As the largest lake in the Sierra Nevada and the second deepest lake in the United States, it’s no wonder Lake Tahoe draws visitors from all around the world. Thanks to dedicated activists and community-wide efforts, Lake Tahoe is considered one of the clearest and cleanest bodies of water in the world. The massive, bright blue lake surrounded by towering alpines and endless forests of pines is truly one-of-a-kind. This Lake Tahoe itinerary will help you figure out how to spend 2 to 3 days in Lake Tahoe so that you can enjoy the water, the sights, and the local culture.
How Many Days in Lake Tahoe?
When deciding how many days to spend in Lake Tahoe, it depends a lot on your goals for your time in the area.
Tahoe is a nature-lovers paradise, and those who seek epic mountain biking or multi-day backpacking trails will find endless opportunities to explore. It’s the kind of place where you could easily fill weeks just wandering through back trails and climbing mountain peaks.
But for most travellers, a few days is enough to get to know the town and see some of the highlights that make it such a sought-after destination.
Lake Tahoe can be split into two key regions: South Lake Tahoe and North Lake Tahoe. 2 days in Lake Tahoe will allow you to visit both shores and get to know the shoreline of Tahoe a little better.
For those who want to see what life for the locals is like, 3 days in Lake Tahoe will give you a chance to visit Truckee and see what the mountain lifestyle is all about.
Getting To and Around Lake Tahoe
Tahoe is incredibly easy to navigate, whether you’re driving up from San Francisco or further afield. Once you get to the lake, there’s one road that circles the perimeter and connects you to just about every destination in this Lake Tahoe itinerary.
It’s a very car-heavy destination and getting there (and around) will be much easier if you bring or rent a car. If you need to hire a car when visiting Lake Tahoe, we suggest browsing Rentalcars.com in order to compare prices across a number of different rental companies.
However, Tahoe has made huge strides with their public transport. Tahoe Transportation District (TTD) offers trolley service to Emerald Bay and buses that service Incline Village and Sand Harbor. In North Lake Tahoe, Tahoe Area Regional Transit (TART) has its own app and provides free curb-to-curb service throughout the north shore.
2 to 3 Days in Lake Tahoe Itinerary
Whether you spend 2 or 3 days in Lake Tahoe, it will never feel like enough. There’s so much to do and see in this slice of paradise, it’s hard to choose. But if you follow this Lake Tahoe summer itinerary, you’ll have a chance to take in Tahoe’s unmatched beauty, enjoy some of its hidden gems, and get to know the local mountain town culture.
Day 1 – South Lake Tahoe
Whether you have 2 days in Lake Tahoe or 3, South Shore is a great place to start. Between Tahoe legends and hidden gems, South Lake Tahoe is full of endless ways to enjoy all the beauty and personality Tahoe has to offer.
Heidi’s Pancake House
Start your day off with one of South Lake Tahoe’s most beloved breakfast spots—Heidi’s Pancake House. This Swiss chalet-inspired spot has been a staple for Tahoe breakfasts since 1964 and continues to serve a mouth-watering menu from 7a-2p. With a massive menu of differently flavored pancakes, French toasts, waffles, crepes, eggs, and omelets, there’s something for everyone.
After breakfast, make your way over to Emerald Bay State Park to enjoy the stunning sapphire waters, sandy beaches, and gorgeous hikes that grace Lake Tahoe’s south shore.
When you first arrive at Emerald Bay, you’ll pull up in the Vikingsholm parking lot. Also known as “Tahoe’s Hidden Castle”, this Swedish-inspired masterpiece has been around since 1929. The property was eventually acquired by the state in 1953 and has been an attraction for Lake Tahoe visitors ever since.
Free, public tours run throughout the summer, so stop by for a chance to see what is considered one of the best displays of Scandinavian architecture throughout the United States.
Emerald Bay Beach
After touring the castle, get settled on the golden shores of Emerald Bay Beach. As one of the most photographed places on Earth, it’s a must for your Lake Tahoe itinerary.
Part of what keeps Emerald Bay Beach so beautiful is that it’s only accessible via trail or boat. From the Vikingsholm parking lot, it’s a 1.7 mile descent to the actual castle. From there, it’s just a few feet to the shore.
Once there, you can set up for a relaxing day on the beach, jump off the pier and swim in Lake Tahoe’s famously clear waters, rent kayaks and paddleboards for some water sports or hop on a sailing cruise.
In addition, Emerald Bay has been a designated Underwater State Park since 1994, so if scuba diving is your thing, make sure to plan ahead!
Lake Tahoe’s only island, Fannette Island is the perfect addition to any Lake Tahoe summer itinerary. In addition to being naturally gorgeous, Fannette Island is home to the ruins of Mrs. Lora Knight’s 1920s tea house.
Once a 16-foot miniature castle with a roaring fireplace and oak carved furniture, Mrs. Lora Knight would ferry guests of Vikingsholm to the island via motorboat for afternoon tea. Today, the stone husk boasts little of the glamor of the old tea house, but it’s a beautiful sight for those willing to make the trek.
The only way to access Fannette Island is via kayak, paddleboard, or boat. If you don’t have your own boat and don’t want to attempt the six-mile round-trip via paddle, there are plenty of places where you can charter a boat in Tahoe.
As you depart Emerald Bay and drive back to South Shore, make sure to visit Inspiration Point.
Just three minutes east of the Vikingsholm parking lot, this vista towers 600 feet above Lake Tahoe and offers unbeatable views of Emerald Bay, Fannette Island, and Vikingsholm. The walkways are fairly flat, paved, and accessible so it’s a great spot to hit when you’re tired after a day of playing at Emerald Bay.
Just beware—parking can get intense! Try to avoid sunset hour and be prepared to wait for a spot to open up.
Sunset Dinner Cruise
There’s no better way to end the first day of your Lake Tahoe Itinerary than with a sunset dinner cruise on the M.S. Dixie II. Launching from Zephyr Cove, the cruise is by no means cheap. It runs $130 USD per person for adults and $65 US for children aged 3-11. Still, if it’s within the budget, it’s well worth the expense.
The M.S. Dixie II is one of Lake Tahoe’s two authentic paddle wheelers and the cruise features stunning views of sunset on the Lake.
If you’re lucky and the conditions are right, sunset in Lake Tahoe often features a dramatic rainbow of bright pinks, soft purples, and vibrant golds that paint the surface of the water as it reflects the sky and the best way to see this is on the water.
In addition to the views, the sunset dinner cruise includes a three-course meal and drinks available for purchase.
Day 2 – North Lake Tahoe
While North Shore is more known for its epic winter ski resorts and those planning a winter trip to Tahoe, it’s also full of summer activities that could easily fill all 3 days in Lake Tahoe. Still, if you only have a couple days and are trying to see the highlights of the lake, make sure you plan a day to visit North Lake Tahoe and enjoy some of its unique natural beauty.
Breakfast at Sugar Pine Cakery
A hidden favorite of North Shore locals is Sugar Pine Cakery in Tahoe City. This locally owned, mom-and-pop bakery is the definition of a hole in the wall, and it couldn’t be more worth a visit.
Every single item they sell is mouth-wateringly delicious. Start your day here for a pastry and a cup of coffee and order one of their incredible sandwiches to pack away for a picnic at Sand Harbor later in the day!
Tahoe East Shore Trail
Ever since it was completed in the summer of 2019, the Tahoe East Shore Trail has become a must for any Lake Tahoe itinerary. This 2.6 mile trail from Incline Village to Sand Harbor is a relatively flat, paved walking and biking trail that takes about an hour to complete.
As it hugs the shoreline, you get incredible views of the water the whole way down. It’s one of the most accessible trails in Lake Tahoe and is a great way to enjoy walking the shoreline without wearing yourself out.
One of Tahoe’s most famous beaches, Sand Harbor is a wonderful place to spend an afternoon. It can be accessed by the Tahoe East Shore Trail, or you can drive there and park for $15 USD for the day. It’s a beloved spot to lounge on the shore, engage in water sports, scuba dive, do a kayak tour or just play in the clear lake waters!
Sunset at Hidden Beach
Hidden Beach continues to be one of Tahoe locals’ best-kept secrets and the ideal place to watch the sunset over the water.
The big secret about Hidden Beach is that everything you find on the internet is taking you to the wrong shore. Yes, there is a better known, sandier shore known as Hidden Beach. It is easily accessible by walking trail and often packed for sunset. But a small, winding trail off the freeway will take you one cove over to a paradise tucked away from the crowds.
One note to be aware of—as a local secret, Hidden Beach is also one of Tahoe’s few topless beaches. While it’s not often, especially during sunset hour when it cools down, don’t be surprised if you are joined by a topless beachgoer or two.
The easiest way to reach the “real” Hidden Beach is via a small walkway off of Highway 28, just south of the parking lot for Tahoe East Shore Trail, but parking is nearly impossible as there are only a few street parking spots that get snagged pretty early in the day.
More likely, you’ll need to follow the Tahoe East Shore Trail north from Sand Harbor until you reach the well-carved dirt path that takes you to the official Hidden Beach—the sandy one that everyone knows about. Keep going to the next cove over.
The same dirt trail will get you there, just walk past the sandy shore and follow the dirt trail north until it goes down to the water again. You’ll know you’ve found it because of the giant boulders. It does take a bit of scrambling, but once you get settled on the flatter rocks, there’s no better spot to picnic, sip a drink, and watch the sunset.
Chambers Landing Bar & Grill
If you’re staying in South Shore, take the western route around Lake Tahoe so you can hit Chambers Landing Bar & Grill on your way back. The oldest bar on the water in Lake Tahoe, Chambers Landing is a part of Tahoe history.
It doubled as a boathouse, bar, and clubhouse in 1875 and has continued to serve Tahoe residents and guests ever since. The dinner selection is great, but whatever you do, make sure to taste the famous Chambers Punches!
Day 3 – Truckee / Martis Valley
While your first 2 days in Lake Tahoe were focused on the shoreline, it’s worth expanding your reach on the third day to visit Truckee and Martis Valley. About half an hour north of North Lake Tahoe, Truckee is a quaint California town with a main strip reminiscent of the Old West, but filled with modern boutiques, restaurants, breweries, and more.
Breakfast at Squeeze In
Start your day off right with breakfast at one of Truckee’s most beloved spots: Squeeze In. Full of California vibes, this diner-style hub has a delicious menu, friendly staff, and fantastic reputation across Lake Tahoe.
Martis Creek Trail
Once you’ve fueled up at Squeeze In, head south to Martis Creek Trail for a gorgeous and relaxed hike. This 4.3-mile loop takes you through the unique landscape of Martis Valley where you can enjoy a very different, but equally beautiful, side of Lake Tahoe’s ecosystem.
The trail is pretty flat with only 203 feet of climbing and takes 1.5-2 hours to complete. It’s a great way to get moving and enjoy Tahoe’s fresh air before heading back to Truckee for a day of exploring the shops and local spots!
Shopping on Donner Pass Road
After your hike, head back to Donner Pass Road to explore the delightful downtown of historic Truckee. You can easily spend a day walking down the main strip, wandering in and out of shops, but there are a few places you don’t want to miss.
Made + Maker is home to both Bespoke and Atelier; in the front, they sell all artisan goods and carefully curated boutique items. In the back of the store, they have a separate room full of things for the maker—yarns, craft projects, art supplies, and more.
Over at Word after Word you’ll find a truly remarkable bookstore upstairs with a tucked away record store and used books shop in their basement. For a truly Tahoe souvenir, head over to Mountain Arts Collective or Riverside Studios to shop locally made items.
If you’re looking for a coffee break, head just north of Donner Pass Road for a flavored latte at the hip, sunny Coffee Bar or head south for an incredible cup of coffee at the cozy, plant-filled Dark Horse Coffee Roasters.
Dinner and Drinks at 5050
To round out your day in Truckee and wrap up your 3 days in Lake Tahoe, head over to Fiftyfifty Brewing Co for dinner and a beer. This local brewery is beloved across Tahoe, but their pub is located in downtown Truckee and serves classic American grill foods alongside their ever-shifting menu of beers on tap.
Not only is it great food and fantastic brews, it captures the local Tahoe personality and gives you a taste of what life in Tahoe is really about.
Where to Stay in Lake Tahoe
When planning to spend 2 or 3 days in Lake Tahoe, you’re going to need to find a great place to stay on the lakeside. There are numerous different places to choose from that can suit plenty of travel styles and budgets. If you’re wondering where to rest your head in Lake Tahoe, check out these suggestions:
The Jeffrey Hotel – This lovely hotel is the perfect mid-range option in South Lake Tahoe. Offering a range of rooms suitable for couples and families, it is located close to the beach and some rooms even have a fireplace! Click here to check availability
Black Bear Lodge – This comfortable hotel offers a range of rooms and cottages, perfect for those looking to cook some of their own meals. They can accommodate larger families, with all rooms having a gas fireplace and some coming with a hot tub. Click here to check availability
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other options near Lake Tahoe!
Lake Tahoe is sacred to locals and adored by visitors. The cobalt waters, emerald trees, and laid-back culture make it the perfect place to relax and find peace surrounded by the beauty of this mountain town.
Are you planning to visit Lake Tahoe? Have any questions about this itinerary? Let us know in the comments!