Sport, Sun, Hike, Repeat: The Best Things to Do in Lake Tahoe for a Blissful Weekend Getaway
First, the facts: Lake Tahoe is big (191 square miles of surface area). It’s gorgeous (snowcapped mountains form a backdrop for a shimmering lake). And it’s about to get more crowded once billionaire Larry Ellison reopens Frank Sinatra’s former casino resort. So get in on the peaceful back-to-nature vibe now by hopping a 90-minute flight from L.A.
Take an after-work flight via one of the handful of carriers that land at Reno-Tahoe International Airport, then drive an hour to the Coachman Hotel, a former motor lodge reinvented as a throwback hangout decorated in chic mid-century modern style. A few blocks from the lake itself, the hotel has a pool, hot tub and fire pit, as well as a staff that will point you in the right direction for whatever you desire: water sports, trail hiking, mountain biking, trout fishing, hot air balloon rides and even (you daredevil, you) rock climbing.
You’re up early, so grab a coffee and breakfast in the Coachman lobby before your outdoorsy exploits. Will it be the 14-mile Flume Trail, with its single-track paths passing lakeside scenery so jaw-droppingly spectacular you have to stop your bike to take it all in? Or how about kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding on the diamond-clear lake? (There’s underwater visibility to almost 71 feet here, so it’s like swimming in your Volvic water). Or maybe you’ll set off on one of the Donner Pass hikes along the Pacific Crest Trail. Donner Pass is where an unlucky party of settlers got trapped in an early winter snowstorm in the winter of 1846 to 1847 and had to resort to cannibalism to survive. (Don’t worry—you’re way ahead of the first snowfall.)
Explore the charming mountain town of Truckee, the 1800s mining town located 12 miles north of the lakeshore. This is a hub for visitors to the region in both the summer and ski seasons, so it supports a thriving restaurant and bar scene, as well as lots of little gift shops. We like Bespoke, where you can shop for a stylish daypack, rustic pottery, and books and magazines all about the lake.
After all that fresh air and activity, you’ve earned a fancy meal. Head over to the PlumpJack Cafe at the Squaw Valley Inn and feast on sustainably caught fish with Jamaican jerk spice, grilled avocado and pineapple-cucumber habanero salsa, along with a martini served with frozen grapes. Top it off with a slice of apple pie with oat crumble crust while you remember the day’s miles of paddling, pedaling and just inhaling that crisp mountain air.
For a new perspective on all that the lake region has to offer, get high (no, not like that). Take a ride above the lake and mountains via Lake Tahoe Balloons, an ingenious outfit that has eliminated all that pesky winds-blowing-into-land-hazards business by taking off and landing right on the lake on a specially built vessel. Shortly after sunrise, you lift off to enjoy an hour-long guided trip including views of Emerald Bay and, on clear days, 150 miles of visibility all the way to Yosemite.
By now, you’ll want some real R&R, which comes courtesy of the many lakeside beaches of Tahoe. While most of the 72-mile shoreline is all craggy with boulders and rocks, there are great sandy sections too. Check out the blissful Sand Harbor to the south in the Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park, which includes a concession bar and picnic area. For those wanting to be closer to nature, head to the Secret Cove on the more remote eastern shore. This spot requires a bit of hiking to get to, but the payoff is pristine beauty as well as a nudist-friendly reputation. But hey, the vibe is casual and there’s no pressure to go au naturel. Consider it a perfectly chill and quirky end to dipping your toe in the Tahoe experience.