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USA Travel: South Lake Tahoe, California in 3 Days, 2 Nights — Activity Recommendations

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This is a list of activity recommendations for three days, two nights in South Lake Tahoe, California, a resort city that is situated on Lake Tahoe, the largest Alpine lake in North America.

This is not intended to be a comprehensive visitor’s guide to Lake Tahoe. Lake Tahoe’s many towns that dot its shoreline and surrounds each deserve their own consideration. For this reason, we plan to highlight our recommendations for things to do in separate posts.


The basics

  • South Lake Tahoe is a getaway destination of choice for West Coast vacationers due to its year-round interest due to its natural scenery and outdoor sports.
  • Positioned on the California-Nevada state border, most visitors arrive by way of California’s Bay Area. South Lake Tahoe is 220 miles from San Jose and San Francisco, approximately a four-hour drive.
  • For those arriving by plane, Sacramento is the closest international airport to Lake Tahoe, with a two-hour drive. Reno also has a regional airport but flights are limited.
  • There are only a few ways to get in/out of Lake Tahoe. Note that if departing by car, Sunday’s weekend traffic becomes highly impacted by 12PM. Expect to add an additional two-to-three hours to your journey if departing during the afternoon.

About Lake Tahoe

For ten thousand years, Lake Tahoe was occupied only by the Washoe, an indigenous people native to Nevada and California. In1844, General John C. Fremont and his exploration team “discovered” the lake and marked it as a natural place to cross the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range (Keep Tahoe Blue, 2021). Even with this new finding, the area’s harsh winters kept travelers to a minimum. In 1859, the discovery of silver in Virginia City, Nevada and California’s Gold Rush ushered in development around the timber, mines and hotel industries that would fundamentally transform this area (SwiftOne, LLC, 2021). The 1960 Olympics gave new meaning to the lake and it has since become a recognized destination for sport enthusiasts.

Lake Tahoe facts:

  • 22 miles long, 12 miles wide
  • 72 miles of shoreline
  • Greatest depth is 1,645 feet (second deepest after Crater Lake, Oregon)
  • Visibility of a white plate under water up to 70 feet

Map of San Jose to South Lake Tahoe

Map of Sacramento International Airport to South Lake Tahoe


Day 1: Arrive to South Lake Tahoe; boat cruise around Lake Tahoe; German & Belgian beer; enjoy sunset views

Stay at home rental lakeside

Car traffic and parking in South Lake Tahoe during high season can present a frustrating experience. Take extra care in finding accommodation that is within blocks of the lake. There is a major two-lane highway that serves as a natural divider between lake-side and base-of-the-mountain accommodations. Places closer to the base of the mountain require a healthily sloped walk to the lake. Home and condominium apartment rentals book out months in advance and typically run more expensive than the hotels (outside of luxury and resort listings).

Cruise around Lake Tahoe

The Safari Rose offers a number of cruises around Lake Tahoe, including the Emerald Bay Day Cruise, South Shore Sightseeing, and Emerald Bay Sunset Cruise.

Try German & Belgian beers at Himmel Haus

Himmel Haus, meaning “heaven house” in German, is based off the restaurant’s location at the base of Heavenly Mountain. Offering an extensive menu of German and Belgian beers, with ciders and gluten-free options. The simple menu is based off Bavarian favorites that only uses local, organic and sustainable products.

Sunset views of Lake Tahoe

Mark Twain on Lake Tahoe: “As it lay there with the shadows of the mountains brilliantly photographed upon its still surface, I thought it must surely be the fairest picture the whole earth affords.”


Day 2: Hike; rest lakeside; dinner at Hell’s Kitchen

Hike on Heavenly Trail

Begin your day with a morning hike. Tahoe South’s visitor website offers six hikes of varying levels of distance and difficulty.

Lakeside beach day

Lake Tahoe’s numerous beaches each offer different rules. Ahead of visiting research the particular beach and note its policies around food and beverages. During high season, beaches may offer a limited set of visitor tickets that will typically sell out mid-morning. Favorite beaches in South Lake Tahoe include:

  • Zeyphr Cove
  • Kiva Beach
  • Pope Beach
  • Lakeside Beach

Dine at Gordon Ramsay’s Hells Kitchen

Gordon Ramsay’s Hells Kitchen, an American television favorite, has a location in South Lake Tahoe that is featured in season 19 and 20. Ramsay’s signature dishes include Pan Seared Scallops, Beef Wellington, Crispy Skin Salmon and Sticky Toffee Pudding.

The restaurant books out months in advance. For those without a reservation, plan to arrive to the restaurant at 4PM where you’re likely to land a spot on the high top tables next to the bar.

Day 3: Bike ride; depart South Lake Tahoe; stop through wineries in Placerville

Bike ride

Bike rentals are available at a number of outposts along the South Lake Tahoe road. Follow one of the scenic trails for a beautiful end to a trip.

Wine tasting

Placerville is situated squarely off of Route 50, the road that brings travelers from Tahoe to the major interstate highways. Within an hour, there are numerous wineries and a cute downtown that you can stop through if you’re making the four-hour trek back to the Bay Area.

Wineries:

  • Boeger Winery – family friendly winery, online bookings available, walk-ins allowed.
  • Starfield Vineyards – a reservation for tasting is required, ages 21+ only.

Food in Placerville:

South Lake Tahoe to Placerville Wineries

Boeger Winery

Established in 1849 during California’s Gold Rush, what we now call the Boeger Winery began as a homestead. It transformed from a goods and services outpost to a fruit and nut farm into the winery and distillery we know today. The property’s whimsical landscaping makes for an idyllic resting point.

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