Howdy! Today we are heading back to Lake Tahoe. You may remember that we previously chatted about the Reno side of Tahoe, however this time we are going to the South Lake Tahoe side.
For this side of Tahoe, I had the pleasure of welcoming Tony Lyle – the Vice President of Tourism Development of Tahoe South, Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority who filled us in on all of the wonderful things to see and do in the city of South Lake Tahoe – so named due to the fact that it is indeed located in the southern part of Lake Tahoe.
Since Tahoe is a great road trip destination – let’s gas up the car, fasten our virtual seat belts and head to this stunning domestic destination.
Tell Me About Lake Tahoe. Think of Lake Tahoe as the base. As Tony so creatively put it – think of it like a basin or a cereal bowl and the rim of the cereal bowl are the peaks of the mountains. The land, the beach and the water fits in between the mountains. The mountain behind South Lake Tahoe is Heavenly Mountain Ski Resort where you can actually take a gondola from the downtown village up to. There is a strip of land that runs all around the lake and because this land is long and thin the town is only about five miles long and about half a mile wide. And – the downtown is not in the middle – it’s at one with the California/Nevada state line running right through the middle of it. In fact, you wouldn’t even know it was there unless you looked up and saw the signs that say Welcome to California and Welcome to Nevada. Which by the way is a very popular photo op! Actually, the entire area is filled with photo ops thanks to the unique landscape and surrounding beauty. Picture that you are sitting on the beach with the mountains behind you – often snowcapped. How cool is that?
How About A Multi-Destination Trip? Thanks to where South Lake Tahoe sits there are numerous options to make this a multi-destination adventure. We can add in stops in Napa Valley or San Francisco or perhaps you want to hit a little bit of Yosemite. Flexibility is easy here as you can fly into Reno International Airport which is just 55 miles outside of South Lake Tahoe or any of the bay area airports – San Francisco, Oakland or San Jose – then create an itinerary that includes a little bit more north like upstate California or even northern Nevada.
What Kind Of Accommodations Can I Find Here? On the Nevada side there are four full-service casino resort hotels for those of you who want that kind of experience. Sitting on the lake – right on the beach you will find Edgewood Tahoe – which is only a couple of years old and is a five-star, 154 room property. And you guys, if you think about it 154 rooms is really not that big of a resort. It is actually a medium sized resort which gives you an opportunity to have that social distancing room around the property and on the beach and lake. When you go across to the California side there are two Marriott properties in Heavenly Village as well as a variety of hotels in town. As Tony pointed out – it is a great day trip to Lake Tahoe but there’s nothing like waking up in the morning, opening up your curtains and you’re at a beachfront property looking straight out over the lake. Then in the evening you can enjoy a glass of wine and watch the sunset. I’m sold!
And of course, there is camping – via tent or RV or even glamping – all of which are fabulous ways to social distance. And there are camp sites located all over the place, all around the lake. Tony also noted that they get a lot of people who will camp but then they will come and stay the last night or the last couple of nights in a hotel because they want to clean up and go and eat in a restaurant instead of roughing it the entire time.
What Kind Of Activities Can I Find Here? There are quite a bit of different activities available in South Lake Tahoe. For instance, you can go bike riding and there are lots of places that you can rent bikes so you don’t have to bring them and of course I can set that up ahead of time. There are bike trails that are flat that the go to all of the popular places everyone wants to see – like the nature trails, the lake and the waterfalls. But there’s also a huge network of mountain bike trails that range from easy to intermediate to advanced – so you’ve got everything from just trail riding all the way to extreme mountain biking and everything in between.
There are plenty of hiking trails too and Tony said that this is something he does with his wife and kids and that it’s easy to get onto to the trail from the downtown area. Basically, you’re in the middle of it all downtown which means easy access to the outdoors – so in minutes you’re out on trails with stunning views. And thanks to the gondola in the downtown area, you don’t need a car once you are in South Lake Tahoe. It’s very pedestrian friendly as you can walk everywhere from all of the downtown hotels on both the California and Nevada sides including to the gondola. The gondola by the way runs almost year-round – in winter for skiing and in summer for sightseeing.
If you are one of my golfers, you are in luck because there are golf courses everywhere in this area! And that includes an 18-hole world class golf course at the Edgewood Tahoe. Then there is Eagle Falls which are at the head of Emerald Bay and they are quite easy to get to per Tony. You can drive, you can take a cruise boat, you can rent a speedboat, you can kayak, or you can walk. So whatever level you are you can still experience the same thing – whether via hardcore adventure or soft adventure.
And we cannot forget the famous Lake Tahoe sandy beaches where you can build a sandcastle if you would like. The sand is a bit grainier than the sand at the ocean – not quite as powdery – but it’s all natural. Along the lake you’ll find several marinas where you can rent anything that you would use on water. How about a power boat that you can pilot? Per Tony it’s not difficult to handle and you can go to the supermarket beforehand and stock up on food and drinks for your boat trip. Another option are the super fun jet skis which are also easy to drive. However, if you don’t want a motor you can rent a kayak or another type of non-motorized boat or even a paddle board. There are also all sorts of water sports going on in Emerald Bay along with one island – Fannette Island across from Vikingsholm – a Scandinavian style castle.
Then there is the color of the water in Lake Tahoe. It is like a giant mirror and it reflects the sky. It’s also 99.9% pure and you can see to the you can see to the bottom.
And don’t forget come winter there is plenty of skiing and other winter sports available which we will discuss shortly.
Wellness Opportunities? I am sure by now you have already realized that South Lake Tahoe is also the epitome of wellness travel thanks to all the different opportunities we covered whether it be soft adventure, higher-level activity or even full-on adventure travel. And it is off the beaten track and away from the crowds. You are actually in the Sierra Nevada mountains at around 6200 feet so there’s little humidity, it doesn’t get too hot and there are no bugs – sounds ideal! And you know just being at one with nature – from the smell of the pine trees to the sounds of a trickling stream, a waterfall or maybe some wildlife – you really do become one with nature and at one with Lake Tahoe. It’s very unique, beautiful place and what I consider mind, body and spirit rejuvenation at is best.
What Else Will I Find Here? Well, there is Emerald Bay which is the most visited place in the area. Here you can take a cruise on the MS Dixie paddle boat. The paddle wheeler goes from the east side of Laker Zephyr Cove all the way across to Emerald Bay and features three decks with the top one being open. The middle deck features a bar and there is also a restaurant on board. You can opt for a daytime sightseeing cruise where you can buy lunch and drinks or in the evening you can do a dinner dance cruise with plated dinners and entertainment that is timed so that you are in the middle of the lake when the sun sets.
And yes – eventually events will be coming back to South Lake Tahoe although there is no date yet and they are not sure what they will look like. But in summers past, they have held a summer concert series in their outdoor amphitheater that seats 6000 people making it up close and personal. Plus, they get world class names like Lady Gaga, Bruno Mars, Elton John and Pitbull to name a few.
Then there are the casinos which we know some people love and some people don’t – but that’s the beauty – you can take it or leave it. They are a great amenity and a huge draw for bachelor and bachelorette parties – because you’ve got 24/7 action going on in the casinos with dancing in nightclubs plus all the bars and restaurants. Then on the flip side there is Lake Tahoe to relax and enjoy during the day.
And in winter you can find a whopping 15 ski resorts in the Lake Tahoe area – with Squaw Valley being one of the most popular. There are different sizes for different levels of expertise and as Tony pointed out – remember the cereal bowl – three of the 15 are inside the rim so when you’re skiing you get the fantastic views of the lake. And those three on the South Shore include Heavenly – which is the largest ski resort on the West coast of the US, Kirkwood – which is a little bit more hardcore and Sierra – which has more kind of a beginner/family feel to it – but all three are fabulous.
When Should I Go? It is a year-round destination – although a lot of people think of Tahoe as strictly a ski destination. But according to Tony they are actually busier in the summer than they are in the winter – especially in July and August when you get people escaping the heat of the cities and towns they live in. But the year is broken up as such: July and August are considered peak season, September and October – which are typically Indian summer weather and not as many people – so great rates are available, the winter of course which is November, December, January, February, March and then in April the ski season ends. It really changes quickly from winter into summer and once May hits you get great rates once more – June too – until you hit peak season again. The fall and spring season are short but extremely popular – especially for destination weddings and honeymoons. A large part of business are people who want to have their wedding on the beach at Lake Tahoe and there are numerous sites around the lake where you’ve got picture perfect backdrops for those weddings and subsequent pictures.
And if you are looking to go during ski season Tony suggests mid-week as a good time – where you will find better rates and it is not as crowded. He also noted that the storms that come up the Pacific go quite quickly up over the Sierra mountains where they then proceed to dump all the snow and move away quickly. So, the storms are short but bring a lot of snow unlike other destinations within the North America where they can linger for days – so you get maximum slope time without the bad weather. Bonus – you don’t have to go out and buy or invest in ski equipment or even clothing as you can rent everything right there. And if you are not a fan of skiing you’ve got snowmobiles as another option which are great because you can double up and keep it cost effective. Plus, you have a guide to show you the ropes.
In addition, a lot of families that want to get out there and remain active while also social distancing but don’t ski and don’t snowmobile – they just bring the kids up sledding or just to take a walk or play in the snow. Also in winter there is a family-owned business called Borges that’s been there for many years and they will take you on horse drawn sleigh rides through the fields as well as on the beaches. Note: In the summer Borges offers horse drawn carriage rides – that depart from the Welcome to California sign downtown and take you for a ride around the streets downtown. Both are just a nice, relaxing thing to do for half an hour or an hour as you can just sit back and relax and be chauffeured around on the snow or on the road. It really is a great family destination no matter what you choose to do – and no matter what season.
How Long Should I Stay? Per Tony, in the winter people come to ski and they tend to stay maybe a little bit longer than they would other times of the year – like six or seven nights – because they’re there for the specific purpose of skiing and although they might ski different resorts each day – more often than not the majority of the days would be at Heavenly because that’s their base. FYI – Heavenly and South Lake Tahoe are one and the same.
In the summer it depends on if they are road tripping or they’re just going to hang out here and do what they call basecamp itineraries. This is where they would use South Lake Tahoe as a base camp and then tour around to places that are within driving distance such as Carson City, Virginia City, Hot Springs and the wineries in the foothills in El Dorado County – just to name a few. That being said the absolute minimum would be three nights and that gives you two whole days but then you’re going to regret it and wish you had stayed longer. So optimum would be four or five nights to get the full feel of it and actually get the benefit of a vacation and relax a little bit rather than rush things.
Updated COVID-19 Information: As of this writing both the Nevada and California side of Tahoe South are open to travelers with COVID precautions in place. Masks are required in both states. Since Tahoe South spans both California and Nevada it is important for visitors to be aware of the different restrictions and requirements between the two states and counties.
That wraps up our South Lake Tahoe overview and I am going to end it with one of their current taglines that I already told Tony I was going to steal – “South Lake Tahoe – Keep a six-foot distance at 6000 feet!” With wide open spaces and plenty of social distancing room – let’s talk Tahoe!
For more details on things to see and do in Lake Tahoe, where to stay, it’s price points and more – contact your Travel Guru! Oh, and if you need a payment plan to fund your travel adventure – we got those too!