If you’re planning your trip to Lake Tahoe, you may be surprised to learn there’s not actually a town called “Lake Tahoe.” Lake Tahoe refers to the entire area around the lake, split between California and Nevada. It’s a huge body of water, with 72 miles of shoreline. It takes anywhere between 2 and 3 hours to drive around the lake, which means there are a variety of different towns dotting the sandy shores. Deciding which town to stay and which hotel to stay in can be a challenge since they are all so different.
On the south shore, there’s a town called South Lake Tahoe on the California side and Stateline on the Nevada side, which is the biggest and most-frequently visited area on the lake. To the north, you’ll find Kings Beach and Tahoe City on the California side of the lake and Incline Village on the Nevada side. Go a few miles north of the lake, and you’ll find Truckee, a cowboy-turned-ski town that’s managed to find a great blend between historical charm and outdoor recreation. Most hotels are in one of these towns, but you’ll find cabin rentals, cottages, and vacation rentals all around the lake.
Truckee is a paradise for fans of outdoor recreation, with dozens of amazing hiking and mountain biking trails. It doesn’t have as large of a nightlife and social scene as South Lake Tahoe, so it’s a better choice for visitors who value nature and access to the outdoors over live music and gambling.
Where to Stay: Without a doubt, the nicest resort in Truckee is the Ritz Carlton Lake Tahoe. Though it’s about 15 minutes to the lake, the resort is ski-in, ski-out to Northstar California Resort, which makes it an unbeatable choice for winter stays. In addition to skiing at your front door, the resort has a stunning spa, cocktail-making classes, and luxurious rooms. If the Ritz is a little too pricey, consider the Cedar House Sport Hotel, which is walking distance to downtown Truckee.
Tahoe City looks like a mix between a beach town and a European ski resort village. The huge Commons Beach attracts summer travelers while the proximity to resorts like Squaw Valley and Homewood Resort make it an equally popular choice in the winter.
Where to Stay: Where to stay in Tahoe City depends on when you’re visiting. If you’re coming to ski at Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows, you’re better off staying in Squaw Valley. Your options there include the ski-in/ski-out Resort at Squaw Creek or the Squaw Valley Lodge, which has fewer amenities but is within walking distance to the ski resort village. If you’re coming in the summer, you’ll want to stay within walking distance to the lake to avoid the traffic. One of the most affordable options is the newly renovated Basecamp Hotel. The rooms are small but hip and the lobby has more than a few craft beers on tap to introduce you to the Tahoe brew scene.
If you want to stay near the beach but can’t swing some of the sky-high summer prices in Tahoe, consider staying in Kings Beach on the northernmost point of the lake. The beach town has a friendly and laid-back vibe; think mom-and-pop burger stands rather than high-end dining. It’s home to more than a few of the remaining motels built in the 1960s when Tahoe was just starting to become a tourist destination.
Where to Stay: Stay at Mourelatos Lakeshore Resort if you value proximity to the beach above all else, as the resort has its own private beach. Outdoor hot tubs are available year-round and you can rent kayaks and paddleboards from the resort in the summer months.
If you’re trying to save a few bucks while you’re in Tahoe, opt for a room at the clean and simple Firelite Lodge, about a mile away in Tahoe Vista. It’s a no-frills option, but the price is right and the staff are friendly. It’s ideal for guests who plan on spending most of their time outdoors.
Incline Village is jokingly referred to as “Income Village,” and you’ll see why when you drive along Lakeshore Boulevard and catch a glimpse of the gatehouses that mark the entrances to various lakefront compounds. There are several fantastic beaches in town and a newly built bike path makes the town a great place to stay to access the often-photographed Sand Harbor State Park. There are a variety of restaurants ranging from breweries to fine dining.
Where to Stay: There’s only one real option in town: Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort, Spa, and Casino. Thanks to a huge private beach, free kids’ and family activities, and high-end amenities, even a basic room will cost a pretty penny in the summer. But if you can snag a room on a winter day, you’ll find it reasonably affordable, especially when you factor in the free ski shuttle to nearby Diamond Peak Ski Resort.
If the Hyatt is out of your budget, stay a few miles out of town at the Tahoe Biltmore Lodge, a casino-hotel from the 1950s built on the California-Nevada border. The rooms are decidedly vintage and air conditioning isn’t standard, but they’re affordable and perfect if you want to take part in the small late-night casino scene on the north shore.
South Lake Tahoe/Stateline
South Lake Tahoe and Stateline are the largest of the towns around the lake with more lodging, dining, and nightlife options than you’ll find on the north shore. It’s a popular place to stay for weekend ski trips and summer bachelor or bachelorette parties as it has plenty of affordable lodging and late-night entertainment. It’s also home to Heavenly Mountain Resort, one of the largest ski resorts in the region.
Where to Stay: You’ve got plenty of options here, though most people stay at one of the many casino-resorts along the lake. Harrah’s Lake Tahoe is a popular choice. Rooms start at under $100 and it’s within walking distance to Heavenly Ski Resort and most of the bars and restaurants on the Nevada side of the lake. If you’d prefer not to stay at a casino, check out The Landing, a boutique hotel located equally close to the action in South Lake Tahoe. It’s across the street from the beach and has an extensive spa menu to help you soothe sore muscles after a long day spent skiing or hiking.