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A (Former) Local’s Guide to Winter in North Lake Tahoe

Written by Sarah WrightPublished Dec. 23, 2022 • 5:00am
Customers enjoy beer and food at Truckee Public House. | Courtesy Alibi Ale Works

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I grew up on Lake Tahoe’s north shore, and while much has changed since I was shredding it on the ski team in middle school, some things—like where to get the best burrito—have always stayed the same.

To start, let’s make one thing clear: If you’re looking to party, the north shore isn’t that. North Lake Tahoe is a much more locals-centered vibe—especially in the winter, when hitting the slopes first thing in the morning takes precedence over almost anything else. But don’t fear, this guide and the north shore have something for everyone, whether you’re a powder hound or a lodge rat.

Getting There

Sorry, there is no good time to leave the Bay Area for the mountains on a Friday—you’re better off heading up literally any other day of the week. If you’re like me and don’t even own a car, it’s generally not up to you when you leave anyway, so buckle up and enjoy (and check the Caltrans Twitter and this updates bot for road conditions).

The two things you can control? What route you take, and how much fun you’re having. If you’re coming from the city, do everything you can to avoid the Bay Bridge, and take the Golden Gate instead for a more scenic route.

Don’t: Eat at In-N-Out. Everyone is stopping at In-N-Out. Don’t even think about pulling over at the Davis one, or you can kiss your plans to get to the mountains by a decent hour goodbye.

Do: Stop at Taqueria Guadalajara in Davis for dinner and pop into Nugget Market for a wide selection of trip snacks. For fresh fruit and veggies (and pie!) that’ll keep the scurvy away as you subsist on hot chocolate and pizza all week long, don’t skip Ikeda’s in Auburn.

Just make sure you’re not driving up during a crazy storm—if it’s unsafe to drive, it’s probably too windy or stormy for resorts to open, too. Check the Caltrans Twitter (and this updates bot) and wait until the morning after the storm to rush to the mountains. 

Maybe you’ll even hit it just right for the first morning that Alpine Meadows opens the backside for a glorious hike up High Traverse. 

View from the top of Alpine Meadows in winter | Sarah Wright/The Standard

Ski Like You Live Here

Ski and Board: If you’re a skier or a snowboarder and you’re going to the north shore more than a couple of times this winter, the Ikon Pass is the way to go. Both Palisades and Alpine are among the best resorts lake-wide for people of all skiing abilities, and now a gondola connects the two

If you don’t have an Epic or Ikon pass and aren’t planning to mooch off a friend’s buddy passes, avoid those resorts at all costs. Instead, head to Sugar Bowl, Boreal, Diamond Peak or Mt. Rose, where lift lines will be much shorter and you may actually get your money’s worth out of a day pass. 

Even if you don’t ski or board, hanging out at some of the more developed villages, like Northstar and Olympic Valley, will offer plenty to do like shopping or ice skating—as well as lots to eat, including delicious sugary waffles and spiked hot chocolate to keep you warm. Most lodges also have a bar or cozy fireplace area, so don’t be afraid to venture upstairs and away from the crowds. 

Snowshoe: Looking for that perfect wintry vibes Insta post? A hike up Chickadee Ridge off Highway 431 is the way to go. Grab your snowshoes and a handful of birdseed and have your very own Snow White moment. But this spot gets crowded fast, so a better plan might be just farther up the road to Mt. Rose Meadows for an idyllic snowy stroll through the pine forest and along a boardwalk, part of which even intersects with the 165-mile Tahoe Rim Trail.

Sled: If you’re looking for a more family-friendly controlled environment, it may be best to head to Sled Hill in Tahoe Vista, Granlibakken in Tahoe City or any of the other paid sledding spots that are geared toward kids. But here’s a secret: There are a lot of hills in Tahoe, and most of them are free to scoot down. Avoid the crowds and drive up to any cul-de-sac in Incline—I recommend the Upper or Lower Tyner neighborhoods—and get sledding. Just don’t forget to scout your route first to avoid trees, and consider wearing a helmet.

Hike: Who says hiking is only a summer sport? Check out the East Shore Trail, a newish addition to Tahoe’s least developed and most rugged side. Park at the newly expanded Ponderosa Ranch or even better, take the Tahoe Truckee Area Regional Transportation buses, lovingly known as TART, from anywhere along Highway 28 for a seamless trip. The full, three-mile trail is fairly flat, good for kids and dogs and takes you all the way to famously clear Sand Harbor, with its stunning lake views the whole way around. 

Bowl: This one’s for the indoor girlies. The newly renovated Bowl Incline has scaled up, a new renovation turning the legacy alley into a trendy hangout with a full restaurant, upstairs lounge, live music and an outdoor patio with lawn games. 

Friends enjoy beers at Incline Public House. | Courtesy Alibi Ale Works

Eat and Drink

Let’s be real: Tahoe is not known for its food. But there are some gems hidden among the overpriced American eats and plenty of places to grab a drink, so let’s dig in.

Full Belly Deli 

Truckee

This is the best deli in Tahoe, hands down. Stash one of these massive sandwiches to get you through a full ski day or chow down to recover after a long trek. 

Fire Sign Cafe

Tahoe City

Live out your wildest Tahoe cabin dreams at the coziest diner around the lake, Fire Sign Cafe. The breakfast and lunch spot is a local’s classic for when you’d rather eat a stack of pancakes than brave the wintry weather.

Alibi Ale Works

Incline and Truckee

This Tahoe-grown brewery is the perfect place to hang among crowds of locals and tourists alike, all looking to continue the party well after the slopes have closed for the day. After a swig of stout and a bite of beer mac and cheese, any memory of frozen toes will be well behind you.

Hiro Sushi

Kings Beach

Sit at the bar for all-you-can-eat sushi—which, as a child, is the way I thought all sushi was served, because it’s so ubiquitous in Tahoe—and don’t forget to order quail egg shooters once you’re too stuffed for another bite.

T’s Mesquite Rotisserie

Incline (Currently closed due to a kitchen fire, but hopefully opening up soon!)

A Tahoe trip wouldn’t be complete without a burrito from T’s, Incline’s longtime Mexican barbecue joint that will more than hit the spot after a long day frolicking in the snow. The burritos are a classic, but try the tri-tip or soy lime chicken combo, and always say yes to garlic bread on the side. Don’t forget, T’s is cash-only. 

West Shore Café

Homewood

Looking to splurge on an intimate lakeside dinner? West Shore Café is where you take that special someone for a fancy-ass meal in the coziest corner of the lake. 

Snowy view from Incline Beach in Incline Village, Nevada | Sarah Wright/The Standard

Drinks and Views: So what if you’re not staying at the north shore’s most bougie hotels? You can still enjoy their bars and gorgeous lake views. Check out the Ritz-Carlton’s Highlands Bar on the slopes of Northstar and the lakeside Lone Eagle Grille at the Hyatt in Incline. Big Water Grille, near Diamond Peak, is a bit pricey for dinner, but grab a glass of wine at the bar, enjoy a sweeping Tahoe view and schmooze with the locals. 

Have a nice trip, and don’t forget to flush an ice cube down the toilet, wear your pajamas inside out and put a spoon under your pillow to summon more snow for the rest of us!

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