With more than four feet of snow in the Tahoe area so far this winter, a trip to this ski haven is in the weekend plans of many Bay Area residents. But you have to ask yourself what you want from your winter trip to Big Blue. Lake Tahoe has two faces: The touristy, party scene of the South Shore and the more quiet, nature oriented scene of the North Shore. What's your flavor?
The South Shore includes South Lake Tahoe, Meyers, Stateline, Zephyr Cove, Emerald Bay, Homewood, Kirkwood, Tahoma and the Heavenly ski area. The North Shore includes Tahoe City, Tahoe Vista, Kings Beach, Incline Village, Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows, Northstar, Diamond Peak, the Mount Rose ski area and Truckee and Donner Lake. Each of these small communities and resorts have their own style, things to do, and places to stay and eat as well as pros and cons. It all depends on what you want to do and experience.
If you want to drink and party after snowboarding:
Stick to the casinos and bars of Stateline and South Lake Tahoe. The crowds are big, but the events and opportunities are too. The Fire + Ice grill and bar at Heavenly and the Brewery at South Lake Tahoe are two places to get drinks and food before heading to the casino clubs. Fire + Ice has outdoor fire pits, Mongolian appetizers and specialty drinks. The Brewery serves handcrafted pizzas and beers like the Bad Ass Ale. There are several clubs in the Stateline casinos for after hours including Opal at the Montbleu which features go-go dancers.
If you want to get the hell away from everyone:
Avoid the South Shore and head to Incline Village or the communities of Tahoe Vista and Carnelian Bay. While Truckee can be really busy this time of year, Donner Lake is quiet. Stay at the Donner Lake Village Resort where you can get a room or studio right on the water. In Carnelian Bay, stay at the cozy Cedar Glen Lodge and enjoy their hot tub, sauna or outdoor fire pit. For breakfast, get to the Old Post Office Café early to avoid the crowds.
If you want to eat gourmet food and drink some wine:
Stay on the North Shore, specifically around Truckee or Tahoe Vista. Some locally sourced and highly acclaimed dishes can be found at the Cottonwood restaurant that overlooks downtown Truckee, Stella at the Cedar House Sport Hotel and Jack Rabbit Moon in Incline.
If you want to meet locals:
The communities of Meyers (visit The Divided Sky bar and restaurant), Incline Village, and Tahoe City will have more locals around than South Shore. Eat at the Fire Sign Café or Spoon for breakfast, brunch or lunch and ask locals where their favorites places are to go snowshoeing. They may even tell you about Tahoe Meadow's Chickadee Ridge where the little birds will eat out of your hand.
If you want to ski in the wilds of nature, but be close to the buffets:
Stay and play at Kirkwood on the South Shore, but go to South Lake Tahoe for its restaurants and bars. Kirkwood is one of the more remote ski resorts in the area and gets some of the deepest snow around; nearly 600 inches annually. After a day on the mountain, a 45 minute drive will take you and your growling stomach into South Lake Tahoe for an Indian buffet at Nikki's Chaat Cafe or all you can eat Chinese at the Dragon Buffet.
If you want to go shopping (and not at the T-shirt huts):
While the village shops at Heavenly and Squaw are pretty good places to shop, the best shopping is in Truckee on the North Shore. Check out stores like the beautiful Cooking Gallery for kitchen gear, La Galleria for unique jewelry and local artwork or the Pour House for special wines.
You want to see the most beautiful place on the lake — with no people:
Head to Emerald Bay on the South Shore. This is the most popular place on the lake during the summer, but in the winter it is quiet and serene, and belongs only to a few Canada geese. Bring your snowshoes to hike down to the Vikingsholm Castle with its great view of Fannette Island.