Beach Time in the Tahoe Sierra

The Ehrman Mansion above the beach at Sugar Pine Point State Park on the West Shore. | Katherine E. Hill

Summer is here and it is time to pull out the beach balls, slather on the sunscreen and enjoy the warm days of summer — a welcome reprieve after a long, cold, wet winter. It always seems to take a long time to arrive, but once summer is here it is a whirlwind.


There is a short window of warm weather and a fleeting chance to take advantage of everything the Tahoe Sierra has to offer. Out of all of the summer activity options, spending time at the beach is at the top of the list for most families. Luckily, the region is home to an abundance of gorgeous beaches. Here’s a few of my favorites:

Click on Beaches & Park under the Out & About menu for more local beaches to visit.

Commons Beach

Commons Beach is in the heart of downtown Tahoe City. The water is shallow at this sandy beach and is a great place for kids to swim and climb on rocks. The sand leads into a large grassy lawn perfect for throwing a Frisbee, playing soccer or relaxing on a blanket. Picnic tables are scattered throughout the park, which is often the site for weddings or family reunions. The park also has a large playground with features for kids of all ages, including a sand pit and rock-climbing feature. The lakeside bike path runs through the park linking the North Shore, West Shore and the Truckee River. Rent a kayak or paddleboard, stay for the Concerts at Commons Beach on Sundays until Sept. 1, or check out Tahoe City Farmers’ Market on Thursdays until Oct. 10. There is endless opportunity for endless family fun.

There is a small parking lot next to the beach, but it fills up fast. More parking is available on North Tahoe Boulevard and in the public parking lots on Grove Street and Jackpine Street. Better yet, park your car and ride your bike or walk to the park. |

Donner Lake

Donner Memorial State Park wraps around the eastern edge of Donner Lake. The beautiful beaches are a mix of grass, sand and rock and the shoreline has a gentle slope — an ideal spot for kids learning how to swim and for launching a kayaks or paddleboards. Majestic trees dot the shoreline creating a shady respite from the sun. The outlet to Donner Lake, Donner Creek, bisects the shore and is usually a fun place to play. During much of the summer, the water in the creek is usually low, especially after peak snow melt. To take full advantage of what the park has to offer, add a museum tour, a trek on one of the many trails or camp overnight.

Paid parking is available inside the park, if you want to park close to the water, but you can sometimes find free parking along Donner Pass Road just between the entrance to the park and the Tahoe Donner Marina. |

Sugar Pine Point

Ed Z’Berg Sugar Pine Point State Park is located on the West Shore of Lake Tahoe. Once a summer home for the Washoe people, the park is now a popular beach destination. The sandy beach stretches 2 miles along the edge of the park and is easily accessible from the parking areas or the campground. The beach has a graduated incline, which creates great places to swim, kayak, paddleboard or lounge on an inflatable raft. The beach is linked to the rest of the park through a large network of trails. Take a tour of the Hellman-Ehrmann Mansion, visit the Nature Center or camp overnight to take full advantage of what the park has to offer.

Paid parking is available in the park. |

What to bring

The obvious stuff: sunscreen, beach and water toys, towels, food and drinks, something to sit on or lay on, and a sturdy shade structure; it can get windy by the lake.

Sunburn and dehydration can occur quickly at high altitudes because the atmosphere is thinner and can’t block UV rays as well as at sea level, so take precautions.

Drink lots of water, take lots of breaks in the shade and reapply sunscreen every two hours; more frequently for little kids. Be mindful of the early signs of dehydration or heat illnesses like headaches, dizziness, nausea, muscle cramps, fatigue, pale skin or profuse sweating.

What to wear

A swimsuit, of course, but consider wearing a swim shirt with an UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) rating for extra sun protection. Water shoes with toe protection are highly recommended because many of the area’s beaches are rocky and the sand can be hot and quickly burn feet.

Wear a hat to help prevent sunburn to the face and neck and reduce your body temperature, lowering the risk of heat illnesses.