South Lake Tahoe is perfect for summer vacationing families, couples, or solo travelers. Of course, Lake Tahoe, or Big Blue as locals call America’s largest alpine lake, is spectacular in any season. Still, summertime offers activities satisfying folks of all ages, interests, and abilities.
The Sierra Nevada mountains surround the lake and are the source of its deep blue water. Big Blue crosses the California/Nevada border, and it’s hard to know when you’ve left one state and entered another. We love to stay on the lake and spend the summer in South Lake Tahoe, California. You can easily access the unequaled natural wonders of the Sierra, Tahoe Basin, and Lake Tahoe. Boating, water sports, hiking, camping, and wildlife spotting are just a few of the outdoor activities. Want some indoor fun? Check out the incredible dining options, galleries, shopping, casinos, and entertainment.
Here are some of our favorite ways to enjoy summer in South Lake Tahoe.
Hit the Beach this Summer in South Lake Tahoe
The lake has several beaches where you can swim, sunbathe, build sandcastles, kayak, or daydream in the shade of your umbrella. Kiva Beach and Baldwin Beach are my favorites. Both are off Emerald Bay Road (Hwy 89) across from Fallen Leaf Road.
Visitor Center in South Lake Tahoe
In the beach area, you will find Taylor Creek Visitor Center and the Rainbow Trail, an all-access interpretive trail. If you are interested in the lake’s flora and fauna, enjoy this well-curated experience. The visitor center and the walking path illuminate the links between Big Blue’s water, the land, trees, plants, birds, and wildlife. Bring your camera—photo ops of wildlife, wetlands, Lake Tahoe, and the Sierras are exceptional.
Take a Lake Tahoe Boat Tour
Elegant paddle wheelers slowly cruising the lake are an excellent way to take in the scenery, learn about the lake’s formation, and enjoy a leisurely lunch. If smaller boats are more your style, there are plenty available. Cruising around the lake’s shoreline gives a different perspective on the Sierras and the region’s history.
I love the M.S. Dixie II, a meandering paddle wheeler, but you can find boat tours ranging from speed demons to private yachts. Check out Lake Tahoe Boat Tours for one that suits your inner sailor.
Heavenly Mountain Resort in Summer in South Lake Tahoe
You might think of snow skiing or snowboarding when you hear the name ‘Heavenly.’ Heavenly Mountain Resort is a snow sports mecca, but the summer season at the mountain-top resort offers activities that don’t require snow.
Heavenly Mountain Gondola is thrilling. An enclosed car will take you and your companions on a 2.4-mile excursion. On your way to the top, one stop is an observation deck. The Lake Tahoe views are jaw-dropping from the 8,000-foot-high platform.
On the observation deck, the snack hut sells food, drinks, beer, and wine to enjoy at picnic tables. The view of Big Blue is mesmerizing, especially when hot air balloons are floating above the water and paddle wheelers are touring the lake. There is an easy walking path that offers a remarkable vista of Tahoe Basin. At the trailhead, there is a perfect photo stop with Big Blue and the Sierras as a backdrop. After exploring the observation deck and surroundings, return to a Gondola and continue to the top. When you leave your gondola car, there’s a chairlift for the remaining 500 feet to the summit.
Once at the top of Heavenly, there is plenty of activity. Hot Shot Zip Line is one of my favorites. It’s exhilarating. After you gear up, you’ll ride the Big Easy Lift to a loading platform where you’ll be attached to one of four zip lines. Then, you will zoom down 1,000 feet at 30-40 mph.
Alpine Roller Coaster
Ridge Rider Mountain Coaster is a thousand thrills per second when you ride the gravity coaster, a sled similar to a bobsled. The coaster is securely attached to a 3,400-foot track. You’ll whizz past trees, giant rock formations, and beautiful views of Big Blue. Loops revolve you 360º between breathtaking twists and turns. The coaster reaches speeds topping out at 27 mph during the five minutes adventure. Check the website for seasonal operations.
Panning For Gemstones
Gem Panning is a treasure hunt everyone can enjoy. Using gold-panning tools like those used in the 1800s gold rush, you can discover a gem in your bucket of sand and rocks. Of course, you keep what you find.
Granite Peak Climbing Wall is an artificial rock formation similar to the natural rocks and boulders in the Sierra Nevada. There are 15 well-defined climbing routes. They vary in difficulty offering something for all experience levels. Folks three years and older are welcome.
Take a break at Tamarack Lodge. You can eat and drink indoors or out. I like to take my food from the food court to the bar and try some California beer or wine. On a sunny day, outside seating is ideal for watching the resort activities like zip lining, rock climbing, and gondolas coming and going.
Note: All events require a Gondola lift ticket and additional tickets for your selected activity. Age, height, and weight requirements are imposed for some adventures. Closed-toe shoes are required for all experiences. Some activities at Heavenly are seasonal. While the resort is open most of the year, severe weather conditions can affect some leisure interests. The Heavenly Resort website lists times and ticket information.
Happy Hour and Entertainment
Heavenly Village is a great place to take a before-dinner break and enjoy the live performances many eateries and bars offer. Restaurants and pubs have indoor and outdoor seating and entertainment. After you find a table, order your favorite libation, and enjoy local and national artists performing a variety of musical styles.
All Ages Magic Show
Magic Fusion Show is Tahoe’s #1 Show. Choose from a 4 PM or a 7 PM performance daily. These high-energy magic acts feature magicians from around the world. Tickets are under $40.
Roam the Strip From California to Nevada
Gambling isn’t allowed in South Lake Tahoe, California. But guess what? It is legal in Nevada, just across the state line. Casinos are a fun part of your visit to South Lake Tahoe. There are twelve casinos where you can try your luck with card games, digital poker, slot machines, dice games, and the ever-popular Wheel of Fortune. In addition, there are many restaurants, bars, and all manner of adult entertainment.
Heavenly Village is a ‘shop till you drop’ location. The shops at Heavenly have almost anything you could ask for—clothing, summer sports gear, local and international art, musical instruments, home décor, chocolate, wine, and more. So stroll through the 40+ shops and eateries for a South Lake Tahoe memory to take home.
Wine and Dine During Your Summer in South Lake Tahoe
Fire + Ice
Fire + Ice is a Heavenly Village hot spot. It is a Mongolian-style grill. First, select from a buffet of delectable meat, fish, vegetables, noodles, and sauces. Then, take your bounty to the enormous round grill where grill masters stir-fry them as you watch. You know it will be delicious because you select your favorite ingredients.
Fire + Ice also has a full-service bar. Enjoy indoor or outdoor seating. Check the website for hours and happy hour specials.
Driftwood Café is one of our favorite eateries for breakfast or lunch. There are traditional American Diner favorites that include touches of California Cuisine. The food is excellent, as is the service. Share a carafe of Bloody Marys or Mimosas with breakfast, brunch, or lunch. Driftwood is very popular. There can be a long wait. Before you go to Driftwood, use the ‘Join Waitlist’ feature on the website.
I adore this restaurant. I could eat there every night. Dinner at The Loft At Tahoe will be among your best South Lake Tahoe memories. The Tapas menu has small plates of meat, fish, game, veg, and fruit. The small plates are brought to your table as they are prepared. This is an excellent place for a small group to share good food, lively libations, and laughs.
Kevin and I spent three hours eating some of the best food in our travels. Our server was one of the reasons we had such an enjoyable experience. His knowledge of the menu and bar was exemplary and entertaining.
Where to Sleep This Summer in South Lake Tahoe
Marriott Timber Lodge is the perfect home base for your Big Blue Summer escape. Timber Lodge is located in the heart of Heavenly Village. Each room or fully furnished apartment is steps from the gondola station that takes you to Heavenly Mountain Resort. Timber Lodge’s amenities are designed for all ages, interests, and abilities.
The gorgeous pool and hot tubs are big attractions, but Club Thrive at the fitness center is a close second. Hikes, yoga, aqua exercise, and core training are scheduled daily. There is also a daily activities schedule where you can participate in art lessons, gaming classes, Trivia competitions, docent-led walks, nature hikes, and plenty of kids’ activities.
Our Marriott apartment was a one-bedroom apartment overlooking the pool and hot tubs. It was spacious, with a fully equipped kitchen, including a washer, dryer, and dishwasher.
We spent some dreamy time in front of the fireplace. A bottle of wine and a platter of munches from The Cork and More on Lake Tahoe Boulevard made it a lovely experience. The deli and wine store are about three miles from Timber Lodge.
Marriott Timber Lodge belongs to the Marriott Vacation Club. Some of the property’s apartments are timeshares; others are hotel rooms and vacation rentals you can book through sites like Expedia. No one will approach you with sales or membership info unless you show interest first.
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Why Big Blue and South Lake Tahoe?
South Lake Tahoe, California, sits on the shore of one of the world’s great natural wonders, Lake Tahoe—Big Blue. The alpine lake is America’s largest, with the bluest water in the world. Surrounded by the Sierra Nevada, scenic vistas change from hour to hour as the sun moves through the sky. The lake’s beauty is unmatchable.
Open year-round, summer isn’t the only season to visit Big Blue. For more information about the Tahoe area, go to Visit Lake Tahoe.
Let Wander With Wonder be your guide when planning your next trip to California, Nevada, or another summer travel destination.