While Lake Tahoe is renowned as a winter paradise for skiers and snowboarders, it's also equally epic to visit during the summer months, attracting visitors from California, Nevada and beyond. The freshwater lake straddles the two states in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and sits approximately 38 miles south of Reno. An idyllic outdoor escape, the lakefront is home to crystal clear water, sandy beaches and hiking trails that really shine May through September and serve up the perfect long weekend escape. Below is my complete guide to the region including the best coves, beaches, day trips, viewpoints, hikes, hotels and restaurants. This post contains affiliate links.
It's a short hike to reach Secret Cove, one of the prettiest little beaches on Lake Tahoe.
WHEN TO VISIT LAKE TAHOE
May and September. There are two high seasons for Lake Tahoe. Snow bunnies flock to the epic slopes that surround the lake for the excellent ski and snowboard conditions, from December to March. Summer season runs June through August when the sun is shining and the weather is perfect for picnics on the lake, beach days and day hikes. The price of lodging sky rockets during both periods Friday through Sunday, so best to visit during the week for slightly lower prices and less people. My favorite months to visit are May and September when the weather is nice, and crowds are more minimal.
The water up here is incredibly turquoise, clear and cold!
They say the water temperature in May is 63 degrees, but I thought it felt like an ice bath!
HOW MANY DAYS ON LAKE TAHOE
Three to four days. A few days is a good amount of time to get a taste of Lake Tahoe during the summer season. With three full days, you can visit a couple of beaches and squeeze in a hike or two.
Lupine bloom on Lake Forest Beach.
THINGS TO DO ON LAKE TAHOE
This large granite boulder sits in the middle of a serene cove on the lake's east coast. Tiny trees sprout from cracks in the boulder, giving the illusion of a bonsai plant. Bonsai Rock isn't located on a proper beach, the only way to access it is to park on a legal stretch of the road and hike down, or kayak from a nearby beach. GPS coordinates are 39.1834° N, 119.9267° W.
Chimney Beach is accessible from the same parking lot as Secret Cove. It's a short hike down to the little beach where idyllic turquoise water, big boulders and white sand await.
Rent a clear kayak to fully experience the clear waters of Lake Tahoe. Clearly Tahoe, Tahoe Paddlesports and Tahoe Jack's rent out both clear and traditional kayaks for day-use.
A popular day hike destination on Lake Tahoe with trails ranging from easy to moderate. Emerald Bay is also home to Inspiration Point, an iconic viewpoint of the sparkling bay, Fannette Island and Vikingsholm Castle.
LAKE FOREST BEACH LUPINES
Lake Forest Beach isn't particularly memorable, but it's worth a stop if you visit when the lupines are blooming (usually mid-summer). A small field is located next to the beach, and it fills up with the wild purple flower. Very beautiful.
RIDGE RIDER MOUNTAIN COASTER
This gravity-powered alpine coaster whisks riders through the forrest and over pretty granite boulders. Take the gondola up at Heavenly to reach the Ridge Rider Mountain Coaster.
SAND HARBOR BEACH
One of the more popular beaches on Lake Tahoe, and for good reason. Sand Harbor is gorgeous - home to crystal-clear water, matte rocky coves, long stretches of beach, picnic tables for families and a large parking lot. That said, Sand Harbor is prettiest when it's empty! For that experience, visit on a weekday morning. Note that during the summer, cars start lining up on the road before the parking lot opens at 7 AM. Arrive early to secure a spot.
This beautiful secluded cove serves up an epic backdrop for a day at the beach. The water is clear, the rocks are matte and epic viewpoints surround the little bay. Contrary to its name, the secret is out on Secret Cove. This is a popular spot for beachgoers, but thanks to the small size of the parking lot and limited roadside parking, it's less crowded than Sand Harbor. Also, Secret Cove is a nudist beach, which detours some people from visiting. It's an easy half-mile hike to reach the beach from the parking lot. The parking lot is small - arrive early in the morning to secure a spot.
YUBA RIVER DAY TRIP
If you have a day to spare, make a trip to Yuba River located in the Tahoe National Forest. It's about an hour west of Tahoe City, and home to several emerald green swimming holes. This place is stunning, and a fun place to spend the day with friends. The prettiest spots are the Hoyt Trail, Emerald Pools, Bridgeport and Purdon Crossing. Yuba River is a very popular weekend destination during the summer, arrive early to get a parking spot!
Views over beautiful Secret Cove.
Hanging on a rock because the water feels ice cold!
WHERE TO STAY ON LAKE TAHOE
Edgewood is the only lakefront luxury resort on Lake Tahoe. This place is lovely - the rooms are spacious, modern and comfortable, and the on-site restaurants are some of the best food options in the area. Edgewood is also home to a spa, golf course and pool. The property is located in South Lake Tahoe, very central for visiting the surrounding beaches.
If you're looking for a budget option, Hampton Inn & Suites recently opened a new location in South Lake Tahoe. The property still feels new, fresh and clean, but it's still bare minimum. And they do have occasional issues with their heating system.
Cozy three bedroom cabin located in Tahoe City that boasts lake views, a terrace jacuzzi, pool table and very tasteful decor. The Horizon A-Frame is great for groups, both winter and summer.
Three bedroom house located within walking distance to North Tahoe Beach. This place is lovely - an open floor plan, lots of big windows, high ceilings, laundry room, ski racks in the garage and spacious bedrooms.
This cute A-frame cabin sit in the northwest corridor of Lake Tahoe. There are two bedrooms, two bathrooms and a max occupancy of four people. The design of the cabin is very thoughtful, lots of white and neutrals, good light from all of the windows and overall cozy, clean vibes.
Another cozy 2-bedroom A-frame cabin, this one on Lake Tahoe's west coast. Tahoe A-Frame is an airy space with lots of light, wood beams, a cute kitchen and private jacuzzi. Clean, modern and very tasteful decor.
The Lake Tahoe beaches get very busy, especially on the weekends. Arrive in the morning to get a parking spot!
The smooth rocks and water clarity are the most picturesque combination.
WHAT TO EAT ON LAKE TAHOE
Casual restaurant at Edgewood that is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The Bistro isn't cheap, but the food is generally very good, and the restaurant is beautiful. Reservations highly recommended on weekends, especially during high season.
An Alpine gingerbread cabin houses Cafe Fiore in South Lake Tahoe. The Italian restaurant is open for dinner only and serves a variety of pastas, seafood dishes and meat.
An institution on Lake Tahoe that has been serving up seafood and steaks over spectacular views for more than 50 years. Menu includes crab cakes, lobster bisque, ahi tuna, coconut shrimp, filet mignon, prime rib and lobster tail. Reservations highly recommended.
Floor-to-ceiling windows that face the lake serve up a stunning ambiance at Edgewood Restaurant. Edgewood's menu offers a delicious selection a dishes including bronzed sea scallops, risotto, salads, filet mignon, pan seared branzino, roasted eggplant and a couple pasta dishes.
EVAN'S AMERICAN GOURMET CAFE
Solid dinner option in South Lake Tahoe that boasts a menu filled with tasty dishes including hoisin and orange glazed prawns, lobster stuffed salmon, sea bass piccata, fresh salads and filet mignon.
RIVA GRILL ON THE LAKE
Popular lakefront dining option in South Lake Tahoe, open for lunch and dinner. The menu focus is seafood and meats including a roasted Mary's chicken, soy braised short ribs, seared diver scallops, cashew crusted salmon, prime rib and more.
For healthy, casual fare, head to Sprouts Cafe in South Lake Tahoe and enjoy a selection of smoothies, salads, soups, sandwiches and bowls.
Delicious breakfast at The Bistro, located at Edgewood .
A little feast before heading to the beaches for the day.
GETTING AROUND LAKE TAHOE
Lake Tahoe is massive. It's a 72-mile drive to circle the rim of the lake that takes almost three hours. A car is a must! And you'll need a car to get to the beaches, trailheads, restaurants, etc. Many visitors drive from the San Francisco Bay Area, or fly into the Reno and rent a car at the airport. It's about an hour drive to reach Lake Tahoe from Reno.
Sand Harbor is one of the most popular beaches on Lake Tahoe.