Sitting pretty on the California/Nevada border, Lake Tahoe is one of the most sought-after wedding destinations in the world. From its glassy, clear-as-can-be water to its unique high-alpine geographic makeup—snow-capped Sierras and a forest thick with age-old Pine Trees make for, what Mark Twain called,
...the fairest picture the whole Earth affords
—Tahoe is quite literally unlike any other lake on this planet. Because of this, Lake Tahoe happens to be a setting as protected as it is coveted, which can make it a tricky place to say your I Do’s.
Today, then, we are breaking down everything you need to know when planning a Tahoe wedding.
THINGS TO CONSIDER
Tahoe locals are extremely protective of their pristine home (and understandably so). Be prepared for this when dealing with locals, venues and vendors alike. Tahoe is a community that sees a lot of tourism and, unfortunately, some of those tourists don’t exactly follow the unspoken “leave no trace” rule.
When visiting (or even just dealing locals over the phone or via email), understand that they’re extremely environmentally friendly people who take their relationships with one another and the land around them very seriously. Be respectful of the Lake (no glass on the beaches, always pick up your trash, etc.) and of the people who call it home. While Lake Tahoe is a very tight-knit community, the people are extremely laid-back and super friendly as long as you’re understanding of their inherent tendencies to protect their home. They’ll welcome you with open arms as long as you treat their home as more than just the perfect place for your wedding.
When venue shopping in Tahoe, understand that, because it’s such a heavily protected area, some of your visions for your big day might not be plausible. If you’re someone who wants things exactly the way you want them (and who isn’t willing to budge), Tahoe might not be the spot for you. But, if you are willing to work around these regulations in the name of saying your I Do's in a setting like no other, it won't’ disappoint. Be sure to keep the following in mind when venue shopping (and always confirm restrictions/prohibited items with individual venues):
Outdoor weddings are subject to noise regulations and often aren’t permitted to go past 10 in the evening. Check with your venue to ensure your wedding can last as long as you want it to, or consider moving the reception indoors if you know you and your guests will be dancing into the wee hours of the morning.
Having recently been married in Tahoe, this is one I didn’t think about until we started planning decor. Trees are extremely protected and, because of this, you’re not allowed to tamper with trees in any way. This means no wrapping strings lights around trees in most cases. If bistro lighting is part of your wedding vision, you’ll need to set up poles to string lights from. Check with your venue when confirming this—but always air on the safe side: nothing should be attached to or hung from trees or you could incur a hefty fine.
Another issue with the Lake is parking. Because of the development restrictions, it’s not a place peppered with easily-accessible parking lots. Unless you’re getting married at one of the Lake’s major casinos or hotels, you’ll likely need to come up with a shuttle or boat plan for guests. Keep this in mind when venue-shopping and work with your venue to find a plausible solution.
Like any high-alpine lake, the weather at Tahoe can be unpredictable. If you’re not someone who can easily change plans and go with the flow, Tahoe might not be the best wedding spot for you. Unpredicted rain happens, and wind can also be an issue. On a windy day, the Lake resembles an ocean with its large white caps—it’s an unbelievably beautiful sight to be seen, but doesn’t make for the most relaxing wedding weather.
With the current drought in California, another major weather issue to consider is smoke from forest fires. The past three fall weddings I’ve attended at Lake Tahoe (including my own) were all plagued with smoke from forest fires in California. Wind carries the smoke from fires that are hundreds of miles away and essentially “drops” it in the big granite bowl that is Lake Tahoe. It makes for a killer sunset, but, if you’re outdoors for hours on end, can leave guests with watery eyes and sore throats.
On a smoky day, you also won’t be able to clearly see the Sierras, which, some might argue, are the most beautiful park of the Lake. A great way to avoid this is to plan a wedding in winter or spring and avoid the month of August all together. (Notice both the white caps on the lake, from wind, and the hazy horizon that shows no signs of the Sierras, from smoke, in the photo above.)
Lake Tahoe is a relatively small area, and, when you consider its global-popularity, it’s easy to see how venues, casinos and hotels can all book up far in advance. Once you book your venue in Lake Tahoe, don’t waste anytime finding spots for your friends and family to stay.
If you choose to get married at a hotel, you’ll likely have a room block for guests to take advantage of. But, keep in mind that room rates in Lake Tahoe—even with a wedding-party discount—are fairly high in comparison to other destinations. This is mainly due to a shortage of supply. Many of your guests, then, may not want to spend $500+ per night for their hotel room.
A great alternative is finding rental homes and condos on rental sites like VRBO. Guests will get more bang for their buck—especially large groups who can split the nightly rate—but you’ll need to book these at least six months in advance (if not more), as the best rental properties get taken (especially during peak months like August) extremely fast.
UNDERSTANDING THE AREA
North Shore vs. South Shore
The two main areas of Lake Tahoe are referred to as “North Shore” and “South Shore.” An oversimplification of the area is this: North Shore is a quieter, more nature-oriented area, while South Shore is a better spot for the more rowdy tourist crowds.
Each shore includes an array of ski areas and cities: North Shore consists of Tahoe Vista, Tahoe City, Kings Beach, Incline Village, Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows, Northstar, Diamond Peak, Mount Rose and Truckee and Donner Lake. South Shore consists of South Lake Tahoe, Meyers, Stateline, Zephyr Cove, Emerald Bay, Homewood, Kirkwood, Tahoma and Heavenly.
North Shore boasts both sleepy condos and grand estates (and environmentally friendly locals who love few things more than the outdoors in general). Lakeshore Boulevard in North Shore’s Incline Village, essentially one long lakefront street of large vacation homes owned by the super-wealthy, is one of North Shore's most prestigious and renowned areas. South Shore, on the other hand, is home to a number of casinos and tends to be where you’ll find more nightlife and concerts.
Keep in mind, you can easily boat between the two areas. We tend to think the perfect combo consists of getting married and staying in North Shore (for a more intimate, local experience), but taking a boat trip or two to South Shore to experience some nightlife.
South Shore is also home to Emerald Bay, one of the most pristine and famous areas of the lake (named for its piercing turquoise water). If you’re staying at North Shore, we definitely recommend taking a boat out to Emerald Bay one day—it’s arguably the most remarkable spot on the entire lake.
LOCAL WEDDING EXPERTS
Because Tahoe is such a tight-knit community, finding a team of experts who have local experience is essential when planning your wedding. The number-one perk of planning a wedding in such a small community is that the high-end vendors all know and have worked with one another numerous times, which can make your wedding-planning experience much more seamless than it would be in a large city where vendors don’t work together as often.
Planning a wedding in Tahoe without local experts on your side is nearly impossible, and our friends at the awarded and seasoned One Fine Day Events happen to be our favorite Tahoe-based luxury wedding planners. Tried-and-true locals who know the area (and all of its quirks) better than most, the ladies of One Fine Day bring both an in-depth knowledge of the area and unparalleled relationship with Tahoe’s most high-end vendors to the table.
We also love that the women of One Fine Day have built up connections with owners of some of the area’s most sought-after estates. Because of the development regulations in Lake Tahoe, there are only so many restaurants and hotels to choose from when venue shopping. Private estates, then, tend to be a better option for weddings, but, without the help of local experts, can be nearly impossible to find and, ultimately, book.
Hair & Makeup Artistry
One of our favorite MUA companies in Lake Tahoe is La Di Da Beauty by Laura Garcia. Laura has put together a professional, experienced team of Reno- and Tahoe-based hair stylists and makeup artists, and always has just the right amount of hands on deck when styling a wedding. Her work has been featured in a number of prominent wedding publications, but team La Di Da’s most recent claim to fame is styling renowned wedding-gown designer Hayley Paige’s hair and makeup for her Tahoe-based nuptials.
Ask around Tahoe about a musician/DJ for your wedding and locals will tell you time and time again: the best of the best is Brian Hess Music. Hess offers both DJing services as well as a number of live-music options (everything from a jazz trio to acoustic guitar) and has an ear that will keep your guests dancing all night long. We recommend booking live music for the ceremony and cocktail hour, and switching to his (pretty exceptional) DJing skills for your reception.
We couldn’t mention a Lake Tahoe wedding without bringing attention to one of the area’s most trusted florists—Hattie Reed of Art in Bloom Floral. Nearly all of Tahoe’s most famous venues have worked with Art in Bloom and can’t speak highly enough of the company’s designs. Hattie offers high-end floral services and can execute any floral aesthetic you may be looking for--whether that’s timeless and classic or trendy and untamed.
Tahoe has a number of great venues to choose from, but a few of our favorites include:
Located at North Shore, we absolutely love Thunderbird Lodge as a potential wedding spot. This 70-year-old historic stone house is located right on the shore, and boasts backdrop-worthy views for your ceremony. Ceremonies and receptions can be held on the lawn or inside in the Lighthouse Room if weather doesn’t permit an outdoor affair.
Built for a wealthy San Franciscan in 1936, few expenses were spared during construction, making for endless photo opportunities. One of our favorite photo-worthy spots, though? The venue’s accompanying Thunderbird Yacht, Tahoe’s most famous (and arguably most beautiful) wooden speed boat that couples can dash away on, making for a fairytale reception exit.
Rocky Pine Private Estate
Rocky Pines is tucked right into its own private cove on Tahoe’s West Shore, and boasts one of the most dreamy piers we’ve seen to date (perfect for post-wedding photo ops). Guests can enjoy cocktails on a private patio or right on the sand, and the venue also offers lodging for your wedding party. (Its large lawn area also makes for the perfect spot for a tent.)
Gold Coast Estate
Gold Coast Estate is one the experts of One Fine Day shared with us during a Q&A, and, ever since, we can’t get enough of its caribbean-esque vibe and beautiful beachfront views. Sandy beaches and crystal clear (nearly turquoise) waters back right up to towering pines, making for an unreal combination that you won't find anywhere else. Out of all of the venues Lake Tahoe offers, it tends to feel the most private and secluded, offering you and your guests an intimate lakefront experience like no other.
Have any other insider tips for planning the perfect Tahoe wedding? Share them with us below...