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As a lifelong Californian, I'm ashamed to admit that it took me twenty-four years to finally experience the beauty of Lake Tahoe. After that first trip, there was no turning back. I knew my family would be returning every chance we got. With snow-capped vistas in the winter and sunny lakeside days in the summer, South Lake Tahoe has many things to do with kids year-round. While North Lake Tahoe possesses its own serenity, South Lake Tahoe hotels and activities for kids are our family's favorite.
So, if you're looking to escape the hustle and bustle of LA for some quality nature time and have tons of adventures with your kids, look no further. In South Lake Tahoe, you'll find a multitude of excursions that will leave your kids eager to return. Here are our favorite South Lake Tahoe attractions that your family is also sure to enjoy!
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The gondola ride at Heavenly Village is heavenly, indeed. We love the feeling of gradually ascending the 2.4 miles up the mountain and getting a stunning view of the lake and surrounding areas. And, without fail, my kids will try to time their jump, at the top, for the moment the gondola stops, so they can "fly!" Each round-trip ticket comes with a stop at the Observation Deck along the way. You'll definitely want to snap some photos of your kids against an Instagram-worthy backdrop.
In the winter months, once you reach Heavenly Ski Resort, you can opt to ski or snowboard. Spots can be booked online in advance for 1:1 or group lessons. You can also just hang out in the food court area and people watch (which, I will admit, is my go-to activity while the kids are in ski school). The resort offers activities specific to the summertime, too. We're yet to head up there during the warmer months, but my kids are eager to try gemstone panning, tubing, and some of the shorter hiking trails.
Don't miss out on the shops and eateries at Heavenly Village once you return to ground level. Sock City is one of our favorites for grabbing a quirky pair of knee-highs. They're so fun. Village Toys also has a wonderful selection of distractions and souvenirs. Food-wise, we always head to Creative Crepes when we can't decide between sweet and savory (the Caprese and S'Mores are delicious). When we're ravenous but also want a pleasant ambiance, we opt for Azul Latin Kitchen.
Best South Lake Tahoe Beaches
I know what you're thinking. Beaches? In Tahoe? There are over a dozen beaches scattered throughout the southern shores of the lake. With their fine sand and clear turquoise water, we feel like we're out on the coast. If my kids want to ride in a kayak or on a paddleboard, we go to Pope Beach, which is Tahoe's longest beach. When we're all feeling more adventurous, we go to Zephyr Cove Beach and Resort. They have volleyball nets, as well as parasailing and cruises along the waters. There are also two restaurants on the property to grab a beverage or bite, which we do between activities. Sometimes we want to escape the crowds, and that's when we drive out to Kiva Beach. It's relatively unknown but beautiful and is dog-friendly if you happen to be traveling with furry friends.
Tahoe Treetop Adventure Parks
Alright, so this activity is located on the northern shores of Tahoe, a little over an hour away. But if you've got a car, I promise it'll be well worth it! Tahoe Treetop Adventure Parks has three locations, which are a combination of zip lines, bridges, platforms, and climbing events. The parks are nested within the forest, so your kids will be surrounded by sky-high trees as they make their way through each activity.
Participation is open to kids 5 and older, and beginner, intermediate, and advanced skill levels are all accommodated. One thing I liked about the parks is that they offer trails for non-participants to watch (me). This allowed me to still watch my kids fly through each part of the course.
The Squaw Valley location is only open 2 months of the year and the experience differs from the other sites, so bear this in mind when choosing where to go.
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Taylor Creek Stream Profile Chamber & Hiking Trails
We love aquariums—big and small—and the one at the Taylor Creek Visitor Center is one of our favorites. At the Stream Profile Chamber, a window cut into the bottom of the stream allows kids to see the Kokanee Salmon swimming in their natural environment. The chamber's floor-to-ceiling windows give a glimpse into other creek dwellers, too. On our excursions there, we've spotted trout, crayfish, frogs, and insects.
When you're done taking in the fauna, you can take a stroll along one of Taylor Creek's trails to admire the marsh and beautiful flowers. There are four paths to choose from, all easy to complete and under a mile long. My little ones had the most fun on Smokey's Trail, as the Visitor Center rewards kids who complete the walk and can recall the safe campfire procedures listed along the way. Like Vikingsholm, Taylor Creek Visitor Center and Stream Profile Chamber are seasonal activities, open from Memorial Day through October.
In South Lake Tahoe, you'll find a multitude of excursions that will leave your kids eager to return. Here are our favorite South Lake Tahoe attractions that your family is also sure to enjoy!
Emerald Bay State Park
The saying, "Keep Tahoe Blue" hits deep while visiting Emerald Bay State Park. It's hard not to feel as if you've walked into a life-size painting with sights of blue-green waters, snow-capped peaks, and majestic pines merging together. We love to stop at Inspiration Point along Highway 89 on our way there, so we can take in the view of the entire park.
There are also six hiking trails to choose from, ranging from easy to hard. We've done the Eagle Falls Vista Point Loop, which is doable for all skill levels and has a waterfall along the way. If your family wants something more challenging, the Emerald Bay Rubicon Trail is a 10.2-mile round-trip hike that offers views of a lake and is ideal for bird watching. We relish getting out on the water at Emerald Bay Beach to go kayaking or SUPing at sunset.
Also located in Emerald Bay, Vikingsholm is an attraction of its own. It was designed by a Swedish architect in the 1920s and is considered one of the finest pieces of Scandinavian architecture in the U.S. I can attest to its grandeur, as walking through the 38-room mansion feels like stepping back in time. We've gone on the 30-minute tour of Vikingsholm in the summer months (it's only open from Memorial Day through September).
To reach Vikingsholm, you can take a 1-mile hike that departs from the Highway 89 parking lot. Be aware, though, that it's quite steep. Your family can also choose the 1.5-mile trail that departs from the Eagle Point Campfire campground center, which is not as steep. If you're not up for the hike, that's no problem. There's the choice to go by boat, too. For information regarding accessibility and ticket prices, check out the Sierra State Parks website.
Dinner at Forest Buffet in Harrah's
Come hungry, leave in a food coma. That's our motto when we dine at The Forest Buffet at Harrah's. We love coming to satisfy our gluttony during the winter, as it's a fun indoor activity that can easily occupy a couple of hours of time. The buffet is located on the top floor of the hotel/casino, with a cozy atmosphere. At 18 stories high, you'll have a view of the lake and the activity below as you munch your way through a bottomless meal.
The menu changes on a day-to-day basis but we've always seen Asian, Italian, and traditional American offerings, plus a dessert station. Of their specialties, we love the steamed crab legs, pizzas, and warm bread pudding. They don't take reservations, so lines may be long during peak travel times.
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When You Go
There are nonstop flights from LAX to RNO (Reno is the airport closest to South Lake Tahoe). Delta, JetBlue, United, Alaska, and American Airlines all offer direct flights that take an hour and a half or less. If you choose to go by car, it's a 7-hour and 15-minute drive via US-395 N.
Good priced flights are available through CheapOAir. Use the searchable box below to price flights for the time you'd like to go.
Where to Stay
The best part about South Lake Tahoe is its walkability. Whether you choose to stay near the lake or more inland, many attractions and dining options are reachable by foot. For a budget option, choose Big Pines Mountain House of Tahoe. It's within walking distance to the casinos, Heavenly Village, and Lakeside Beach. Lake Tahoe Resort Hotel is a great middle-range option. It's located along the lake and has its own restaurant, which we found convenient. For a pampered experience, book your stay at The Landing Resort and Spa. Rooms have lakefront views with a patio, and their spa offers facials and massages to help restore and rejuvenate you.
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