14 Best Sights in Lake Tahoe, California

Emerald Bay State Park

Fodor's choice
Emerald Bay State Park
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Millions of years ago, a massive glacier carved this 3-mile-long and 1-mile-wide fjord-like inlet. Famed for its jewel-like shape and colors, the bay surrounds Fannette, Lake Tahoe's only island. Highway 89 curves high above the lake here; from the Emerald Bay lookout, the park's centerpiece, you can survey the whole scene. The bay is one of Lake Tahoe's don't-miss views. The light is best in mid- to late morning, when the bay's colors pop.

Heavenly Gondola

Fodor's choice
Heavenly Gondola
Karin Hildebrand Lau / Shutterstock

Whether you ski or not, you'll appreciate the impressive view of Lake Tahoe from the Heavenly Gondola. Its eight-passenger cars travel from Heavenly Village 2.4 miles up the mountain in 15–20 minutes. When the weather's fine, you can hike around the mountaintop and have lunch at Tamarack Lodge. The thrilling gravity-powered Ridge Rider alpine roller coaster, which zips past boulders and trees, closed in 2023 because of snow damage but was expected to reopen in 2024.

Tallac Historic Site

Fodor's choice

Three historic mansions—the Pope House, the Baldwin Museum, and the Heller Estate—open in late spring and summer, but you can stroll the grounds or picnic year-round. George S. Pope, who made his money in shipping and lumber and played host to 1920s America's business and cultural elite, commissioned the magnificent 1894 Pope House. The Baldwin Museum is in the estate that once belonged to entrepreneur "Lucky" Baldwin; today it houses a collection of family memorabilia and Washoe Indian artifacts.

With a spectacular floor-to-ceiling stone fireplace, the Heller Estate, also known as Valhalla, was occupied for years by Walter and Claire Heller. (Tidbit: after their divorce, each visited the property on alternate weekends, though she held the title.) The estate's Grand Hall, Grand Lawn, and a boathouse refurbished as a theater host the summertime Valhalla Art, Music and Theatre Festival ( valhallatahoe.com) of concerts, plays, and cultural activities.

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D.L. Bliss State Park

This park, which shares 6 miles of shoreline with Emerald Bay State Park, takes its name from Duane LeRoy Bliss, a 19th-century lumber magnate who once owned nearly 75% of Tahoe's lakefront. Emerald Bay and D.L. Bliss parks cover 1,830 acres, 744 of which the Bliss family donated to the state. At the north end of Bliss is Rubicon Point, which overlooks one of the lake's deepest spots.

Short trails lead to an old lighthouse and the 250,000-pound Balancing Rock, perched atop a fist of granite. The 4.5-mile Rubicon Trail—a premier Tahoe hike—leads to Vikingsholm (part of Emerald Bay State Park), providing stunning views along the way. Two white-sand beaches front some of Tahoe's warmest water. When the Bliss roads close for the winter, park in the visitor center lot and hike 1 mile to the Rubicon trailhead.

Donner Memorial State Park and Emigrant Trail Museum

Donner Memorial State Park and Emigrant Trail Museum
Jeffrey M. Frank / Shutterstock

The park and museum commemorate the 89 members of the Donner Party, westward-bound pioneers who became trapped in the Sierra in the winter of 1846–47 in snow 22 feet deep. Barely more than half survived, some by resorting to cannibalism. The absorbing Emigrant Trail Museum in the visitor center contains exhibits about the Donner Party, regional Native Americans, and railroad and transportation development in the area. In the park, you can picnic, hike, camp, and go boating, fishing, and waterskiing in summer; winter brings cross-country skiing and snowshoeing on groomed trails.

Ed Z'berg Sugar Pine Point State Park

Summer visitors love to hike, swim, fish, and tour the Hellman-Ehrman Mansion at this park named for a state politician who championed conservation, but it's also popular in winter, when a small campground remains open. Nearly 12 miles of cross-country ski and snowshoe trails allow beginners and experienced enthusiasts alike to whoosh through pine forests and glide past the lake. Rangers lead full-moon snowshoe tours from January to March. With 2,000 densely forested acres and nearly 2 miles of shore frontage, this is Lake Tahoe's largest state park.

Gatekeeper's Museum

This museum preserves a little-known part of the region's history. Between 1912 and 1968, the gatekeeper who lived on this site was responsible for monitoring the lake level, using a winch system (still used today and visible just outside the museum) to keep the water at the correct height. Also here, the Marion Steinbach Indian Basket Museum displays intricate baskets from 85 tribes.

Heavenly Village

This lively complex at the base of the Heavenly Gondola has good shopping, an arcade for kids, a cinema, a skating rink in winter, miniature golf in summer, and the Loft for magic shows and other live entertainment. Base Camp Pizza Co., Azul Latin Kitchen, and Kalani's at Lake Tahoe for seafood stand out among the several restaurants.

Hellman-Ehrman Mansion

A 1903 stone-and-shingle summer residence furnished in period style, the mansion, originally called Pine Lodge, was erected by businessman I.W. Hellman of San Francisco and inherited by his daughter, Florence Hellman Ehrman. The structure, designed by Wayne Danforth Bliss (the son of nearby D.L. Bliss State Park's namesake), had electric lights and full indoor plumbing, the height of modernity for its day. Docents lead tours in summer. The estate and grounds are open year-round.

7595 Hwy. 89, Tahoma, CA, 96142, USA
530-525–7982-summer
Sights Details
Rate Includes: $10 per vehicle, day-use; mansion tour $15 (purchase tickets at Sugar Point\'s nature center), No tours Oct.–late May

Kings Beach State Recreation Area

The north shore's 28-acre Kings Beach State Recreation Area, one of the largest such areas on the lake, is open year-round. The sandy beach gets crowded in summer with people swimming, sunbathing, Jet Skiing, riding in paddleboats, spiking volleyballs, and tossing Frisbees. If you're going to spend the day, come early to snag a table in the picnic area; there's also a good playground. Amenities: food and drink; parking (fee); toilets; water sports. Best for: sunrise; sunset; swimming; windsurfing.

8318 N. Lake Blvd., Kings Beach, CA, 96143, USA
530-523–3203
Sights Details
Rate Includes: $10 parking fee ($5 off-season)

Taylor Creek Visitor Center

You can visit the site of a Washoe Indian settlement and walk self-guided trails through meadow, marsh, and forest at this U.S. Forest Service center. Forest Service naturalists organize discovery walks and evening programs in summer, and you may see spawning kokanee salmon digging their nests in fall. By 2024, extensive repairs should be completed to the Stream Profile Chamber, the Rainbow Trail's underground display with windows right into Taylor Creek.

Van Sickle Bi-State Park

Heavenly Gondola cars glide above this 756-acre day-use-only park that straddles the California–Nevada border steps south of Heavenly Village. Several trails wind up the mountain to sigh-worthy vistas. Colorful spring wildflowers and fall foliage provide further incentive to bring a picnic and hike, bike, or ride horseback. The park's Rim Trail Connector leads to the Tahoe Rim Trail, which for more than 165 miles follows the ridge lines of the mountains surrounding Lake Tahoe.

Vikingsholm

This 38-room estate was completed in 1929, a precise copy of a 1,200-year-old Viking castle. Its original owner, Lora Knight, furnished it with Scandinavian antiques and hired artisans to build period reproductions. The sod roof sprouts wildflowers each spring. A steep 1-mile-long trail from the Emerald Bay lookout leads down to Vikingsholm. The hike back up is challenging, especially for those not acclimated to the elevation, although there are benches and stone culverts to rest on. (Avoid the hike by taking a cruise; check the website for vendor information.)

At the 150-foot peak of Fannette Island are the ruins of a stone structure called the Tea House, built for Knight's guests to enjoy refreshments. The island is off-limits from February through mid-June to protect nesting Canada geese. The rest of the year, it's open for day use.

Village at Palisades Tahoe

The centerpiece of Olympic Valley is a pedestrian mall at the base of several four-story ersatz Bavarian stone-and-timber buildings, where you'll find restaurants, high-end condo rentals, boutiques, and cafés.