South Lake Tahoe is a winter wonderland nestled beside a crystal-clear lake, surrounded by forested mountains and towering granite peaks blanketed in pure white snow. The South Shore is much more active than the laid-back North Lake Tahoe. While both offer unlimited winter activities and a quaint mountain vibe, the South just tends to be a little more popular among tourists. Legalized gambling in California has changed the look of the Stateline area at South Lake Tahoe, but other than the loss of die-hard gamblers, the joyous vibe of South Shore remains undiminished. South Lake is a scenic 3 ½ hour drive from the Bay Area, and 2 hours if coming from Sacramento. Whether you need a romantic weekend escape or a mid-week getaway, there’s nothing like South Lake’s unmatched natural scenery, winter activities, and relentless nightlife that never quits.
SKIING SOUTH LAKE
Epic downhill runs, world-class half-pipes, awesome terrain parks, beautiful lake views, and crystal-clean air, combine to draw skiers and snowboarders from around the world. North Tahoe has more ski resorts than South Lake, but in the spirit of “quality over quantity”, each South Lake ski resort has its own distinct vibe and is considered among the best in North America.
HEAVENLY SKI RESORT
Heavenly is the “granddaddy” of all Tahoe ski resorts. At 10,067 feet, it boasts Tahoe’s highest summit elevation. The 4800 skiable acres and longest vertical drop make this park a must for diehard skiers and boarders. For those up for the challenge, Heavenly offers some of the most extreme double-black diamond skiing in North America. Also great for family skiing and offers some of the best views in the world from the gondola lift.
KIRKWOOD MOUNTAIN RESORT
Kirkwood ski resort is a 15-mile drive north of South Lake Tahoe. The icy winter road to this resort can be a little rough to navigate, but when the snow starts falling, powder buffs and avid skiers flock in droves to this remote park for some of the deepest powder and steepest runs in the world. A little village surrounding the resort takes care of your food and shopping needs, and a special tubing hill is here for non-skiers to enjoy.
Sierra-at-Tahoe is 15 miles east of South Lake, meaning it’s the closest resort to the Bay Area. Great for a one-day ski trip. Pack your vehicle full of skiers, leave the Bay Area by 6 AM, snooze on the drive (not the driver, of course) and get to the slopes well-rested as they open.
Acclaimed terrain parks and great tree skiing make this park a fun challenge, and the strategically positioned lifts give you more runs through the day. An added bonus to this park is the two lifts on the backside of the mountain. The afternoon sun feels amazing beating down on you as you ski the backside runs. Go with your urge to shed some clothing to ski in blue jeans and a t-shirt.
A word of advice for all three ski resorts: bring your own lunch because food and drinks at these parks will cost more than the lift ticket.
This South Lake Tahoe resort thrives year-round but shines brightest in winter. Heavenly Village features a world-renowned ski resort surrounded by upscale lodging, great food, plenty of shopping, and winter activities for the whole family. This classic winter wonderland is also within walking distance of South Lake’s major casinos.
Purchase a non-skier ticket and ride the gondola to the top of Heavenly Resort for a breathtaking view of the lake. Kids and adults can ice-skate all day for $20 at the village skating rink, or maybe catch a movie at the theater in Heavenly. Everyone wins in the sport of shopping at Heavenly Village. Clothe your inner snow bunny, stock up on new winter equipment, or splurge on some cozy warm footwear to lounge around in.
On Sunday nights, there’s a perk known as Last Trails. The mountain closes to the public at 4 PM, but those lodging at Heavenly Village can continue skiing down Ridge Run. Afterward head to Lat 38, a rooftop bar at the California Lodge for some après-ski action, complete with live music and cozy fire pits.
SOUTH LAKE NON-SKIER WINTER ACTIVITIES
There’s no shortage of winter adventures at South Lake Tahoe, and not all only involve skiing, and since the snow usually remains until spring, you have time to experience it all.
Take a drive around the lake. This usually takes a little over two hours, but don’t be in a big hurry, take the whole day if you have it. The halfway point of the drive is Tahoe City at North Shore. Stop off and grab a bite to eat before continuing your drive. The unimaginable views of the lake and its surroundings are indescribable, so I won’t try, but trust me… you’ll love it.
Enjoy a gondola ride and ice skating at Heavenly Village. Fly down specially groomed courses at Heavenly, Kirkwood, and Sierra-at-Tahoe on your sled or tube, or avoid resort crowds, pick your own hill, and sled for free at Spooner Summit, or one of the other nearby parks. Enjoy the serenity and outstanding scenic views while experiencing Lake Tahoe’s many miles of snowshoe routes or cross-country ski trails. There’re snowmobile rentals for those needing to traverse the snow at high speeds.
A popular winter pastime is après-ski, but you don’t have to ski to enjoy the après part. Plenty of places in South Lake invite you to relax after a day of snow fun. Warm yourself at a cozy fire pit, eat some s’mores, grab some wine or a hot chocolate heaped with whipped cream, and unwind euro-style. Indulge a smile with friends, family, or new acquaintances, and forget all about that busy life you’ve left behind.
SOUTH SHORE TRAVEL AND LEISURE
Most of the action in the area happens in and around South Lake Tahoe, and that’s where most of the tourists choose to stay. Luckily, South Lake Tahoe offers a long list of fabulous lakeside hotels, luxurious ski lodges, and rustic B&Bs.
South Shore casinos give the option of having dinner and drinks, capped by an evening of entertainment and gambling, assuring your dining experience to be anything but boring, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that most of the best dining can be found here. Fill your belly with some of the town’s best surf and turf at Friday’s Station in Harrah’s Lake Tahoe. Ciera Steak and Chophouse at Bally’s Lake Tahoe is a meat-lover’s dream. Expensive, but worth every penny. Also visit the Edgewood Restaurant at the Edgewood Tahoe Resort, where mouth-watering venison and baked gnocchi highlight an extensive menu. Reserve a table at sunset for an exceptional view of the lake through the restaurant’s floor-to-ceiling windows.
Beer is done right in South Lake. Over a dozen taverns and pub houses line the strip. South of North Brewing is a stone’s throw from Heavenly Village, and Sidellis is a quaint alternative to the bustling casino bars. There are also fantastic burger joints and sports bars in town for those looking for less-expensive meal options.
CASINOS AND NIGHTLIFE
After a joyful day of heavenly adventures in the snow, shake off those wings, put on your horns, because your evening is just heating up. North Lake tends to slow down early, but the wild nightlife at South Lake doesn’t stop until you do. South Shore casinos are all unique, with their own distinct style and flow. The most popular casino at South Shore is Harrah’s Lake Tahoe, which offers a luxurious hotel, top-notch gaming, great food, and an amazing view of Lake Tahoe from the Forest Buffet on the 18th floor.
For those who love music and dancing, check into concerts and clubs in South Lake’s nightlife scene. Other casino options include Harvey’s and its riotous Improv Club; the Hard Rock Casino with live music every night; Bally’s fancy dining and superb entertainment; and the Lakeside Inn and Casino, located a few miles away from the larger casinos, making it a more laid-back option. Oh, and of course, all these casinos come with gambling aplenty. Jackpot, Baby!