Lake Tahoe has been a vacation resort town for San Franciscans eager to escape the city for hundreds of years. Today, the picturesque mountainous region, which is home to the largest alpine lake in North America, is a playground for the outdoor enthusiast. Located just a three-and-a-half hour drive northeast of San Francisco, Tahoe is relatively easy to get to, when the conditions are good.
During peak times of the year (ski season runs through early April), the traffic can be terrible so, if you can, avoid heading to Tahoe on the Friday afternoon of a three-day holiday weekend. The area is also accessible by train (Amtrak leaves from Emeryville daily and takes about five hours) and plane (Reno-Tahoe International Airport), which makes getting to your last winter adventure of the season easier than ever.
Once you figure out how to get to Tahoe, head straight for the best place to stay during the winter season, Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe.
The Ritz-Carlton is one of the only resorts in Tahoe that sits halfway up the mountain. Simply ski right out the back of the hotel and you’ll find yourself on Northstar Mountain. With a massive living room instead of a traditional lobby, the warm and inviting Ritz feels more like a cozy alpine retreat than a hotel. All of the rooms have fireplaces and stunning views of the surrounding mountains.
The masculine rooms are painted a natural tawny color and the beds have rich chocolate brown leather headboards and crisp white linens. There are warm wood accents, twig details, and plaid curtains and pillows — the resulting suites feel comfortable yet luxurious, sophisticated yet rustic.
After you’ve settled into the space, hop on the gondola to the Northstar Village. Here you’ll find an ice-skating rink surrounded by plush patio seating dotted with roaring fires. You’ll also spy a handful of restaurants, bars and shops.
Why not unwind with a glass of wine at Petra, a chic little wine bar that opens daily at 2 p.m.? It’s a casual spot, but with a lively atmosphere, friendly staff and extensive vino list. There’s also a menu of snacks that will tide you over to dinner — think a classic cheese plate with some of California’s finest fromage, an artisanal charcuterie platter and a house-made hummus with roasted garlic.
If you’re traveling with children — and with the Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe and Northstar ski resort being so incredibly kid-friendly, there’s no reason not to bring your brood — grab a bite at the Rubicon Pizza Company. The Italian restaurant with hand-tossing pizzaiolos puts smiles on everyone’s face. If the little ones are skating, grab a table outside and you can keep an eye on them or call them over when your signature Rubicon pizza, piled high with pepperoni, Italian sausage, roasted peppers, onions and Portobello mushrooms arrives. In the mood for shopping? Pop into True North, a boutique that features high-end skiwear and après fashion.
Before the sun sets, go back up the mountain, by gondola, to the Ritz-Carlton. You don’t want to miss the daily Art of the S’more experience. Every afternoon at 4:30 p.m., you are invited to meet with the marshmologist to learn how to make the best s’mores around. Grab a house-made marshmallow (while flavors change daily, we recently tried cherry and green apple) and skewer, and get to work to build a gooey and nostalgic treat.
For dinner, you must eat at the hotel’s Four-Star restaurant, Manzanita. With mirrored ceilings, glass accents and warm faux bois counters, the space is modern but somehow still invitingly retro — well, it is a ski lodge after all. While you could order off of the everyday dinner menu, for an unparalleled culinary experience, pull up a chair at the reservations-only chef’s tasting counter. You’ll have a front-row seat to the jam-packed kitchen that buzzes like a beehive with six to eight chefs dancing gracefully throughout the space.
For the counter experience, chef Chris Watkins prepares a series of exquisite bites, amuse-bouches and larger plates. Watkins uses “classic techniques to whip up food with a modern thought.” A delicate crudo is turned into a beautiful wreath with melt-in-your-mouth foam and micro greens. A glass dome filled with smoke revels scrumptious pork belly and delicate ravioli. There’s also an assortment of desserts: smooth vanilla bean ice cream, chocolate and caramel cake, and house-made chocolate truffles.
The next morning, go downstairs to meet with the Mountain Concierge. This is where you can rent equipment and book ski lessons with the Northstar Ski and Snowboard School. Northstar is one of Tahoe’s gentler hills and it’s a great place for beginners to get aquatinted with the movements required of skiing or snowboarding. More advanced shredders can take a lift to the top of the mountain and explore the backside that has spectacular looks onto the lake.
Why not enjoy lunch at the top of the mountain? The Zephyr Cove Lodge serves up hearty fare that’s perfect for fueling up in the middle of an active snow day. Menu offerings include hot crab dip, baked brie and our personal favorite, the grilled cheese with fontina cheese, fig and balsamic on sourdough. Who’s counting calories when you have to ski down to get back to your hotel?
After an exhausting day on the mountain, there’s only one place to go: the spa at the Ritz-Carlton. The rejuvenating Four-Star sanctuary features 17 treatment rooms, a fitness center and private, adult-only heated lap pool that overlooks the slopes. Book an aprés-ski massage to reset your muscle memory and elongate the body. Or enjoy a full body time out with a pine essence exfoliation followed by a leisurely Epsom salt soak and full-body cedar-oil massage.
Downtown Truckee is the ideal place for a post-spa dinner. It’s a quick 20-minute drive from the Ritz-Carlton. Moody’s Bistro, Bar & Beats is an old-school-style saloon with live music most nights. The menu features traditional American food with an unconventional twist: there’s scrumptious deviled eggs with truffle and mushroom duxelle; Neapolitan-style pizza with boar bacon, medjool dates and mornay sauce; and fried chicken roulette with waffle spaetzle and dino kale.
If you’re more in the mood for sushi, go to the Drunken Monkey. The fresh seafood is stellar at this super chill lounge that also serves up noodle dishes, Japanese tapas and plenty of sake.
The next day before you leave the area, take a drive down to the lake. If you’re hungry for brunch go to Gar Woods, a lakeside institution with a dock that’s always packed with thirsty revelers. Diners can’t go wrong with the fried egg BLT with English muffin, thick-cut bacon and a generous slathering of mayonnaise. The sensational Wave-os Rancheros — fragrant chorizo black bean puree, salsa diablo, guacamole and four fried eggs — is enough to feed two people, so come hungry.