Sunshine, water, mountains — Lake Tahoe is a virtual playground for families. We’ve rounded up our favorite family-friendly activities to keep the whole family entertained from the smallest tot to your suddenly hard-to-impress teen. So grab the sunscreen and towels and load up the van — we’ve got your family’s Tahoe getaway covered.
Activity-filled beach days
The beaches we recommend for families fill up fast, so prepare to snag that spot as soon as you grab your first cup of coffee. Sand Harbor on Lake Tahoe’s North Shore near Incline Village opens its gates at 8 a.m. and will be packed soon after but for good reason: there’s 55 acres of sandy beaches, rocky coves and amazing panoramic lake views. It’s also the picturesque natural backdrop for the annual Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival and the D.G. Menchetti Young Shakespeare Program, which offers free, interactive one-hour adaptations of the main stage performances.
Camp Richardson Resort on Lake Tahoe’s South Shore is a family vacationer’s paradise, offering an old-fashioned ice cream parlor, deli, restaurant, lakeside lodging and a day-use marina. Kings Beach State Recreational Area in downtown Kings Beach is another option with picnic and beach areas, fishing (license required) and watersport opportunities.
If you like your beach with a side of hiking and history, check out Emerald Bay State Park and Vikingsholm Mansion 12 miles north of South Lake Tahoe. Be aware that Vikingsholm — an elaborate Scandinavian-style summer home constructed mostly with materials sourced from the Tahoe Basin — is a steep one-mile trail that drops 500 feet in elevation to the historic home and may be challenging for some. At the bottom of the trail, take in the view of Fanette Island, the only island on Lake Tahoe. It is believed to be a resistant rib of granite rock overridden by glacial ice.
Squeeze in even more history at the Donner Memorial State Park and newly opened visitor center. This site depicts the history of the area and the people who ventured into it including local Native Americans, builders of the transcontinental railroad, and of course, the ill-fated Donner Party. Also near the visitor center is the Pioneer Monument, dedicated to the pioneers who crossed the Sierra on their way to the West.
Channel your inner Tarzan
Fly through the air and perfect your Tarzan call at Heavenly Lake Tahoe’s Epic Discovery. This adventure Mecca offers rope courses, zip lining, tubing, a “mountain coaster” and more, all accessible via an epic aerial gondola ride providing a 360-degree view of Lake Tahoe from the top of Heavenly. The Ropes Course at Squaw Valley is a mix of vertical climbing activities with three towers, two circuit courses, eight bridges and seven zip lines. Or go for the full Squaw Valley High Camp experience: swim, roller skate, hike, geocache, and play disc golf and lawn games at 8,200 feet surrounded by the serenity of the Sierra.
We’re on a boat
A family vacation at Tahoe is not complete without a lake cruise and obligatory pre-boarding group photo in front of the M.S. Dixie II paddle-wheeler. The Dixie II seats 500 and offers day cruises, dinner cruises and private charters departing from Zephyr Cove Resort & Marina.
Avoid the hangry
Nothing brings a relaxing vacation to a screeching halt as a bad case of being hangry (hungry + angry). Especially being hangry and entering a restaurant where kids aren’t welcome, and you’re only served sideways glances. Luckily, Tahoe has no shortage of family-friendly restaurants, diners and cafes where the servers are no strangers to families with kids. In Truckee, visit the as-seen-on-TV Squeeze In, where children are not only welcome, they’re encouraged to draw on the walls — yes, you read that right. The original Red Hut Cafe is a South Shore favorite for big family breakfasts, just make sure to show up early as the wait can get long. The Bridgetender Bar and Grill in Tahoe City is a great stop before or after a bike ride along the Truckee River or a family float. Refuel after a long day in the sun with Italian food from South Lake Tahoe’s Tep’s Villa Roma, a local’s and visitor’s favorite for decades.
Have a family spot at Tahoe that you love? Comment and share below!