Visiting Lake Tahoe: North Shore vs. South Shore

Looking for things to do in Lake Tahoe? Check out the North Shore for family fun, the South Shore for exciting nightlife activities and for more trip ideas!

Whether you’re traveling to ski or paddleboard, Lake Tahoe is a popular vacation destination year-round. Located on the California-Nevada border, Lake Tahoe welcomes adventure lovers to the largest alpine lake in the U.S. for ski trips, family vacations and adventure getaways. Depending on your travel style and your companions, you might find yourself gravitating toward one particular area of the lake, whether north shore or south shore.

While both locations offer easy access to outdoor activities like skiing and kayaking, each shore has its own identity and unique culture. The north shore is known as the more serene, quiet and family-friendly destination, whereas the south shore is touted as the entertainment center, with concerts, casinos and breweries serving up local favorites.

North Lake Tahoe

~ 2 hours northeast of Sacramento International Airport
~3.5 hours northeast of San Francisco International Airport

Top Activities: skiing, golf, spa treatments, exploring historical landmarks
Best for: soaking up the sun, avoiding the crowds and having a truly relaxing vacation

North Lake Tahoe consists of 12 resorts and towns that feature everything from luxury ski resorts like the Ritz-Carlton and the Resort at Squaw Creek to quaint bed-and-breakfasts in Truckee and Tahoe City. With roughly 274 days of sunshine every year and southwest exposure, North Lake Tahoe gets more daylight each day than South Lake Tahoe. And more sunlight equals more time enjoying your favorite outdoor activities such as an early tee time at the Championship Golf Course at Incline Village.

With fewer crowds, North Lake Tahoe invites its guests to enjoy more than just the ski resorts and outdoor activities. Unplug and enjoy a spa day at Northstar California Resort, or take a 30-minute drive to tour the historic mines, bridges and the Old Jail Museum of Donner Lake. And for those who love railroads, you can dive into early-American transportation history at the Nevada State Railroad Museum in Carson City, while theatre buffs can enjoy outdoor performances during Lake Tahoe’s Shakespeare Festival in Incline Village.

South Lake Tahoe

~70 minutes southwest of Reno-Tahoe International Airport

Top Activities: hiking, skiing, playing the slots, seeing concerts and attending festivals
Best for: nightlife, dancing and energetic vacations

South Lake Tahoe has a vibrant energy that extends beyond the lights and sounds of the slot machines in the casinos. Considered the entertainment capital of Lake Tahoe, the area hosts dozens of events, festivals and concerts each season, including the Highway 50 Association Annual Wagon Train, “Lights on the Lake” fireworks on the Fourth of July, nightly concerts at MontBleu Resort Casino and Spa and the Live at Lakeview Music Series. With weekly après ski disco parties and a rollicking nightlife scene, South Lake Tahoe doesn’t take itself too seriously, and that’s exactly why it’s a favored destination for bachelor and bachelorette parties.

During the day, skiers and hikers can explore Heavenly Village while enjoying the backdrop of Lake Tahoe. The Heavenly Mountain Gondola’s viewing platform offers some of the best photo ops of the emerald lake and mountain vistas of the south shore. Can’t-miss activities include hiking around Emerald Bay and exploring its Scandinavian castle, Vikingsholm; kayaking near Zephyr Cove; and taking a sunset cruise around the lake. Even advanced skiers will find exciting challenges on Kirkwood Mountain’s fast slopes with 12 double-black diamond runs, while beginning skiers may find Heavenly Mountain’s two “learn to ski” areas more their speeds.

Why Choose?

Let your travel style and who you’re traveling with dictate to which shore you sojourn. Lodging at Homewood Mountain Resort, just south of Tahoe City, is your best option if you want to be midway between North and South Tahoe. If you’re in the mood for relaxation and crave exciting nightlife activities, why not split your time between shores to experience the best of both worlds?

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Planning a trip to Lake Tahoe?

Rent a car at Reno-Tahoe Airport, located 45 minutes from the North Shore

About the Author

Jade Broadus spends her summers on SoCal beaches and her winters snowboarding around California and Utah, but you’ll also find her in Lake Tahoe during summer and winter. She documents her travels on various outlets, including National Geographic, the Points Guy, and her award-winning family adventure travel blog,