South Lake Tahoe vs. North Lake Tahoe: Where Should You Stay?

North Lake Tahoe

All I have been hearing about since I moved to San Francisco a year and a half ago is Lake Tahoe. You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve asked my coworkers or friends what they were up to for the weekend, and the answer was Tahoe. Everybody goes, so there’s got to be a reason for it. Recently I decided it was finally time I check it out for myself. However, I didn’t realize until I visited that the two sides of Tahoe (South and North) would be so drastically different. So how do you know you’re staying on the right side?

Let’s start with some Tahoe basics…

How to Get There: If you are coming from out of state, the closest airport to fly into is Reno-Tahoe International Airport. It will take you around 50 minutes to get to North Lake Tahoe from the Reno-Tahoe International Airport and around 1 h 15 min to get to South Lake Tahoe. If you’re coming from the San Francisco Bay Area, you can expect this drive to take 4+ hours with traffic.

When to Go: The interesting thing about Tahoe is that there really is no off-season. There’s a small break in tourist activity in the fall between summer and winter, but that’s basically it. Otherwise, the area welcomes tourists all year thanks to the wide variety of activities. If you are more of a warm weather person and enjoy water activities (kayaking, hiking, sailing, etc.) then the summer season may be best for you. If you like to ski or snowboard, Tahoe’s winter season will blow your mind.

How Long to Stay: You can do Tahoe in a long weekend by limiting your activities, or you can stay for a week or longer to leave time for everything you want to do. I will say that a weekend felt a bit too rushed for my first time there!

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE (NEVADA SIDE)

If You’re Looking For: A fast-paced, fun weekend trip with friends or family

As soon as we arrived in South Lake Tahoe, we had a few instant observations:

#1 – Wow is that another bachelorette party?

#2 – Holy cow there’s a lot of casinos here!

#3 – “Watch out for that RV!”

South Lake Tahoe is known for having a carefree, fun and no worries kind of attitude. It is home to the Hard Rock, Harrah’s, Montbleu, etc. and you will always find something to do. With plenty of restaurants, bars, casinos, shows and more, South Lake Tahoe is perfect if you’re looking for a busy and active trip to Tahoe. Just because there’s a party vibe associated with South Lake Tahoe doesn’t mean it’s not great for young families. Many first timers find that the number of activities and accessible transportation make it easy to get to know Tahoe for the first time. So, if you’re looking for an active escape, South Lake Tahoe may be for you!

Emerlad BayTahoeCascade Falls TrailCascade Falls Trail

Note: This photo was taken on Cascade Falls Trail

WHERE TO STAY

I always prefer to stay in a hotel that has something special or unique to it. In my search for Tahoe accommodation, I stumbled upon Basecamp Tahoe South and noticed their particularly high ratings. After sifting through photos of bonfires, a biergarten, hot tub, twinkle lights and more I could certainly see why it would be so loved by its guests. If you’re not super into camping (or you are and just want to mix things up) Basecamp is a great place to enjoy the great outdoors in the comfort of quality accommodation. They even have a room called The Great Indoors where you can quite literally sleep in a tent with a campfire view while still getting to enjoy the amenities of a nice hotel. Pretty cool if you ask me! The whole place kind of had a cozy, hipster vibe to it which I loved.

BasecampBasecampBasecampBasecamp

NORTH LAKE TAHOE (CALIFORNIA SIDE)

If You’re Looking For: Relaxation and solitude

The North Shore, on the other hand, is all about taking in the fresh air, beautiful views and serenity. This side of Tahoe is more about recharging and getting away from your everyday life. You will not experience the overwhelming amount of activities that you’ll find in South Lake Tahoe. It is more frequented by locals and longtime vacationers. There is still plenty to explore, though, from stunning beaches to challenging hikes. Luckily, Basecamp has a location near North Lake Tahoe too! Check out Basecamp Tahoe City if this side sounds more like you.

Tahoe Sailing ChartersCheers

CONCLUSION

Wherever you decide to stay, you may end up driving to the other side for a particular activity of interest anyway. For example, although we stayed in South Lake Tahoe, we went on a two-hour sail with Tahoe Sailing Charters on the North Shore. This was our favorite activity from our entire trip, so I highly recommend booking a cruise with them if you’re visiting. Summer or winter, you will find plenty to do no matter which side you land on.

So… which side do I recommend? Like I said, it totally depends on your travel preferences and what type of experience you are seeking. And just because you’re staying on one side doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the other, too! However, if I’m being honest, I prefer a more laid-back and quiet getaway. So North Lake Tahoe is my cup of tea! How about you? Which side will you be staying on when you visit Tahoe? Let me know in the comments below!

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19 Comments

  1. 09.28.2017 / 10:49 am

    Great post! I camped on emerald bay in South Lake Tahoe when I was there and got the same quiet laid back feel of the North. Good to know that’s what I’ll get when I stay up North next time!?

    • Natalie 09.30.2017 / 11:55 am

      Emerald Bay totally blew my mind – so incredibly beautiful. I think you will love the North Shore, too! xo

  2. 09.28.2017 / 11:10 am

    Love it!! I haven’t been to Tahoe in years but I do believe it’s time for another trip! 🙂 I’ll definitely be planning based off your recommendations!

    • Natalie 09.30.2017 / 11:56 am

      Yay Angie this makes me happy! You should absolutely plan a trip soon! It’s the perfect location for you – so much great hiking and outdoor adventures.

  3. 09.28.2017 / 11:40 am

    Tyler and I will definitely need to take a trip to Lake Tahoe sometime soon! Thank you for all of the travel tips ? Sailing looked like a dream ☁️ The North Shore sounds really peaceful so I think we would have to check out that side!

    • Natalie 09.30.2017 / 11:56 am

      Sailing was my favorite activity from the trip! I hope you guys make it out there soon! The North Shore was absolutely wonderful.

  4. Caitlin
    09.28.2017 / 12:13 pm

    My family and I have been debating on going to Tahoe for a family trip! From your trip it looks so nice I’ll definitely have to share with them 🙂

    • Natalie 09.30.2017 / 11:57 am

      Tahoe is perfect for family vacations! I highly recommend it 🙂

  5. 09.28.2017 / 5:08 pm

    I absolutely love Tahoe and make it point to visit s view times of year. I prefer North Tahoe personally because it’s a little less touristy and way more peaceful but your right both sides have something amazing to see and is worth a visit !

    • Natalie 09.30.2017 / 11:57 am

      Same here, Melissa! Next time I go back I will definitely be staying in North Tahoe!

  6. Teresa
    09.28.2017 / 9:26 pm

    Hey I’m adventurewithtess from instagram, I’m actually from Australia but this looks so beautiful – I think I’d be more of a north shore kind of person but the south shore sounds like a lot of fun too!

    • Natalie 09.30.2017 / 11:57 am

      I think you’d love the North Shore, Teresa! Have you been to California?

  7. 09.28.2017 / 11:57 pm

    Lovely article – very helpful for first time visitors who don’t know what to pick ! I have been to Tahoe only once and ended up at South Tahoe. Loved it there.

    • Natalie 09.30.2017 / 11:58 am

      I’m so glad to hear it was helpful, Riddhi! Thanks so much for your comment 🙂

  8. 09.30.2017 / 1:37 pm

    When I lived in LA people were always talking about Tahoe but I never made it up. I had no idea that there was such a divide between the two sides. North definitely sounds like more my style.

  9. 09.30.2017 / 9:04 pm

    Cailfornians sure do love Tahoe, and love talking about Tahoe! haha it made me laugh that you commented on how you kept hearing about it. It’s such a beauty, so the attention is deserved. I usually stay in South Tahoe since we have friends who live there, but I need to explore more of the North now! Beautiful photos!

  10. flyawhey
    10.05.2017 / 5:41 pm

    Love it! I’ve been thinking of going to Tahoe!

  11. 10.15.2017 / 8:31 am

    Your pictures are stunning! I haven’t been to the US yet and hope I get to see this wonderful place sometime!

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