Lake Tahoe is stunning. As a travel writer, I’ve traveled extensively over the last ten years, and I have yet to find a mountain destination anywhere in the world that has everything Lake Tahoe has to offer while also being so strikingly beautiful.
Located on the California-Nevada border, northeast of Sacramento, Lake Tahoe is a popular destination for adventure lovers, families and anyone wanting to reconnect with nature in the great outdoors.
Known for its crystal blue water, beautiful beaches, excellent hiking and world class ski resorts, Lake Tahoe attracts over 2.7 million visitors annually and has been consistently ranked in the top five best places to visit in California, top five best adventure vacations in the U.S.A., and it was rated “America’s best lake” by USA Today.
From my experience being somewhat of a local, I put together this Lake Tahoe guide to help you make the most of your visit to this incredible destination!
Where To Stay In Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe offers an array of cute cabins and luxury vacation homes on both the north and south shore.
I personally prefer to stay on the north shore in Carnelian Bay or Tahoe City when I visit Lake Tahoe. This area is stunning and I love being close to the lake while also having access to the great restaurants in these cute, little mountain towns.
For our week-long family getaway last summer, I booked this six-bedroom contemporary Carnelian Bay cabin (featured in the video above).
Upon arrival, it was excited to find that the cabin was exactly as advertised – fully remodeled with an array of awesome amenities.
The location is also killer, walking distance to the lake, and a short drive to public beaches, Northstar Resort, golfing, and excellent restaurants.
Mark, the property manager, was very attentive and quick to respond to all our requests. This is the perfect rental for your next family or group getaway to North Lake Tahoe!
- Location: Carnelian Bay
- Sleeps: 16 guests
- Size: 6 bedrooms / 12 beds / 5.5 bath
- Price: Check latest prices
I also put together this list of the 20 Best AirBnBs in Lake Tahoe so you can quickly and easily look through the best rental options for large and small groups on the north shore and the south shore!
North Lake Tahoe Versus South Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe is one big, beautiful lake, but it is often referred to by its two different regions – North Lake Tahoe and South Lake Tahoe.
Both regions are beautiful and have many similarities as far as having great rental options, access to the lake, beautiful beaches and world class ski resorts. But North Lake Tahoe and South Lake Tahoe are also very different.
North Lake Tahoe aka Tahoe North
North Lake Tahoe is the quieter side of the lake and is arguably the most beautiful region.
North Lake Tahoe is made up of small cities and cute mountain towns including: Incline Village; Sunnyside/Tahoe City; Kings Beach; Carnelian Bay; Crystal Bay; Tahoe Vista; and Truckee, and there is world class skiing here at Squaw Valley, Northstar and other north shore resorts.
Truckee has a population of just over 16,000 people and is located about 12 miles north of the lake. Truckee used to be a mining town and still exudes old school rustic charm and a slow paced lifestyle. In fact all of North Lake Tahoe embraces a low paced, relaxed vibe so much so that locals here often refer to it as “Tahoe Time.”
North Lake Tahoe is more pristine, less crowded and feels more connected to nature compared to South Lake Tahoe. But the south shore also has some unique pluses to offer.
South Lake Tahoe aka Tahoe South
South Lake Tahoe is basically the Las Vegas of Lake Tahoe. South Lake Tahoe is on the Nevada side so if you like to gamble this is the region you should stay in as there are an array of casinos to be found here along with a bustling nightlife!
The south shore of Lake Tahoe includes South Lake Tahoe, Meyers, Stateline, Zephyr Cove, Glenbrook, Emerald Bay, and the Markleeville and Kirkwood areas. South Lake Tahoe is the largest city around Lake Tahoe with a permanent resident population of just over 21,000 people.
There is world class skiing on the south shore at Heavenly Resort along with an array of great restaurants, bars, and shops. If you prefer to have all the amenities of a big city during your mountain vacation, then South Lake Tahoe is for you.
How To Get To Lake Tahoe
As both a traveler and someone who works in the travel industry, finding a way to travel safely has become a top priority for me, which is another reason why Lake Tahoe is an ideal destination – it is accessible by car from everywhere in California.
Lake Tahoe is just a 3.5 hour drive from San Francisco and 7.5 hour drive from Los Angeles.
If you opt to fly you can fly into the nearby Reno-Tahoe International Airport (RNO) and rent a car at the airport. From the Reno Airport it is an easy 45 minute drive to Truckee, a 50 minute drive to Incline Village, a 1 hour drive to Tahoe City and a 1 hour drive to Carnelian Bay.
Almost anywhere in North Lake Tahoe can be reached by car from the Reno Airport in an hour or less, and you can drive to South Lake Tahoe from the airport in about 1 hour 25 minutes.
Things To Do In Lake Tahoe
There is so much to do and see in Lake Tahoe! This is by no means an extensive list but here some of the top activities in North Lake Tahoe and South Lake Tahoe that will keep you busy during your stay here.
- Hiking – There is great hiking all around Lake Tahoe. If you’re looking for a moderately easy hike in North Lake Tahoe try Tahoe Rim Trail to Picnic Rock Viewpoint which takes about 45 minutes and offers incredible views at the top! Check out All Trails for a list of the best hikes in South Lake Tahoe and the best hikes in North Lake Tahoe.
- Biking – In the summer months there is world class mountain biking at many of the ski resorts, and there are also bike paths that run along the lake, so you can enjoy biking through the mountains or around the lake with your family.
- Ice Skating & Rollerblading – The Village at Northstar Resort has an outdoor rink that is used for ice skating in the winter and rollerblading in the summer. This is a great place to let your kids play while you enjoy cocktails rink side.
- Boating – Rent a boat and spend a fun day out on the water exploring Lake Tahoe’s beautiful coves and beaches.
- Water Skiing and Wakeboarding – Lake Tahoe is an excellent lake to water ski or wakeboard or inner tube!
- Beach Day – If you don’t rent a boat but still want to be on the water you can drive to one of the many public beaches and enjoy a fun beach day lakeside. In the summer months parking can be hard to find at the public beaches so go early.
- Swimming – Lake Tahoe’s average surface temperature in the summer is 63°F, and can drop to 53°F just 18 inches below the surface. For young children who will likely want to spend hours splashing in the lake I suggest bringing a wetsuit. They might not need it but it’s nice to have just in case.
- Emerald Bay State Park – This inlet along the southwest shore of Lake Tahoe is known for its colorful granite cliffs and stunning panoramas. Carved millions of years ago by passing glaciers, Emerald Bay State Park is a must-see.
- Donner Memorial State Park & Museum – This park offers hiking, camping, fishing, boating, the Emigrant Trail Museum & a historic monument.
- Float The Truckee River – In the summer months you can float the Truckee Rivers! Start in Tahoe City at Truckee River Raft Co. and end at River Ranch Restaurant & Lodge. The company takes the rafts from you at the end and returns them while you take a shuttle back to the point of origin. To save money, you can also just buy individual inner tubes at the gas station across the street from the raft rental places, but then you also have to make sure you have 2 cars; leave one car at the end point and one at the starting point. It’s about a 3 hour raft ride, slow and mellow.
- Art Walks & Art Tours – In the summer months there are art walks and art tours in North Lake Tahoe and South Lake Tahoe. These events are being updated constantly so do a quick internet search to find art events in the area you are staying.
- Golfing – There are an array of great golf course courses in Lake Tahoe including Incline Village Championship Course in North Lake Tahoe and Edgewood Golf Course in South Lake Tahoe. Here’s a list of the top 10 golf courses in Lake Tahoe.
- Miniature Golf – There are several miniature golf courses in Lake Tahoe. We golfed at Magic Carpet Miniature Golf Course in Carnelian Bay which was very fun! There is also a miniature golf course in Kings Beach and a Magic Carpet Miniature Golf Course in South Lake Tahoe.
- Tahoe Parks & Playgrounds – There are great parks and playgrounds in Lake Tahoe! Check out North Tahoe Parks and Tahoe South Parks for details.
- Balloon Ride – Take balloon ride offering amazing views with Lake Tahoe Balloons.
- Snowshoe and Snowmobile – In the winter months you can snowshoe or rent snowmobiles.
- Sledding and Tubing – Visit Adventure Mountain Lake Tahoe, South Lake Tahoe’s premier machine groomed sledding, tubing, and snow play destination!
- Skiing and Snowboarding – Lake Tahoe offers world class skiing at 16 different resorts! Se below for more information on hitting the slopes in Lake Tahoe.
Lake Tahoe Ski Resorts
Lake Tahoe offers some of the best skiing in the United States and arguably the world. When it snows in the Sierra Nevada Mountains it doesn’t just snow a few inches, it usually dumps, leaving Lake Tahoe covered in multiple feet of new, fresh powder.
Lake Tahoe also typically has sunny weather offering “spring skiing” conditions most of the winter. So when it’s not snowing it is usually sunny and nice out.
To top to off there are 16 ski resorts in the Lake Tahoe area offering something for everyone! Here is a list of all of the resorts organized by region.
North Lake Tahoe Ski Resorts
- Northstar Resort – Close to Truckee, Carnelian Bay, and Kings Beach, this upscale ski resort is one of the best resorts in Lake Tahoe. It offers 14 lifts and an array of excellent beginner and intermediate terrain along with a new, upscale village where you can dine, enjoy drinks and find sports shops and boutiques.
- Squaw Valley Ski Resort – Close to Tahoe City and Truckee, was the host site for the 1960 Winter Olympics, covers 3,600 acres with 30 chairlifts and the only funitel in the U.S. Excellent, beginner, intermediate and advanced terrain and is one of the best resorts in Lake Tahoe.
- Alpine Meadows Resort – Located in Alpine Meadows, California. Near the northwest shore of Lake Tahoe, it offers 2,400 acres of skiable terrain, 13 different lifts, and a vertical drop of 1,802 feet, terrain for varied skill levels, multiple lodges and a terrain park.
- Sugar Bowl Resort – Medium-sized ski area known for its significant advanced terrain, high annual snowfall and being one of the closest ski areas to San Francisco. Sugar Bowl’s terrain is 17% Beginner, 45% Intermediate and 38% Advanced.
- Diamond Peak Resort – Located in Incline Village, Nevada. Near the northeast shore of Lake Tahoe, this medium sized resort has 6 chairlifts, 30 runs, open glades, and tree skiing on its 655 acres of terrain and offers sledding and a kid’s zone.
- Homewood Mountain Resort – Several ski and snowboard runs along with terrain parks, 2 lodges and on-mountain dining options.
- Boreal Mountain – Boreal Mountain Resort is a ski area in Soda Springs, near the Lake Tahoe area of California. It has nine chairlifts and offers night skiing until 9 pm.
- Tahoe Cross Country Ski Area – Groomed cross-country ski area with lake views and a cozy lodge for light bites and equipment rentals.
- Granlibakken Ski & Sled Hill – Enjoy family fun here skiing, boarding and sledding.
- Tahoe Donner Downhill Ski Resort – Small ski resort with 4 ski lifts and 14 trails, in Truckee, California 4.5 mi northeast of Donner Pass.
- Donner Ski Ranch – Family-friendly ski resort with 6 lifts in the Lake Tahoe area that features a wide variety of terrain, inviting skiers and riders of all abilities.
- Soda Springs Mountain Resort – Family-friendly winter sports resort, offering lessons, sleigh rides and a vast play area for kids.
- Mount Rose – Closest ski resort to Reno, Nevada. Located about 30 miles south of Reno, in the Carson Range. Mt. Rose has the highest base elevation of a Tahoe-region ski resort at about 8,260 ft and the summit is 9,700 ft.
South Lake Tahoe Ski Resorts
- Heavenly Mountain Resort – Sprawling Lake Tahoe resort offering skiing, snowboarding & biking as well as lodging and eateries over 4,800 acres. This is one of the biggest and best ski resorts in Lake Tahoe with 97 runs and 30 lifts that run across both California and Nevada.
- Sierra-at-Tahoe Resort – Tahoe’s third-largest ski area with 2,000+ acres of slopes & 200+ acres of backcountry trails, located in Twin Bridges, California 12 miles south of South Lake Tahoe.
- Kirkwood Mountain Resort – Kirkwood Mountain Resort is a year-round resort in Kirkwood, California south of Lake Tahoe that focuses on skiing and snowboarding in winter and hiking and mountain-biking in summer.
Where To Eat In Lake Tahoe
There are an array of great restaurants on both the north shore and south shore of Lake Tahoe. Here are my suggestions on where to eat in both regions!
Tahoe North Restaurants
- Old Post Office Cafe – Breakfast and brunch in Carnelian Bay. I love their huge breakfast burritos!
- Gar Woods Grill & Pier – Restaurant, bar and pier in Carnelian Bay. Pricey but a great place for lunch, dinner or drinks right on the lake and also a good spot to get on your rental boat in the summer.
- Za’s Lakefront Bar & Grill – Excellent pizza, burgers, pasta and salads, excellent (casual) outdoor dining on the lake in Tahoe City. This is my go-to restaurant when I’m in Tahoe!
- Christy Hill – Fine dining on the lake in Tahoe City.
- Lone Eagle Grill – Fine dining in Incline Village, Nevada.
- Bite Restaurant – Excellent tapas restaurant in Incline Village.
- Azzara’s – Great Italian food in Incline Village.
- Truckee Tavern & Grill – Excellent American cuisine and cocktails in Truckee.
- Trokay – Fine dining in Truckee offering upscale seasonal new American fare and wine pairings.
- Truckee Food Shop – Made to order sandwiches and to go food including Fish N’ Chips and Fried Chicken Boxes.
- Sunnyside Restaurant & Lodge – Great places for cocktails and lunch on the lake in Tahoe City!
Tahoe South Restaurants
- Scusa Italian Restaurant – Traditional Italian cuisine served in a warmly-lit dining room or on the heated outdoor patio in South Lake Tahoe.
- Himmel Haus – Festive hangout in South Lake Tahoe offering lots of German & Belgian beers, area-sourced Bavarian dishes & live music.
- Empanash – Traditional handcrafted Argentine Empanadas in South Lake Tahoe
- Cold Water Brewery & Grill – House brews join California-style pub fare in a contemporary space in South Lake Tahoe.
- Cafe Fiore – Cozy wood-paneled eatery in South Lake Tahoe offering a lengthy wine list & Italian menu with signature eggplant crêpes.
- Bert’s Cafe – Casual daytime eatery serving all-day breakfast, burgers & sandwiches in old-school surroundings in South Lake.
- Lake Tahoe Pizza Company – Cozy pizzeria in South Lake Tahoe with rustic decor serving homemade pies on wheat, white & corn dough since 1973.
- Sprouts Cafe – Counter-service health-food cafe preparing homemade soups, wraps, burritos & smoothies.
When Should I Visit Lake Tahoe?
One of the best things about Lake Tahoe is that it is a great destination to visit year-round!
In the summer months of June, July and August the temperature is usually in the mid to upper 70s Fahrenheit making these months an ideal time to spend your summer getaway on the lake.
In the winter months of December, January, February and March the average temperature is around 45 degrees Fahrenheit. From mid-December to mid-March there is typically excellent snow coverage making this an ideal time to go on a ski trip to Lake Tahoe.
Summer and Winter are high seasons in Lake Tahoe so if you want to avoid the crowds and get better prices on Tahoe vacation homes I suggest visiting during a late spring or early fall.
In May the weather is usually in the mid 60s Fahrenheit, and in September (my favorite month in Tahoe!) the weather is typically still in the mid 70s Fahrenheit so you get to enjoy warm “summer” days without the crowds!
We hope that this article has helped inspire you to visit Lake Tahoe. If you have any questions about the destination or have your own travel tips to share please leave these in the comments below.
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Book Your Stay In Lake Tahoe
- Explore the best AirBnBs in Lake Tahoe
- Book a top hotel in Lake Tahoe:
- Ritz-Carlton Lake Tahoe
- Northstar California Resort
- The Lodge at Edgewood Tahoe
- The Landing Resort & Spa
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