If you’re planning on traveling to California this summer, Lake Tahoe is a beautiful place to explore, especially if you enjoy being in nature and doing lots of outdoor activities like kayaking, hiking, swimming, and more.
A few years ago, my boyfriend and I road tripped with some friends up to Lake Tahoe for a long weekend away. It was a total blast, but certainly not without a few pitfalls here and there so I thought I would share my experience in this gorgeous Northern California lakeside vacation destination.
Your Travel Guide to Lake Tahoe, CA
How to Book Your Trip…
The first thing I wanted to mention is how we went about booking our trip and planning our stay in Lake Tahoe. Since we’re all Southern California locals, we drove to Lake Tahoe, but if you’re not local, I recommend using Expedia or Orbitz to book your flights. In my experience, both offer really competitive pricing and deals on both flights and hotel accommodations. Since we drove, I booked our hotel rooms through Orbitz and that’s about it.
Where to Stay…
When we went to Lake Tahoe, we stayed at the Lake Tahoe Beach Retreat which was awesome. It’s not the “best” place I’ve ever stayed at, but it’s great if you want someplace nice, affordable, and close to the water. They have their own pier and beach. You can book a room with a sliding door that opens right onto a lake view which is what we did. It’s a pretty central location and the hotel rooms include basic amenities. They also have a pool and spa and offer movie nights in the pool where they show family films on a blow up film projector. The one night we went to the spa to relax after a hike, they were playing Despicable Me. The Beach Retreat is very casual and family-friendly.
The Beach Retreat also has two restaurants: The Tavern and The Boathouse. The Tavern is a great spot to eat a decent breakfast before venturing out on your explorations. The Boathouse is right on the pier, but I honestly don’t recommend it. It has the look of being an awesome place to eat, but the service is really bad and the food is not worth the price. It was extremely expensive and it took us nearly an hour to get our food. Granted, it was quite busy when we arrived, but still. An hour is a long time to wait for your food when you’re starving and paying $20+ a plate. Also, I want to note that we stayed in South Lake Tahoe which is closer to Emerald Bay, the main attraction we wanted to see, but North Lake Tahoe boasts beautiful cabin lodge resorts you can visit in both summer and winter (for skiing) as well.
What to Do…
Lake Tahoe is a brilliant place to vacation to if you enjoy being active and exploring the great outdoors. It’s a seriously beautiful place and you can enjoy a lot of what it has to offer without spending a fortune. The main things to do during the summer in Lake Tahoe are kayaking in Emerald Bay (a must!), hiking (this can fit into the former), swimming, boating, paddle boarding, and more. In the winter, they have winter sports like skiing and snow boarding, but we went in August so we did all the summer activities. We went for a 3-day weekend so much of what we wanted to do was planned ahead of time.
- Emerald Bay
- SUPing (North Lake Tahoe)
- Gambling at Harrah’s Casino
The main thing we did was go to Emerald Bay which was incredible. You drive up this mountain and park (go early; parking is a bitch) and then, you can hike around to various waterfalls or to the top of the mountain to see a gorgeous view of the entire Lake Tahoe and Emerald Bay. It’s very picturesque. We hiked up to take our photos and see the view, touch the water from the small waterfalls and then ventured down to the shore. The hike is about 20-30 minutes to get to the top and another 20-30 minutes to get to the shore so make sure you wear the proper shoes.
I would also recommend bringing a water proof bag if you plan on going kayaking. The hike down to the shore is through a stunningly green forest. Once you reach the shore, it’s another gorgeous view of kayaking, docked boats, and swimmers. We opted to go kayaking once we got down to the shore side which was tons of fun, but there’s a bit of a learning curve if it’s your first time. I was the only one who had never been and I kept steering our kayak in the wrong direction. You can kayak around or to the little island in the center of Emerald Bay to explore more. If you plan on doing that, be sure to bring water shoes! We docked our kayaks on the island and wore no shoes. There are very large, porous rocks in the water that will cut up your feet if you aren’t careful. Also, despite it being early August, the water was VERY cold so don’t expect to stay in the water for a long time. That said, it was a total blast and the water was super clean and fresh after kayaking around in the sun. Definitely wear and keep a natural sunscreen with you because it’s super easy to get sunburned and not realize it until it’s too late.
Where to Eat…
While we were in Lake Tahoe, we tried to minimize the amount of driving around we did so we could maximize our time exploring the sights and enjoying the water, but we did eat at a few places. In my opinion, Lake Tahoe takes advantage of tourists by charging a ridiculous amount for not-so-good quality food. I think it cost over $40 for 4 of us to eat breakfast at a local diner which would be fine if the food was better. It’s just not that great and the prices are clearly inflated. That said, food is food. I would avoid going to sushi restaurants, though. They’re definitely over priced as all hell. One of the places we did really like for the price and quality was Yama Noodles, a local spot with delicious ramen bowls. It was great to enjoy after a long day of hiking and swimming in Emerald Bay. Lake Tahoe also has a few casinos and the one nearest us was Harrah’s. We spent an evening there, had dinner at the casino buffet (delicious and pretty decent prices!), and then explored lines of slot machines and the kid’s arcade as we’re not big on gambling, but are big on DDR.
Overall, Lake Tahoe was such a fun time. It’s a very affordable trip for local Californians to take if they’re short on cash or a beautiful vacation destination for anyone looking to explore a more nature-centered location with stunning surroundings. The only major drawback was that the food wasn’t very good, but everything else was pretty awesome and the experience was pretty priceless, in my opinion.
Have You Been to Lake Tahoe?
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