Welcome to Lake Tahoe!
Best Bars, Nightlife Restaurants and Ski Resorts Guide
It's a "heavenly" sight from the top of the slopes at Heavenly Ski Resort.
Framed by the towering peaks of the Sierra Nevada mountain range and centered around a gorgeous blue body of water, Lake Tahoe is a place of majestic beauty. Home to several ski and snowboard resorts, it's also a nature-lovers paradise in the summer.
Here's your all-everything guide to Lake Tahoe – the towns, the resorts, the restaurants and, of course, the bars.
Arrival and Orientation
The walk along the main road between the California/Nevada border.
Lake Tahoe is actually not a single destination but rather a collection of small towns and ski resorts ringed around the massive lake. In fact, there are 14 places to ski and board in the area.
When most people speak of Tahoe, they are referring to the South Shore of the lake, which consists of the biggest casinos and the most activity.
The North Shore is far more remote, making it a treasured destination for those seeking solitude instead of slots. The towns are small and rustic; there are no water shows, pirate battle reincarnations or exploding volcanos to lure people into massive casinos, as is the norm in Las Vegas. Instead, one gets the feeling the old mining days have never really gone.
Lake Tahoe is visible from the slopes here at Heavenly Ski Resort.
To the north, Tahoe City has no gambling but is more of a town with restaurants and a few bars. Best of all is easy access to three top resorts, Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows and Northstar.
The lake – one of the deepest in the world – is 22 miles long and 12 miles wide with 72 miles of shoreline. It is circled by Highways 50, 89 and 28, slow-moving two-lane roads with abundant views. It is so large it takes two states to contain it, California and Nevada.
The airport is located in Reno 60 miles away. A comfortable bus departs about every hour to the South Shore casinos. It travels through the capitol of Carson City and even includes an informative tour guide as the driver points out facts and area history during the hour and 15-minute ride ($19 one-way, $34 R/T). Tickets can be bought in the baggage claim area. A limo is $120.
The South Shore
When not skiing or boarding, strolling the towns are a popular pastime.
The South Shore – again, the destination for most travelers and especially the revelers – is on the California/Nevada state line. Most of the activity is right on the border. Four casinos – Caesar's, Harrah's, Harvey's and the tiny Bill's – are concentrated in a two-block area. A mini-village contain shops, restaurants and a dance club is built around the Marriott and the gondola entrance to Heavenly ski resort. That's right, you can walk straight from the casinos to the mountain.
About a mile to the north are a few local bars and restaurants as well as a dock access to the lake. There's little activity outside of the casinos (and soon to be the village). The few local bars and restaurants are tiny.
For meals, the casinos each have several restaurants; the steakhouses are all so good they attract even locals. The Swiss Chalet is the best non-casino restaurant in town, serving a variety of dinners in the mid-to upper-teens price range. The Tahoe Pub, across from the Heavenly gondola, has acceptable burgers and such, plus a tasty but a bit overpriced clam chowder ($10 for the bread bowl). It's best as a pub, though and speaking of which, keep reading or scrolling for our bar and nightlife guide to the South Shore.
For breakfast, the choices are extremely limited. There's the cozy Driftwood Cafe behind Harvey's with its signature potato pancakes, and Carrow's, a California chain restaurant a couple of blocks past the gondola in California.
Walking around town – basically just a few blocks on one street – can be a real trip in the winter. Literally. That's because the sidewalks not in front of the casinos and village are not cleared and are packed ice several inches thick. If you've got snow picks for shoes, bring them.
Just three hours from San Francisco, the South Shore attracts a good bit of its crowd from the Bay Area and Sacramento. Southern Californians, arriving by plane or long car journey (9 hours from L.A.) join with people from the nearby Pacific Northwest as well as a sprinkling of people from all over the country and the globe.
The Ski Resorts
Heavenly is at the California/Nevada border by the casinos.
The Lake Tahoe area consists of several resorts. Here are the major ones with daily lift ticket prices in parenthesis (for a complete look at lift ticket prices, click here). Kirkwood, Northstar and Sierra at Tahoe offer shuttle pickups at the casinos. Departures are between 7:30-8 a.m., with the return leaving the mountains between 4-5.( $5 Kirkwood, free Sierra)
• Heavenly. Located right in the South Shore, it's the most convenient of all the resorts. This also makes it the most crowded. Heavenly is divided into two areas, the California side and the Nevada side; the in-town gondola drops skiers and boarders right on the border. The California side is by far the most popular but has just two main lifts and that creates massive lift lines. The Nevada side is far more forgiving and also contains the black-diamonds. Getting from one side to the other is Heavenly's biggest headache – it requires poleing and trailing, and going from Nevada to the gondola is so indirect and poorly marked it takes more than an hour. Still, this is the Official Ski Resort of the U.S. Ski Team and the views looking down at Lake Tahoe below are spectacular.
• Kirkwood. About 45 minutes from the South Shore, Kirkwood is known for its awesome, deep snow. Tons of powder and massive snowfall give it what the locals refer to as "the K factor." Advanced skiers and boarders have ample black-diamond runs; intermediates have several blue runs on the mountain's back side. For post-slopes, Kirkwood has horseshoe-shaped village and local accommodations.
• Northstar-At-Tahoe. Almost at the opposite end of the lake from the South Shore, 50 of Northstar's 70 runs are intermediate level. There is also ample snowmobiling in the area.
• Squaw Valley. The host of the 1960 Winter Olympics, Squaw Valley has more winter recreational opportunities than just about any ski resort in the world. In addition to the slopes - six peaks are serviced by 33 lifts with a good variety for all levels – it has an Olympic Ice Pavilion and Olympic museum with a swimming pool and spa opening later in the season. Located in the North Shore area of Tahoe, this is primarily – though not exclusively – a family-oriented area. It has restaurants, shops and accommodations in and around the Village at Squaw Valley. As mentioned above, it's also close to Tahoe City. For nightlife, The Auld Dubliner is the place.
• Sierra at Tahoe. Close to Kirkwood, Sierra is a good learning resort. It has long runs and lots of learning places for kids.
Ski Apres – Bar and Nightlife Guide
The Tahoe Pub brings locals and tourist together in a cool and casual bar.
Nightlife in South Lake Tahoe is created around the casinos. There is of course the gambling and show entertainment – not first-line acts like Vegas but recognizable names none-the-less – as well as clubs and lounge bars. Locals have their own spots, largely off the tourists' mental tables.
One place, however, bridges the two. The Tahoe Pub is a tiny, well, pub with a small bar and pool tables downstairs and live music upstairs. Across from the Heavenly gondola, it has a cozy crowd from post-ski until closing. A large draft beer selection is a welcome sight after a day on the slopes. A planned night at the casinos could easily settle into a full evening at "the pub."
By next winter, the pub will also be a club. The owners are building a restaurant/club across the street. The pub will stay in tact, at least until the Harrah's Convention Center tears down nearly the entire side of the street in the next four to five years.
The California Bar dominates Harrah's casino floor, and not just because of the dueling pianos. The bar itself is a popular hangout for locals as well as tourists. In the back is the more isolated Rendezvous Bar, ideal for quiet conversations.
When club fever hits, Altitude in Harrah's and Club Nero in Caesar's answer the call. Here, the biggest cues of Vegas are recreated – dancer cages, large dance floors and light shows tuned to tunes. They go until 4 a.m. The casinos, by the way, never sleep.
For locals, the scene is a bit different, and it reflects the smallness and simplicity of the South Shore. For instance, one of the most popular locals spots is Marie Callender's. For anyone from California, this seems just plain odd. That's because everywhere else the in the state, Marie Callender's is a family-oriented restaurant known mainly for the pies it serves. Yet, in Tahoe it's quite often the place go party. After 11, the small bar about a mile north of the casinos can get jamming with residents – including escort girls taking a break. (The odds of a tourist getting a "freebie" are less than even winning big at the roulette table.)
It's near Tudor's, an English restaurant/bar by the bowling alley with darts and bands four nights a week. It's located at 1014 Fremont Street. The Turn 3 Sports Bar (2227 Lake Tahoe Blvd.) has a NASCAR theme, pool tables and peanuts, which has led locals to call it the Peanut Bar. Steamer's, a sports bar with the best tacos around, is across the street.
If it's Tuesday, head to Sam's Place, a fun pub packed with locals. Reputed to have been Bill Cosby's favorite bar in Tahoe, it has a beer garden in the back and awesome pizza. It's about 15 minutes from town in Zepher Cove, Nevada.