Culture Trip's Guide to Lake Tahoe, California

You can enjoy the beauty of Lake Tahoe from the air or the shore, or by taking a boat trip
You can enjoy the beauty of Lake Tahoe from the air or the shore, or by taking a boat trip | © Littleny / Alamy Stock Photo
Mandi Keighran

Lake Tahoe, California, is a natural wonderland just waiting to be explored – from water sports on the largest alpine lake in America in summer to some of the world’s best ski resorts in winter. There are also jaw-dropping hotels, a world-class wine scene and an excellent barbecue joint.

Where to stay

1. Basecamp South Lake Tahoe

Hotel

Chairs around a table and fire pit on a terrace at Basecamp South Lake Tahoe
Courtesy of Basecamp South Lake Tahoe / Expedia

In the heart of South Lake Tahoe and a five-minute walk to the lake, Basecamp makes an excellent place to explore the surrounding area from. It has all the amenities of a resort, including a rooftop hot tub with mountain views, plenty of firepits and free beach passes in summer, yet at affordable motel prices. The on-site beer garden, which is host to South of North Brewing Co, is the ideal place to unwind after a day spent exploring.

2. Cedar House Sport Hotel

Hotel

Snow on the ground and trees leading to the building of Cedar House Sport Hotel, lit up in the evening
Courtesy of Cedar House Sport Hotel / Expedia.com

This hotel in the historic town of Truckee is in the perfect location for an action-packed getaway. There are mountains to summit, alpine lakes to kayak on and 13 ski resorts in the surrounding area, with Squaw Valley and Northstar California being the two closest options. Resembling a ski chalet, the hotel itself is a celebration of the surrounding landscape and was built on sustainable principles, using a blend of recycled and natural materials. Check out the chic Designer Room, which features an impressive leather platform bed and a private deck overlooking the courtyard garden.

3. Edgewood Tahoe Resort

Resort, Spa Hotel, Golf Hotel

Edgewood Tahoe Resort in front of a lake, with trees around it and snow-covered mountains behind it
Courtesy of Edgewood Tahoe Resort / Expedia.com

If you’re looking for unrivaled luxury, check into the Edgewood Tahoe Resort – a five-star retreat perched on the shores of Lake Tahoe. It’s almost impossible to escape the spectacular views here, whether you’re relaxing in the soaring glass and stone lounge, swimming in the lakeside pool or basking by a fireplace on one of the private balconies. The public golf course is rated among the world’s best, and the spa offers exclusive gemstone rituals that incorporate local stones into massage treatments. There are also regular activities, ranging from morning yoga to evening s’mores.

What to do

4. Go sailing on Lake Tahoe

Activities

There’s no better way to explore Lake Tahoe than by getting out on the water, and a sailing boat offers a unique experience. Instead of joining one of the large tour boats – which operate with 50-plus passengers – hop onboard Sail Tahoe Blue’s 40ft yacht, which limits groups to just 15. Propelled by the wind, the boat will allow you to enjoy the beauty of the lake without the noise of an engine. The knowledgeable captain and crew are on hand to guide you through the two-hour trip, and alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks are included.

5. See Lake Tahoe from above in a helicopter

Tours

Enjoy the breathtaking landscape surrounding Lake Tahoe from a different perspective in a helicopter. This 10-minute flight, operated by Tahoe Helicopters, takes in Fallen Leaf Lake, Cascade Lake, Taylor Creek and Pope Beach before heading to Emerald Bay, which is surrounded by granite cathedrals and named for its emerald-green waters. The tour includes noise-reducing headsets to ensure a comfortable ride, and the pilot will provide narration as you soar above these majestic Lake Tahoe landmarks.

6. Explore El Dorado Wine Country

Tours

Nestled in the Sierra foothills, the El Dorado wine region is home to more than 70 wineries with more than 2,000 acres (809ha) of vineyards. On this tour, which departs from South Lake Tahoe, you’ll enjoy guided visits to several wineries, with tastings at the first three included in the price. You’ll learn about the history of winemaking in the region – which emerged during the Gold Rush era – and taste varietals such as merlot, chardonnay and sangiovese. These high-altitude wines are renowned for their vibrant flavor and value. You’ll also visit Boa Vista Orchards and indulge in an outdoor picnic lunch on the grounds of one of the wineries.

Where to eat

7. Sunnyside Restaurant and Lodge

Bakery, Restaurant, American

A white plate of crispy calamari with coconut-chile sauce and cilantro aioli, with salt and pepper shakes on the wooden table
© Chuck Place / Alamy Stock Photo
Sunnyside, in Tahoe City, has been around since the 1950s, becoming something of a famous destination in itself. It has the largest outdoor deck on the lake – the perfect front-row seat for catching watersports in action during summer. The menu features a range of culinary delights, from chicken wings and fresh fish tacos to pistachio-crusted fish and coconut calamari. There’s also an excellent cocktail menu that gives the classics a local twist.

8. Manzanita

Restaurant, American

Tables and chairs, with a fireplace and a wooden beam ceiling, in Manzanita Restaurant at the Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe
Courtesy of The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe / Expedia.com

If you’re celebrating a special occasion in Lake Tahoe, book a table at Manzanita, the fine-dining restaurant at the ski-in, ski-out Ritz-Carlton, located mid-mountain on the northside of the lake. The focus is on local, seasonal ingredients, and the chefs elevate classic American fare with innovative new flavors and presentations. The elegant interior, which features expansive floor-to-ceiling windows and a lively bar and chef’s table, is as inspiring as the menu, and the family-friendly restaurant also offers a kids’ menu of childhood favorites.

9. Moe’s Original BBQ

Restaurant, American

Homemade blackened mahimahi white fish with asparagus, a lemon and rice on a white plate
© Brent Hofacker / Alamy Stock Photo

This laid-back venue brings Alabama-style barbecue to Lake Tahoe’s shores, with a good selection of craft beers on draft and regular live music. It smokes fresh meat daily, and the menu features classics such as Bama-style pulled pork, smoked wings and blackened mahi-mahi fish served with home-made sides. There’s also Smofu, or smoked tofu. If you’re looking for a meal to go, grab one of the to-go family packs, which feed up to six, and take your pick of frozen cocktails.

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