Wintertime is in full swing, and there’s nothing we love more than some good ol’ fashioned cold-weather travel. One of our all-time favorite spots for Venuelusting in winter happens to be the stunning Lake Tahoe on the California/Nevada border. With towering Pinyon Pines, blankets of stark-white snow and—if you’re lucky—black-bear sightings to boot, few places feel as festive and as winter-worthy as the Jewel of the Sierras. We’re so excited, then, to share with you our ultimate Lake Tahoe Winter Bucket List today. Put on your warmest pair of PJs, curl up by the fire and pour yourself a Hot Toddy (or two)—you’ll be ready to jet-set to Tahoe by the time you’re done with this one.
1. Go for Shrimp and Lobster Bisque at Garwood’s
As Venuelusters, we’ve have had bisques, chowders and soups from nearly every corner of every continent, but our all-time favorite will always be the Shrimp and Lobster Bisque from Lake Tahoe’s iconic Garwood’s Grill and Pier. Our Number-1 to-do on today’s Lake Tahoe Winter Bucket List, then, is an absolute no-brainer. Stop by the order this coveted local staple during the winter for a bowl of bisque-like dish you’ve never before tasted. Served with a single puffy piece of pastry crust on top, this dish is something every Lake Tahoe lover will dream about for years to come. Plus, with live music, a cocktail list that will have you seeing double, and one of the area’s most coveted views of the sprawling sheet of sapphire water that is Lake Tahoe, there’s not an atmosphere more festive than Garwood's for enjoying wintertime feasts and treats.
2. Ride the Aerial Tram at Squaw Valley
Whether you’re a skier, snowboarder or simply a lover of landscapes, we recommend taking a few hours out of your Lake Tahoe trip to enjoy a ride on the aerial tram at Squaw Valley. One of the most coveted ski areas on the planet and home to the 1960 Winter Olympics, Squaw Valley is a wintertime paradise for expert skiers, novice first-time riders and those who just want to sip hot cocoa fireside in the lodge (we don't blame you). A 10-minute ride that offers panoramic views of the breathtaking surrounding Sierras while climbing an impressive 2,000 feet along the way, be sure to bring a camera with you when riding the aerial tram at Squaw. After enjoying jaw-dropping views of the Sierras, you'll end your soaring trip at "High Camp" at 8,200 feet above sea level—a fun and festive area that offers dining, shopping and ice-skating alike.
3. See the CK Cabin at Northstar
The Craig Kelly memorial cabin at the Stash at Northstar is one of those hidden Tahoe gems every snowboarder should see. Created as a tribute to the late professional snowboarder Craig Kelly (a man who has won four world championship titles and three U.S. championship titles, and has been dubbed “The Godfather of Freeriding”), the cabin was built as part of "the Stash"—a terrain park developed by Jake Burton and the Burton team, with the goal of allowing advanced riders to get creative on organic features, like trees and stumps. The cabin’s A-Frame architecture also allows snowboarders to ride its roof as part of the terrain park, creating both a cohesive interactive park experience and an unforgettable tribute to one of the sport's greats at once. (Inside of the cabin, there’s a mural that’s been painted in honor of Craig Kelly, which makes for some seriously great photo ops—though, with unfortunate incidents of vandalism, the interior of the cabin isn't always open to the public these days.)
4. Book a Communal Dinner with Friends at Basecamp
Just a 4-minute walk to the Heavenly Gondola, Basecamp is one of our favorite boutique hotels in the Tahoe area. For those visiting South Lake Tahoe, stopping at Basecamp’s Beer Garden for a communal dinner is an absolute must. We love the idea of gathering your closest friends and family and booking a three-course chef-prepared communal meal to warm you up amongst an aesthetic that's a little bit urban-chic and a little bit rustic-mountain. With entree selections like homemade chili, stew and fondue, plus fire-pits nearby for s'more roasting, Basecamp offers the perfect laid-back Lake Tahoe setting for unwinding after a day on the slopes. We also love that its beer garden features corn hole and table tennis—allowing locals and visitors alike to dine in an interactive (and super festive) atmosphere.
5. Take a Day-Trip to Truckee
The 5th item on our Lake Tahoe Bucket List brings us to Truckee, California. Just a 20-minute drive from North Lake Tahoe, Truckee is a quaint town tucked away along the towering Sierras, offering charming storefronts that sell everything from homemade fudge to hand-crafted jewelry to genuine leather cowboy boots. With age-old train tracks and the iconic Truckee River both cutting their way right through the middle of town, Truckee makes for a perfect spot for families and lone-travelers alike to explore all that Tahoe's surrounding Sierras have to offer.
Though we’re huge fans of all that Truckee has to offer, our favorite spot in this nostalgic town happens to be Jax’s at the Tracks. Featured on Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” Jax’s has been winning over the hearts of famous foodies and Lake Tahoe locals alike since it first opened its doors in 1995. There’s not a breakfast item at Jax’s we don’t love, but our favorites happen to be the Crab Cake Benedict and the All-Day Addiction (which is essentially a hearty classic breakfast served atop fresh greens with a balsamic and pesto drizzle). If your schedule doesn't allow for an entire day-trip to Truckee, we definitely recommend making the short drive there for a hearty breakfast at Jax's early in the morning before heading back to Tahoe to hit the slopes.
6. Snowshoe to Chickadee Ridge
Our Lake Tahoe Winter Bucket List wouldn't be complete without at least one mention of snowshoeing, one of our all-time favorite wintertime activities at the Lake. Our favorite spot for fairly easy snowshoeing happens to be Chickadee Ridge—a spot you can access by parking along Mt. Rose Highway near the Tahoe Meadows Recreation Area. From there, you'll head east into the wide-open meadow area and then right up into the mountains. Though there's no set trail, there are a number of trails left behind from cross-country skiers who frequent the area, so making your way up to Chickadee Ridge shouldn't be difficult as long as you've done some navigational research beforehand. (We recommend starting with the Chickadee Ridge trail information here.)
Image via TravelNevada.com
Once you reach the very top, you'll be greeted with a view of the stunning Sierras the Lake. But, believe it or not, that's not the best part—you're all but guaranteed to make friends with the countless friendly Chickadees who give the area its name and who are known to land atop outstretched hands, snowshoes and hats (so bringing along some birdseed and a camera isn't a bad idea for those seeking a seriously great photo op).
7. Roast S'mores Lakeside in Incline Village
Few activities are more festive than roasting s’mores with the snowy Sierras as a backdrop, which is why Number 7 on our Lake Tahoe Winter Bucket List brings us to enjoying s’mores over fire-pits at the Hyatt in Lake Tahoe’s iconic Incline Village. Located right along Tahoe's sandy shores and just a stone's throw from the glistening sheet of water itself, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better locale for this tasty American pastime than at the fan-favorite fire-pits the Hyatt Regency offers. Plus, with cocktail and hot cocoa service available at each fire-pit, you won't ever have to leave the comfort of that cozy wooden rocking chair for another round.
8. Ice Skate at Northstar Village
Northstar Village is a charming set of luxury condos, boutique storefronts and tasty cafes located at the base of the Northstar Ski Resort. At the heart of this oh-so-quaint area is a year-round ice-skating rink that’s free for village visitors and homeowners alike. A 9,000-square-foot rink surrounded by massive fire pits, cozy lounge spaces and charming retailers, it’s one of our favorite settings to unwind at after a long day on the slopes. Even if you're not up for ice-skating, the central location of the rink and all the hustle and bustle that surrounds it makes for a festive space to people-watch and enjoy a few cups of cocoa or, even better, a warm whiskey or two if you're really looking to shake the cold.
9. Stop for Breakfast at the Wildflower Cafe
Located at North Lake Tahoe in Incline Village, the Wildflower Cafe is a local favorite spot that every Lake Tahoe lover should add to her bucket list. Before you head out of town, be sure to schedule time for a leisurely and hearty breakfast at this charming local spot, which is known for its large portions, reasonable prices and "everyone's family" atmosphere. (The earlier you're able to arrive, the better, as it can get fairly crowded by 10 a.m. on the weekends.) The oldest same-owner restaurant in all of the North Shore area, you'll be treated (and fed) like family when you arrive. Our all-time favorite dishes are the Cinnamon-Orange French Toast and the Buttermilk Pancakes—though you can't really go wrong with any of the items on Wildflower's delectable menu.
10. Snap a Stunning Photo at Mt. Rose Highway's Scenic Overlook
Lake Tahoe is chock-full of jaw-dropping photo-ops, but, with a body of water that's nothing short of massive, it can often be hard to find a frame that allows you to capture the lake in its awe-inspiring entirety. There's one spot off Mt. Rose Highway, though, where photography professionals and novices alike can capture the expansive and striking setting from high above, making for some seriously stunning images. If you're traveling from Incline Village, the famous scenic overlook is 3.3 miles in off the highway on your right. Located at 7,562 feet and offering a panoramic view of the expansive sheet of water and the towering Pines beneath you, there's no such thing as a bad photo at this striking scenic overlook. Be sure to make a stop here either on your way to or from the Lake—you're guaranteed to capture images that will likely earn a place amongst your favorite photos of all time.
11. Ski "Rainbow Ridge" at Homewood
Our Lake Tahoe Winter Bucket List wouldn't be complete without adding at least one great day on the slopes to your itinerary, so Number 11 on our roundup brings us to the iconic Rainbow Ridge Ski Run at Homewood. Having skied nearly every resort at Lake Tahoe, we had a hard time choosing just one spot to feature—but, if we were only allowed to ski one Lake Tahoe run the rest of our lives, it would undoubtedly be the Rainbow Ridge run at Homewood Resort, simply for the incredible (and unparalleled) view of the Lake it offers skiers and snowboarders alike. When heading down this two-mile-long beginner's run, you'll feel as though you're headed straight for the glassy sapphire waters of Lake, as the run is positioned on the face of the mountain overlooking the entire lake. (Just be sure to bring a great waterproof camera with you.)
12. Ring in the New Year at Snowglobe Music Festival
For those celebrating the new year in Lake Tahoe, Snow Globe Music Festival—an annual EDM music festival that takes place over the New Year weekend at South lake—is worth adding to your Tahoe wintertime must-sees. With fireworks, ice-cold temperatures and a palpable energy, Snow Globe is a once-in-a-lifetime, bucket-list-worthy way to ring in the New year.
13. Get an Irish Coffee or an Elk Burger at Bridgetender
Located in the charming town of Tahoe City, Bridgetender Tavern & Grill first opened its doors in 1977 and has been a local staple ever since. We especially love Bridgetender's scenic location right along the Truckee River just near the iconic Fanny Bridge. With everything from Cinnamon French Toast to a Rocky Mountain Elk Burger on its menu, Bridgetender is known for serving up delectable takes on American classics in an atmosphere that's sure to warm your spirit. We especially love the idea of grabbing a hearty breakfast here (opt for Mini Cinnamon Rolls, Buttermilk Biscuits & Country Gravy or the Chicken Fried Steak Sando) and a cup (or two) of their belly-warming Irish Coffee served with Tullamore Dew Irish whiskey.
14. Go Sledding at Tahoe Meadows
One of the most popular spots on the Lake for sledding, Tahoe Meadows is a wide-open meadow area, ripe for sledding adventures in the wintertime. Located just off Mt. Rose Highway below the pass between Mt. Rose and Slide Mountain, the area is free and open to the public. We recommend visiting this sledding spot on a weekday, as it can get fairly busy on weekends. Parking along the highway nearby is free and easily accessible.
15. Have an Espresso at Keys Cafe
A quaint and colorful cafe in South Lake, Keys Cafe is an independently owned coffee shop, serving everything from out-of-this-world cappuccinos to delectable desserts to generous glasses of vino. We love the warm and welcoming atmosphere here and, for Number 15 on Lake Tahoe Winter Bucket List, recommend opting for anyone of their housemade pastries—or, on Saturday and Sundays only, their Belgian Waffle.
16. Take a Moonlit Snowshoe Tour to Dinner at Alpine Meadows
Number 16 on our Tahoe Winter Bucket List brings us to an activity that's as festive and as unforgettable as they come. Alpine Meadows offers its guests a guided moonlit snowshoe tour through the snowy Tahoe forest to Alpine's mid-mountain chalet (about 1/4 mile uphill) for a dinner that's sure to be worth the walk. With dishes like Potato Cheese Soup, Chicken Cordon Bleu and housemade Apple Strudel, there's no better way to warm up in the Tahoe winter than with a night (and a meal) that's as magical as they come.
17. Go for a Cheeseburger at Char-Pit
Sometimes, there's just nothing's better than a good ol' fashioned cheeseburger cooked to perfection, and the iconic Char-Pit in Kings Beach does not disappoint on that front. Revered by locals and famed foodies alike, Char-Pit is known for its classic, no-nonsense, char-grilled cheeseburgers that have kept fans coming back day after day since 1962. Originally only open in the summer, this revered staple is now open year-round, allowing you to warm up with one of their famous Char Burgers after a long day on the slopes. (Plus, in wintertime, lines are half the length they are in the busy summer months.)
18. Spend a Morning Snow Tubing at Squaw
Located in the SnoVentures Activity Area at the base of the stunning Squaw Valley Resort, snow tubing at Squaw is the perfect wintertime activity for families of all ages. With 55-minute long tubing sessions that start at the top of the hour, adult- and children-sized tubes are available for rent, and the area also offers a charming lodge where tubers can warm up after their hour on the slopes.
19. Warm Up at Wanderlust Yoga Studio
There's no better way to relieve joint pain after a day on the slopes or to simply warm up your muscles on a cold winter morning than with a great yoga class—so Number 19 on today's roundup brings us to one of our favorite yoga studios in the entire Lake Tahoe Area. Wanderlust Yoga Studio at Squaw is a 1,000 square-foot studio that offers practitioners blankets of natural light and stunning views of the surrounding Sierras, making for a serene wintertime experience you'll feel the benefits of for days on end. We recommend opting for either a Pre-Ski Flow class in the morning, or an Aprés-Ski Restorative Flow in the late afternoon.
20. Enjoy an Omelette at Squeeze In
With a motto that boasts, "The Best Omelettes on the Planet," and an aesthetic we can't get enough of, there's no better place to go for a leisurely and hearty breakfast than at Squeeze In in Truckee, California. Though Squeeze In now has seven locations to its name, the tiny restaurant (hence the name Squeeze In) in Truckee was its very first, and the character and culture the original Squeeze In still boasts as a result is nothing short of palpable. With a menu that's extensive (to say the least), our favorite omelettes are the Racy Tracy, the Holy Crab and the Hangover Helper (trust us—it works). (Psst...don't forget to sign the walls...or any open space you can find, while you're there.)
Have any Lake Tahoe Winter Bucket List items we've missed? Share them with us in the comments section below. We'd love to hear what must-see Lake Tahoe spots you have up your sleeve.