Lake Tahoe, California Travel Guide
Lake Tahoe Summary
- The beautiful Lake Tahoe, the second deepest lake in the United States
- Around 300 days of sunshine a year
- Numerous ski mountains in the area gives all levels of skiers plenty of options
- Plenty to do during the summer months, including hiking, biking, swimming, and fishing
- Gorgeous views
- A range of hotels, many of which offer great deals (but prices skyrocket during the holiday season)
- Each area offers something: the South Shore is home to several casinos; Tahoe City is the artsy area; North Shore is home to top-notch designer boutiques
- Several museums and historic mansions
- Driving during the winter months can be tricky
- Fewer high-end lodging options
- Not much of a nightlife
- Long waits at restaurants during peak season (and some close during "shoulder seasons")
- Even during summer months, Lake Tahoe waters are cold
What It's Like
Lake Tahoe is one of the most beautiful ski destinations in the country. Nestled in the Sierra Nevada mountains, it attracts crowds in the winter to its numerous ski slopes. In the summer, a smaller -- but equally outdoorsy -- crowd comes for the hiking, fishing, and kayaking, all centered around the pristine Lake Tahoe. The see-and-be-seen California crowd may head to Aspen or Jackson Hole for their winter romp, but the laid-back, here-for-the-snow folks love Lake Tahoe's relaxed atmosphere. It doesn't hurt that Lake Tahoe is also significantly less expensive than those other ritzy ski towns; there are many budget-friendly lodging options, and even upscale restaurants do not serve ridiculously overpriced meals.
With winter snow in Tahoe often measuring 300 to 500 inches annually, the ski resorts here are among the most reliable and exciting in the country. Known for steep vertical drops, open bowls, and some challenging terrain (along with family-friendly runs), Tahoe's collection of ski resorts draws thousands each winter. Despite the snowy conditions, the area usually gets more than 300 sunny days a year. But because of the snow, a four-wheel-drive vehicle is recommended here in winter.
Though wintertime is obviously all about skiing, snowmobiling, and snowshoeing, summertime brings swimming (in the very cold Lake Tahoe waters), kayaking, white-water rafting, fishing (there are lots of salmon and trout), and hiking. There are also a few dispersed museums and historic mansions, and hot-air ballooning and gondola rides are popular ways of taking in the views, both winter and summer. And the casinos on the South Shore are open all year long, too; other than that, there's not much of a nightlife.
Where To Stay
Lake Tahoe offers a wide variety of lodging options (from luxury resorts to cheap motels), and its vast area means there are many different areas in which to stay. Lake Tahoe is divided across California and Nevada, with 70 percent of it in California. Because of this, Tahoe is generally spoken of as two distinct areas, North and South Lake Tahoe. South Tahoe is known for its gambling (which is legal in Nevada) and nightlife, while North Tahoe is generally quieter with more of a "mountain personality."
- South Lake Tahoe is the most popular area for tourists and has a wide range of lodging options -- from casino hotels to motels (though many are being knocked down) to quaint inns. It also provides easy access to summer and winter activities.
- North Shore Tahoe is the quieter, more family-friendly option. The focus for visitors here is experiencing outdoors. There's also a lot of history; it was the choice of movie stars back in the 1920s, and grand old estates can be found along Tahoe's north and west shores.
- Tahoe City, in North Tahoe, is an artsy area with a small-town feel. It is close to numerous mountains, and thus is a good choice for skiers.
- Squaw Valley USA, the site of the 1960 Olympics, is an upscale ski village in North Tahoe.