We just got back from another Babes That Wander trip and I’m putting together the perfect South Lake Tahoe summer itinerary for you guys!
I’ve been visiting Lake Tahoe since I was a kid—it was an easy family vacation spot for us since South Lake Tahoe is only a 1.5-hour drive from my parent’s house, and North Lake Tahoe is a 2-hour drive.
But you know how when you’re a kid you don’t appreciate things like a stunningly beautiful lake in the Sierra Nevada mountains, and you’d just rather hang out with your friends than go on a 3-day weekend trip with your family? Yeah, that was me.
Now that I’m an adult, I feel lucky to live close enough to take a short road trip to such a beautiful area—one that people travel to from all over the world.
While the Lake Tahoe area is of course beautiful in the winter if you’re into skiing and snowboarding, we especially loved our Tahoe summer vacations. My family loves water sports and there’s so much to do here during warmer months.
Either way, all of the insane natural beauty makes Lake Tahoe worth visiting any time of year!
Psst, catch up on our last couple Babes That Wander Trips here:
What to Do in Bend Oregon: Winter Itinerary
How to Get to Lake Tahoe
For me, Tahoe is an easy 3-hour drive from Napa, but the rest of the Babes That Wander girls flew into Reno. The drive from Reno airport to Tahoe South Shore is a little over an hour, and a Lyft or Uber will run you around $100.
For a more affordable option ($50 roundtrip), there’s the South Tahoe Airporter shuttle. There are a few dropoff points at different casinos, and Harvey’s is super close to the hotel we stayed at.
Since I drove up from Napa, we rode around Tahoe in my car. I would definitely recommend having a car in Tahoe because there’s not really an easy way to get around.
They do have Lyft and Uber, but they can be hard to come by and locals actually recommended calling a cab over ride-sharing services as they’re more reliable and don’t have surge pricing.
Best Time of Year to Visit Tahoe for a Summer Trip
While the weather is super warm and gorgeous, July through August tends to be peak Lake Tahoe summer tourist season—you can expect to be very busy during these months, especially on weekends.
And for the love of all that is holy, avoid Tahoe during Fourth of July weekend. It’s nuts.
Shoulder season in September is a lovely time to go to Tahoe. The weather is still nice and warm during the day and the tourists have started to thin out.
Our trip was the last week of September and while that’s technically fall and not summer, it was perfect. We had warm and sunny days with cool, brisk nights.
Just a note that even if you’re visiting Tahoe during the warmest summer months, you’ll still want to bring a jacket for evenings as things really cool off at night.
Another note is to be aware of fire season. Californians are sadly all too familiar with fire season these days, but if you’re traveling from out of state, it’s something to keep in mind.
This year California had the Mosquito fire that was creating a lot of smoke in Tahoe, but we got lucky and the smoke cleared out just before our trip. The smoke from these devastating fires can make things pretty unbearable, as it’s horrible to breathe and obscures the beautiful views.
And of course, Tahoe itself had terrible fires last year with the Caldor fire that lasted for two months. It burned over 200,000 acres and forced thousands to evacuate.
So while it’s horribly sad and I hate that California now has a fire season, it’s important to keep in mind as you’re planning your trip. Especially if your travel plans involve flying, make sure you book with an option to adjust your dates and/or with travel insurance, just in case you need to reschedule.
Where to Stay in South Lake Tahoe
We stayed at the brand new Desolation Hotel and you guys, this hotel is IT.
Desolation Hotel is super centrally located and we just loved the vibe at this luxury boutique hotel. It’s definitely a unique spot in the South Lake Tahoe area.
The rooms are absolutely gorgeous with a minimalist and modern aesthetic. We stayed in their Alpine Suite and Granite Suite and loved having a kitchenette, king-size bed, pull-out couch, spacious bathroom, and of course the bathtub on the patio.
I always want to know what the in-room coffee situation is at hotels, and Desolation provides coffee grounds, a kettle, and a pour-over Chemex.
We loved relaxing in the pool and hot tub and hanging out with a glass of wine by the fire pits. They also have a gym with Peloton bikes and a sauna.
Since I drove my Tesla up to Tahoe, I was pumped to see Desolation has Tesla and EV chargers in their parking lot! Their townhouses also have individual garages and chargers.
We also had the opportunity to sit down and chat with one of the owners of the husband and wife duo behind Desolation Hotel, and we loved hearing a bit more about their vision, how they give back to the community, and how supporting and empowering women is a large part of their mission.
It was a match made in heaven for the Babes!
Alrighty, let’s get into this South Lake Tahoe summer itinerary! I’m covering a full 3-day itinerary here complete with what to do, where to eat, and all the fun summer Lake Tahoe recs!
South Lake Tahoe Summer Itinerary
Lake Tahoe Summer Itinerary: Day 1
We kicked off day one by taking the Heavenly Mountain gondola ride up to the scenic lookouts. Ski resorts like Heavenly have panoramic views and the ones from up here are incredible!
If you’re afraid of heights, you might want to pop a zanny before heading up on this gondola ride. The views along the way are totally worth it, but my stomach definitely did a couple flip-flops when the gondola jolted a few times.
Once to get to the scenic observation deck, you can walk around to get different perspectives and view of the lake. There’s also a little cafe to grab a bite or a hot chocolate.
Btw, we’re all wearing Abercrombie in this pic! Shop our outfits below:
Shop my Abercrombie outfit:
You’ll also find popular hiking trails up there if you want to explore those, but we just enjoyed the ride and popped out at the observation deck to soak up the views and take some pictures.
Lunch at Sprouts Cafe
Next up, we grabbed lunch at Sprouts Cafe, which is a casual order-at-the-counter spot with good food. They’re popular, so if you go during peak lunchtime on a weekend, definitely expect a wait! The line was out the door the entire time we were there.
It was a gorgeous day so we sat outside and enjoyed our sandwiches in the perfect weather.
We had a hearty lunch here which was perfect because we needed to fuel up for our next activity…
Clear kayaking has been on the Babes’ list of things we wanted to do since we missed out on it due to the weather on our last group trip in FL (peep my Florida Keys itinerary here).
We went out with Clearly Tahoe and had such a great time! This is probably at the top of my list for Tahoe summer activities.
You meet at the marina and head out on a boat to a cove that’s protected from the wind. From there, you hop in your clear kayaks and paddle along the shore with a guide.
It’s a pretty leisurely kayak, and we did a lot of floating and enjoying the scenery. Jess and Megan kept wanting to race me and Greta but we were pretty content to just chill and float along lol.
While we were paddling/floating, we also listened to our guide share some interesting facts about Tahoe. Side note, I have to tell you this crazy story…
Apparently, a body floated up to the surface of the lake and he was identified as a man who went missing 10 years earlier. The lake is so cold and deep that his body had been pretty well preserved.
He had scuba diving gear on him and there was evidence that the gear had been tampered with. Turns out, he went out diving with his friend…whose wife he was having an affair with.
Moral of the story: don’t have an affair with your friend’s wife and then go out scuba diving with him and expect him not to mess with your gear.
Lol anyways! It was my first time being in a clear kayak and it was so fun to be able to look down and see the crystal clear water, right down to the bottom of the lake (I think we were in about 30 feet of water).
The water is so turquoise and beautiful and it was just so serene being out there. We loved this experience!
Dinner at Lakeview Social
After freshening up after kayaking, we went to Lakeview Social for the evening. It’s a super cute spot right by the beaches of South Lake Tahoe with a large outdoor area.
We sipped on craft beer and wine and ordered food from their food truck. There are fire pits and games like cornhole, and there was live music when we were there. It’s a nice spot to chill out and relax.
We had heard about this speakeasy located at the shops at Heavenly and were curious to check it out.
To find it, head to the restaurant Social House and let the bartender know you want to go to the speakeasy. There will likely be a wait but you’ll be put on the list and you can grab a drink while you wait.
Apparently, their espresso martinis are legendary, based on some hilarious reviews we read online that involved a woman wanting to fly the bartender to Korea to make his espresso martinis at her wedding.
Once your table in the speakeasy is ready they’ll come to get you and lead you through a freezer door, where you’re transported to a chic, 1920’s vibe bar that you honestly would never expect to be in Heavenly Village.
The bartenders were so friendly and helpful and just clearly very passionate about their craft. The cocktails were fantastic and we enjoyed them while listening to live music, from an incredibly talented solo performer who did some amazing cover songs.
This spot was the perfect place for a nightcap and definitely a fun surprise!
Lake Tahoe Summer Itinerary: Day 2
Tahoe Tastings Wine Cruise
On day two we went back out on the water again, this time for a wine-tasting cruise with Tahoe Tastings!
You head out to Emerald Bay and taste six different wines on the way. If I remember correctly, all our wines were from different regions of California. When you purchase your tickets you can also opt for a charcuterie board, which I def recommend.
Do note that if you tend to get seasick like me, you’ll want to bring nausea bands and Dramamine just in case. I’m pretty sensitive to motion sickness and the combo of bobbing in the water + drinking wine wasn’t a great one for me.
Lunch at Toulouse
We had lunch at Toulouse, a delicious New Orleans-inspired restaurant. They’re planning on doing a big remodel soon, but the large outdoor patio will still be open.
I shared their NOLA-style gumbo and blackened salmon dishes with Jess, and they were both delicious. We also loved the crispy cauliflower bites.
Yoga on the Beach
If you’re looking for something relaxing to do that also helps you connect with nature, check out Bliss Experiences. They offer activities like yoga on the beach to relax your mind, body, and spirit.
With a stunning view of the lake, it’s a great spot to breathe, stretch, and center yourself while taking in the views.
They also offer paddle yoga (on paddle boards) which looks so fun and I’m sure would be a great balance tester, lol.
Dinner at Maggie’s
To wrap up our second day, we enjoyed dinner at Maggie’s, the restaurant on the third floor of the Desolation Hotel.
They have lovely outdoor seating, great cocktails, and a very enticing menu. We enjoyed drinks, stuffed arancini (soo good), bacon-wrapped scallops, and filet mignon.
We also heard the octopus is to die for, but they were out that night so we’ll just have to come back! The desserts also looked amazing but we were so full we had to skip.
Lake Tahoe Summer Itinerary: Day 3
Brunch at Jimmy’s at the Landing
Day three was our final day in South Lake Tahoe and we started off with a delicious brunch at Jimmy’s, located at The Landing Resort.
Their chilaquiles, eggs benedict, avocado toast, and pancakes were all delicious. You can enjoy a mimosa or a coffee drink here as well. I went with an iced latte because I didn’t want to feel sluggish for our next adventure…
Choose your own adventure: Beach Day or Hiking (or both!)
There are so many awesome beaches and popular hiking trails in the South Tahoe area, so I thought I’d share what we did and then also make a few suggestions for other favorites and you can decide if you’d rather spend the day relaxing on the beach, hiking, or a bit of both!
Hike down to Emerald Bay and Kayak out to the island
Emerald Bay State Park is a pretty iconic spot in Tahoe. It’s just so incredibly beautiful and picturesque, with an interesting history behind it.
Lora Josephine Knight, a widowed heiress who was one of the wealthiest women in America at the time, purchased the land from the previous family who lived there in 1928.
She had Emerald Bay castle, called Vikingsholm, constructed as an homage to Scandinavian architecture.
The little island in the cove, Fanette Island, is the only island in all of Lake Tahoe. You can make out a little square castle there, and this is where Ms. Knight’s butler would row her and her friends out to have tea on the island.
I’ve wanted to hike down to Emerald Bay and kayak out to the island ever since I was a kid, but we would always take weekend trips to Tahoe and Emerald Bay is pretty much madness during the weekends.
Lucky for me, and Jess who was my adventure buddy this afternoon, we were visiting during the week and a random Tuesday afternoon was the perfect time to visit Emerald Bay.
You start with a steep switchback hike down to the bay (it’s a piece of cake going down but you’ll definitely get a good sweat going when you come back up), and once you get there you can explore the inside of Vikingsholm, picnic on the beach, or go for a swim.
There are also kayaks that you can rent here, so Jess and I set out for the island to see where this mysterious lady would have tea.
It was so beautiful from the vantage point of the island, and fun to make my childhood dream of visiting this little “tea house” come true.
Baldwin Beach has a nice stretch of sandy beach and panoramic views of Lake Tahoe and the Sierra Nevada Mountains. You can swim and picnic here, and it’s also a great launching point for kayakers heading to Emerald Bay.
If you’re up for a bit of a drive from south shore, Sand Harbor is a popular beach near Incline Village. Be sure to get there early if you decide to go. Parking can fill up quickly and you’re not allowed to park on the road.
If you’d like to explore Tahoe City, on the northwest part of the lake, Commons Beach is a public beach for swimming, with picnic areas and a large playground.
Van Sickle Bi-State Park
This 725-acre park that is in both California and Nevada offers great hiking in the summer, and cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in the winter.
Van Sickle Bi-State Park is one of the most accessible parks in the Tahoe Basin. A short climb from the trailhead quickly transports you to the serenity of the forest. The park is easy-to-moderate trails are studded with rock outcroppings that present grand views of the largest alpine lake in North America and the surrounding peaks.
The park is open to vehicles from May 1 – October 31, sunrise to sunset, and entrance is free.
Rabe Meadow to Nevada Beach
Rabe Meadows Trail begins at the intersection of Hwy 50 and Kahle Blvd in Stateline (just past Lakeside Inn & Casino). The trail winds through Rabe Meadows and eventually ends at Nevada Beach. You can explore numerous side trails to small streams and rock outcroppings, all while learning along the way about the early Washoe Tribe families that settled here.
If you’re up for a longer hike that’s moderately challenging, Rubicon Trail is a stunning one. It’s a 16.4-mile out-and-back trail that extends between the Vikingsholm Estate and D.L. Bliss State Park to the north.
This is an all-day hike that takes over seven hours to complete, so bring provisions!
Eagle Lake Trail
Eagle Lake Trail has some beautiful views and is on the shorter side for Tahoe hiking. It’s a 1.9-mile out-and-back trail and takes a little over an hour to complete. This is a moderately challenging hike, but Eagle Falls is another trailhead nearby that’s great for beginners.
Hit up a Brewery
After our adventuring, we were ready to unwind. South of North Brewing Company was a short walk from Desolation Hotel so we made our way over there.
They have a spacious outdoor area for seating and tons of their beers on tap to try. I’m personally not much of a beer drinker so I sipped on their kombucha.
In the evenings they have live music and their cozy fire pits on. They also have a large food menu and the food that came out smelled delicious, but we were saving room for dinner later.
Did you know that South Tahoe has a Beer Trail with nine different breweries? You can peep the map below or check out Visit Lake Tahoe’s website to see where the different stops are.
Dinner at The Bistro at Edgewood
To end our Tahoe trip on a high note, we had dinner at The Bistro at Edgewood. Edgewood is a gorgeous Lake Tahoe resort that is super luxe, and I was excited to try out one of their restaurants.
The Bistro at Edgewood is located right by the lake, so definitely grab a seat outside for some beautiful scenery. We made it just in time for sunset and it was lovely.
We had such a delicious and luxe dinner here! Jess and I shared the foie gras and I ordered the lamb chops for my entree.
A few other Lake Tahoe summer activity ideas…
Hot Air Balloon over The Lake
We saw these hot air balloon rides in the morning going out over the lake and they looked like such a fun, unique experience! When we were in the marina one morning for one of our other activities, we ran into a couple who had just gotten off a hot air balloon and they were absolutely raving about how incredible the experience was.
We tried to look into booking a hot air balloon ride for the next (and our last) morning but unfortunately, the weather was going to be too windy to fly, so we weren’t able to go.
It would definitely require an early morning wake-up call, but I think it’d be worth it for the awesome experience!
Water Skiing / Wakeboarding on the Lake
While we didn’t do this on this particular trip, one of my favorite Lake Tahoe summer activities is renting a boat and a driver to take you out water skiing/wakeboarding and tubing.
Yes, the water is cold (it’s melted snow after all), but on a warm Lake Tahoe summer day, it’s refreshing af. Plus, you can always wear a wet suit. 😉
One of our favorite activities the Babes had on our Florida Keys itinerary was jet skiing—we have a need for speed! Can you think of a more fun way to travel around Lake Tahoe than zipping around the water on a jet ski?
You can book a jet ski rental through Action Water Sports and explore the gorgeous scenery by water. You’ll be able to take advantage of the open water and take your jet ski full throttle. Perfect for adrenaline junkies like me and the Babes!
If we had more time, I would have loved to go on a horseback ride in Tahoe. Going through Tahoe’s dreamy mountains on horseback sounds so picturesque and quaint.
Camp Richardson Corral offers guided trail rides for one to two hours.
How epic would it be to get aerial views of Lake Tahoe from a helicopter? This one gives you breathtaking views of Emerald Bay as well as beautiful Fallen Leaf Lake and Cascade Lake, while also flying over Taylor Creek and Pope Beach.
I hope these travel tips for a Lake Tahoe summer trip were helpful and that you’re getting excited to visit this charming mountain town! The Babes had such a fun time on our girls’ getaway and I’m already missing that crystal blue water.
Is there anything I’m missing that I need to add to my list of things to do in Tahoe when I visit next time?
And as always, if you try any of these recs or hit up any of the places on this Lake Tahoe summer itinerary, tag me in a Story @wtfab, I’d love to see what you get up to!
Thank you to South Lake Tahoe for hosting the babes on such a fun trip and sponsoring this post!
Planning a trip to Tahoe? Don’t miss all of my other Tahoe guides:
Lake Tahoe is a fabulous place for a summer vacation. The weather is nice and warm during the summer and there are tons of outdoor activities to do, from water adventures to hiking, and more.
The water in Lake Tahoe is still cold in the summer (it’s melted snow from the mountains). But the water closest to the shore where it’s the most shallow is swimmable if you’re up for a very refreshing dip.
Shoulder season during September is a great month to go to Tahoe. The summer crowds have thinned out a bit, but the weather is still nice and warm.