The moment you take your first breath of fresh mountain air, you know Tahoe is special. From the calming aroma of pine trees to the crystal blue lake, life just seems sweeter in the Sierras.
Update 9/7/21: Shortly after the publication of this piece, the Caldor Fire began in El Dorado County. While evacuation orders have eased and containment has increased in the past two days, the fire has burned over 210,000 acres and caused massive evacuations of South Lake Tahoe. The Caldor Fire and the nearby Dixie Fire (which has burned over 900,000 acres) are the only two wildfires to ever burn from one end of the Sierras to the other. Between the two fires, the damage has been tremendous. Here are some ways you can help this incredible place during a terrible time:
Despite its reputation for great skiing and winter activities, Lake Tahoe is a haven in the summer and fall both to unwind and get active. Most of all, it is the perfect place to unplug and spend a week — or even just a weekend — focusing on what really matters: friends and family.
Tahoe is drivable from most places in Northern California (about 4 hours from San Francisco), but if you are coming from out of state, you will want to fly into Reno. If you fly, I recommend renting a car because many of the main attractions are spread out.
A perfect Tahoe day often begins with a hearty breakfast at one of the phenomenal restaurants around the lake - Rosie’s Cafe in Tahoe City, The Old Post Office Cafe in Carnelian Bay, or the historic Truckee Diner, now called Jax at the Tracks. Then, enjoy your coffee in peace because locals live on “Tahoe time” - a slower, simpler, more laid-back pace of life.
“Tahoe time” also means that if you want to spend your whole day sunbathing or reading, that’s perfectly okay. However, there are endless fun activities in the area.
First, no trip is complete without going out to the lake, which is renowned for its clarity and a stunning shade of blue. If you want to waterski or wakeboard, I suggest renting a boat early in the morning before the lake gets choppy. For years, my family has visited North Tahoe Watersports in Tahoe City for 7 a.m. waterskiing, but you can also rent paddleboards or kayaks for a shorter excursion. The water is cold, so grab your wetsuit and jump in!
If I’m with a group of family or friends, I also love to spend a day river rafting on the Truckee River. The float ranges from serene to exhilarating as you pass through beautiful pine tree groves and along small rapids. You can rent your raft in Tahoe City so that it will be pulled out at the River Ranch Lodge & Restaurant where you can enjoy a well-earned beer and burger. If the small rapids in the Truckee River aren’t exciting enough, Kings Beach offers some wilder activities, including parasailing and paragliding.
At least one hike is also a must while you’re in Tahoe. Since there are so many, I recommend downloading the AllTrails app to find hikes that are close to where you are staying. If you are fit and feeling ambitious, Mt. Tallac is the tallest peak in Desolation Wilderness and the view from the top is breathtaking. The nearby Angora Lake is a great hike if you’re looking for something more leisurely and it has a tiny store at the top with delicious fresh lemonade. For a variety of hiking options, take the tram to High Camp at top of Squaw Valley and hike around Shirley Lake. While you’re up there, you can also try the High Camp roller skating rink or go rock climbing with Via Ferrata. But be sure to bring plenty of food, water, and sun protection because of the extremely high elevation.
If you’re not nature-oriented, that’s fine too! Historic Downtown Truckee is packed with cute boutiques and restaurants. While you’re there, don’t forget to grab fresh fudge or a caramel apple from Sweets Handmade Candies. And for forced family fun that’s accessible for everyone, I have spent many nights mini-golfing at Magic Carpet Golf in Carnelian Bay.
Plus, there are some excellent hotels that if you’re not outdoorsy, you won’t even want to leave.
For something further inland with more activities, the Resort at Squaw Creek and the Ritz Carlton in Northstar are great options (especially if you are bringing children). While there aren’t as many shops or restaurants around it, the Hyatt in Incline Village is right on the lake and is beloved for its fabulous beach and lake views. If you are staying in South Lake Tahoe, I recommend the beautiful Edgewood Resort. Alternatively, if you are looking for a nice lake-side rental, Tahoe Luxury Properties is a fantastic resource and offers beautiful properties at a variety of price points.
But no matter where you are on the lake, there is great food. Here are some of my other favorites:
Gar Woods Bar and Grill in Carnelian Bay (lakefront)
Za’s in Tahoe City (lakefront)
Sunnyside on the West Shore (lakefront)
Cottonwood in Truckee
Moody’s in Truckee
Como in Truckee
After your day, be sure to step outside one more time once it has gotten dark. I have spent hours watching the glittering stars that - far away from city lights - crowd every millimeter of the night sky. As kids, my siblings and I even had to create a “star points” system because we would see so many shooting stars that we couldn’t keep up with making wishes every time. And that is what really makes Tahoe special – uniquely uninterrupted time with the ones you love.