Here are Lake Tahoe’s best beaches (along with parking tips)

With soft golden sand and clear, blue waters reflecting the rugged peaks of the Sierra Nevada, Lake Tahoe’s beaches are astonishingly beautiful.

There’s a catch, though: of this alpine lake’s 72 miles of shoreline, only 34 miles are open to the public. And that public shoreline is in high demand indeed; Lake Tahoe’s beaches are often at capacity from Memorial Day through the end of September. 

To put it mildly, public beach access here can be confusing to first-time visitors. Which is why we’ve put together this list of the best beaches in Lake Tahoe – including tips for how to gain entry.

Sand Harbor State Park is picture-perfect © tusharkoley / Shutterstock

1. Sand Harbor State Park 

Chances are you’ve seen it in pictures. Sand Harbor’s sandy coves, enormous boulders and bright turquoise water make it one of the most photographed spots on the lake. One of four Nevada state parks in and around Lake Tahoe, Sand Harbor is home to several beaches. Main Beach is a 2500-ft-long strip of wide, golden sand. Just north of the visitor center, small coves with dramatic rock formations offer visitors platforms from which to jump in the water or soak up the sun. 

Sand Harbor is one of Lake Tahoe’s most accessible beaches, and features a long, wheelchair-friendly boardwalk that overlooks the lake. Other amenities include an underwater dive park, picnic areas, barbecue grills, restrooms, a visitor center, seasonal kayak rentals and a boat launch.

In summer, it also plays host to the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival, which produces Broadway musicals, orchestras and tribute shows, in addition to works by the Bard. 

Planning tip: If you’re visiting during high season, it’s wise to arrive before the gates open (usually 7am in summer). Once the parking lot has filled, the entrance won’t reopen until around 5pm, regardless of how many people leave in the interim. 

Parking is $10 for vehicles with Nevada plates and $15 for everyone else. If you’re attending a festival show, you can purchase parking in advance – which is only valid after 5pm on the day of your performance. 

A child jumps into the water at Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe, California, USA
Taking the plunge into the waters of Emerald Bay always delights © VAWiley / Getty Images

2. Emerald Bay State Park 

Emerald Bay State Park, on the California side of the lake, is rugged and wild. A highlight here is the unusual Vikingsholm Castle, a historic Scandinavian-style estate you can tour. The wide, sandy beach in front of the house is a popular place for picnics and swimming, offering stellar views of the bay and Fannette Island (the only island in the lake). A second beach is located a mile north, adjacent to a boat-in campground. 

Planning tip: You’ll have to hike about a mile down a steep hill to get to the beaches of Emerald Bay State Park – which means you’ll also have to hike a mile to get back up. Fortunately, there are restrooms, a seasonal visitor center and kayak rentals by the shore. 

Parking is $5 per vehicle and is extremely competitive from Memorial Day through the end of September. If you can’t be there first thing in the morning, space typically opens up again after 3pm. 

A gorgeous sunset reflects off of Lake Tahoe at Kiva Beach in the summer near South Lake Tahoe, California
Kiva Beach showcases Lake Tahoe’s natural wonders © Rachid Dahnoun / Lake Tahoe

3. Kiva Beach

Comprised of sand and rock, and boasting expansive views of Mt Tallac and the Sierra Nevada, 600ft-long Kiva is the perhaps the most dog-friendly beach in Lake Tahoe. With a creek, marsh and forest close by, it’s a great place for enjoying nature. Seasonal amenities include restrooms, a picnic shelter and a beach volleyball court. Kiva Beach is generally less crowded than other Lake Tahoe beaches, so if you’re planning a last-minute trip to enjoy some sun and sand, it’s a good bet. 

Planning tip: Dogs must remain leashed at all times. Though parking is limited, Kiva Beach is only a half-mile walk from Taylor Creek Visitor Center and accessible via the Pope-Baldwin Bike Path. 

Colorful stand-up paddleboards on the beach at Commons Beach, Tahoe City, Lake Tahoe, California, USA
Commons Beach in Tahoe City always plays host to a lively scene © Autumn Cruz / Sacramento Bee / Tribune News Service via Getty Images

4. Commons Beach 

The four-acre Commons Beach Park in downtown Tahoe City is one of the liveliest places on the Lake Tahoe waterfront. In summers, free Sunday-afternoon concerts and Wednesday-night movies on the beach rank among the best free things to do in Lake Tahoe. In addition to hosting some of the lake’s most popular events, Commons Beach offers picnic tables, barbecue grills, a climbing wall, a playground and a sandy beach for swimming and sunbathing. 

Planning tip: Parking is free but limited. Instead of driving yourself, we recommend using TART Connect, North Lake Tahoe’s free, curb-to-curb, on-demand ride service. 

Sunset at Chimney Beach, Lake Tahoe, Nevada, USA
Chimney Beach is well worth the short hike from the parking area © Frankie WO / Shutterstock

5. Chimney Beach

Chimney Beach lies on national forest land, about two miles south of Sand Harbor State Park. The parking lot is on the opposite side of the trailhead on Hwy 28; from there, it’s a steep, half-mile hike to get down to the beach. (You’ll find no amenities by the shore – but there are portable restrooms and trash cans in the parking lot.) The beach itself is lovely, a curved strip of sand with lagoons and colossal boulders on and off the lakeshore. It takes its name from the stone chimney standing on the sand, which is all that remains of an old caretaker’s cabin. Since it’s off the beaten path, this beach doesn’t tend to get as crowded as its neighbor Sand Harbor. 

Local tip: A trail connects Chimney Beach to Secret Cove, Boaters Beach, Creek Beach and Whale Beach. All are lovely, with the same turquoise waters and smooth rock features that mark this part of the lake. Due to their remoteness, these coves are usually frequented by locals who have long treated them as clothing-optional beaches. 

Add a dose of luxury to your beach day at a hotel-run private beach © courtesy Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe

6. Private Lake Tahoe beaches accessible to hotel guests

Public beach access can be tricky during summer, but there is a workaround. If you want to avoid long lines and uncertainty about parking – and you’re willing to pay for the privilege – a few Lake Tahoe hotels provide private beach access to guests.

For the ultimate in luxury, rent a speedboat to explore Lake Tahoe from the Ritz-Carlton’s Lake Club © courtesy Ritz-Carlton

The Ritz-Carlton Lake Tahoe operates a Lake Club with a private beach. Exclusive to hotel guests who pay an extra fee, the Lake Club has many perks, including a shuttle service, kayak and SUP rentals, chef-prepared food and soft drinks (alcoholic beverages are an additional charge), an outdoor whirlpool spa and access to luxury speedboat rentals from MasterCraft. 

At the Hyatt Regency, splurge on a private beach cabana © courtesy Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe

The Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort, Spa, and Casino is located across the street from a private beach in Incline Village. Hotel guests can reserve complimentary lounge chairs and cabanas; the resort also opens a seasonal open-air restaurant, seasonal floating bar and year-round fine-dining restaurant on the waterfront. 

The pool at Edgewood Lodge, Lake Tahoe’s only true lakeside hotel © courtesy Edgewood Lodge

Edgewood Tahoe Resort is one of the few true waterfront hotels in Lake Tahoe. Its long, sandy beach features lawn games and Adirondack chairs. Lounge chairs and rental cabanas are available a few steps away, at the pool. 

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