Straddling the state line of Nevada and California, Lake Tahoe is the most massive alpine lake in North America. South Lake Tahoe is unsurprisingly situated on the southern shore of the lake, on the California side. The pristine lake was first discovered by Westerners in 1844 and has been a source of wonder ever since. Like many western cities, the gold and silver booms of the mid to late-1800s drove the development and population of settlements around South Lake Tahoe. Many individuals who sought precious metals decided to make their lodgings on the shores, devastating much of the pine forest around the area. Today, the freshwater lake serves as a centerpiece for a small handful of cities in California and Nevada who value the outdoors just as much as they value nightlife. Here are ten places to visit in South Lake Tahoe.
10. Tahoe Treetop Adventure Park
Affording an extremely unique experience high among the pines, this park builds ‘bridges’ of varying difficulty between trees and invites its visitors to do their best at traversing them. It is completely safe – visitors are harnessed in for each bridge – but it can prove to be quite fun, if not exhausting. Additionally, there are also zip lines, rock climbing, a bungee trampoline, miniature golf and more. Appropriate for anyone over the age of five, the park is open year-round.
9. Tallac Historic Site
The Tallac Historic Site is a combination of several different exhibits, all in a small, wooded site. The Baldwin Museum is a recreation of a 1930’s settlement that exemplifies the simple living of yesteryear. Nearby, the Pope House shows how the extravagantly rich individuals and their friends lived while they vacationed on the shore. Additionally, there is a blacksmith shop, a gourd workshop, and an annual ‘Gatsby Festival,’ celebrating the titular F. Scott Fitzgerald character and his lavish lifestyle. Most tours cost around $10 and are open on different weekdays, making the weekends your best chance to catch everything in one visit.
8. Pope Beach
Along with the Pope House, Pope Beach takes its name from the George Pope family, who owned a major lumber company in the area. With plenty of shady shelter from large pines surrounding the perimeter of the sand, this beach is particularly mellow in every way: it is protected from the harsh winds that can sometimes plague other parts of the shore, and the water remains clear and shallow for a great deal of distance. It gives perfect views of the mountains with parking of $8 per day and free entrance.
7. Lower Eagle Falls
Located at the end of a 2.2-mile hike, Eagle Falls is one of the more popular series of waterfalls in the area. It also happens to be one of the only to feed directly into the lake. Split into Upper and Lower Eagle Falls, the natural phenomenon runs under highway 89 and into Emerald Bay State Park. There are a few different ways of approaching the falls, the most popular being the Eagle Falls Trail. Be sure to exercise extreme caution when climbing around the falls, although you can view them perfectly without getting too close. The best time to visit is in the spring, as the melting snow provides much of the water for the falls, being reduced to a trickle by fall.
6. Take a Boat Ride
Perhaps the best way to experience the massiveness of the lake – the sixth largest in the United States – is to get out into the middle of it. A charming and admired method is the Tahoe Queen, a 312-passenger Mississippi paddlewheel. Daytime cruises ($55 per person) will pair scenery with in-depth history of the area, while evening cruises ($85 per person) come with live music and great local food. Each cruise lasts roughly 2.5 hours and there are cocktails and other drinks available aboard for purchase.
5. Kayak Tahoe
If exploring the waters within a crowd isn’t your thing, perhaps consider renting a kayak and having an adventure. Tahoe is considered an alpine lake – meaning it is a freshwater body of water that exists above 5,000 feet elevation – making it clearer than typical, due to its low temperatures inhibiting the growth of algae. There is no better way to appreciate this than hopping in a kayak and paddling out. Kayak Tahoe has one of the largest fleets of kayaks and paddleboards available in the area, beginning with rental prices of $25/hour and $65/day.
Located in Emerald Bay, Vikingsholm is considered one of the premiere examples of Scandinavian architecture existing in the US. The house was constructed almost entirely on-site – the woodcarvings were done by hand, and antiques were transported from Scandinavia specifically for the house. A labor of love, Vikingsholm was finished in 1929 and more resembles an ancient castle than a house, seeming strikingly out of place in the alpine forest. Tours are given daily throughout the summer, costing only $10 per adult.
3. Emerald Bay State Park
Covering over six miles of sandy or rocky shore, Emerald Bay State Park contains Lower Eagle Falls and Vikingsholm, but is also home to many more opportunities and activities. Fannette Island, the lake’s only island, is also found in Emerald Bay. Accessible only by boat or canoe, the rocky island contains the remnants of an old teahouse built by the original owner of Vikingsholm. Additionally, the park contains over 250 campsites, a handful of beaches, and plenty of trails for hiking, Rubicon Trail being the most recommended. With plenty of wildlife and sparkling clear water, this park is what gives South Lake Tahoe its distinctive flavor.
2. Kidzone Museum
Although it is located on the northern side of Tahoe, the Kidzone Museum will make for a terrific day trip if you have kids. Opened in 1992, the museum serves as a hub for creativity in youth, with interactive exhibits that encourage problem solving and inquisitiveness. With outdoor studio, a Scientastic Lac, an Art Studio, and plenty more, the museum has activities for children from 0 to 13 and is perfect for rainy days. Open all days but Mondays, the museum has an entrance fee of $8 per person. Plan on at least an hour’s drive from downtown.
1. Gondola at Heavenly
If you are just passing through the city for a day or two, and you are not afraid of heights, this gondola ride is the best way to take in the city all at once. One of the most popular tourist attractions in South Lake Tahoe, the lift will take you up the mountainside of Mount Heavenly – a journey nearly two and a half miles long. On the way, you will have ample time to take in the enormous scenery presented to you: out of the car’s window you will be able to take in the entirety of the lake, as well as the surrounding mountain ranges. Even if you don’t ski, the trip upwards is still worth it, just for the visuals.
Although it may be somewhat of a small city, there is no beating the spectacular natural beauty that surrounds Lake Tahoe. With it’s steep rocky cliffs plunging into deeply blue and cool water, its skies that stretch on endlessly, the neighboring snow-capped mountains constantly peering over, there is never a lack of things to do in South Lake Tahoe. Early residents used to return each year, summer after summer to relax in the shade of the pines or explore the beautiful waterfalls. It won’t take long for you to understand why.