South Lake Tahoe is made for escapees looking for a weekend getaway. It is a picture-perfect setting with multi-generation leisure activities, no matter the occasion or time of year.
The majestic Sierra Nevada surrounds America’s largest alpine lake, Lake Tahoe. Straddling two states, California and Nevada, on the southwest end of Lake Tahoe, the town of South Lake Tahoe sits on the California/Nevada border, with Stateline, Nevada, as its sister city. It’s hard to know when you’ve left one state and entered another. The only real difference is the casinos. Casino gaming is legal in Stateline, Nevada, but not in South Lake Tahoe, California.
When you stay in South Lake, you have easy access to the unparalleled natural wonders of the Sierra, Tahoe Basin, and Lake Tahoe. In addition, you are within steps of casual and fine dining, galleries, shopping, casinos, and entertainment. So come for R&R, a nature escape, the buzz, and entertainment.
Note: Kevin and I spent a weekend in South Lake Tahoe as the guests of ARDA (American Resort Development Association) and Visit Lake Tahoe. We are happy to share our experience with you; it was a blast.
Things To Do At Heavenly Mountain Resort
Most folks think of skiing when they hear the name Heavenly. And there’s no doubt Heavenly has lots of skiing and snow sport in the winter. But the summer season at the mountain-top resort offers activities that don’t require snow.
1. Scenic Gondola Trip
Heavenly Mountain Gondola is thrilling. An enclosed car will take you and your companions on a 2.4-mile excursion. There is one stop at an observation deck on your way to the top. The Lake Tahoe views are jaw-dropping from 8,000 feet.
On the observation deck, the snack hut has snacks, drinks, beer, and wine you can enjoy at picnic tables with a view of the Big Blue. Also, an easygoing hiking trail offers a vista of Tahoe Basin.
Get back into a gondola and continue your journey to the top. After departing your gondola car, you can take a chairlift for the remaining 500 feet to the summit.
2. Zip Line
Hot Shot Zip Line is exhilarating. First, you gear up. Then you ride the Big Easy Lift to the loading platform. At that point, you’ll be attached to one of four zip lines, then you’ll “zip” down 1,000 feet, making speeds of 30 to 40 mph.
Editor’s Note: Not sure about zip-lining? Check out 8 Things To Know Before You Zip-Line For The First Time here.
Pro Tip: Have a bite to eat at Tamarack Lodge. Take your eats from the food court to the bar and enjoy some California beer, wine, or spirits at one of the tables. Better yet, take your food and drink outside on a sunny day and watch the resort activities around you.
3. Alpine Roller Coaster
Ridge Rider Mountain Coaster is a thrill a second. The gravity coaster is a sled similar to a bobsled. It’s attached to a 3,400-foot track that takes you through trees, rock formations, and scenic views of Lake Tahoe. There are 360-degree loops and loads of turns and twists. The ride reaches speeds of 27 mph and takes about 5 minutes.
Pro Tip: Ridge Rider is open in winter and summer. Check the website for seasonal operations.
4. Pan For Gemstones
Gem Panning is a treasure hunt everyone can enjoy. Use gold-panning methods to discover a treasure in your bucket of sand and stones. Best of all, you can keep what you find.
5. Rock Climbing
Granite Peak Climbing Wall is an artificial rock formation that looks like much of the Sierras’ rock shapes. There are 15 climbing paths. They vary in difficulty, but there is a route for all abilities on the 25-foot-tall rock wall.
Note: Many activities at Heavenly Resort are seasonal. But the resort is open most of the year. Check the Heavenly Resort website for times and ticket information.
Things To Do On Lake Tahoe
6. Go To The Beach
Whether summer or winter, go to the lakeshore. There are numerous beaches around Lake Tahoe. Kiva Beach and Baldwin Beach were our favorites; both are off Emerald Bay Road (Hwy 89).
While you are in the area, stop at Taylor Creek Visitor Center and walk Rainbow Trail, an accessible interpretive trail showing the connection between the lake’s blue water and the land and wildlife. The path has some outstanding photo ops of the wetlands, Lake Tahoe, and the Sierras.
7. Boat Tour
From elegant old paddle wheelers to speed-demon “rum runners,” there is a Tahoe boat tour for you and your companions. Cruising around the lake’s shoreline gives a different perspective on the Sierras and the region’s history.
We love the M.S. Dixie II, but there are many others. Take a look at Lake Tahoe Boat Tours to find one that suits your inner sailor.
Things To Do In Heavenly Village
8. Happy Hour Entertainment
Heavenly Village is a great place to take a happy hour break and enjoy live music. Restaurants and pubs have indoor and outdoor entertainment. So find a table, order a drink, and listen to local and national performers of various musical styles.
9. Magic Show
Magic Fusion Show is Tahoe’s top-rated. Performances at The Loft are at 4 and 7 p.m. daily. The high-energy magic acts include magicians from around the globe. Adult tickets are under $40.
The Village should adopt the “shop till you drop’ motto. The shops at Heavenly include clothing, sports gear, art, music, home decor, chocolate, libations, and much more. Stroll through the 40+ shops and eateries for a South Lake memory to take home.
Things To Do On Lake Tahoe Boulevard
Located across the state line in Nevada, casinos are a fun part of your visit to South Lake. In the 12 casinos, you can take your chances with slot machines, card games, digital poker, dice games, and wheels of fortune. You’ll also find eateries, bars, and entertainment.
Best Restaurants In South Lake Tahoe
12. Fire + Ice
“Fire + Ice is THE hot spot in Heavenly Village,” reads the website. And it’s true. Fire + Ice is a Mongolian-style grill. You choose from a buffet of meat, fish, vegetables, noodles, and sauces, then take your selections to the enormous round grill. The grill masters take your bowl of ingredients and stir-fry them to perfection. It’s delicious because you choose your favorite ingredients.
Fire + Ice has a full-service bar that has indoor and outdoor seating. Check the website for hours and happy hour specials.
13. Driftwood Café
Driftwood Café is one of our favorite spots for breakfast or lunch. The menu has traditional diner favorites that include touches of California cuisine. The food is excellent, as is the service. Share a carafe of Bloody Marys or mimosas with breakfast, brunch, or lunch.
Pro Tip: Driftwood is popular and can have a long wait. Before you head out, use the “Join Waitlist” feature on the website.
14. The Loft
Dinner at The Loft At Tahoe will be one of your best South Lake memories. The tapas menu has small plates of meat, fish, game, veg, and fruit. The small plates are brought to your table as they are prepared. This is an excellent place for a small group to share good food, lively libations, and laughs.
Kevin and I spent 3 hours here eating some of the best food in our travels. Our meal was made perfect by our server, Scot. Be sure to ask for him when you make your reservation. His knowledge of the menu and bar was exemplary and entertaining.
Best Hotel In South Lake Tahoe
15. Marriott’s Timber Lodge
Marriott’s Timber Lodge is, without a doubt, the ideal home base while visiting South Lake Tahoe. Timber Lodge is located in the heart of Heavenly Village. Your room or fully furnished apartment will be steps from the gondola station to Heavenly Mountain Resort. Timber Lodge’s amenities are designed for all ages, interests, and abilities.
The pool and hot tubs are the big stars, but Club Thrive at the fitness center is a close second. Hikes, yoga, aqua exercise, and core training are scheduled daily. There is also a daily activities schedule that includes art classes, gaming classes, trivia sessions, guided walks, hikes, and lots of kids’ activities.
Our Marriott lodging was a third-floor, one-bedroom apartment overlooking the pool and hot tubs. We loved it! It was exceptionally spacious and had a fully equipped kitchen. There was even a washer, dryer, and dishwasher. The decor was modern and awfully comfy.
We spent lots of time in front of the fireplace with a bottle of wine and a platter of California noshes from The Cork and More on South Lake. Cork and More, a California deli and wine store, is less than 3 miles from Timber Lodge. I suggest you stop there before check-in and pick up some goodies for your fireplace time.
Marriott Timber Lodge is part of the Marriott Vacation Club. Some apartments are timeshares; others can be booked like any hotel room or a vacation rental through booking sites like Expedia. No one will approach you with sales or membership info unless you show interest first.
Why South Lake Tahoe?
In addition to the diverse reasons above, South Lake Tahoe sits on the shore of one of the world’s great natural wonders. Alpine Lake Tahoe is the largest in America and the bluest in the world. Encircled by the Sierra Nevada, the vistas change from hour to hour with the changing light. The lake’s beauty is unmatchable. For more information about the Tahoe area, go to Visit Lake Tahoe.