So often travelers separate Lake Tahoe into two main destinations—North Lake and South Lake. However, those who know the area well, know the region is broken down into more cities than that. In North Lake Tahoe alone there are 12 unique neighborhoods with their own vibe and offerings. Explore each locale by focusing on the tidbits that make it stand out from the rest. Here, we breakdown the region and offer suggestions for making the most of any North Lake Tahoe trip.
Vibe: Historic, luxurious
Incline Village certainly has a reputation for its wealthy inhabitants, which often also lends itself to some luxurious accommodations and activities. Where to stay: If you step into Incline Village for the weekend, we suggest holing up at the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe, where glasses of champagne are doled out on arrival, gambling is accessible on site, and the adults-only whirlpool is heated to keep off the winter chill. The on-site spa is another luxury to take advantage of, with a full menu of relaxing offerings. Where to eat: Off-site, we recommend grubbing at Lone Eagle Grille next door. The heated patio (adorned with large fire pits) fills up fast for dinner service, but our personal favorite time of day to eat here is brunch, when warm cups of coffee are the ideal accompaniment to a meal on the beach (and yes, it’s located right there on the resort’s private beach). For drinks, hit Glasses Wine Bar about one-mile down the road. Outdoor Recreation: The new(ish) East Shore Trail runs from Tunnel Creek Café (another hot breakfast spot) to Sand Harbor Beach. Even when it’s snowy, you can throw on some boots to walk the three-mile stretch (one way). Best Hike: With the right gear (see: snowshoes) you can still get to some of those sought-after viewpoints. Our favorite in this area is Chickadee Ridge, just a hop, skip, and a jump away, and winter is actually the best time to go. Here you can channel your inner pigeon lady à la Home Alone. All you have to do is bring a handful of birdseed, stick out your palm, and wait for the chickadees to come to you. The lake views aren’t half-bad either.
Vibe: Nostalgic family beach town
If you’ve ever driven through North Lake Tahoe, this is that stretch of road where everything slows down for a minute as you move at a snail’s pace through roundabouts basically regardless of the time of day. Where to eat: Caliente offers great views of the lake and a rooftop tiki-style bar. Even in winter, it’s nice to sit outside on a warmer winter day. Or, set up at Spindleshanks
For Happy Hour. Here, the outdoor deck sits right on Brockway Golf Course. Outdoor Recreation: For adrenaline junkies, Full Throttle Tahoe provides snowmobile rentals for self-guided tours. The trail-riding area consists of 13,000 acres of snowmobile trails boasting some truly epic views. Or hit the beach in Kings Beach State Recreation Area for a little snowshoeing.
Vibe: Classic, wooden boat culture
Have you ever seen those pictures of Tahoe with tethered boats bobbing near a long wooden dock?—those are the views you can expect in Carnelian Bay, especially if you dine at Gar Woods. The upscale eatery has an outdoor deck with plenty of heaters for keeping warm in the winter months, as well as indoor seating and a big ornate, stone fireplace inside. Must have: A Wet Woody is the typical Tahoe staple, but when it’s cold out, we suggest swapping the iced beverage for an Irish Coffee. Outdoor Recreation: It may sound a bit too chilly to spend a day on the lake, but we disagree. One of the coolest experiences to have on Lake Tahoe is kayaking or paddle boarding in winter. As long as weather permits, Waterman’s Landing will take interested parties out on the water all winter long.
Let’s be honest, some people venture to Tahoe more for the entertainment, gambling, and casinos than anything else. Crystal Bay is home to some historic casinos including The Tahoe Biltmore Lodge where, fun fact, the largest jackpot in Lake Tahoe history was won. You can stay here or just come in around-the-clock—it’s open 24/7—for some exciting gaming. Where to dine: Crystal Bay Club Steak & Lobster House at Crystal Bay Casino cooks up the best of land and sea. Great Views: Trek the Historic Stateline Fire Lookout, a paved road that climbs about 400 feet in a half-mile.
Vibe: Recreation and wellness
In our opinion, the best activity in Tahoe Vista is a moonlit snowshoe tour hosted by Tahoe Adventure Company. Guides take trekkers on nighttime snowshoe adventures on various nights to experience full moons, pink moons, or other natural phenomena. The tours include rentable equipment, are two to three miles in duration, and usually include stories doled out at resting points along the way. Halfway through you’ll get to a viewing point with snacks and hot chocolate before making your way back to home base in the dark with headlamps to light your way. North Tahoe Regional Park also offers sled and snowmobile rentals. We suggest sliding down some sled hills for a little fun with the fam. What to eat: Old Range Steakhouse is a longtime staple on the North Shore, serving aged steaks, prime rib, seafood, and cocktails in a old-school, lodge-like establishment with big booths.
Vibe: Home away from home
If you’re looking to shred some gnar on the slopes, we recommend booking a stay and play vacation at Northstar California. With a new reservation system in place, the mountain opened for winter fun and extra benefits for season pass holders. When you’re not skiing, explore the village, which includes ice skating accompanied by live music. Something different: Another off-beat winter activity picking up speed in Tahoe is fat tire snow biking. Scenic trails in NorthStar’s backyard make it easy to explore and reach new heights where those lake views are sure to impress, and the best part is, you can rent gear on sight. Where to eat: When it comes to grabbing a bite, there’s really no reason to leave the village. Zephyr Lodge has floor-to-ceiling views paired with contemporary cuisine while the Living Room, located mid-mountain in the Ritz-Carlton, feels like home, serving up signature cocktails and wine with views of Martis Valley. Start your morning: with a cup of joe from Café Blue (also in the Ritz Carlton) and a morning yoga class (call ahead for reopening dates). Don’t miss this: An alpine terrain park at NorthStar features meticulously built jumps, flawlessly maintained jibs, and pristine halfpipes.
Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows
Vibe: Adrenaline and adventure
Technically this is two neighborhoods, but they squish together as one. Where to stay: We can’t recommend the Resort at Squaw Creek more. This homey resort has all of the amenities you need to enjoy a weekend away with views of the towering sierras right outside your door. Outdoor Recreation: If you came to get your ski on, this is the place to do it. The resort offers direct access to Squaw Valley, the site of the 1960 Olympics, so guests can ski and ride where the pros did 60 years ago. The nearby Village at Squaw Valley is the best choice for beginners while intermediate and advanced riders can take the chairlift right out of the resort for a day on the slopes. Après Ski: Dive into a mystery wine flight at PlumpJack Bar or book a reservation for dinner at the very-popular PlumpJack Café.
This is another place for adrenaline junkies to get their fill of skiing and snowboarding, but it’s also a good resort for families who want to ski and ride together. If you make the trek to Homewood often, it’s worth your money to stay loyal to this resort because those who take three ski or snowboard lessons receive a free season pass. The Best Deal: Score a family pass good for two adults and two children. Where to stay: West Shore Café and Inn is the sister property to Homewood boasting unmatched views. Rooms appear to sit on the water where you can see bobbing boats right out your window, plus in-room fireplaces keep things cozy.
If you like the great outdoors, come to Tahoma. Best hike: Even when it’s snowy, a trek along Eagle Rock hiking trail is feasible. The hike takes about 20 minutes to hit the top of a volcanic formation and once you get there, the views are unparalled. Getting your bearings: Tahoma is one of the smaller communities in Tahoe, but it’s very close to Homewood and Tahoe City if you’re looking for more amenities. Where to eat: Westshore pizza offers a menu of mostly expected pizzas with a few surprises and beers on tap, including local favorites. The galaxy theme makes it feel a little out of this world.
Vibe: Hip, for locals
Tahoe City ditches the resort lifestyle and instead offers guests a slice of home within Lake Tahoe. Come here to walk the downtown, browse shops, and eat really good food. The Boatworks Mall is home to an adorable upstairs candy and ice cream shop that’s worth a visit—or two. Where to eat: Don’t pass up a chance to go to the Hawaiian islands of the mountains. Jake’s on the Lake has a waterfront dining experience famous for coveting the best views in Lake Tahoe. And the Hawaiian-inspired fare like the Jidori Huli Huli Chicken served with black, forbidden coconut sticky rice will have you feeling like you’re on an island. Activities: indulge in the local culture by visiting the Gatekeeper’s Museum. Where to Stay: Sunnyside Restaurant & Lodge. Don’t Miss: The historic Fanny Bridge. It’s located in the only outlet over the Truckee river and got its name from all the fannies you’ll see of people hanging over the edge to glimpse the turquoise-blue waters below. Stop next door at the North Lake Tahoe Visitor Center to find local products and trip planning advice, or pick up some trout food and feed the trout at the Dam.
Vibe: Peaceful, natural beauty
If you came for the views—you’re in the right place. A drive up the winding highway will land you at various lookout points that garner astounding glimpses of Donner Lake below. Best hike: Grab your snowshoes for this one, it’s a bit of a doozy in winter. The Donner Train Tunnels house more than five miles of graffiti on the old railroad and people have made a habit of walking the tunnels to view the art. You’ll take a small trek up to the top and then it’s an easy walk. But bundle up, the icy tunnels get chilly. Local’s secret: Somewhere in Donner there’s a swing overlooking the lake. It’s become a favorite spot for photo-ops, but locals like to keep it hidden from view. So, we’re going to let you know it’s there, but you’ll have to track down the coordinates yourself! Nearby Skiing: Sugar Bowl and Royal Gorge, the largest cross-country ski resort in North America.
Where to Get Your Gear
Don’t have your own? Try these favorite shops for gear rentals.
415 N. Lake Blvd., Tahoe City
Tahoe Dave’s Skis and Boards