woman riding in north lake tahoe and south lake tahoe harbor

North Lake Tahoe vs. South Lake Tahoe

Whether you’re planning a weekend away or looking to take a month off, Lake Tahoe is a versatile vacation spot with the opportunity for relaxation and excitement. The variety of activities is found in the differences between North Lake Tahoe vs South Lake Tahoe.

Aptly called North Lake Tahoe and South Lake Tahoe, knowing the makeup of each side will allow you to create the perfect itinerary for your needs. After all, if you’re looking for time away from the world, you wouldn’t want to find out when you check-in that you booked a hotel on the busier side of the lake and vice versa. 

Being fully aware of the differences between the two sides when considering which side of the lake to visit will help you get the most out of your precious vacation time. It’s important to remember that while you may wonder, “is North Lake Tahoe or South Lake Tahoe better?” the answer is completely dependent on your preferences.

Traveling and Staying in North Tahoe

If you’re someone looking for a quiet, secluded holiday, North Tahoe is the side you should consider. The shore is made up of various smaller cities and towns, including Tahoe City, Incline Village, Tahoe Vista, Sunnyside, and more.

This side of the lake is perfect for more adventurous visitors and boasts various hiking trails, including the famous Tahoe Rim Trail. Each season in North Tahoe brings unique outdoor activities, from summer jet skiing on Lake Tahoe to floating on the powder on winter skis.

Lodging & Places to Stay in Tahoe North

Tahoe North boasts a wide variety of lodging options, including some truly gorgeous hotels. Options include:

  • The Inn at Boatworks
  • Hyatt High Sierra Lodge
  • Cedar Crest Cottages
  • Alder Creek Campground
  • The Ritz-Carlton Lake Tahoe
  • William Kent Campground
  • Silver Creek Campground

Whether you are a camper, glamper, or a fan of comfort, there are a variety of options to choose from.

Restaurants and Nightlife in Tahoe North

Tahoe North is the quieter shore of the lake, offering a lot of great options for families, nature-lovers, and those who want a relaxing vacation with a lot of outdoor recreation options. 

For coffee shops and restaurants, options in the area include:

  • Coffeebar Truckee
  • Java Hut
  • Moody’s Bar & Bistro Beats
  • Pianeta
  • Old Town Tap

Nightlife highlights include:

  • Pete ‘n Peter’s, a sports bar
  • Uncorked, a wine bar
  • Fat Cat Bar & Grill, perfect for dinner
  • Crown Room at the Crystal Bay Club, one of the best casinos in the area
  • Chamber’s Landing, a delicious dinner restaurant

Tahoe North Activities

If you’re planning a visit to North Lake Tahoe, you’re sure to have numerous activity options any time of year. Some of the top options in the area include:

  • The Tahoe Rim Trail: A 170-mile long hiking trail, this is perfect for adventure lovers looking to spend a day exploring the area. The main hiking season is July-September, but it is dependant on the weather. Trailheads include Mount Rose Summit, Echo Summit, and Spooner Summit. There are other scenic paths in Lake Tahoe including paved paths around the lake. 
  • Tahoe Treetop Adventure Parks: If you’re looking for adventurous fun for the whole family, the aerial adventure parks from Tahoe Treetop Adventure Parks are the perfect option. You can enjoy zip-lining, vertical climbs, and more. There are three parks in North Tahoe: Squaw Valley Ropes Course, Tahoe Vista Treetop, and Tahoe City Treetop.
  • Sugar Bowl Resort: Aside from being one of the best ski resorts in the country, Sugar Bowl Resort also prides itself on being affordable for all visitors. They offer slopes for difficulties – beginner, intermediate, and advanced. Ski trails include Mt. Judah, Jerome Hill, and Bill Klein’s Schuss. If you’re looking to winter in North Tahoe and spend some time skiing, this is the perfect option for you!

Beaches and Trails in Tahoe North

Tahoe North is great for people looking to enjoy nature, including spending time relaxing on beaches or hiking the various trails in the area. Options include:

  • Carnelian West Beach: This gorgeous beach stretches over 530 feet and includes a lakefront promenade, barbeques, and benches, and picnic tables. Free parking is available, and the beach can also be accessed by bike and bus. Additionally, boaters can access the pier and mooring buoys.
  • Hidden Beach: Located just south of Incline Village, Hidden Beach boasts 750 feet of beach with loads of rocky alcoves and is perfect for sunbathing and swimming. It can be accessed by Highway 28 and also offers bike and walking paths. Water sports options include kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding. 
  • Tahoe East Shore Trail: A gorgeous three-mile paved path, this trail is perfect for bikers and day-trippers looking for a gentle adventure. It is pet-friendly, though dogs should be leashed at all times. The trail provides access to Hidden Beach, as well as gorgeous views like Memorial Point. This trail is a convenient way to explore the East shore’s beaches and scenic overlooks.

Many of these activities can be accessed by bike. If you are flying or don’t want to haul your own bike, Vista Trail Bikes has both traditional cruisers and e-bikes that you can rent. For families, we offer a variety of accessories like burley trailers and other bike attachments.

Traveling and Staying in South Tahoe

South Lake Tahoe is best suited for visitors looking for a more fast-paced environment. It is a hotspot of dining and nightlife options and is the perfect option for tourists looking for excitement in the evenings by the lake.

Additionally, South Tahoe is perfect for lovers of winter sports. Whether it be skiing, snowboarding, or snowmobiling, you’re sure to find something for you here. Cities and towns in the area include South Lake Tahoe, Emerald Bay, the Kirkwood area, Zephyr Cove, and more.

Lodging & Places to Stay in Tahoe South

South Lake Tahoe boasts a wide variety of lodging options – no matter whether you’re looking for a rustic cabin or a luxury hotel, they’ve got something for everyone. Options include:

  • Fallen Leaf Lake Campground
  • Campground by the Lake
  • Zephyr Cove RV and Campground
  • Marriott Grand Residence Club and Marriott Timber Lodge
  • Forrest Suites
  • Beecamp Hotel

With the list of options available to you, make sure you’ve decided on what type of stay you’re planning before looking for a hotel. Things to consider are what area you want to be close to or what view you want to have.

Restaurants and Nightlife in Tahoe South

When the sun starts to go down, South Tahoe comes alive with exuberant nightlife. Whether you’re planning a night at the casino or want to treat your other half to a delicious meal, there are a variety of urban activities to mix in with your outdoor playtime.

Coffee shops and restaurants in the area include:

  • The Free Bird
  • Black Cabin Coffee
  • Café Alpina
  • Sunset Bar & Grille
  • Edgewood Restaurant
  • Ciera Steak and Chophouse
  • Riva Grill On the Lake

It’s with the nightlife that Tahoe South truly shines. Highlights include:

  • Opal Ultra Lounge at MontBleu, a high-end nightclub
  • Crystal Bay Casino
  • Bloom Bar and Lounge at the Hard Rock Hotel 
  • William Hill Sports Bar
  • Rookies Sports Bar
  • Harveys Tahoe, one of the best-known casinos in the area
  • McP’s Taphouse Grill
  • The casino at the Hard Rock Hotel
  • The casino at MontBleu Casino Resort & Spa

Concerts also run throughout the summer. Offerings vary each year, so make sure to check out what your options are before you visit!

Tahoe South Activities

When planning your vacation in Tahoe South, there are tons of entertainment options beyond the nightlife and the dining. Some of the must-dos include:

  • Cross Country Skiing at Mt. Tallac: Mount Tallac is one of the most gorgeous skiing spots in all Lake Tahoe. Aside from offering stunning views, it offers various runs, including the Northeast Bowl (better known as the Corkscrew Bowl), Cathedral Bowl, the Hanging Face, and more.
  • Emerald Bay Heritage Trail: While this sounds like another hiking trail in Lake Tahoe, the Emerald Bay Heritage Trail is, in fact, an underwater maritime heritage cultural trail. Perfect for history buffs and ocean lovers, this trail allows you to explore the area’s history via shipwrecks, scuttled boats, and more. Some of the vessels you can explore are over a century old!
  • Enjoy the Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course: Home of the American Century Championship, the Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course is the only golf course on the shores of Lake Tahoe. The course also played host to the NHL Outdoors at Lake Tahoe in 2021 and was originally designed by famed golfer and golf course architect George Fazio.

Beaches and Trails in Tahoe South

Though best-known for its nightlife, Tahoe South isn’t short on hiking trails and beaches either. 

Some options include:

  • Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride: Perfect for experienced mountain bikers, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride is a 6-mile ride and allows you to travel through forests before moving to a series of sharp, banked turns that are sure to challenge your skills. It can be accessed via the Tahoe Rim Trail through the Armstrong Pass or the Big Meadow Trailhead. It is a downhill trail, and not one that everyone would want to ride up.
  • Eagle Falls Trail: This hiking trail allows you to experience some of the most gorgeous views of the lake. Waterfalls, lakes, and vegetation – there’s a little of everything here. The trail is also pet-friendly. However, all dogs should be leashed. 
  • Baldwin Beach: Located 4 miles from the city of South Lake Tahoe, this beach boasts half a mile of beach and stunning views of both the lake and the surrounding Sierra Nevadas. Kayak rentals are available at the beach, and Baldwin is a popular starting point for kayakers looking to reach Emerald Bay. Other activities available include swimming, boating, and picnicking.

Ultimately, Tahoe North is ideal for visitors who prefer relaxation and the outdoor during vacation, while Tahoe South serves those who love the nightlife and being constantly on the go. 

When traveling to either side of the lake, review the local safety information around the North Lake, check the specials at the restaurant in South Lake, and book your rental bikes and kayaks early to make sure that you can do the activities listed in your itinerary.