The sheer beauty and vastness of Lake Tahoe’s indigo blue hue, mixed with the surrounding mountains and stately pines, are enough to captivate those who live both near and far, but it’s the surplus of places to sip, snooze and snack; world-class recreational activities; glittering casinos and laid-back vibes that have visitors leaving South Lake with suitcases full of fun.
Lucky for us, this prime piece of paradise is only a hop, skip and a drive away, so whether it’s your first or five-hundredth time visiting America’s largest alpine lake—and experiencing the wild life (whether in the form of bears or bars)—follow my guide below for a weekend that’ll blow all your blues into the lake.
When it comes to cookie-cutter lodging, Basecamp South Lake Tahoe is anything but. Their break-the-rules style veers off the basic hotel path and ventures into territory that’s playful, artsy and communal cool, thanks to a 16-person hot tub, year-round beer garden (complete with fire pits, porch swings, picnic tables, ping pong, corn hole, market lights and a rooftop patio), REI-meets-Moonrise Kingdom décor—think reclaimed wood dotted throughout, in-room retro coolers and lantern-style lamps, antlers aplenty and witty, explorer-inspired signs (i.e. “All Who Wander Are Not Lost” and “Screw Breadcrumbs”)—plus uniquely styled rooms that are big on comfort and low on price.
Come morning, follow the smell of syrup to the complimentary breakfast that’s simple but substantial enough to last you till lunch, then peel yourself away from the premises for a short jaunt lakeside or into town. Although technically “base camp,” this is definitely a home you’ll have a hard time leaving.
Whether your experience with powder involves donuts or black diamonds, Heavenly and Sierra-at-Tahoe will both give you a new appreciation for snowy white goodness. Below is a rundown of what you can expect at each. Note: While the current snow season is winding down, now’s the best time to purchase season passes for 2016/17; check out each respective website for details.
- Ninety-seven runs and 30 lifts that are spread between California and Nevada with four base facilities mean that snow bunnies have plenty of runs and differing terrain to hop down.
- If you’re staying at Basecamp or anywhere in the vicinity, it’s a short walk to a free shuttle that takes you to California Base Lodge or to the Heavenly Mountain Gondola, where you’re whisked 2.4 miles up and provided with mind-blowing views—and where your adventures (skiing, snowboarding, tubing) can commence.
- Those with little ones (six weeks old and up) can take advantage of Heavenly Day Care and Nursery, where professionally trained staff provide one-on-one nanny services, ski lessons for three-to-five-year-olds or hands-on learning and play.
- Summer doesn’t mean things at Heavenly simmer down. Warm-weather activities include kids’ and adults ropes courses, a climbing wall, zip lining, hiking, mountain biking and more.
Bottom Line: An experience at this popular and enourmous resort will have your whole clan on cloud nine. With easy access for lodgers staying in South Lake’s hub, spectacular lake vistas, and plenty of activities to keep everyone entertained, it’s truly divine.
- Tahoe’s third largest—and closest from Sacramento via Highway 50—resort, with over 2,000 acres of slopes and 320 acres of steep backcountry trails. A 2.5-mile beginner run and four beginner-only conveyor lifts, along with awesome tree skiing and award-winning terrain parks, ensure novices and pros alike will have the time of their life.
- Keep the kids amused at one of four themed Adventure Zones (The Wampa Cave, Gold Rush, Pony Express and Teepee Town); take them to Blizzard Mountain (an expansive snow play and sledding area); or drop 18-month-olds to five-year-olds off at Wild Mountain Day Care.
- Easygoing, friendly hospitality emanates through the entire resort—from the rental shop to the ski lift attendants and pint-pourers at the lodge. I was also pleased to learn that Sierra supports the local community through numerous philanthropic efforts.
- While summertime brings a halt to snow play, those wanting to tie the knot in a secluded mountain setting can officially say “I Do” here. Rates are affordable and inclusive of setup, tables and chairs, a bartender and more.
Bottom Line: With such close proximity to Sactown, Sierra is the perfect spot to swing by en route or homeward bound from a South Lake escape. The inexpensive prices—especially in comparison to neighboring resorts—abundance of family- and beginner-friendly fun, wind-protected slopes and commitment to both community and the environment, make Sierra a prime pick for a guaranteed good time.
If you pack one thing along on a trip to South Lake, let it be your appetite. Thanks to endless offerings—from all-you-can-eat buffets to fancy schmancy four-star eateries and casual, al fresco cafes—the growling can be left to the bears.
While most hotel eateries are more blah than brilliant, ECHO Lounge and Restaurant (adjacent to Lake Tahoe Resort Hotel) beats the odds. Serving up “great drinks, great food and great company,” in the form of offerings like Wild Salmon Fish and Chips, a 12-ounce ribeye with blue cheese Cabernet sauce, “Build Your Tahoe Way” pizzas and pastas, and stiff cocktails like the Coconut Hibiscus Mojito, Executive Chef Salvadore Cortez Delgado highlights seasonal ingredients with punchy flavors.
Paired with a side of live music and barbecued Korean-Spanish street-style tacos on their outdoor patio come summertime, the smells and sounds of ECHO can be heard from high above the summit.
After a day of adventure, nothing satisfies quite like a tart, tangy, tequila-heavy margarita (made with actual hand-squeezed citrus and agave, as opposed to syrupy, sickeningly sweet “margarita mix”) alongside light, fresh Latin American fare with a California twist (think Thai curry tacos, barbacoa beef burritos, beet-goat cheese wraps and tres leches cake with roasted pineapple).
Enter Azul Latin Kitchen. Sited streetside in Heavenly Village, it’s the perfect destination for a meal morning, noon or night (their Happy Hour, from 2-6 p.m. daily, is one of the best in town). The menu is vast and varied without being overwhelming and boasts options aplenty that cater to all ages, appetites and dietary needs.
For more info about Tahoe South, visit tahoesouth.com.
Blog Post by Real Weddings Managing Editor, Megan Wiskus.
Please see photos for credits.
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