Boasting beautiful mountain scenery and gem-colored waters, Lake Tahoe is one of the best places for a quick weekend getaway. This locally-curated Lake Tahoe itinerary gives you a well-rounded adventure in one of the most beautiful places in the United States.
I’ve spent the past 20 years discovering the natural beauty and adventure in Lake Tahoe. My family lives here and I come back to visit frequently. As an honorary local I know the best way to spend the weekend in Lake Tahoe.
Planning the Perfect Lake Tahoe Itinerary for Summer
This Lake Tahoe itinerary focuses on what to do with a weekend in Lake Tahoe. You can use this Lake Tahoe itinerary from May until late September and still have a fantastic time. We’ll cover the following:
- The best times to visit Lake Tahoe
- Arriving in Lake Tahoe
- Where to stay in Lake Tahoe
- Local recommendations for places to eat
- How to spend the perfect 3 days in Lake Tahoe
- Quick tips for visiting Lake Tahoe
- Additional Planning resources
When is the Best Time to Visit Lake Tahoe?
Lake Tahoe is a world-class travel destination throughout the year. The summer is prime-time to visit Lake Tahoe. Although the weather is warm and sunny, you’ll also have to contend with higher prices and big crowds.
In the winter, you’ll find Olympic-caliber skiing, along with other fantastic snowy activities.
The spring and fall are amazing times to visit Lake Tahoe. The temperatures are a little cooler, but the crowds are long-gone. This is a great time to still enjoy this Lake Tahoe itinerary. The lake water may be a bit too chilly to swim, but the sunny weather means you’ll still be able to lounge on the beach.
Arrival in Lake Tahoe
Most people will arrive in Lake Tahoe two ways. If you’re flying, you’ll likely fly into Reno, on the east side of Lake Tahoe. The Reno-Tahoe airport is small and simple to navigate. Despite its tiny size, there are ample places to rent a car and a variety of international flights that stop in Tahoe.
To get to Tahoe, you’ll simply take the Mount Rose Highway up and over the mountains into the Tahoe Basin. The drive takes about an hour and will drop you near the north end of the lake. It’s about another 45 minutes to get to South Lake Tahoe.
If you’re driving from California (Sacramento and San Francisco) to Lake Tahoe, you’ll likely come up the south side of the lake via Highway 50. You can also arrive on the north side of the Lake via Truckee on Interstate 80.
Where to Stay in Lake Tahoe
There are two major areas to stay in Lake Tahoe, the north shore and the south shore. Where you should stay largely depends on three things, how you’re arriving, where you plan to go, and what your budget is.
This Lake Tahoe itinerary is set up to accommodate you no matter where you stay. You’ll see recommendations for both the north and south sides of the lake sprinkled throughout.
Staying in South Lake Tahoe
South Lake Tahoe is far busier than the North Shore. In South Lake you’ll find high rise casinos, large touristy towns, chain eateries, and a less rocky coastline. It’s the ideal place to stay if:
- You’re driving in from San Francisco or Sacramento
- You’re into partying
- You want to explore the Desolation Wilderness
- You want a city feel
- You’re on a tighter budget
Staying in North Lake Tahoe
North Lake Tahoe has much less of a touristy vibe. Here you’ll find no high rise buildings and instead, you’ll get more dramatic mountain views, secluded beaches, and small mountain villages. It’s the ideal place to stay if:
- You’re arriving from Reno or flying
- You want to explore the areas around Truckee
- You want a more local feel
- You enjoy quieter towns and less of a party vibe
- You have a bit more money to spend (lodging is pricier here)
Places to Eat in Lake Tahoe
Although you can find quite a few of the usual suspects for Lake Tahoe eats, there are a few staple restaurants you’ve got to try. Here’s a quick look at the best places to eat in Lake Tahoe.
- T’s Rotisserie. Incline Village. Rotisserie chicken and burritos. Cash only. $
- Bit American Tapas. Incline Village. Delicious small bites from rotating chefs throughout the year. $$
- Rubicon Pizza Company. Between Kings Beach and Truckee. $$
- The Log Cabin. Dinner style breakfast. Kings Beach. $
- South Lake Brewing. South Lake Tahoe. Beers and bar food. $$
- The Lake House. South Lake Tahoe. Steaks and wine bar. $$$
- Base Camp Pizza. South Lake Tahoe. Tasty slices and homemade pizza. $$
Lake Tahoe Itinerary Day 1: Arrival and Sunset
In this 3-day Lake Tahoe itinerary, we’ll start with an afternoon adjusting to the altitude. Day 2 will be the action-packed day, while day three you can rest and catch your breath as you enjoy that mountain life.
Arrive in Lake Tahoe and get settled at your chosen place to stay. Take your time your first day and don’t overdo it. You may find that adjusting to the altitude and (very) dry air takes some getting used to. Drink plenty of water and avoid alcohol and caffeine.
Explore the shoreline wherever you are (each place has something different to offer and beach access is never too far away). For sunset, head to Cave Rock, one of Lake Tahoe’s best hikes. This ultra-easy hike is one of the best places to catch the sunset.
You’ll want to have an early night, tomorrow is going to be an EPIC day filled with amazing adventure filled with beautiful scenery.
Other things to do: Go for a sunset cruise on the Hyatt Regency’s catamaran in Incline Village, take a scenic drive around the lake, go swimming at Skunk Harbor.
Lake Tahoe Weekend Itinerary Day 2: Hiking and Secret Beaches
Today’s Lake Tahoe itinerary is all about taking in the most beautiful scenery and soaking up the amazing Sierra sunshine.
Start the day off right with a beautifully scenic hike. If you’re an avid hiker, you can hike to the top of Mt Rose (north shore), or more beginner hikers will love the short and sweet hike to Eagle Lake in the Desolation Wilderness.
Afterward, it’s time to hit the beach! The best beaches in Lake Tahoe are all on the northern and eastern shores. Pick up a picnic lunch (I love to stop at T’s Rotisserie).
My personal favorite is Secret Cove, located just south of Sand Harbor on Highway 28. Simply park along the road and make your way down the steep trail to the rocky shores of Secret Cove. There are plenty of rocks to
Alternatively, you can hang out at Sand Harbor. Consider renting kayaks or SUPs and enjoy exploring hidden coves and jewel-colored water. After you’ve had your fun in the sun, head to one of Lake Tahoe’s breweries for a drink.
For sunset, you’ve got to check out Emerald Bay. As one of Lake Tahoe’s most scenic spots, you can’t miss checking out Emerald Bay’s iconic views. Note: If you opted for the Eagle Lake, you can also catch views of Emerald Bay from the hike itself.
A Night on the Town
If you’re like me and you don’t drink, skip the bar and consider taking a short nap, grabbing a shower, and then heading out for a delicious dinner. Bite American Tapas, The Lone Eagle Grille Lounge, and The Lake House are all excellent ways to cap off a perfect day.
If you’re into nightlife, check out the casinos in South Lake. Try your hand at poker or catch a concert at one of the many venues.
Stargazers should get outside of the cities and head up to one of Lake Tahoe’s most scenic spots. The western shores of Lake Tahoe are virtually undeveloped and provide a few secluded spots to stop along the road right at the water’s edge. Catch the moon reflecting off of the beautiful shores as the water laps gently against the rocks.
If you prefer a bird’s eye view, head to the Lake Tahoe Scenic Overlook on Mount Rose Highway.
Lake Tahoe Travel Itinerary Day 3: Scenic Gondolas and Drives
Take your time sleeping in this AM. Head out to brunch at either the Log Cabin (Kings Beach on the North Shore) or Driftwood Cafe (Tahoe City) for some home cooking and good eats.
Next, catch one last glimpse of the glittering Lake Tahoe with a scenic gondola ride up Heavenly’s Gondola. Year-round you can enjoy the scenery from the best Gondola in Lake Tahoe. Prices change throughout the year, and it’s easy to add a few extra fun-filled activities.
After your gondola ride, you can opt to head home or check out one of the other amazing activities in Lake Tahoe.
Additional Lake Tahoe Activities
Although we only covered a weekend itinerary for Lake Tahoe, there’s plenty to do in and around Lake Tahoe. If you have a few extra days, consider checking out other areas in Lake Tahoe or enjoying a few of these activities:
- Rock climbing in Lake Tahoe
- Rent a Kayak or SUP and paddle around the lake
- Take a scenic boat ride with Tahoe Cruises
- Spend the day in Truckee
- Go on an amazing day trip from Lake Tahoe
- Hike part of the Tahoe Rim Trail
- Take a photographic scenic tour
What to Pack for Lake Tahoe
When it comes to packing for a trip to Lake Tahoe, you’ll want to bring a few handy items:
- A warm jacket, hat, and pants. Even though the daytime temps are warm, the mountain air gets quite chilly at night.
- A small hiking backpack. I love the REI Flash.
- First aid kit
- headlamp – there aren’t any street lights in Lake Tahoe.
- Sunscreen, Sunhat, and sunglasses. The sun’s rays are really intense. I would even consider bringing a sun shirt for when you’ve had enough sunshine but still want to stay outside.
- Lotion, eye drops, and nasal spray. The air in Lake Tahoe is super-dry, having these things will help combat irritated skin and sinuses.
- Beach towel and swimsuit.
Local Tips for Visiting Lake Tahoe
When it comes to visiting Tahoe, I’ve got you covered. Here are a few quick tips to keep in mind while planning your trip.
- Plan ahead and plan early. Tahoe gets very crowded during the busy season, and advanced reservations are almost always required.
- Secure any required hiking permits in advance.
- Rent a car. Uber and Lyft do exist here, and there is the TART (a bus system) but it will be far less of a hassle (and far less expensive) to rent a car than to Uber everywhere.