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This Californian mountain town, located 190 miles from San Francisco on the Nevada border, draws travelers for its diverse attractions and activities: skiing and snowboarding in the winter, swimming and wakeboarding in the summer, and live entertainment year-round. Incorporated in 1965, South Lake Tahoe came to life at the heels of a casino boom in neighboring Stateline, Nevada, and the same enthusiastic spirit can be seen today in its vibrant nightlife venues, tight-knit Tahoe Keys community, and Fourth of July celebrations. South Lake, as locals call it, is also a popular destination for city dwellers craving a quiet weekend in a lakefront cabin or woodsy retreat. And it’s all set against a panoramic backdrop of glacier-carved mountains, sky-scraping sugar pines, and a mesmerizing Neptune-blue lake — the largest alpine lake in North America.
The nearest passenger airport is 58 miles away at Reno-Tahoe International Airport (RNO). The South Tahoe Airporter and private transportation services offer regular rides between the airport and South Tahoe hotels. Another option is Sacramento International Airport (SMF), about 110 miles away. To get from there to the lake, your best option is renting a car. Having your own car gives you the freedom to access the region's world-class nature. Winter road conditions in these mountains are nothing to take lightly: If you’re traveling by car in a snowstorm, snow tires or chains are required to drive on many roads.
Sitting at an elevation of 6,200 feet, South Lake Tahoe has a highland climate, meaning the weather changes dramatically with the season. Dependably hot and arid summer days (the average temperature in August is 75 degrees Fahrenheit) are ideal for a range of water sports on the lake. But don't be fooled by the scorching days, as nights can be chilly — on average, 227 mornings a year fall below freezing. Winter sports fans take note: The snowiest month is March, with an average snowfall of 74 inches, and ample bluebird days for hitting the slopes with your sunglasses on. Runs are typically open until May. The coldest month is February, with an average temperature of 39 degrees.
Given the park’s name, it should come as no surprise that this piercingly blue bay is a South Lake Tahoe must-do. You have several options for ways to admire the natural beauty here: pull-out vistas on the roads, hike-in or boat-in camping, or California's first underwater trail, which guides scuba divers and snorkelers along submerged barges. The park also contains Vikingsholm, one of the most renowned examples of Scandinavian architecture in the Western Hemisphere.
As the largest beach in South Lake Tahoe, El Dorado boasts at least a weekend's worth of activities: shaded picnic tables with barbecues, kayak rentals, a boat launch with floating dock, and prime shoreline real estate for throwing down your beach towel for the day. And it's the perfect place to catch the sunset year-round.
One of the best ways to take in South Lake Tahoe's natural beauty is by cruising along this scenic 11-mile-long bike trail. The combination of paved and dirt trails are relatively flat, leading cyclists past restaurants and through forests and meadows, and even over the state line into Nevada. It also connects to other bike paths for a choose-your-own-adventure day.