Content Produced in Partnership with Visit California
Lake Tahoe was formed out of the Sierra-Nevadas millions of years ago by faulting blocks during the Ice Age. Today, the shimmering emerald water is surrounded on all sides by a panorama of awe-inspiring mountains. It’s as if millions of years of geology worked to create the perfect four-season destination just for you — or we just got extremely lucky. Whichever the case may be, Lake Tahoe has everything you could possibly want in a vacation destination. In winter, ski resorts abound. In summer, the lake offers endless opportunities for recreation including canoeing, paddle boarding, fishing, windsurfing, camping, and hiking.
Tahoe is divided though. Don't be alarmed: there's no rivalry or neighborly disdain. The sides are simply separated by 21-miles of beautiful water. Both North Lake Tahoe and Tahoe South have skiing, water sports, incredible lodging, and fine dining. So how does one choose? There are some distinct differences that we've outlined for you:
North Lake Tahoe
For those seeking a quieter, more laid back escape, the North Lake is for you. A family-friendly atmosphere and smaller crowds are the real selling points up north. That isn’t to say you won’t find your share of fun. As a matter of fact, Northstar California hosts an annual food and wine festival and regular concerts at the outdoor amphitheater to excite your taste buds and get your groove on no matter the season.
The north side of the lake also has a dog-friendly beach so your canine companions are free to play to their heart is content. Some of the best hiking spots in North Lake Tahoe are State Lookout Trail (which takes visitors up the wildfire tower) and Mt. Tallac. There is no shortage of gorgeous landscapes to traverse by foot or bike. For the cyclists, “America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride” circumvents the entire lake via highways that travel through both California and Nevada.
Once snow covers the Sierra-Nevadas, get ready for a whole new world of adventure. On the California side of North Lake Tahoe there are eight ski areas and resorts: Granlibakken, Sugar Bowl, Tahoe Donner, Squaw Valley, Homewood Mountain Resort, Northstar California, Boreal, and Alpine Meadows. Needless to say, skiers and boarders will never tire of playing in the powder. For those seeking winter exploits outside of a resort, there are a number of backcountry snowmobile tours and rental companies that can take you on some utterly mind-blowing rides. Check out Lake Tahoe Snowmobile Tours and Full Throttle Tahoe to learn more.
Tahoe City offers a wide variety of fine dining options with cuisine to suit any taste bud. Many of the restaurants are world renowned with some of the highest rated being Jake's on the Lake, Evan's American Gourmet Cafe, and Jimmy's at the Landing. For drinks, try Chambers Landing, Le Chamois, or Uncorked.
In contrast to the sleepy north, Tahoe South has a flourishing arts scene and is generally bustling with energetic visitors. Heavenly Village and South Lake Shore are the two main areas where visitors can enjoy five star lodging and dining. If you want to be where the action is, head to Tahoe South.
The Nightlife is Poppin'
Tahoe South can get wild. Clubs run late into the night, while both trendy and dive bars abound. Toss one back at Whiskey Dicks, Steamers Bar & Grill, MacDuff’s Public House, or Turn 3. Tahoe South might be right up your alley if you're looking for an untamed experience full of lights and loud music.
The arts are big in Tahoe South. The popular festival is Valhalla Arts, Music and Theatre Festival, which is held in annually in mid-June. The best way to see the area is to the skies on a hot air balloon ride with Lake Tahoe Balloons for unparalleled views of the Sierra-Nevadas.
Summer ActivitiesCheck out Tahoe Sports to try parasailing, jet skiing, or rent a kayak or a paddle board and get out on the bright blue-green lake. There's few things better for you than a cool dose of Tahoe water under the intense California sun. If you want to get your hike on, try trekking up to Cascade Falls or Bayview Trailhead, both of which offer beautiful views of California's incredible landscape.
Tahoe South may have significantly fewer ski resorts than the North, but they're comparable in size of terrain and difficulty. Kirkwood, Heavenly, and Sierra-at-Tahoe are not only some of the best maintained ski areas in California but are known around the world as some of the best mountains to shred. Skiers and snowboarders face a very tough choice when visiting Tahoe — because both sides of the lake offer ample opportunities for winter fun.