How to Plan a Lake Tahoe Family Vacation
Nestled in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and known for its breathtaking sights, Lake Tahoe is a perfect destination for families looking for fun outdoor activities. As the largest Alpine lake in North America, Lake Tahoe attracts millions of visitors, and the area is famous for its stunning blue waters, pine forest, and snow-capped peaks. Are you planning a family vacation in Lake Tahoe and seeking itinerary ideas? Consider this your guide to enjoying a beautiful family vacation in Lake Tahoe.
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Planning Your Lake Tahoe Trip
The best time to visit Lake Tahoe depends on what you want to do. However, summer is a popular choice among most travelers.
If you are looking for skiing, February and March are the best months to travel. For beach and outdoor activities, we recommend August/September as the weather is warm and the crowds are smaller.
How To Get to Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe is about a 3 ½ hour drive east of San Francisco, so it’s an easy drive from the city. If you travel by air, the Reno-Tahoe International Airport (RNO) is about an hour away from South Lake Tahoe and a 35-minute drive to North Lake Tahoe.
To get around the area, you can take public transportation like taxis/rideshares, but this may mean waiting for a few minutes to get your ride. We highly recommend renting a car for more convenient sightseeing and movement for the whole family.
Kid-Friendly Activities For Your Lake Tahoe Family Vacation
Here’s our top pick of family-friendly ideas for your itinerary:
Emerald Bay State Park
A Lake Tahoe vacation isn’t complete without a stop at one of the region’s prettiest and most popular parks, Emerald Bay State Park. You and your family will enjoy stunning views, kayaks, beaches, and hiking trails.
Emerald Bay is one of the most photographed spots in the world, and one of the best things you can do here is to catch the sunrise from a viewpoint like Eagle Falls or Inspiration Point. There are also opportunities to kayak, paddle board, and camp in areas like the Eagle Point Campground and Bayview Campground.
King’s Beach State Recreation Park
One of the best times to visit King’s Beach is in summer when the weather is warm. This magnificent beach features soft, golden sand, crystal clear waters, and beautiful nature views.
The beach also has amenities, including a playground, volleyball court, miniature golf course for little feet, picnic area with grill, and rental facilities.
Kids will enjoy running around the playground, building sand castles, and splashing in the water. Older kids also have the opportunity to enjoy activities like paddling, jet skiing, fishing, and more. There are also restaurants and bars near the beach if you need to cool off or grab a bite to eat.
Taylor Creek Visitor Center
Touring Taylor Creek with your loved ones is a perfect way to enjoy your family vacation in Lake Tahoe. The floor-to-ceiling glass windows offer a perfect view of life above and below the water.
Everyone can get an up-close view of the diverse animals in and around the water like frogs, fish, raccoons, and trout. If you visit Lake Tahoe in winter, Taylor Creek is ideal for cross-country skiing, especially for beginners.
This children’s museum and play center is always a hit for kids 7 and younger. There are plenty of opportunities to play, learn, and have fun!
Sand Harbor Beach
Located on the Nevada side in Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park, Sand Harbor is one of the most stunning beaches in Lake Tahoe. The beautiful scenery, the amphitheater, picnic tables, and the boat launch area make it a perfect place for the whole family to enjoy.
Sand Harbor also has the bluest water you will ever see and is dotted by large boulders you can climb to jump into the water. There is also a bay for scuba diving, and in the summer season, lifeguards are stationed at the beach.
Sand Harbor often reaches max capacity during the high season and may close within 30 minutes of opening. Other family-friendly beaches you will find around include Meeks Bay, El Dorado Beach, Sugar Pine Point State Parks, and D.L. Bliss State Park.
Lake Tahoe Resort Hotel
One of the best ways to enjoy a Lake Tahoe summer vacation is by staying at a resort hotel. Fortunately, there are a handful of resorts, and a popular option is Lake Tahoe Resort Hotel. It’s in a convenient location, offers modern amenities (there are game tables and spacious suites!), and it is just minutes from the best spots in the Tahoe area.
Other major resorts in the area include Resort at Squaw Creek, Granlibakken Tahoe, and Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort. There are also ski resorts like Heavenly Mountain Resort, Palisades Tahoe, and Northstar California Resort.
Heavenly Village and Palisades Tahoe
Both of these villages boast cute shops, eateries, and fun activities the whole family can enjoy. Check the calendar for fun activities and events while you’re in town.
Consider renting a speedboat and heading out across the lake with your kids while enjoying the stunning Tahoe views from the water.
Explore the depth of the lake if you are SCUBA certified. There are several tour operators offering a chance to explore this pristine alpine lake.
Helicopter or Hot Air Balloon Rides
There’s something magical about seeing Lake Tahoe from above. Consider a hot air balloon ride (suitable for kids eight and older) or a helicopter tour.
Truckee River Rafting
Enjoy family time in the water by taking a raft trip down the gorgeous Truckee River. After floating along the river, you can grab lunch or snacks and have a picnic along the shore.
Lake Tahoe offers many hiking opportunities perfect for all ages, including your little ones. The Tahoe Rim Trail is one of the most popular hiking spots, running about 165 miles around Lake Tahoe.
There is also Five Lakes Trail, two miles up Alpine Meadows Road, Eagle Rock Trail which provides excellent views of the lake, and the Cascade Fall Trail, which offers about 1.5 miles of moderate hiking. Rubicon Trail is another great hiking spot bordering Lake Tahoe and continues to the south of Emerald Bay.
Kayaking, Canoeing, or Stand-Up Paddle Boarding
Lake Tahoe is a great place to enjoy water activities like kayaking, canoeing, and SUP. There are rental facilities around the lake for renting the gear you need to paddle along the shorelines.
Fishing is popular in Lake Tahoe, especially during the summer season. Some great fishing spots include Stampede Lake, Webber Lake, and Fallen Leaf Lake.
Camping in Lake Tahoe
Camping is a great way to enjoy Lake Tahoe with your family. There are many camping options, including Nevada Beach Campground, Eagle Point Campground, and Lake Tahoe Camp Site.
Lake Tahoe Festivals
Art, food, and music festivals happen in Tahoe’s summertime, so check online to see which you can attend with the family.
One of the best family-friendly festivals in summer is the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival, where people perform Shakespeare classics and some contemporary works on the shores of the lake.
Where To Stay on Your Lake Tahoe Family Vacation
There are a couple of different options when it comes to Lake Tahoe accommodations. There are resorts, but vacation rentals in Lake Tahoe are a popular option with families. Some of the popular areas include Truckee, Donner Lake, Incline Village, Kings Beach, and South Lake Tahoe.
Typically the North Shore is a bit more luxurious, less crowded, expensive, and perfect for outdoor adventures. The South Shore is affordable and boasts an impressive nightlife and entertainment scene.
There are options for hotels, rental homes, and cabins or campsites. Of course, you can always stay in a family-friendly resort, usually a few minutes away from hiking, dining, and shopping spots.
Where To Eat in Lake Tahoe
Whether it’s snacks, international cuisine, or a five-course meal, South and North Lake Tahoe offers many dining options. There are more options on the south shore than on the north, but both areas are great for eating.
Some popular spots to eat include:
Gar Woods Grill & Pier: Burgers, tacos, and salads for lunch and elevated fare at dinner. Beautiful deck with views of the lake.
Las Panchitas: Excellent Mexican food in Kings Beach.
The Old Post Office Cafe: Great option for breakfast or brunch.
Sweet Tahoe Time Ice Cream: Here, you and the kids can enjoy delicious ice cream, relax in the scenic outdoor space, and play on the tricycles or giant connect 4 in the playground.
Drink Coffee Do Stuff: My favorite coffee place in Lake Tahoe, delicious drinks, smoothies, and quick bites. Highly recommend grabbing a bag of beans to take back to your place!
Getaway Cafe: This is a local favorite, and they offer a lot of mouth-watering dishes, including their most popular, the coconut-crusted french toast.
The Beach House: This lakeside eatery offers everything from sandwiches to tasty tenders and local cuisines. You can enjoy your meal in the company of stunning views and beautiful live music.
Like other regions in California, Tahoe is also known for its beer culture. You can visit popular breweries like Alibi Ale Works and FiftyFifty Brewing Co to try some beer.
Tips for Traveling With Kids To Lake Tahoe
Pick a Kid Friendly Hotel
As expected, there are many hotel options around Lake Tahoe, but some are more suitable than others. When looking for a hotel, search for kid-friendly options within walking distance of major highlights in the area.
Check the Calendar for Events
One of the first things you should do when planning a family trip to Lake Tahoe is to check for events that may be going on in town. This will help you curate a fun and interesting Lake Tahoe itinerary.
One of the best ways to check for events is by picking up the Tahoe Weekly, which you can find in most grocery stores and even online.
Beware of Crowds in Summer
About 2.7 million people visit Lake Tahoe yearly, so it gets crowded. Lake Tahoe is most crowded in summer, so it can get swamped and crazy, especially when you have your little ones.
Beach parking spaces fill up quickly, so it’s best to arrive early to grab a spot. Also, if you can, book any necessary tickets in advance.
There are many activities to enjoy in the Tahoe area, and it may be overwhelming. We recommend you take your time to pick the places you want to visit and things you want to do together as a family and plan your accommodation accordingly. Staying close to the activities will limit the amount of time you have to spend in the car.
Lake Tahoe gets chilly even in summer, so pack and wear layers for you and the kids.
Bring a Baby Carrier
If you have an infant, we recommend you come with a baby carrier to make movement easier.
Lake Tahoe is a perfect destination to add to your bucket list as a family. The region has endless opportunities for outdoor activities, lively villages, historic towns, stunning views, and fabulous restaurants to please your palate. What more do you need for a perfect vacation?