When my sister rented an apartment in Tahoe City, I didn’t complain about her moving there one bit. Last time I visited her, ahead of my flight into Sacramento from Houston, I’d reserved the cheapest car that I could find. But when I got in, deep snow and icy roads were everywhere. I stopped in the rental agency to tell them my plight and was told I could upgrade my vehicle for $20—if I didn’t mind driving a shiny black Hummer. Tahoe in a Hummer? Who was I to argue?
That trip was a winter one, but Lake Tahoe, the largest alpine lake in the U.S., is postcard-perfect whenever you go—there is no off-season. Warmer months are great for boating on the crystal-blue water and hiking the scenic trails, while the cold months bring skiing, snowshoeing, sledding, ice skating, and snowmobiling—a winter sportsman’s paradise.
The lake straddles the California-Nevada state line, which in this case actually makes a difference. The Nevada side has more than a dozen casinos to California’s zero, and while it isn’t as crazy as Vegas, it contrasts with the chill vibe of the California side, which has a bigger slice of the lake and is home to the majority of the area’s ski resorts. The thing is, wherever you stay, you’ll be close to everything, with no shortage of things to do.
My favorite ski resort in Tahoe, Heavenly Mountain Resort, is also the largest one. Technically located in California, it sits on the border line, in the middle of the action near the lake’s south shore, and its views are the reason the word “breathtaking” was invented. There’s nothing like being on top of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, looking down at the snowy peaks and frosted trees surrounding the pristine blue lake.
What I like to do is ski the intermediate slopes to the bottom, where I have a nice hot cup of chili at resort restaurant Steins Beer and Brats, set in a little village with a lovely ice-skating rink. The experience always makes me feel like I’m inside a giant snow globe—heavenly.
- If you’re not on a budget, stay at The Lodge at Edgewood Tahoe, which opened in 2018 and was named Best Resort in the U.S. the following year by Travel + Leisure. Located right on the banks of the lake, it offers unmatched views, and every room has its own cozy fireplace and soaking tub. From $350/night.
- Casino hotels are usually a good value unless you spend all your savings at the blackjack tables. Harrah’s and the Hard Rock are reliable choices, but Harvey’s and Montbleu are also in the heart of the action.
- Sunnyside Restaurant is one of the favorite restaurants in the area, not just for the great food—think seafood, chowder, tasty salads, and elk steaks—but also for its location right on the lake.
- Another excellent lakeside spot is Gar Woods. If you like fishing, one idea is to rent a boat from Tahoe Sports, then bring your catch to the restaurant, where the chef will cook it. Not only can you pull right up to the pier, you can bring your own wine and pay a corkage fee.
- Tahoe has 14 skiing resorts offering all manner of winter sports, and you won’t go wrong at any, but the 4,800-acre Heavenly Mountain Resort, which has the highest altitude of all, is hands down my fave.
- Learn what life was like in Tahoe 100 years ago at Tallac Historic Site, a beautiful complex on the lake with three estates, plus a museum and blacksmith shop.
- Book a private sleigh or carriage ride along the lake and through the forests with Borges Sleigh and Carriage Rides.
- Try sledding or tubing down the mountain! Several resorts in the area, including Adventure Mountain Lake Tahoe, offer special courses, tow ropes, and modified gondolas to help you coast down the slopes on whatever contraption you choose.
- Fly into Reno and make the hour’s drive southwest to Tahoe, or fly into Sacramento and make the two-hour drive northeast. United offers non-stop flights to both cities from Houston.