The Lake Tahoe area on the border of Nevada and California is a wonderful place to vacation. This big blue lake is breathtaking and gigantic – it covers 191 square miles and has an average depth of 1000 feet, making it the second deepest lake in the United States after Oregon’s Crater Lake. The water is both bright blue and clear depending on your perspective and the surrounding mountains are spectacular.
Not only is Lake Tahoe absolutely beautiful, but you’ll find all sorts of attractions nearby. Near Lake Tahoe, you’ll find beaches, trails, waterfalls, and outdoor adventures that will thrill any nature enthusiast. On the flip side, you’ll also find upscale accommodations, restaurants, and shops that will please jet-setters, as well.
There is nightlife and casino gambling for those who like to stay up late and party, but at the same time, there are plenty of things to see and do if you’re traveling with kids. The ski resorts around Lake Tahoe are some of the best in the country, and in warmer weather, there are countless opportunities to get out on the lake itself.
No matter what you seek when vacationing, Lake Tahoe has it. No one leaves Lake Tahoe disappointed.
If you’re planning a trip to this area, you may be wondering where to stay in Lake Tahoe. The lake is quite large and has seventy-one miles of shoreline. Around its edge, there are over a dozen towns and villages to visit and explore, and each of them has its own character and personality. If you’re trying to decide where to stay in Lake Tahoe, read on – in this post, we’ve outlined the most popular areas to help make your decision easier.
Best Areas to Stay in Lake Tahoe
- Best Area for First-Timers/Tourists – South Lake Tahoe
- Best Area for Budget Travelers – Carson City
- Best Area for Luxury Travelers -Incline Village
- Best Area for Families – Tahoe City
- Best Area for Adventurers – Truckee/Olympic Valley
- Best Area for Nightlife – Stateline & Zephyr Cove/Carson City
- Best Area for Younger Travelers – South Lake Tahoe
Where to Stay in Lake Tahoe
1. Stateline/Zephyr Cove
Stateline and Zephyr Cove are on the southeastern side of the Lake just above the California/Nevada border on the Nevada side. Because casino gambling is legal in Nevada but not in California, you’ll find several large casino resorts in Stateline, and that’s the draw for most people who choose to stay in this area.
Currently, there are four casino resorts operating here: Bally’s Lake Tahoe, Harrah’s Lake Tahoe, Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Lake Tahoe, and Harvey’s Lake Tahoe. Also, Edgewood Tahoe Resort is on the lake in Stateline. It doesn’t have a casino, but it has an incredibly scenic lakefront golf course that golfers from all over the nation and world simply adore. Surprisingly, though, it doesn’t have a private beach.
As is always the case with casino-focused towns, you’ll find lots of activity in Stateline at most hours of the day. Each casino resort has a nightclub, so Stateline is the best place to be on the lake if you’re seeking nightlife. Harvey’s Lake Tahoe has an outdoor music venue on site which holds 7,500 patrons in reserved seating or 9,300 when set up for general admission. It attracts famous, national touring acts throughout the warmer months, and it’s a fantastic place to see a concert.
Zephyr Cove, to the north of Stateline, is a bit more low-key. The Zephyr Cove day-use area offers a small but pleasant beach area, and many boat tours of the lake run out of the Zephyr Cove Marina. Round Hill Pines Beach here is lovely. Another, larger beach – Nevada Beach – is between Stateline and Zephyr Cove, and the park adjacent to it offers several easy but lovely hiking trails. Zephyr Cove is close to the action without being in the middle of it, and it’s a nice little town to visit when you want to step away from the hustle and bustle of Stateline.
Stateline and Zephyr Cove are great options for visitors who want to enjoy the lake and love large resort hotels with a lot of action and amenities. Although this area mostly draws adult vacationers due to the gambling aspect, families can have a nice stay in these two towns as well.
Things to Do in Stateline/Zephyr Cove
- Gamble in one of four casino resorts – or all of them
- Explore Rabe Meadows, a lovely nature area with trails
- See a concert at Lake Tahoe Outdoor Arena
- Play a round of golf at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course
- Swim at Round Hill Pines Beach & Marina
- Hike the Logan Shoals Vista Trail
- Go horseback riding at Zephyr Cove Stables
- Take a Zephyr Cove helicopter tour
Accommodations in the Stateline/Zephyr Cove area
See Related: Best Beaches in Lake Tahoe
2. South Lake Tahoe
South Lake Tahoe and Stateline are kind of one contiguous town – they flow together – but South Lake Tahoe is in California, not Nevada. You might not even know you’ve crossed over into Stateline if it wasn’t for the casinos; the state border is painted on the road between the two towns and states, though, and is a fun photo opportunity.
South Lake Tahoe, on its own, is the largest town on Lake Tahoe with a year-round population of a bit over 21,000 residents. Don’t expect a busy metropolis, though – although South Lake Tahoe does have a small “downtown” area, it’s mostly residential. The Lake Tahoe Airport is in South Lake Tahoe, but it only serves private planes and charters so it’s likely you won’t be flying into it unless you are very well off.
Even though South Lake Tahoe is mostly full of private homes, it’s a bit touristy. You’ll find lots of souvenir shops in town, and plenty of good restaurants, too. It’s popular as the site of Heavenly Ski Resort, a ski mountain straddles the California/Nevada border and has 97 runs and 30 lifts across the two states and a peak elevation of 10,067 feet.
In the summer, vacationers and locals can swim in the lake from four beaches in town – Keys Beach, Thomas F. Regan Memorial City Beach, El Dorado Beach, and Lakeside Beach. They’re four separate beaches but together, they run most of the length of town along the lakefront, except for the large Tahoe Keys Marina at the western end of town.
South Lake Tahoe is a great place to vacation because it’s easy to get around on foot or by car, and there are numerous beaches to enjoy plus a ski resort. Plus, it’s touristy and residential, so you can feel like a local while on vacation. Views of the lake from South Lake Tahoe are exceptional, and there are plenty of stores, restaurants, and activities to keep anyone busy for a week or more. And, if somehow you do get bored in South Lake Tahoe, the action of Stateline is just steps away, too.
Things to Do in South Lake Tahoe
- Ride the gondola at Heavenly Ski Resort for spectacular views
- Visit the Tallac Historic Site and check out three Tahoe Estates from the early 1900s
- Tour Vikingsholm, another historic estate
- Explore the trials and see wildlife at Van Sickle Bi-State Park
- Hike to Lower Eagle Falls or Glen Alpine Falls
- Visit the Tahoe Trout Farm to learn about fish farming
- View incredible art by local and international artists at Marcus Ashley Fine Art Gallery
- Take a boat tour of the lake on a speedboat
Accommodations in South Lake Tahoe
3. Carson City
Carson City isn’t on the lake, but it’s less than half an hour away, and it’s a great place to stay if you’re trying to enjoy a Lake Tahoe vacation on a budget. This small city of around 56,000 residents is the capital of Nevada and was founded in 1858.
In its early years, it was a silver mining center after the discovery of the Comstock Lode in nearby Virginia City, but after Nevada became a state in 1864, it continued to grow as a western commercial center. Today, it’s home to many people who love its easy access to both desert and forest lake environments, and to Lake Tahoe in particular.
If you stay in Carson City, you’ll need a rental car to get back and forth to Lake Tahoe. There are public buses, but you’ll lose a lot of vacation time taking them back and forth; they’re mostly used by locals. A car will not only give you quick access to the towns around the lake, but it will also allow you to explore the mountains and desert around Carson City as well.
You’ll likely want to spend most of your time at and around the lake – Lake Tahoe was your planned vacation destination, after all – but don’t sleep on the many things to do in Carson City proper, either. This area is full of history and museums, and Carson City could keep you busy for many days on its own.
If you enjoy gambling, you’ll love Carson City. The city has thirteen casinos with more than 3,000 slot and gaming machines to keep you busy. Due to the fact that Carson City is adjacent to Lake Tahoe but just far enough away to be its own thing, the casino resorts in this city offer lots of amenities, and many have excellent entertainment and restaurants, too.
Carson City is an excellent choice for visitors to Lake Tahoe who want to be able to enjoy the lake without spending an arm and a leg, and you’ll likely enjoy this little city far more than you might think you will before your arrival.
Things to Do in Carson City
- Visit the Nevada State Museum to learn about the state’s history
- Learn about railway history at the Nevada State Railroad Museum
- Tour the Nevada State Capitol Building
- Gamble at some of the city’s many casinos
- Take a ride in a hot air balloon
- View the stars and planets at the Jack C. Davis Observatory at Western Nevada College
- Take a self-guided walking tour on the Kit Carson Trail after picking up a map at the Visitor’s Center/Chamber of Commerce
- Educate yourself on the settlers’ impact on the local indigenous people at the Stewart Indian Cultural Center
- Take a city tour of Carson City
Hotels: Best Luxury, Mid-Range, Budget, & VRBO
See Related: Best Lakes in California to Visit
4. Incline Village
Incline Village is on the north end of Lake Tahoe and is just barely on the Nevada side of the lake. It’s on Crystal Bay, one of the clearest and most spectacular parts of the lake – the deepest point of Lake Tahoe is just off it and is 1,644 feet deep. The year-round resident population of Incline Village is around 9,000 people which makes it the second largest lakeside town after South Lake Tahoe.
The town of Incline Village was established in 1882 when the Sierra Nevada Wood and Lumber Company set up shop there to harvest timber. The name of the town comes from that company’s incline railway that pulled timber up and over the mountains to slide down a gravity flume to Carson City, where it was used for construction of the mines built to mine the Comstock Lode in nearby Virginia City.
Incline Village has changed a lot since then. Today, it’s home to the main campus of Sierra Nevada University – it also has some of the most expensive real estate in the United States.
This area of Lake Tahoe is rather upscale. It’s known as a tax haven for people who want to live near California without paying California taxes and for shell corporations seeking the same. Regardless of all that, though, it’s a great place to vacation if you like high-end, high-quality restaurants and shops, and if you’re someone who gets excited about the possibility of running into celebrities during your explorations.
This area is a great option for active folks and adventurers. Diamond Peak Ski Resort is on the edge of town; it’s one of the smaller ski resorts in the area, with 30 runs and six lifts, but it offers great views of the lake. Numerous hiking trails depart from and surround Incline Village.
Burnt Cedar Beach and Ski Beach are small, but are lovely for swimming and kayaking – and there are many more beaches to enjoy just south of town. The Incline Village Championship Golf Course and the Incline Village Mountain Golf Course in Incline Village are both popular with golfer; most prefer the latter over the former.
Incline Village is a very nice area for vacationing – just plan to spend quite a bit of money on everything if this is the spot you choose.
Things to Do in Incline Village
- Go kayaking or paddle boarding in Sand Harbor
- Get naked at Secret Cove Beach, the area’s most popular nude beach
- Visit and explore Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park
- Ski or snowboard at Diamond Peak Ski Resort
- Rent a kayak and paddle around the lake’s beautiful northern end
- Learn about environmental science at the US Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center
- Hike the Tahoe Meadows Trail or the Tahoe East Shore Trail
- Relax on the beach at Incline Beach
Accommodations in Incline Village
5. Truckee/Olympic Valley
Like Carson City, Truckee and its associated ski resorts are not right on the shores of Lake Tahoe, unlike the other towns on our list, but they are all part of the Lake Tahoe region and are excellent places to stay with a bit of the best of all worlds. This town is on the northwestern side of the lake in California. The population of Truckee is a bit over 16,000, so it’s a decent-sized town with lots of amenities and very happy locals, most of whom feel they live in paradise.
Nearby ski resorts include Olympic Valley (formerly Squaw Valley until a name change in 2022), Northstar California Resort, Sugar Bowl Resort, Boreal Ridge, Soda Springs Mountain Resort, Alpine Meadows, and Tahoe Donner Downhill Ski Resort. With all of these fantastic area ski resorts, it’s no surprise that dozens of Winter Olympians have hailed from this area; in fact, an athlete from the Lake Tahoe area has competed in every Winter Olympics since 1964.
Truckee and the Olympic Valley are famous for a lot of things – primarily skiing, as you can see – but you may be familiar with this area because it was where many members of the Donner Party, a group of settlers from Illinois, met their fate in the winter of 1846. You can visit the state park that memorializes them during your visit and learn more about the trials and tribulations of early settlers at the Emigrant Trail Museum there as well.
People love staying in the Truckee area because there are numerous affordable options since it’s off the lake, but there are high-end options as well, especially at the resorts. Visitors love the historic downtown and the Old West vibe.
In the warmer months, Truckee offers easy access to the lake itself as well as the vast outdoor activity opportunities in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Historic downtown Truckee is charming and is full of shops and restaurants, too. You’ll love staying in Truckee at any time of the year.
Things to Do in Olympic Valley/Truckee
- Ride the Palisades Tahoe Aerial Tram
- Hike the Shirley Lake Trail
- Brave the Palisades Tahoe Ropes Course
- Go whitewater rafting on the Truckee River
- Visit the Donner Memorial State Park and Emigrant Trail Museum
- Shop and dine in historic Downtown Truckee
- Check out the KidZone Museum with your little ones
- Take a local food tour
Accommodations in the Olympic Valley/Truckee area
See Related: Best Vacation Rentals in California
6. Tahoe City
Tahoe City is a small town on the west shore of the lake in California. Its population is just under 3,000, so if you prefer small towns for your vacations, this may be the place for you.
In addition to being on the lake itself, it’s also quite close to the ski resorts mentioned in the Truckee section of this post above – many are about halfway between the two towns. The Truckee River meets the lake in Tahoe City, and the Truckee River Bike Trail runs along it.
It’s a beautiful place for biking or walking and numerous other hiking trails depart from places around town as well. Commons Beach is the main beach in Tahoe City and it’s broad, relaxing, and serene. The Tahoe City Marina is also here and is a great place for boat charters and rentals.
Downtown Tahoe City is sleepy and quiet, but it easily has enough restaurants to fill your belly and enough interesting shops to keep you busy browsing. Founded in the mid-1800s, Tahoe City was known as simply Tahoe until 1949. There are several museums and historic homes worth visiting in Tahoe City during your stay as well, such as the 1903 Hellman-Ehrman Mansion, the 1909 Watson Cabin Museum, and the Gatekeeper’s Museum.
If you’re looking for mellow, Tahoe City is it. This small town has a bit of everything without too much of anything and offers easy access to both the mountains and the lake.
Things to Do in Tahoe City
- Rent a bike and ride the Truckee River Bike Trail
- Enjoy the view of Lake Tahoe from Inspiration Point Vista or the Eagle Falls Trail
- Tour the Hellman-Ehrman Mansion
- Go skiing and sledding at the Granlibakken Ski and Sled Area
- Relax at Commons Beach Park
- Learn about local history at the Gatekeeper’s Museum
- Go cross-country skiing at Tahoe Cross Country
- Try stand-up paddleboarding
Accommodations in Tahoe City
The Best Times of Year to Visit Lake Tahoe
If you’re wondering when you should visit, you should know that any time of year is a good time to visit Lake Tahoe! Most vacationers who come to this area come either in the summer or in the winter, but the spring and fall are lovely as well. They’re far less crowded and busy.
Of course, people love to visit Lake Tahoe during the summer because it’s a lakefront destination with lots of outdoor, summer activities. Although Lake Tahoe is more than a mile high at 6,224 feet, the weather is quite warm and sunny during the peak summer months. That means visitors can swim in the lake, although they may find the water in the outdoor swimming pool at their hotel to be quiet a bit warmer.
Boating on Lake Tahoe is extremely popular, and you’d be foolish to not take a boat ride during your stay. Further, Lake Tahoe is surrounded by epic hiking trails with incredible views. Overall, it’s a perfect playground for summer travelers.
On the flip side, winter in the Lake Tahoe region is also fantastic. The average snowfall in this area is between 210 and 220 inches – and that’s exactly why people come to Tahoe from all over the world. The skiing in this region is some of the best in the nation. If you love outdoor, winter sports, then you’ll love visiting Lake Tahoe in the wintertime.
The shoulder seasons are wonderful too! Prices drop between summer and winter and again between winter and summer, and you won’t have to fight the crowds on the trails or in the stores and restaurants. The weather can be crisp during the spring and fall seasons, but if you prepare and dress properly, you can do it all in Lake Tahoe during these seasons.
No matter when you decide to go, you’re going to love Lake Tahoe. Start planning immediately – and read on to find out where to stay in Lake Tahoe for the best experience for you.
How much does it cost to stay in Lake Tahoe?
The cost to stay in Lake Tahoe varies greatly depending on your wants, needs, and where you end up staying. However, Lake Tahoe isn’t a truly budget-friendly vacation spot. Sure, you can find budget options in all of the places listed above if you look hard and plan far ahead, but most of the accommodations and dining options in this area are on the more costly side, especially if you’re traveling at the peak of the summer or during ski season.
Don’t let that sway you from a Lake Tahoe vacation, though. You’re sure to find a visit to this part of California and Nevada to be worth every penny that you spend.
What is the difference between North Lake Tahoe and South Lake Tahoe?
North Lake Tahoe and South Lake Tahoe have a lot in common – they are both just divisions of areas around this giant lake. Both are beautiful and offer direct lake access, hiking trails, mountain views, and similar weather.
The south shore and the north shore are both great, it just depends on what you are seeking. Each of the towns we’ve described above has its own personality and character; you can have a completely different kind of vacation each time you visit this area if you stay in a different lake town each time.
For example, Incline Village is a playground for the rich and famous, whereas Stateline is for gamblers, and South Lake Tahoe is for more relaxed and laidback visitors who prefer souvenir shops, boat rides, and beach visits over upscale restaurants or slot machines. There’s something for everyone in the Lake Tahoe area – you just need to find what’s right for you.
Is a vacation rental a good option for Lake Tahoe accommodations?
Vacation rentals are abundant in the Lake Tahoe region! They are a great option for visitors who come for the summer or for those who come in the winter to enjoy winter sports. You have countless options from which to choose – there are large houses that can accommodate large family and friend groups, and there are small condos that might be perfect for an individual or a couple.
Take some time to peruse the offerings on VRBO, and you’re sure to find a vacation rental that’s perfect for you and your companions. Hotels in Lake Tahoe are plentiful and great, but many people like vacation rentals better when visiting Lake Tahoe.
What should I consider when choosing where to stay in Lake Tahoe?
Since every part of the Lake Tahoe area is different, take some time to think about your wants and needs when it comes to vacationing. Are you looking for action? Do you seek quiet and relaxation? Are you someone who seeks out high-end food and experiences? Do you plan to go boating on the lake or do you want to spend time on the beach? Are you a hiker? In the winter, do you want easy access to ski resorts and other winter activities? The answers to these questions, combined with our descriptions above, will help you narrow the field immensely.
You’ll want to keep in mind your budget and length of stay, too – if you’re only visiting for a few nights, you might just want to get a hotel in one spot. If you’re in the area for a week or more, however, then you might want to try a few of the towns around the lake to see their similarities and differences for yourself. If you’re traveling with a large group, you might want to get a rental house instead of hotel rooms. The possibilities are endless – but no matter what you choose – you’re sure to have a great time in Lake Tahoe.