the hot sun drifts into cooler temperatures.
By the late afternoon, you have probably worked up an appetite, so a quick walk to California Burger Co. is up next. With vegetarian options; old-fashioned shakes; and certified-natural, free-range, grass-fed beef, this joint has something for everyone. Choose between the “Californian,” featuring avocado, spinach, Jack cheese, pesto, and house-made roasted garlic aioli; the “Blues Burger,” starring blue cheese, grilled onions, and grilled mushrooms; and the “Pretender,” comprised of a chipotle black-bean patty topped with spinach and avocado. Grab the onion rings or sweet potato tots on the side for a fresh take on the traditional burger and fries, but don’t pass on the homestyle vanilla milkshake, which will transport your taste buds back to simpler times.
With your hunger satisfied, stroll back to the hotel, jump in the car, and venture out to the Bayview Trail to walk off your meal. Starting at the Bayview Campground, this leisurely trail stretches about 1.5 miles round-trip and provides picture-perfect views. Look out onto Cascade Lake and Lake Tahoe, and witness the rushing waters of Cascade Falls tumbling down 200 feet and landing between the rocks below.
After the hike that left you inspired by the great outdoors, drive back toward town on Highway 89, cruising for five miles until you reach Camp Richardson Corral. Take the 50-minute guided horseback ride for a scenic tour through the Tahoe National Forest, where you can savor beautiful views of the mountains, meadows, forests, and lakes that make the region an outdoor enthusiast's dream. With so many fun things to do in South Lake Tahoe, the days fly by in an instant.
Spend your last night reminiscing about the past two days of adventures, eating s’mores by the fire, and swapping stories with fellow guests at the hotel. South Lake Tahoe has a way of creating unbeatable memories, regardless of the season, so your next trip is likely already in the works. Perhaps a skiing or snowboarding trip during the winter months will be next, or maybe another outing spent lounging on an inflatable swan on the lake should happen so you can take advantage of all South Lake Tahoe’s summer activities before the season ends. Whatever comes next, as you sit in the hotel hot tub and soak in the night sky, the world seems calm, and life is good in this moment.
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