Craving a getaway in nature? Pad your California outdoor adventure with all the best things to do in Lake Tahoe, California. Whether you want to check out the fresh powder with snowboarding and skiing, or sun and cycling, this alpine lake is a year-round playground for all outdoor activities.
The top tourist attractions in Lake Tahoe aren’t your average city skyscrapers. Here, you’ll be courted by sky-reaching mountain peaks, infinitely deep lake water, and whispering pine forests. From Emerald Bay State Park to Heavenly Mountain Resort, Lake Tahoe will enchant and seduce you.
You’ll never be at a loss for what to do in Lake Tahoe. Plan your perfect nature escape with this guide to the best places to visit in Lake Tahoe, CA.
Must-see places to visit in Lake Tahoe, CA
Emerald Bay State Park
A true gem of Lake Tahoe, Emerald Bay State Park invites visitors to its western shores. The park has two campsites. You can hike or sail into the Boat-In Camp, or for a bit more of an accessible approach, head to Eagle Point Campground, which is complete with a private beach on the lake.
Emerald Bay State Park is ensconced in forest-based hiking trails. You can hike up to Inspiration Point for an eagle-eye view of Emerald Bay below.
Another trail will take you to Vikingsholm. Built in the early 1900s, this castle is an exemplary design of Scandinavian architecture. Take a 30-minute tour of the inside of the castle during the summer season.
From Inspiration Point, you can look down over Vikingsholm. Towering 600 ft above Emerald Bay, Inspiration Point is one of the top Lake Tahoe sightseeing attractions. It’s wheelchair accessible and has paved walkways to all the best lookout points.
Formerly known as Squaw Valley Ski Resort, Palisades Tahoe is a legendary Lake Tahoe ski resort. Separated into two unique sections, Alpine Meadows and Olympic Valley, Palisades Tahoe hosts some of the most popular skiing in Lake Tahoe. These mountain ski resorts are mostly for advanced skiers, with only a very small percentage of the slopes suitable for beginners.
Even if you aren’t a professional skier, it’s worth taking a ride up and down the ski lifts at Palisades Tahoe. The vast view of the snowcapped mountain peaks and pine forests will be your reward.
Once you’re back down at the resort, there are more than 50 shops and restaurants to occupy the non-skiers and skiers alike.
One of the shorter hikes in Emerald Bay State Park is Eagle Falls at just under two miles round trip. This also makes it one of the most popular places to go in Lake Tahoe. Ending at Eagle Lake, you can swim, take in the magnificent views, and if you arrive early enough, enjoy a magnificent sunrise.
Along the hike, you’ll see waterfalls and beautiful views, so don’t forget to bring your camera. The Eagle Falls Trail continues to more lakes if you have the stamina, time, and desire to forge onward. Your pup can come along, too!
Perfectly situated on the South Shore of Lake Tahoe, Pope Beach is a sandy beach perfect for swimming and kayaking. If you don’t have your own craft, rentals are available.
There are also small food stands if you forget to pack a lunch. Just a quick note: Pope Beach is not dog-friendly. Be sure to leave Fido at home if you plan to visit.
Fancy a workout before you plunge into the cool lake waters? Cycle to Pope Beach along the Pope/Baldwin Bike Path instead of driving.
The views of the lake and Sierra Nevada Mountain Range make visiting this beach one of the best things to do in Lake Tahoe.
Wherefore art thou Sand Harbor? Why, I doth say, across the state border in Nevada. By the name, you may think Sand Harbor is famous for its sandy beaches, but first and foremost, it’s famous for its Shakespeare.
Every summer, the annual Shakespeare Festival is held in the outdoor theater in Sand Harbor State Park. When coming for the festival, be sure to enjoy everything the state park and beach have to offer.
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Sand Harbor Beach offers swimming, kayaking, boating, and more. Ashore, there are picnic spots with barbecues and even e-bike rentals to cruise up and down the shoreline. All activities give you beautiful views of Lake Tahoe and the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Tallac Historic Site
The Tallac Historic Site includes the Pope, Baldwin, and Valhalla estates. It’s listed on the National Registry of Historic Places and is open to the public during the summer season.
Explore on your own or take a guided tour, including through the Pope House. The Baldwin Estate is now included in the Tallac Museum. Take a tour to learn about the local history of the Washoe people.
A major draw to the Tallac Historic Site is the Gatsby Festival. It’s a two-day event that will have you absorbed in the roaring 20s with its decadent parties and festivities.
Wishing for a Lake Tahoe wedding? The Valhalla Estate is a perfect wedding destination, featuring lakefront vows and mountain backdrops.
D.L. Bliss State Park
Just north of Emerald Bay is D.L. Bliss State Park. Here, it’s more about what you won’t find than what you will—and that’s lots of tourists.
You can camp inside D.L. Bliss State Park and roast some s’mores over the fire pits. During the day, there are many hiking trails to choose from. We recommend following the Rubicon Trail to the lighthouse. It’s a longer and more difficult trail, so plan accordingly.
For photo op lovers, Balancing Rock is a top point of interest in Lake Tahoe. Many people hike the Balancing Rock Trail just to take a picture under the giant boulder.
In the park, there are two parts to Bliss Beach. The northern is Lester Beach, with some of the deepest waters in Lake Tahoe, and the southern is Calloway Cove. Be sure to visit both during your D.L. Bliss State Park adventure.
Van Sickle Bi-State Park
Want to enjoy the best of both the city and wilderness? Van Sickle Bi-State Park is a natural haven within walking distance of the Nevada casinos.
Enjoy the hiking and mountain biking trails or a picnic on the beach during the day. At night, head back to the casino and hotels in Nevada for more late-night fun.
The hiking trails in Van Sickle Bi-State Park also connect to other trailheads for longer hikes if you’re up for the adventure. If not, be sure to take in the stunning scenery of Lake Tahoe before heading back to the Stateline casino strip.
The Hellman-Ehrman Mansion was a privately-owned home acquired by the California State Park System in 1965. Today you can tour the expansive grounds and historically preserved house as part of Ed Z’berg Sugar Pine Point State Park.
The state park also includes many hiking trails and a small beach for swimming and sunbathing. During the winter, cross-country skiers enjoy using the hiking trails for a snowy workout.
The Hellmann-Ehrman Mansion guides share the history in a 45-minute tour. Details include interesting facts about the original building site and the family’s visits, along with how the home was upgraded over the years.
The venue also hosts weddings and events with either Lake Tahoe or the mansion as idyllic backdrops.
All the way up on the North Shore of Lake Tahoe is where you’ll find Kings Beach. Located in the town of the same name, this is a great beach to visit and enjoy.
Water activities include kayaking, paddle boarding, and enjoying picnic areas and playgrounds. A license is required, but you can also fish at Kings Beach.
One of the most exciting activities in Lake Tahoe is parasailing at King’s Beach. If you want to get a bird’s eye view of Lake Tahoe, there’s no better way than setting sail in the air.
Once back in town, there are plenty of restaurants and retail therapy to offset the beach and activity time.
History Stateline Fire Lookout
Originally built just as the name suggests, History Stateline Fire Lookout is a high point on the state line between California and Nevada. Built in 1936 to be a lookout for fires, the tower has since been removed.
Visitors can still hike up to the base of the History Stateline Fire Lookout vantage point. It yields stunning views and there are benches to rest along the way as well as at the top.
If you’re staying in King’s Beach, you’ll be able to see the North Lake Tahoe town from the top. There are also tourist signs if you want to read about the local history.
Fallen Leaf Lake
Off the southern tip of Lake Tahoe is Fallen Leaf Lake. The lake is quite calm for paddle boarding and kayaking. You may also spot a few people out water skiing on the lake during the summertime when the marina is open.
The Fallen Leaf Store and Café are also open during the summer, so there is no need to pack your own lunch!
To work up an appetite, you can hit up any of the surrounding trails. There are easier trails for hiking or running and more strenuous ones that will take you through several loops out and back.
Heavenly Mountain Resort
Think you’ve died and gone to heaven? You will at Heavenly Mountain Resort. This South Lake Tahoe, California resort is renowned for its plethora of activities.
You can take the ski lifts up and enjoy the panoramic views of Lake Tahoe. Once up top, you can choose your mountain to ski down. Choose wisely because you can ski down into Nevada as well. For the bravest skiers, try your hand at the double-black-diamond canyons.
For those who are not so brave, Heavenly Mountain Resort also offers a sky-high zip line. During the short ride, you’ll be able to take in all the vistas of Lake Tahoe and the snowy mountains.
There are also terrain parks where you’re free to choose your own freestyle. There are various options, from expert to absolute beginner. Where better than Heavenly Mountain Resort for your first ski experience?
Royal Gorge Cross Country Ski Resort
Even though Lake Tahoe is famous for its downhill skiing, there’s also world-class cross-country skiing to enjoy. At Royal Gorge Cross Country Ski Resort there are over 120 miles of skiable terrain and trails.
Divided into six tracks, there are both groomed and natural terrain trails. Along the trails, you’ll find warming huts to regain the feeling in your limbs. You can also rent skis, and if you want to improve your skills, there are plenty of lessons available.
Royal Gorge Cross Country Ski Resort is also dog friendly. If your dog is cold weather hearty, put some snow booties on and let your dog come along for the ride or ski, as it were!
Recommended places to stay in Lake Tahoe for sightseeing
For most travelers, the towns along the lakeside are the most popular places to stay in Lake Tahoe. For the classic Tahoe experience, narrow your accommodations search to areas like South Lake Tahoe and Tahoe City. If winter fun is on the agenda, Truckee, Incline Village, and Olympic Valley are great choices, too.
Stretch your vacation budget further with a stay in this clean, no-frills motel. Offering a mix of drive-up rooms and 2nd-floor suites, this motor inn has something to suit every type of budget-conscious traveler. If you’re traveling with kids, book one of the designated family rooms, tailored with extra amenities. Join in on one of the inn’s fun weekly movie nights to keep the tots busy in the evening.
Ratchet up the alpine vibes with a night at the Heavenly Valley Lodge. Scattered throughout the property is a slate of cabins showcasing classic rustic-chic glamping style, replete with patchwork quilts, stone fireplaces, and antique rocking chairs. With its a prime location, the lakeshore is a quick walk away, and, in winter, you’re a quick drive from the Heavenly Mountain Resort to carve the slopes.
Elevate your road trip experience at this luxe roadside motel. A retro exterior invites you into the bright, modern guest rooms, set with trendy decor and extras like deep soaker tubs. Traveling to Tahoe as a family? Book into one of the self-catering rooms, featuring an oven and a cooktop.
Add some alpine flair to your Lake Tahoe trip with a stay in this mountain resort. Comprised of one-, two-, and three-bedroom villas, this luxury hotel offers the perfect escape for solo travelers, couples, and families alike. After your sightseeing adventures, soak up the rays on the sundeck, take a dp in the pool, soak in the hot tub, and let the kids run amok at the splash pad. For dinner, head to the resort’s Asian fusion restaurant & bar or show off your grilling skills in the BBQ area.