Tucked away in the Sierra Nevada Mountains on the state line of California and Nevada lies a natural treasure. Lake Tahoe is a little slice of paradise for anyone interested in the outdoors. It is a year round playground for kids and adults alike. The activities are almost limitless and whether you have an unlimited budget or almost no money at all, Tahoe will keep you busy sun up to sun down.
It is strange how when you live in a place you don’t enjoy it. Most of us get so bogged down with life and chores of life that we don’t actually live. We don’t see the wonderful activities, resources and sheer beauty in our own backyard. This was true for me. Having lived in Tahoe for 10 years as a child and teenager I never thought of it as vacation destination; even though people travel across the country and even the world to go there! For me it was my husband Clark who opened my eyes to the treasure Tahoe held.
We discovered the wonders of Lake Tahoe last summer. My family has a cabin on the South Shore in a little town called Meyers (Tahoe Paradise). This is the place I grew up in and although it has undergone some renovations it is still holds many memories and stories. Because we had this free lodging and love to ski, we had been making trips to Tahoe in the winter to ski for a few years. But we had never spent any time there as a family in the summer. We went this past July and it was awesome!
There are many affordable accommodations in Tahoe, but I wouldn’t recommend staying at most of the “affordable hotels.” They are mostly rundown rent-by-the-week or month places that I would not take my kids to. Having said that, there are tons of vacation rental properties and camping options that are affordable. In an outdoorsy place like Tahoe this is the way to go.
Once we arrived and settled in it was off to the beach. It is a nine hour drive from Santa Barbara, but we arrived in Tahoe at 1 pm thanks to our “Start Early” method. It was warm there in July, upper 70s, but it feels warmer than that. We never wore more than t-shirts and shorts. The evenings can get a bit cooler, but we slept with a fan on every night. There are many great beaches in Tahoe. They all have clean, but coarse sand, convenient parking, and some have BBQ facilities and/or general stores. Parking is $5 day, or free with a parks pass, but the lots fill up quickly. You have to get there early to get a parking spot, or plan to park and bike in.
Our favorite beach on the South Shore by far was Baldwin Beach. It was love at first sight when we took our kids there. Aside from the calm, crystal clear water of the lake there was a good size stream that emptied into the lake. There were kids of all ages with butterfly nets, make shift aquariums formed from buckets, inter-tubes with kids floating amidst the lily pads. We walked up the stream and found minos, tadpoles, small waterfalls and a myriad of fun and learning. Where the stream met the lake there was a natural kiddy pool. Emery, our toddler, could walk in and out with ease, splash about and generally entertain herself. For the older kids, paddle boards, boats, snorkeling, fishing and that is without a power boat. If you have access to a power boat the world is your oyster.
Another favorite beach experience is Regan Beach. Centrally located near the visitor’s center they have a small playground and burger/taco joint.
There is a campground directly across Highway 50 so this beach is always hoping. There is also an array of merchants setup on the beach. One activity we picked up there and loved is Stand Up Paddling. It is easy to pick up and gives you a truly unique vantage point. You can take your kids on the board, even little ones. We took our 3-year-old and he loved it. They also have attachments for your dog! If you want lessons, rentals, or to purchase a paddle board South Tahoe Stand-Up Paddle is you place. They are setup right on Regan Beach and take credit cards!
Then there is Camp Richardson. Just up the road from Baldwin Beach, this village has something for everyone. Camping, RV Camping, Cabins, Hotel along with ice cream parlor, general store, sports shop, restraunts and marina. The Beacon Bar and Grill is on the beach and often has live music and events running on the beach. It feels like summer camp from a bygone era. People riding bikes, getting ice cream and having fun on the beach. If we didn’t have a cabin in Tahoe this would be our spot. We often rode our bikes here and enjoyed the atmosphere.
Riding bikes is another fabulous option. There are great bike trails of varying difficulty. The path that runs along 89 and through Camp Richardson is beautiful and not too challenging. You will pass many beaches, great meadows and forest and also the Taylor Creek Stream Profile on the Rainbow Trail. This little natural history walk can be easily overlooked, but is well worth the stop. If you are there in October the salmon are running and the stream is literally saturated with Kokenee Salmon. If the fish are running then the bears are out hunting them. When we were there in October we saw the fish and two bears on the other side of the stream fishing. There were also photographers from National Geographic camped out there waiting for the perfect shot.
There are hikes to take while in the Sierra Nevada area, but with kids we were fairly limited. We have a Kelty Backpack and a descent stroller. We decided to make the trek with kids, stroller and gear up to the Angora Lakes. Lake Tahoe is beautiful, but there are so many other small secluded lakes that each have their own character and charm. We have been to Fallen Leaf Lake on subsequent trips and enjoyed that too. Fallen Leaf is bigger and has more residents and infrastructure. We chose Angora to get away to that little swimming hole and this afternoon was magical. I would highly recommend going, but leaving the stroller and packing as little as possible. It is a trek up to the lakes. There is a small beach, small store and restaurant and place to rent paddle boats and kayaks. My brother, an adventurous 23-year-old had a blast scaling the rock cliffs and jumping off the 60′ face into the lake.
If you aren’t up for the hike, but want to get away from the crowds check out Sawmill Pond. This isn’t a swimming pond, but is great for fishing with your kids. It is a learn to fish pond that is stocked with fish, there is a picnic area and some fun easy trails to explore the wildlife in the area. It is free and there is plenty of parking.
There is so much to do in Tahoe, no matter how long you have it won’t be enough. There is world-class golf at Edgewood Golf Course on the lake, shows and comedy at the casinos and clubs, dirt bike and ATV riding, Spectacular views from the top of Heavenly Valley Ski Resort Gondola (runs year round). You can take a dinner cruise on the old Tahoe Queen Paddle Boat or go to Emerald Bay.
There is great dining for all budgets. For fine dining we highly recommend Mirabelle at Kingsbury Grade; French cuisine and extra attentive staff. For a mid-range budget there is Tahoe Grill. Unique California cuisine alongside a few favorites. Family dining we loved pizzerias and Lake Tahoe Pizza Company in particular. While you are there you must have a burger from Izzy’s Burger Spa. Charbroiled and delicious, you will see and smell the smoke as you drive along the 50 and it is hard to resist. They also have a patio in back and a few arcade games to keep the kids occupied.
One last tip. If it is raining, your kids sunburnt, or you just need to stay inside try Tahoe Tot-Spot. They are a mini-gym and indoor play extravaganza. They have every Melissa & Doug toy in existence for your kids to play with! They also have a “Date Night” activity. You can drop the kids off for a night of playing, pizza and a movie while you have some quality adult time. Safe and affordable we love Tahoe Tot Spot!
I lived in Tahoe for ten years as a kid, but never realized how amazing it was until I took my own family there. We have been there twice in the summer and are planning our next trip back. It is a must do for anyone who likes the outdoors and traveling with their family. You will be back.
- Lake Tahoe is the highest lake of its size in the United States and the largest alpine lake in North America.
- Lake Tahoe is as long as the English Channel is wide with the width of Tahoe being half again as wide as San Francisco Bay.
- With one dispersion of Lake Tahoe’s water, the State of California would be completely covered to a depth of 14.5 inches.
- The Panama Canal (700 feet in width and 50 feet in-depth) could be filled by Lake Tahoe’s water and extend completely around the earth at the equator, with enough remaining in the lake to fill another channel of the same width and depth running from San Francisco to New York.
- An average 1,400,000 tons of water evaporates from the surface of Lake Tahoe every 24 hours, yet this drops the lake level only one-tenth of an inch.
- If the water that evaporates from the lake every 24 hours could be recovered, it would supply the daily requirements of a population of 3,500,000 people.
- Lake Tahoe’s water is 99.9% pure. The water is so clear that a 10 inch white dinner plate would be visible at 78 feet below the surface.
- There are 63 tributaries draining into Lake Tahoe with only one outlet at the Truckee River.
- Lake Tahoe never freezes due to the constant mass movement of water from the bottom to the surface. In February 1989, Emerald Bay froze over for the first time since 1952.
Lake Facts & Statistics
|Maximum Elevation:||6,229 feet|
|Maximum Depth:||1,645 feet|
|Average Depth:||989 feet|
|Surface Area:||193 sq. mi. or 122,200 acres|
|Volume:||39 trillion gallons or 122 million acre feet of water|
|Surface Water Temp:||Maximum – 68 degrees F, Minimum – 41 degrees F|
|Temperatures at 200 feet:||Maximum – 47 degrees F, Minimum – 41 degrees F|