Snowy peaks, pine forests, an après-skiing scene — South Lake Tahoe has what it takes to make a spectacular winter escape. Nestled in the Sierra Mountains on the border of Nevada and California, the region has the best of both states: casinos and hopping nightlife and awe-inspiring nature and adventure options galore. Though winter sports don’t come cheap, there are ways to make your getaway more accessible. Here are some recommendations on how to plan your Tahoe vacation at an affordable price.
Nature is Lake Tahoe’s most valuable asset—in the midst of winter, there’s nothing more exhilarating than a powdery run on the slopes and a whiff of the fresh mountain air. For those learning to ski, the Sierra-at-Tahoe resort has a low-key family vibe and an expanded terrain that’s designed specifically for novices. It’s also the resort of choice for the budget-conscious, where lessons–including day passes—start at $49. More advanced athletes can head to Kirkwood for its challenging terrain with steep runs, cornices, and cliffs. Fans of a more upscale resort can go for Heavenly Mountain, with gorgeous views of the lake from the summit.
If you’re going to be staying for a week or more and can plan in advance, consider a season pass (typically, they’re available from the spring to the fall). For example: passes to Heavenly Mountain (which include access to sister resorts Kirkwood and Northstar) cost roughly $479 dollars for the entire year—minus some blackout dates. Purchased à la carte, a single day would set you back more than a hundred dollars. Another money-saving tip: Buy tickets online at least a week in advance and you can save up to 25 percent compared to buying them on the spot at the ticket window.
Bonus: There’s currently a “Ski for Free The Same Day You Fly” promotion where you can score complimentary lift tickets upon your arrival at the airport. But note that most resorts close at 4 p.m., so it’s best to arrive early in the day to get the most out of the deal.
Eat & Drink
Tahoe has a robust food scene with a plethora of places that won’t break the bank, from casual take-out joints to lakeside restaurants and just about every type of ethnic imaginable. At the base of the gondola, Poké Rok is the latest debut from the team behind popular Tahoe spots BaseCamp Pizza, Azul Latin Kitchen, and California Burger. The laid-back venue capitalizes on the Hawaiian-Japanese trend in a tasty and fresh way, with bowls and seaweed-wrapped burritos stuffed with ahi tuna and shrimp tempura rolled with tangy and spicy sauces (burritos from $12.95). Along the lake, go for a sunset cocktail on the porch of the Beacon Bar & Grill then head inside for seafood dishes such as the crab cakes with pico de gallo ($19) and wild sockeye salmon with spinach and cherry tomatoes ($24). For dessert, make your back to Heavenly Village to the Baked Bear, an ice cream sandwich shop where you can customize your own creations. Pick and choose among flavors as varied as salted caramel and strawberry cheesecake with cookies such as macadamia nut, red velvet, and snickerdoodle ($5.50 each).
Worth the splurge: If you set aside time for one date-night dinner, let it be at Edgewood Restaurant. The soaring vaulted ceilings, roaring fireplaces, and booths that face the calm-as-glass lake rimmed by snow-capped mountains are utterly romantic—not to be upstaged by the top-notch Pacific Rim cuisine: artichoke hearts with white wine, pistachios and grùyere cheese ($17); seared sea bass with snap peas and a lobster bisque ($39); and the mascarpone cheesecake with huckleberry compote ($8).
Enjoy a Night Out
In Tahoe, there’s an apres-ski happy hour around every corner; sushi restaurants such as the Naked Fish are plentiful as are pubs, pizza, and burger places—most with generous discounts on food and drinks in the afternoon (50 percent off specials are common as are $2-$4 drinks). The growing number of breweries around Tahoe are also good outlets to knock back a pint. Sample some craft brews around the fire pit from creative-minded brewers such as the Outpost Brewing Company. The beers on tap are concocted in an adjacent building and make for good accompaniments to the house-made sausages (our favorite: the jalapeno-cheddar elk bratwurst for just $13).
Because some resorts in Lake Tahoe are on the California-Nevada border, there are plenty of Vegas-style casinos (black jack tables, anyone?) and other late-night venues that can keep you amused throughout the evening—for under $25. The Hard Rock Casino features a rotating roster of shows—such as a rock-and-roll-themed burlesque spectacle at a splashy lounge with bistro tables and chairs. Meanwhile, down the street Harveys improv comedy shows spotlight boldface names who’ve appeared on Comedy Central, among other impressive credentials.
Just a five-minute walk from the gondola, the Lake Tahoe Resort Hotel offers a ton of amenities for a value. Its spacious two-room suites—centered around an atrium—are the perfect accommodations for families (even the on-site Echo restaurant has a menu that’s sophisticated enough for adults, but features a ton of kid-friendly dishes such as build-your-own pizzas and burgers). A ski and snowboard concierge is available at every hour of the day, and the hot and cold breakfast buffet, which is hearty enough to keep you sustained on the slopes, is included in the rate. (You can also get 20 percent off equipment rentals at the on-property outfitter Heavenly Sports should you be a guest of the hotel.) Rates start at $130 per night.