A Wintery Escape from San Francisco to Lake Tahoe

San Francisco to Lake Tahoe
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There’s nothing quite like fresh snow in the middle of winter.  And being able to escape the busy city of San Francisco to Lake Tahoe to experience a fresh coating of white powder on the ground can make everything feel better… more magical.  A winter wonderland, visiting Lake Tahoe in the middle of the winter can sometimes be exactly what you need to refresh and reconnect.


From San Francisco to Lake Tahoe

trees and snow

The distance from San Francisco to Lake Tahoe is only 190-miles (3+ hours) to South Lake Tahoe and 200-miles (3+ hours) to North Lake Tahoe, making it the perfect weekend getaway or if you only have one day, also a quick and easy day trip from the city.  With well-known mountain ranges, visiting in the winter is ideal if you like to ski or snowboard, but there are a plethora of other things to do in Lake Tahoe and fun outdoor activities you can participate in if you don’t ski or snowboard.

Keep in mind, if you’re driving from San Francisco to Tahoe weather conditions can vary.  I recommend checking out the Chain Guy before driving to see whether or not it’s advised to put chains on your tires.




Renting Ski/Snowboard Gear

Snowboards on a rack

I highly recommend renting your ski gear before going to Tahoe.  That way it’s out of the way and once you arrive you’re all ready and set to go.  If you’re planning to visit Tahoe from San Francisco and you don’t have your own gear (or you’re a travel nurse like me and don’t like to pack all of your gear), I highly recommend renting from Sports Basement.  There are two locations in the city, and you can rent anything from snow pants to helmets and even other things like bikes!  You simply go online and follow the prompts, pick your sizes, and put in the dates for when you want your gear.  Once your gear is ready for pick up they will email you and even allow you to come to pick it up at your earliest convenience for no extra charge.


Should You Visit North Lake Tahoe or South Lake Tahoe?

views of lake tahoe from heavenly mountain

Views of Lake Tahoe from Heavenly Mountain

Lake Tahoe is 192 mi² and 22 miles in length.  You can definitely make it a point to visit both North and South Lake Tahoe in one weekend, or you could focus on one specific area.  North Lake Tahoe is where Squaw Valley is located and where the 1960 Winter Olympics were hosted.  It’s the second-largest ski resort in the area, behind Heavenly Mountain located in South Lake Tahoe.  The draw to South Lake Tahoe is Heavenly Mountain where you get views of Lake Tahoe as you ski down the mountain.  What’s unique about Heavenly is that the mountain is split between California and Nevada so you have a chance to ski in both states!



A lift ticket to Squaw Valley ranges in price depending on which day you’re visiting.  For more information on purchasing a lift ticket for the mountain, click here.



A lift ticket to Heavenly costs around $150 for a one-day pass.  If you hold an Epic pass you’re also eligible to use it at this mountain.  For more information on purchasing a lift ticket for the mountain, click here.

For incredible views of Lake Tahoe from the top of the mountain, make sure to take the Tamarack lift to the California Trail.  If you want to see the lake as you ski down the mountain, head to Ridge Run.

For dining options, there are many lodges located throughout the mountain that you can stop at.  But beware, food and drinks are expensive on the mountain.  If you can, I’d recommend packing some protein bars and mini bottles in your pockets so you don’t have to stop.  Otherwise, a more unique choice is to stop at Steins for beer and sausages.


Note:  Both times I’ve visited Lake Tahoe I’ve stayed around South Lake Tahoe.  For purposes of this post, that’s the area that I’ll be focusing on.


Exploring Heavenly Village in South Lake Tahoe + Where to Eat

mountain beers

Heavenly Village is located at the base of the mountain near the Heavenly Mountain Resort Gondola.  It is a lively center for restaurants, bars, casinos, shopping, and entertainment.  As you walk through Heavenly you’ll notice live music, skiers coming and going from spending a day on the mountain, fire pits to warm up around, and tons of dog-friendly restaurants.  Again, if you aren’t big on skiing/snowboarding you can entertain yourself in the village by going to see a movie, ice skating, playing mini-golf, and so on.

There are 13 restaurants in Heavenly Village, where you can just about find something for anyone!  If you’re craving a lively atmosphere and Latin fare, dine at Azul Latin Kitchen.  If you want something casual for takeout (or you want to dine in), grab an artisanal pizza from Base Camp Pizza.  Or head across the street from Heavenly to feast on delicious BBQ food at Ten Crows BBQ.


Where to Stay in South Lake Tahoe

girl looking out of a hot tub with red wine

If you’re visiting Tahoe with a group of people and want to rent out a cabin, there are many different and competitive choices.  I always have the best luck when using VRBO to search for rental properties.  If you’re coming alone or with a smaller group, a hotel might be the best choice for you.  I prefer to use Booking.com and Expedia when looking for hotel options.


A quick and easy winter escape from San Francisco to Lake Tahoe can be quite an adventure.  With the short and scenic drive and amount of fun activities to do in Tahoe, there’s no reason you shouldn’t make this trip up north a priority.


Are you looking for more escapes from San Francisco?  Make sure to check out these posts for more options on easily exploring Northern California.  And if you also want to plan a visit to Lake Tahoe in the summertime, don’t miss 10 Things to Do During a Lake Tahoe Summer.


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Disclosure:  This post may contain affiliate links, meaning I get a commission if you decide to purchase through my link, at no cost to you.


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Kylee is a Neonatal Intensive Care (NICU) nurse passionate about making travel affordable and accessible to nurses. Inspiring nurses to travel both near and far, Kylee began Passports and Preemies in 2017 while volunteering in Skopje, North Macedonia as a way to reach nurses and advocate for the prevention of nurse burnout by traveling. Kylee is the original creator of the “8 Day Vacay” – a vacation geared towards nurses who aim to take advantage of the potentially 8 days off between work weeks with no need to use PTO.

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  1. Dana
    March 10, 2021 / 9:53 pm

    Thanks for this detailed information. So glad you got to ski there. It is such a beautiful place any time of year but skiing there in the winter is like a little slice of heaven. Your suggested places are great. One place I have also enjoyed a lot is Sierra at Tahoe. It’s a little smaller than some of the ‘biggies’ like Heavenly and I will never forget the peaceful feel and sounds of doing cross country skiing there. Keep up your fun travel sharing experiences. Thanks

    • March 11, 2021 / 10:18 pm

      Awe thanks for the comment Dana! I will add Sierra to my list. I love more “smaller” places, it feels more intimate.

  2. February 7, 2022 / 6:25 am

    I loved reading about your experience in Lake Tahoe. Your descriptions really made it come alive for me. Happy travels!

    • February 7, 2022 / 10:00 pm

      Awe thanks for the comment! I hope that you get a chance to make it to Tahoe during the winter. It’s really beautiful.

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