The Most Underrated Small Towns Near Lake Tahoe

The Most Underrated Small Towns Near Lake Tahoe

By California.com July 29, 2020

As California mitigates health risks during the COVID-19 pandemic, some travel restrictions may remain in certain communities. Call the local and regional tourism offices to learn more about the restrictions in your intended destination. Thank you for reading, and stay safe.

Whether you’re ready for a mountain escape with your friends or you’re wanting to relax and reconnect with your inner self, Lake Tahoe is the place to be. The serenity of the snowy peaks of the Sierra Nevada and the cobalt blue waters of the largest alpine lake in North America are mesmerizing, and there are numerous small towns near Lake Tahoe that make for exciting getaways. So, pack your bags and leave your busy schedule behind—it’s time to disconnect and discover what NorCal has to offer.

South Lake Tahoe

Take flight in a hot-air balloon and enjoy the view of Lake Tahoe's stunning scenery. Photo courtesy of Lake Tahoe Balloons.

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South Lake Tahoe is the perfect place to kick off your adventure. Explore the lake’s beauty from above by embarking on a hot-air balloon ride with Lake Tahoe Balloons. Breathe in the fresh alpine air while you soar more than 3,000 feet above the lake and take in the impressive views around you. If heights aren’t for you, admire the colors of Lake Tahoe by journeying on a sightseeing cruise with Lake Tahoe Boat Rides that will take you to Emerald Bay, Vikingsholm Castle, Fannette Island Tea House, Rubicon Bay, Meeks Bay, and Sand Harbor.

Interested in a scenic and photographic tour combining your passion for nature and photography? Join Tahoe Photographic Tours to visit sparkling waterfalls and beaches, observe spectacular wildlife, and professionally capture these memories to reminisce on your journey home. After a fun day out, nourish your body at Sprouts Natural Foods Cafe—a family-owned eatery specializing in organic, healthy fare.

Tahoe City

Adventurers, lace up your shoes because it's time for an aerial trek through Tahoe. Photo courtesy of Tahoe Treetop Adventure Parks.

Start the morning off right at the family-owned Tahoe House Bakery & Gourmet. Savor the delectable taste of a Swiss chocolate croissant or a raspberry twist along with a freshly brewed cup of joe. Pick up some sweet treats or a sandwich to hold you over for the day.

When in Tahoe City, it’s best to cross the Truckee River and rent a bike at  Olympic Bike Shop. Explore the small town and get acquainted with its vibrant vibe; ride along the Truckee River Bike Trail or—for a good workout—cycle on more strenuous routes such as the West Shore or Dollar Hill path. Adventurers will also want to visit Tahoe Treetop Adventure Parks to aerial trek and zip-line through the forest. Take in your surroundings and enjoy the time that you're disconnected from your devices.

After a day outdoors, spend your summer evening at the Tahoe Art Haus and Cinema, where you can watch a classic movie alfresco at the drive-in cinema. 

Truckee 

Enjoy an equestrian adventure by riding your way through the scenic meadows and creeks near Truckee.

If you’re looking to practice mindfulness, then Truckee is the place for you. This serene town is a haven for yoga lovers—the local studios offer many classes for beginners and yogis alike. Try outdoor yoga at Mountain Lotus or enjoy state-of-the-art sessions at the Alpenflow Yoga Studio.

For a more lively excursion, sign up for a wild whitewater rafting experience with Tahoe Whitewater Tours along the Truckee River, or go horseback riding through picturesque creeks and meadows with Piping Rock Horses. While you’re in Truckee, join the Truckee Historic Walking Tour to learn about the town’s historical significance, too. Treat yourself to a lovely meal at Trokay before heading to your next stop near Lake Tahoe. 

Quincy

While visiting the Plumas National Forest, indulge in scenic vistas, endless fishing opportunities, and warm summer nights.

Quincy is an absolute must-see when in Northern California and is considered one of the most affordable towns near Lake Tahoe. Head to Greenhorn Ranch first for an authentic ranch experience in the Lost Sierra. Catering to guests from around the world, this working dude ranch offers guided trail rides, horseback riding lessons, stocked fishing ponds, and an all-inclusive resort experience. You’ll love every second of this western-style getaway featuring 660 acres and access to over 500,000 acres of public lands.

Connect with nature and camp outdoors in Plumas National Forest. It’s a great place to hike, bike, kayak, fish, and boulder. For a relaxed visit, head to the Butterfly Valley Botanical Garden to enjoy peace and serenity amongst the beautiful plant life. Stroll through Quincy’s Main Street to admire the historic buildings and head to The Knook for a bowl of house-made soup and deli-style sandwiches. 

Auburn

Paddle down the Middle Fork American River, which was once one of the wealthiest gold mining areas in California.

For outdoor fun, make your way to Auburn, one of the best small towns in California. Rock climb in the Old Limestone Quarry, go whitewater rafting, or fish for rainbow trout and bass in the Middle Fork American River. (During the 1850s California Gold Rush era, the Middle Fork was one of the wealthiest gold mining areas.) Immerse yourself in Mother Nature’s beauty—the Auburn State Recreation Area or the Hidden Falls Regional Park awaits you—and then wander around the charming and historic Old Town Auburn.

If you’re in Auburn on a Saturday, the PlacerGROWN Farmers’ Market is a great way to spend your morning. For a delicious lunch, head to Nectar Cafe for organic vegetarian fare or to Max’s Deli for delectable deli sandwiches. On your way out of town, stop by Amber Oaks Berry Farm to pick your own berries or vegetables

Placerville

Spend your summer days right by taking a bite out of a juicy peach harvested at a majestic family farm. Photo courtesy of Boa Vista Orchards.

Placerville is a foodie haven. The town’s stunning Apple Hill area is home to many apple orchards, so head to Boa Vista Orchards and treat yourself to freshly picked fruits, craft apple cider, and mouthwatering apple donuts made from scratch. Another wonderful apple farm situated in Apple Hill is High Hill Ranch, where you can savor the taste of perfectly ripe apples, take a bite out of a warm apple pie, and quench your thirst with crisp cider.

Want to continue your culinary adventures? Enjoy a fine-dining experience complete with local musical events (on Wednesday nights) at the Smith Flat House. For dessert, swing by the Fudge Factory Farm—with more than 75 different types of fudge to choose from, this sweets shop will take you to seventh heaven—or visit the slightly spooky Hangman’s Tree Ice Cream Saloon, which is housed in a brick building constructed in the 1850s. But if you prefer a freshly brewed cup of artisanal coffee, make your way to Totem Coffee Co

After feasting your way through Apple Hill, squeeze in a good workout at the El Dorado Trail, which extends from El Dorado County to the Lake Tahoe Basin. Seek refuge in nature, discover stunning waterfalls, and hike to your heart’s content in the Eldorado National Forest. If water is your element, then kayak or canoe on the peaceful waters of the Slab Creek Reservoir with Paddling California. Whatever soothes your soul, Placerville has you covered. 

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