11 Top-Rated Things to Do in Tahoe City, CA

Written by Brad Lane
Updated May 11, 2023

Tahoe City is on the edge of North Lake Tahoe and is arguably the prettiest town on the water. With excellent lakeshore views, Tahoe City is also a hot spot for recreation in this adventurous part of California near the Nevada border.

Tahoe City, California in the winter
Tahoe City, California in the winter

Lake Tahoe itself, the largest alpine lake in North America, is easily accessible from town. Lake activities include boating, exploring the sandy shore, and scuba diving in nearby Emerald Bay.

But Tahoe City is so much more than a lake city. It's also a winter city, with places like Palisades Tahoe — formerly known as Squaw Valley and home to the 1960 Winter Olympics — less than 10 miles away. Several other ski resorts, local ski hills, and winter wonderlands also entice snow play.

And on top of it all, the undeniable community vibe of Tahoe City encourages repeat visits. Expect to meet smiling strangers while sightseeing around the charming downtown district. And for a few other reasons to stay awhile, check out our list of the top places to visit and things to do in Tahoe City.

1. Rent a Boat at the Tahoe City Marina

Tahoe City Marina
Tahoe City Marina

Highlights: Plenty of boat options to get on the water in minutes

In downtown Tahoe City, the Tahoe City Marina is one of the oldest marinas on the lake. It's also the top spot in town to rent a powerboat. It was once known as the Tahoe Boat Company, and this 80-plus-year-old marina now strives to connect the community with the water.

Today, the marina features rentable boat slips, powerboats, and fueling stations. The facility also has a 22-inch Catalina sailboat available for daily outings. And the surrounding business park caters to aquatic endeavors with fishing charters, sailing charters, and parasailing companies.

For those looking to rent other types of watercraft, places in town like Tahoe City Kayak & Paddleboard enable non-motorized adventures on the lake. This locally owned gear shop also features tours and paddling lessons.

2. Enjoy the Lake Tahoe Vibe at Commons Beach

Aerial view of Commons Beach
Aerial view of Commons Beach

Highlights: Popular beach park swarming with locals and tourists throughout the summer

Commons Beach is a four-acre park connecting downtown Tahoe City to the lakeshore. It's a popular spot to spend the day enjoying Lake Tahoe's sunny weather and scenic views. Leisurely activities often include sunbathing, picnicking, and strolling along the sandy shore.

The site also includes a large reservable picnic and barbecue area next to public playground equipment. The beach is well-suited for launching non-motorized watercraft, including kayaks and stand up paddleboards.

There's a community vibe at the beach, especially during its various special events in the summer. For 12 summer Sundays in a row, "Concerts at Commons Beach" take over the scenic environment with a wide range of musical lineups. Commons Beach also screens family-friendly movies on Wednesday evenings throughout the summer.

3. Hit the Winter Slopes

View of Palisades Tahoe ski resort and Lake Tahoe
View of Palisades Tahoe ski resort and Lake Tahoe

Highlights: Palisades Tahoe, among other resorts, caters to downhill winter fun

Despite its idyllic summer weather, the real excitement of Tahoe City comes to life in winter. With abundant snowfall and bluebird skies, the entire area is a mecca for all sorts of winter sports. And tourists often aim their skis and snowboards for downhill adventure.

Granlibakken Tahoe is the closest spot for downhill skiing, located near the town center and less than a half mile from the lakeshore. A ski and sled hill at the resort caters to young winter explorers and intermediate skiers. The real appeal of this historic ski hill also comes from the resort amenities available. Alongside cozy overnight stays, Granlibakken specializes in dining and après ski entertainment.

You can't talk about skiing in Tahoe North without mentioning Palisades Tahoe — home to the 1960 Winter Olympics. This internationally recognized ski resort is under a 10-minute drive from Tahoe City. Several reasons add up to make Palisades Tahoe one of California's best ski resorts, including the celebrated status as a Spring Skiing Capital.

4. Bike the Truckee River Bike Trail

Truckee River Bike Trail
Truckee River Bike Trail

Highlights: Nineteen-plus-mile paved lakeside trail for non-motorized transportation

The Truckee River Trail is a paved, off-road route that runs next to the Truckee River shortly after it exits the lake near the town center. The trail spans over seven miles between Tahoe City and Palisades Tahoe Resort. The path is a rail-to-trail conversion and is flat and wide enough to support the surplus of two-way traffic in the summer months.

The Truckee River Bike Trail is a fun way to reach Palisades Tahoe via bicycle, and it's simply a scenic journey on its own. Several pull-offs line the trail to offer shade and gorgeous views.

Within Tahoe City, the Truckee River Bike Trail connects to the paved Lakeside Trails spanning 19 miles along the shoreline. For those traveling without bicycles, these trails are just as much enjoyed by walking or running.

Rentals are also available in Tahoe City. The locally-owned Olympic Bike Shop has a hefty selection of daily rentals. Among their rental stock are performance road bikes, cruisers, tandem bicycles, and trailers.

5. Day Trip to Emerald Bay

Aerial view of Emerald Bay
Aerial view of Emerald Bay

Highlights: Popular state park home to aptly named Inspiration Point and Vikingsholm Mansion

For any extended trip in Tahoe City, plan for a day of driving south along the shoreline to Emerald Bay. This scenic cove is the only inlet on Lake Tahoe. Because of its slightly shallower nature, a verdant green tone tints the waters. The aptly named Inspiration Point, off Highway 89, affords a dazzling view of this aquamarine landscape.

Inspiration Point is great for a quick visit. From the high vantage viewing area, visitors see the entire Bay, including the only island in Lake Tahoe, Fannette Island. And sunsets at Inspiration Point do more than inspire. For more extended visits, fun things to do lace this entire area of the lake.

The encompassing Emerald Bay State Park features campgrounds, hiking trails, and the historic Vikingsholm Mansion, a stone and Scandinavian-inspired house built in the late 1920s. Tours of the mansion are available throughout the summer.

Emerald Bay is also a designated underwater state park, appealing to scuba divers from across the state.

One of the most iconic hiking trails within the state park, Eagle Falls Trail, begins near the Vikingsholm parking lot. This approximately two-mile round trip passes by rushing waterfalls before approaching the alpine Eagle Lake. Other well-trodden hiking trails in the area include the Rubicon Trail, which extends north to connect with D.L. Bliss State Park.

6. Hit the Links at Tahoe City Golf Course

Canada geese on Tahoe City Golf Course
Canada geese on Tahoe City Golf Course | rulenumberone2 / photo modified

Highlights: Popular public course with mountain views

Playing nine holes at the Tahoe City Golf Course is one of the finest ways to enjoy the nice weather and views of Tahoe City. This community golf course was established in 1918 and has been near the town center for over 100 years. It's been a public course throughout its history, and public tee-times are available online or over the phone.

Notable guests at the golf course have included Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, and Frank Sinatra, alongside the rest of the Rat Pack. It's much more common today to see families and not-as-famous friends on the course enjoying a casual round.

Tahoe City Golf Course is a par-33, nine-hole course. Lake views with mountain backdrops line this relatively short layout. During the spring, a popular adventure itinerary includes skiing in the morning and golfing in the late afternoon.

Other amenities include the on-site Cafe Zenon, a driving range, and available golf carts. The course also hosts clinics, special programs, and public tournaments throughout the year.

Address: 251 N Lake Boulevard, Tahoe City, California

7. Stay Warm at the Tahoe City Winter Sports Park

Ice skaters
Ice skaters

Highlights: Winter rentals, ice skating rink, ski trails, & sledding

Alongside downhill skiing, Tahoe City has plenty of other activities to keep the blood pumping throughout the winter. The Tahoe City Winter Sports Park is one central location for cold weather activity. Here, alongside a fleet of snow-ready rentals, everyday activities include sledding, ice-skating, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing.

The Winter Sports Park is near the center of town, occupying much of the same area as the Tahoe City Golf Course. The facility's Ice Rink is a central tourist attraction, with ice skate rentals available. The Ice Rink also hosts a Youth Hockey League for elementary-grade students. Similarly, the sledding hill at Winter Sports Park caters to children ages 10 and younger.

The facility's four kilometers of cross-country ski trails also draw a lot of interest. These trails are groomed daily throughout the winter. Snowshoes are also welcome on the route. The Winter Sports Park has rentals available on the weekend, but visitors are also encouraged to bring their own equipment.

8. Whitewater Raft on the Truckee River

Truckee River near Tahoe City
Truckee River near Tahoe City

Highlights: Scenic outlet of Lake Tahoe popular for white water rafting

Several streams and tributaries add water to Lake Tahoe, but the massive lake only has one outlet: the Truckee River. And the river exits the lake through the Lake Tahoe Dam near the town center.

The river is a prime source of recreation, particularly in the summer months, as a way to cool off. Besides admiring it from the shores, one of the most popular ways to enjoy the water is aboard an inflatable raft.

The local Truckee River Raft Co. offers a popular trip spanning the first five miles of the river. The trip navigates easy Class I waters and is self-guided, with Truckee River Raft Co. providing the rafts and shuttle service. It's the perfect choice for families or anyone looking for a relaxing river trip.

More adrenaline-pumping river trips are also available on the Truckee. After the river flows north past the city of Truckee, the section between Boca and Floriston is lauded for its Class III white-water action. Guiding companies like Tahoe Whitewater Tours offer half-day trips on this section and full-day trips that stretch into Nevada.

9. Spend Time at the Gatekeeper's Museum

Lake Tahoe Dam and William B. Layton Park
Lake Tahoe Dam and William B. Layton Park

Highlights: Historic property-turned-museum next to Lake Tahoe Dam in Layton Park

The North Lake Tahoe Historical Society operates this local museum on a wooded three-acre lot next to the Lake Tahoe Dam. It offers a fun way to spend some time learning about the local history of the region. And the surrounding William B. Layton Park provides an enjoyable lakeside setting for time spent outdoors.

Several exhibits, media, and artifacts fill the museum with impressive displays throughout the two-story building. The 1960 Winter Olympics at Squaw Valley has permanent display space alongside exhibits about the region's ski history. Black bears are also well represented at the museum, with information on the local population.

The North Lake Tahoe Historical Society also operates the Watson Cabin Museum north of town. Visitors can tour this antiquated abode, built in 1909 and now the city's oldest standing structure. For more history along the lakeshore, drive south to places like the Hellman-Ehrman Mansion or the Vikingsholm Mansion.

Address: 130 W Lake Boulevard, Tahoe City, California

10. Cruise Lake Tahoe on the Tahoe Gal

Paddle wheeler on Lake Tahoe
Paddle wheeler on Lake Tahoe

Highlights: Fun sternwheeler offering various guided cruises across the lake

The Tahoe Gal cruise ship offers a memorable and relaxing way to get onto Lake Tahoe. This locally owned paddle-wheeler is 64 feet long and can accommodate up to 120 guests. Cruises depart daily from Tahoe City and navigate the lake's north and west shores, often with stops at the nearby Emerald Bay.

Tahoe Gal offers various types of cruises throughout the year. Some standard trips include a shoreline brunch cruise, a lunch cruise to Emerald Bay, and a sunset dinner cruise. Meals cost extra on the cruises and are served by a professional waitstaff. Each cruise also comes with guided narration from the boat captain.

Specialty cruises include a monthly Full Moon Cruise and a Fireworks Cruise on Independence Day. Other events and attractions on the boat include occasional live music and comedy shows. The ship also has venues for private parties, including the Commodore's Salon, which comfortably accommodates 25 people.

11. Get off the Ground at Tree Top Adventure Parks

Highlights: Aerial obstacle course operated by trained professionals

Wobbly bridges, roped nets, and a belay line connect the several tree platforms at Tree Top Adventure Parks. And Tahoe City has an abundance of these elevated obstacle courses. Currently, Tree Top operates three distinct aerial adventure parks in the area.

One of the aerial parks is in the central part of the city, behind Granlibakken Tahoe. This popular spot features ten unique courses, from beginner to expert. In total, the park has 97 tree platforms and over 60 unique bridges between them.

Another aerial park is at Squaw Valley, and the third is in North Tahoe Regional Park, south of town. Each of these adventure-filled places to visit also features unique obstacles and gorgeous views. Typical visits to any aerial park include a 15-minute orientation followed by two hours of self-guided adventure.

Map of Things to Do in Tahoe City, CA

Best Time to Visit Tahoe City

The best time to visit Tahoe City is the summer months, including June, July, and August. This time of year offers the longest days and the warmest weather for enjoying the beach and lake. The summer months are notoriously packed with tourists in Tahoe City, making things like hotels, campgrounds, and restaurant seating harder to come by.

The shoulder seasons are also great times to visit Tahoe City with fewer crowds. March, April, and May comprise the extended spring season. It's a bit chilly this time of year for water activities, but the town and surrounding national forest spring to life. It's similarly chilly in September and October, but arguably even more scenic when autumn overtakes the shores.

The best time to visit Lake Tahoe for winter sports is during the months of December, January, February, and March. The downhill skiing season at Palisades Tahoe typically runs longer, spanning from Thanksgiving all the way through April. Other activities like cross-country skiing and snowshoeing have a similar season.