How to Spend 5 Days in Tahoe in the Winter
Updated: Jul 12, 2022
You've seen amazing pictures on Instagram, Facebook, and Tiktok, so now you want to plan your own visit. With so many places to stay and things to do, it can be overwhelming to plan your first visit.
How to Get to Lake Tahoe
The closest airport to Tahoe is Reno. Depending on where you're staying around the Lake it can be a 45 minute to 1.5 hour drive from the airport to your accommodations. If you're visiting in the winter, it is recommended to get a 4WD car for driving on ice and snow.
The other closest airport is Sacramento, which is about 2-hours from Lake Tahoe. I recommend flying in/out of Sacramento if your are wanting to also visit California's wine region to your vacation. Napa/Sonoma is about 1-hour from the Sacramento airport, so it makes it really easy to visit both of these popular destinations.
Areas to Visit in Tahoe
Lake Tahoe is made up of a bunch of small towns along the shores of the lake. The easiest way to classify areas of Tahoe is by the "South Lake" and "North Lake." There is also the "East Shore" and "West Shore."
South Lake Tahoe
South Lake Tahoe has everything -- nightlife, restaurants, casinos, shopping, and the only place along the lake with ride-share services. If nightlife is something you want to experience in Tahoe, South Lake is the only part of the Lake that offers it. The major ski resort in this area is Heavenly, so you have place to enjoy your winter recreational activities. With the most things to do here, it is also a very busy area. So if you're looking for a place to relax and enjoy the tranquility of Tahoe, I recommend exploring a different part of the Lake.
North Lake Tahoe
If you're looking for small-town mountain vibes, Tahoe City is a beautiful small city with few places to shop and eat, but allot of nature to enjoy. Here you'll find a small assortment of local restaurants, small shops, and galleries. The North Shore has some of the best fine dining and lake-side dining options. Famous restaurants include Jakes On the Lake, Wolfdale's and Sunnyside, to name a few. However, nightlife entertainment is lacking here -- there is only one bar in Tahoe City that stays open past midnight and is a watering hole for local ski/board bums.
North Lake Tahoe is also home to some of the world's finest ski resorts, such as Squaw Valley (Palisades), Alpine Meadows, and Northstar. If you're an advanced skier or snowboarder looking for the best terrain, stay here!
East Shore Tahoe
The East Shore of Lake Tahoe has the best of both world's -- you are half-way between South Lake and Tahoe City (North Lake). This means you can have the tranquil experience, access to the premiere ski resorts, and driving distance to nightlife. The closest ski resort on the East Shore is Diamond Peak. There are great dining options in this area too.
West Shore Tahoe
There's not much along the West Shore of Lake Tahoe. It is a beautiful scenic drive between Tahoe City and Emerald Bay. I definitely recommend making this drive if the roads are clear. You an stop and get brunch at one of my favorite local restaurants, Fire Sign Cafe. You can also find my other favorite restaurant, Sunnyside, across the street. In the summer, they offer dining on the deck and it has some of the most beautiful views of the lake and surrounding mountains. In the Winter, their lunch and dinner service is delicious and still offers amazing views on clear days.
How To Get Around Lake Tahoe
It is best to rent a car, so you have freedom to explore. It makes getting around to do and see things so much easier!
Uber and Lyft are only available in South Lake City. Staying somewhere else and want to be able to avoid drinking and driving? -- Don't fret! Tahoe offers free transportation in certain zones, called TART Connect. You need to download the app, but it provides on-demand rides with pickup within an hour of requesting a ride. They will take you to restaurants, shopping, buses, recreation or anywhere within the following areas.
ZONE 1: DOLLAR POINT, TAHOE CITY, SUNNYSIDE, HOMEWOOD, TAHOMA, OLYMPIC VALLEY
ZONE 2: BROCKWAY, NORTHSTAR, KINGS BEACH, TAHOE VISTA, CARNELIAN BAY, CRYSTAL BAY
ZONE 3: INCLINE VILLAGE, CRYSTAL BAY
What To Do
Campfires and smores
Casinos & Nightlife
Where to Stay
There are so many places to stay in Tahoe, but the two below are my favorites.
Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort, Spa and Casino
Incline Village, NV
A Waterfront Lake Tahoe Resort Experience the perfect destination to connect with family - and yourself - while enjoying the natural wonders surrounding our Lake Tahoe Resort. Located in the Sierra Mountain Range, this hotel is a stunning lakeside destination for year-round adventure. Take advantage of their free ski shuttles and on-site ski and snowboard rental, try your luck in the Grand Lodge Casino, schedule a spa day at Stillwater Spa, or get out and explore everything that Lake Tahoe has to offer, just steps from the front door.
The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe
Northstar Ski Resort, CA
The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe is the first AAA Five Diamond resort in the Lake Tahoe area. Nestled mid-mountain at Northstar California Resort, the resort is a contemporary mountain retreat featuring slope-side ski-in, ski-out access in winter and mountain concierge services for golfing, mountain biking and hiking in the summer. Manzanita, the resort's signature restaurant, features artfully crafted cuisine, combining classical techniques and a modern culinary philosophy, The Backyard Bar & BBQ offers traditional barbeque favorites year-round, and Café Blue serves locally sourced coffee and freshly-made juices. Located just six miles from both historic downtown Truckee and the North Shore of Lake Tahoe, the year-round destination resort features 170 guest rooms, 23 private Ritz-Carlton Residences, The Ritz-Carlton Spa, Lake Tahoe with a 17,000 square foot spa and fitness center and an inter-mountain gondola that connects the resort to the nearby Village at Northstar. During the summer months, resort guests can enjoy Lake Club, The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe, an exclusive and elegant waterside venue that offers an accompanying host of amenities including al fresco dining, leisure and water activities, and direct access to the lake.
The Full 5-Day Tahoe Itinerary
Day 1: Reno - Incline Village
After landing at Reno airport and picking up rental car, drive to accommodation. I stayed in Incline Village and made that my base to explore the lake for the rest of my stay.
Driving along Mt Rose Highway, make sure to stop and take some scenic pictures of the lake. The ariel views are amazing while driving into the Basin.
Stop and have lunch at Whitecaps Pizza in King's Beach. The place has an amazing selection of craft beer and one of the BEST sandwiches I've ever had!! I ordered the Pesto Chicken Sandwich and loved it!
Day 2 & 3: Snow Activities in Incline Village
Enjoy Tahoe's best recreational activities! You can ski/board, snowshoe, sled, ice skate and more! One day we did snowmobiling and another day we skied and boarded at Diamond Peak, located less than 5-minutes from our accommodations in Incline Village.
After a day of activities, enjoy fine dining. We ate at Big Water Grille and watched the sunset over the lake. The food and view was amazing!!
Day 4: Explore Emerald Bay and the North Shore
Because the roads were clear, we took the opportunity to drive to the famous Emerald Bay to take pictures. Along the way, we stopped for brunch at Fire Sign Cafe. This local restaurant is definitely a great place to enjoy a meal. It is decorated like a cute cabin with a homey-feel!
After brunch, we enjoyed the drive along the lake until we reached Emerald Bay. I am glad I wore snow boots, as walking along ice and snow to get to the viewpoint was slippery. Also bring warm clothes -- the wind was really intense.
For a change of scenery, we decided to stay one-night on the North Shore. We overnighted at Granlibakken since it had a heated pool and hot tub!
Day 5: Go Home
Today, we checked out of our hotel, drove to the airport and flew home! What a great trip and I can't wait to go back and visit in the summer.
Need Help Planning?
Are you looking for help planning your dream vacation? If you're feeling overwhelmed by all the options on the internet, or just don't have time to get into planning your dream trip -- I really encourage you to check out my travel planning services