Despite having grown up in California, I hadn’t visited Lake Tahoe since I was a kid. I figured it would be a nice little beach getaway, similar to some of the beaches in Southern California, but I was wrong in the best way possible. Lake Tahoe is arguably so much better (no hate for my home city!). I spent 3 days in Lake Tahoe following the below Lake Tahoe itinerary and let me tell you: if this alpine lake isn’t on your travel bucket list, you need to add it immediately.
Lake Tahoe is a spectacular year-round destination and is well-known amongst Californians as a skiing and snowboarding haven (and if you’re like me apres-skiing and sledding haven). But what you may not know is that Lake Tahoe is equally (if not slightly more) spectacular in the summer. You’ve got views for days, tons of hiking and water activities, and, of course, amazing food (would I recommend anywhere that didn’t have great food?)
So if you’re looking for inspiration, look no further. This Lake Tahoe 3-day itinerary will help you enjoy all the best attractions in Lake Tahoe (and a few in the neighboring Carson Valley). I can guarantee you’ll be hooked after your first visit and want to return again and again.
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Arrival in Lake Tahoe/How to Get to Lake Tahoe
Getting to Lake Tahoe is like getting to a lot of places in the United States: you can either fly or drive. Technically, there are shuttles and trains that will get you there too, but either of those will take valuable time away from your Lake Tahoe 3-day itinerary.
Here are the best options for how to get to Lake Tahoe:
The local airport for Lake Tahoe is Reno-Tahoe International Airport. It’s located 45 minutes from Lake Tahoe and since it’s a major airport, you shouldn’t have any trouble finding flights to Lake Tahoe from pretty much anywhere.
If you’re coming from Los Angeles, I recommend flying, especially if you’re only spending 3 days in Lake Tahoe. I flew from Long Beach Airport and it was perfect. LGB is a small and very chill airport with quick and easy direct flights to RNO.
Sacramento (2 hours away) and San Francisco (3.5 hours away) are also pretty close if you want to combine a long weekend in Lake Tahoe with a Bay Area getaway. It’s a pretty drive and there’s a ton of stuff to do in San Francisco too!
If you’re lucky enough to live within driving distance of Lake Tahoe, this is a great way to get to Lake Tahoe. You’ll already have your car when you get there and can sightsee along the way!
The fastest route from San Francisco to Lake Tahoe is via I-80 to Sacramento and then US-50 to South Lake Tahoe (where most of the hotels are). Depending on where you’re starting from, this will take about 3.5 hours.
Pro tip: You need a car in Lake Tahoe, so be prepared to rent one if you’re flying.
Best Time to Visit Lake Tahoe
There’s fun stuff to do in Lake Tahoe year-round, so the best time to visit Lake Tahoe really depends on which activities you’re interested in.
Lake Tahoe is a hugely popular winter destination. It has great skiing and snowboarding. Winter here can last from November sometimes all the way to May, and March is usually the snowiest month! If you can plan your winter trip during the week, you’ll find the runs to be a lot less crowded than on weekends.
In the summer, there’s a ton of hiking, biking, swimming, and other water sports to experience. Just be aware that summer in Lake Tahoe is short – sometimes it’s just July and August. It can get crowded in summer too, but you can beat the crowds on a kayak or a hiking excursion.
If you really want to avoid crowds, then early summer or fall are the best times to visit Lake Tahoe. Tourists are gone, the weather is still warm enough for water activities, and there are a ton of festivals and events every weekend.
Lake Tahoe Itinerary
I could have easily spent a week or more in Lake Tahoe. The food is great, the scenery is spectacular, and I felt so relaxed the entire time I was there. But even if you’re only in Lake Tahoe for 3 days like I was, you’ll still have an amazing time.
Without further ado, I present, the perfect Lake Tahoe summer itinerary:
3 Days in Lake Tahoe: Day 1
Arrival in Lake Tahoe
If you’re flying in from somewhere close, like Los Angeles, you’ll be able to get to Lake Tahoe pretty early and get your car rented by lunchtime. If you can’t get there in the morning, I recommend flying in the night before and spending the morning relaxing at your hotel or at a local breakfast café (like Driftwood Café).
Lunch at Artemis Lakefront Café
Lake Tahoe is gorgeous and I couldn’t get enough of the views. So what better way to start off your 3 day Lake Tahoe itinerary than by eating at a lakeside café?
Artemis Lakefront Café is in the perfect location, but what makes it a must-do in Lake Tahoe is the food. Think sumptuous Mediterranean wraps and plates, crispy seasoned fries, and fresh and flavorful salads. In the winter, there are heaters and fire pits on the patio but in the summer, depending on the time and day, you might be lucky enough to catch some live music!
Hike Glen Alpine Falls / Fallen Leaf Lake
One of the things I was really excited about was hiking to Glen Alpine Falls and Fallen Leaf Lake. This is one of the things to do in Lake Tahoe that everyone talks about, but not a lot of people do. Unfortunately, I couldn’t figure out where the trailhead was so I had to skip the hiking part and settle for a scenic drive instead. Not a bad compromise, but I did some research so don’t make the same mistake I did!
Here are the directions to get to Glen Alpine Falls so you can go on the hike and tell me what I missed!
From South Lake Tahoe, take Highway 89 west. When you see Fallen Leaf Road, turn left and stay on it for a while. It’s a one-lane road that winds through residential neighborhoods and it’s really popular with cyclists so be careful.
There’s unofficial parking in places right off the road when you get to Glen Alpine Road, but if you’re early enough you can snag a parking spot at the Fallen Leaf Fire Department (at the intersection of Fallen Leaf Rd and Glen Alpine Rd). From here you just want to walk over and see the falls. They’re right off the road.
There are also a few spots at the trailhead for Glen Alpine Falls. It’s a little way down Glen Alpine Rd. and it’s a pretty short walk from there to Glen Alpine Falls. I actually made it this far and shot the above photo!
If you want to hike, though, keep driving down Glen Alpine Road until you see the Glen Alpine trailhead across from Lily Lake. There’s some parking here and signs for the Lily Lake Trail system. You’ll need permits to hike Lily Lake trail but you can get them from a self-service station.
Pro tip: Be sure to download the map and directions before you go. There is no cell service near or on this trail.
Check into the Hotel and Unwind
When you’re done hiking, it’s a good time to get checked into your hotel and relax a bit. I stayed at Bally’s Lake Tahoe Casino Resort. It’s just over the California border into Nevada and has all the amenities you need.
Admittedly, I don’t typically choose casinos for my accommodation but Bally’s has an amazing lagoon-like pool and jacuzzi that was a perfect place to unwind for the afternoon. Plus, the easy parking and convenient location made it a great accommodation option for a long weekend in Lake Tahoe.
Dinner at the Oyster Bar
Not going to lie – by the end of my first day in Lake Tahoe, I was pretty beat. Luckily, Oyster Bar right across the street at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino has great reviews and we’d heard the seafood was spectacular.
The reviews didn’t steer us wrong. Although we didn’t sample the namesake dish, we did seize the opportunity to try the jambalaya; unlike many restaurants, they were actually able to make it for us without pork! As a Muslim traveler, I really appreciated them being able to accommodate my dietary restrictions.
Also delicious: the shrimp salad and the clam chowder. The ambiance itself was fun as well: you can watch the cooks shuck oysters and prepare the food while soaking in the busyness of the surrounding casino. All in all, Oyster Bar was the perfect place for our first dinner.
3 Days in Lake Tahoe: Day 2
Kayak at Cave Rock Beach
I’m one of those weirdos who actually likes getting up early while traveling and seizing the day but if you aren’t, trust me when I say that kayaking on Lake Tahoe makes the early morning worth it.
Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced kayaker, Tahoe Paddle Sports will take you on the kayak trip of a lifetime. The guides are really knowledgeable about the history of the area. Plus, you get a totally unique experience in Lake Tahoe by paddling around in one of their clear kayaks. How cool is that?
If there’s one activity you pre-book for Lake Tahoe, make it this one! It’s seriously one of the coolest things to do in Lake Tahoe.
Brunch at the Bistro at the Corner
I’m all about work out and pig out, so the natural next step to this itinerary is brunch, obviously.
For the best brunch in Lake Tahoe, I can’t recommend the Bistro at the Corner enough. Waffles, eggs bennie, chilaquiles…they’re all bomb. Definitely order a few different things and split it all with your traveling companion(s). Or eat it all. I won’t judge!
Be sure to make reservations as well. The restaurant had just opened when I visited, but I’m sure it’ll be extra-busy in no time!
Wander the Stacks at Cuppa Tahoe
I love, love, love bookstores. Once upon a time, I wanted to own one myself, and Cuppa Tahoe is exactly what I’d want it to be: it’s a bookstore meets cute little shop meets coworking space meets coffee shop. What more do you need?!
The inside is full of books and adorable reading nooks and has something for readers and non-readers alike including stacks of books to read and purchase and plenty of quirky games and knickknacks. Either way, I highly recommend getting a mid-afternoon coffee and just enjoying the vibe for a while.
Chill at Nevada Beach
After spending just a single afternoon laying out and swimming in Lake Tahoe, I’m now convinced that a lake beach is way better than an ocean beach. Why, might you ask? Well, besides the crystal-clear, unpolluted water, the sand at Nevada Beach is just coarse enough to not stick to wet skin, without being uncomfortable to walk in. And yes, these are nerdy observations that I live for.
Nevada Beach has convenient parking, plenty of sand space to set up, and easily accessible picnic tables and bathrooms. I highly recommend spending at least a few hours soaking up the alpine breeze.
Explore the Heavenly Village
After heading back to the hotel to shower and change, make time to explore the charming Heavenly Village. It’s part of the Heavenly Mountain Resort right in the middle of South Lake Tahoe.
Heavenly Village is a short walk from Bally’s and it’s full of cute shops, souvenir stands, art installations, and mini golf. There’s even a gondola to ride up the side of the mountain and an art gallery with quirky Dr. Seuss artwork! You could easily spend a few hours exploring it all and there are plenty of fun activities as well – everything from mini golf to live music.
Dinner at Ten Crows BBQ
There are a ton of places to eat at Heavenly Village, but cross the street to Ten Crows BBQ for some homestyle, stick-to-your-ribs goodness. I mean, just look at that sandwich!
Ten Crows BBQ is all stone and wood and metal chairs and rolls of paper towels on the table – exactly the way a BBQ restaurant should look. The tri-tip sandwich was delicious, as were the multiple types of BBQ sauce, but what would bring me back was the roasted garlic mashed potatoes. They were out of this world.
3 Days in Lake Tahoe: Day 3
Go on a Hike
We’re going to get active on our last morning, so I recommend just grabbing a quick breakfast from the hotel to-go. Hiking is one the most popular things to do in Lake Tahoe in summer, so it’s helpful to get going early to snag a parking spot at the trailhead.
There are two great hikes to choose from on your last day. It’s definitely possible to do them both if you’re ambitious and really like to hike. But here’s the lowdown on both so you can choose the one you prefer:
Van Sickle Bi-State Park
Van Sickle Park is 725 acres and it’s in both Nevada and California. How cool is that? You can actually walk to the entrance from town.
Because it’s so big, you could definitely spend the whole morning here. There are paved roads and unpaved trails that are well marked. They’re all classified as easy to moderate. If you’re feeling really adventurous, take the Rim Trail Connector to the Tahoe Rim Trail. National Geographic named that trail one of the top ten trails in the nation!
Pro tip: Keep your eyes peeled for the state line. The pavement is carved with Nevada on one side of the line and California on the other. It’s a great photo op.
So, I didn’t have the best luck making my hikes happen when I was in Lake Tahoe. I really wanted to do Emerald Bay because the views are amazing, as evidenced by the photo. But when I got to the actual trailhead, it was too windy and rainy to do the hike.
I’ll definitely be back to hike Emerald Bay when the weather is better. It’s a different hike than most of the ones I’ve done because the parking lot is on top of a hill, so you hike down to the bay and then hike back up on the way up.
What makes this hike so special is that you pass waterfalls the whole way. And then when you get to the lake, the sand glitters. Like, it actually glitters. There’s gold dust mixed in with it. I’m so sad I didn’t get to see it, so be sure to share your pictures with me when you go.
Pro tip: Emerald Bay is a bit of a drive from South Lake Tahoe and the road is incredibly windy and can be scary at times. Drive carefully!
Tour Dangberg Family Ranch
It’ll be time to check out of your hotel when you finish your hike. Once you do that, make your way to Dangberg Family Ranch in Carson Valley, Nevada. It’s about 12 miles from South Lake Tahoe.
Dangberg Ranch is a historic public ranch focused on preserving Nevada’s ranching history through the lens of the Dangberg family, who arrived in 1853. It’s now a non-profit that is run and looked after by volunteers, and they offer self-guided tours of the property from Wednesdays through Sundays. When we went, a docent gave us an abridged tour of the house, and we explored the rest of the grounds independently.
We learned about the family who owned the ranch for almost 150 years. The last family member died in 1990 and the ranch buildings were just closed up and left like they were. There’s a ton of interesting local history, but I really loved getting to see how the family lived.
Lunch at Woodett’s Diner
I don’t even know where to start with Woodett’s Diner. I remember pulling up to it and wondering why someone had recommended a diner to me as a must-eat spot in Carson Valley. No hate on diners but they aren’t usually a tourism highlight. But as soon as I walked in and saw a packed restaurant at 2 PM on a Sunday, I knew it was something special.
And special it is. This family-owned diner has been around for years but was recently acquired by a lovely French-trained husband and wife duo. They took the diner over and transformed it: not only was the diner food absolutely spectacular (that burger was drool-worthy!) but they also host French Bistro Nights on Friday and Saturday evenings.
I was, admittedly, a little bummed to be there on a Sunday, but Chef Remon whipped up a special dessert (think strawberry shortcake meets kunafa), especially for me, which was so kind.
You can tell this is a neighborhood spot. Both Christelle and Remon knew most of the patrons and you can tell that there’s real love and passion at Woodett’s. I’d love to return to try the French Bistro edition and highly recommend making a visit when you’re in Carson Valley!
Check into the Hotel & Relax
I recommend staying at the Holiday Inn Express in Minden for the night. The Carson Valley is a really cool area that not enough people experience so having a base in the town for exploring is key. This hotel is comfy and clean and breakfast is included. Plus, they’ve got a nice jacuzzi and pool that were great for relaxing after all the hiking I did.
Minden is such a fun place to explore. It’s pretty small, but its main street is just so quintessentially “small town.”
It’s lined with really cool antique shops. There’s even an antique store trail you can follow if you’re really into antiquing. There are other places to pop into here too, like a chocolate shop, furniture store, and fun little boutiques. And if you need an afternoon pick-me-up, be sure to check out DST Coffee, just down the road from Minden in Gardnerville.
Dinner at Overland Restaurant
I hope you saved some room after lunch because Overland Restaurant & Pub is amazing. It’s a delicious little gastropub with awesome menu items. Seriously, I never expected Carson Valley to have such amazing food but I was incredibly impressed. The shrimp appetizer, squid ink pasta, and ahi tuna were all gold. I wish I’d had room to try everything else on the menu!
Where to Stay in Lake Tahoe
There are a ton of casino hotels around Lake Tahoe. I personally prefer not to stay in casinos myself because of indoor smoking allowances (plus they’re overall just not really my vibe). I did think Bally’s was a nice hotel when I stayed there so I’m leaving it on the list.
But don’t worry if casino hotels aren’t your jam either. There are plenty of options for hotels in Lake Tahoe. Here are my recommendations:
Mellow Mountain Hostel (Backpack)
Mellow Mountain Hostel is everything you could want from a hostel in a small mountain town. The location is great – right in the center of South Lake Tahoe. It offers private rooms or dorm-style rooms. It’s kitchen and communal room are recently updated (with quiet hours so you can actually get some sleep!). But my favorite thing about this hostel is definitely the colorful murals and artwork.
Bluebird Day Inn & Suites (Budget-friendly)
Just a 5-minute drive from the Stateline, Bluebird Day Inn & Suites is, in a word, charming. Located in a quieter neighborhood, this unique accommodation is actually an old motor lodge that has been completely updated. The rooms are all unique and comfy, the outdoor spaces are inviting, and it’s only steps from the beach.
Bally’s Lake Tahoe Casino Resort (Mid-range)
As I said, I’m not normally a fan of casino hotels, but Bally’s Lake Tahoe was a great place to stay on my first trip to Lake Tahoe. It was clean and comfortable and the location was absolutely perfect. But if you needed another reason to consider this hotel, just take a look at the pool area. It felt like I was swimming in a mountain grotto.
The Landing Resort and Spa (Luxury)
Of all the hotels in South Lake Tahoe, The Landing is probably the most beautiful inside and out. It’s located incredibly close to the lake and actually has its own private beach. The interior is best described as modern mountain chic and it has everything you could want in a luxury property: great common areas, comfy beds, and a truly outstanding staff.
What to Pack for Lake Tahoe
Although there aren’t a ton of specialty items that you’ll need for your Lake Tahoe trip, putting a little thought into packing will make your trip a lot more enjoyable. Consider including these items in your luggage:
- Water bottle: It wasn’t hot when I was in Tahoe, but I learned you can actually dehydrate pretty quickly at high elevation. I like this water bottle if you don’t have one already. It holds almost 20 oz and keeps water cold.
- Rehydration salts or electrolyte powder: Altitude sickness is very much a thing so it’s important to stay extra hydrated (both in general and to combat nausea). You might not need these but I didn’t feel great when I first arrived and rehydrating helped tons.
- A good daypack: This is a must-have for hiking and the beach. I recommend this daypack specifically: it’s durable, comfortable, AND comes with a water bladder (see how much I care about y’all being hydrated?). Plus, it’s weather resistant which is great if you get caught in unexpected rain or splash it with water when laying on the beach.
- Good hiking boots: If you don’t already have good hiking boots (like these), be sure to order them and break them in well before you go. Blisters are the worst. I recommend getting fitted at REI if you’re unsure about what to get. Ask for something waterproof, supportive, and with good traction. And maybe consider taking some blister plasters just in case your boots aren’t as well broken in as you thought.
- Layers: Even if you visit Lake Tahoe in the summer, the temperature is going to fluctuate a lot. You’re going to want a fleece for cold mornings. By mid-morning, you’ll be grateful for a good pair of sunglasses, sunscreen and a shady sunhat. And believe it or not, by afternoon, you’re likely to find yourself lounging lakeside in a bathing suit! (I really love these ones).
Additional Activities to Do Around Lake Tahoe
Lucky enough to get more time in Lake Tahoe? Jealous! There are a ton of other great things to do in Lake Tahoe if you have extra time or want to change your weekend in Lake Tahoe around a bit.
Go on a Driving Tour
The scenery might be the best thing about a Lake Tahoe summer itinerary. Why not see as much of it as you can? There are great options for self-guided driving tours around Lake Tahoe that take you to the best overlooks. They point out historical points of interest, lead you to waterfalls, and some even tell you a ghost story!
Catch the Sunrise at Inspiration Point
Located above Emerald Bay, Inspiration Point is one of the prettiest places to catch a sunrise on the entire lake. The parking lot is small, which is great because it limits the number of people who will be there, but it also means you’ve got to get there early to find a spot to park.
Cruise Emerald Bay
If you’re not a kayaker, or just want another view from the water, there are several boat cruises on Lake Tahoe that you can sign up for. I like the daytime ones (like this one) because you’ll get to take in the scenery for the entire cruise.
Adventure on Heavenly Mountain
You might not think a Lake Tahoe summer itinerary would include a recommendation to ride a gondola to a ski resort on top of a mountain but there’s a ton of stuff to do. Heavenly Mountain has a super fun adventure park with zip lines and rock climbing and all kinds of activities. And if hiking is more your jam, there are plenty of great trails up there as well.
Tell me: What do you think of this Lake Tahoe summer itinerary? What else would do on your long weekend in Lake Tahoe?
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