Here you’ll find great alpine eats, entertainment and lodging. These North Lake Tahoe towns in particular are conveniently located, with easy access to the Reno-Tahoe International Airport and major highways. But don’t let the sound of that detract you from the wanderlust to be had here—these four towns offer skiing, hiking, water sports and nature galore. Any activity on your bucket list can be found here, including tons of family-friendly fun. Staying in Carnelian Bay, Northstar, Donner Summit or Truckee? We’ve done the planning for you—check out our guide to a day in each town, below. Now that the heavy lifting has been done for you, you can sit back and relax on your journey to the largest alpine lake in North America. Adventure awaits!
A DAY IN CARNELIAN WAY
In 1860, Carnelian Bay was named for the semi-precious red and yellow stones peppering the shoreline. Today, it’s a popular spot for big Mackinaw trout and beaches for dogs, kayakers, stand up paddleboarders and sunset seekers alike. Check out the town’s prized vacation rentals lining the beach, too, which provide easy access to the North Shore’s 12 Lake Tahoe ski resorts. Fun fact: “Carnelian” is one of the many stones that has been used throughout history, even in ancient Egypt.
RISE, SHINE AND SEIZE THE DAY
In Carnelian Bay, you can knock out breakfast and adventure all at once. Let’s fuel up at Waterman’s Landing before we hit the water. This beachfront café whips up reasonably priced menu items for the vegan, gluten-free and Paleo eaters of the bunch. Options range from coffee to tea, carbonated drinks, smoothies, breakfast bars and beyond. Plus, breakfast is served all day long. But they’re not only a coffee house, they’re also a family paddleboard center, too. The owners know a thing or two about the sport, being professional paddleboarders themselves. Rent a board and then go, go, go to your paddleboard session on Patton’s Beach. If you’re up for a real adventure, bring your furry friend out on the water with you to enjoy one of the best dog beaches in Tahoe.
If you end paddleboarding early and want another awesome water adventure, check out Reel-Lentless Fishing Charters. Carnelian Bay offers some of the best fishing in Tahoe, and this service helps you do just that. With Reel-Lentless, up to six in your crew will seat up on the custom boat built by Rogue Jet. You’ll learn about the lake and fish that inhabit it from Captain Danny Salvador. Salvador provides each angler with an ideal experience, whether you’re fishing for Carnelian Bay’s iconic Mackinaw trout, the Rainbow trout or the elusive German Brown trout. At the end of the session, Danny will send you off with your fish cleaned and bagged for a delicious, fresh dinner.
All that time in the sun calls for some grub. Let’s head to CB’s Bistro for hearty fare. It’s family-friendly, making it the perfect lunch for all travelers. Don’t miss the happy hour specials during football season on Mondays, Thursdays and Sundays—the restaurant proudly offers five TVs with surround sound. Plus, year-round, you’ll find daily specials with new items each week: Veggie Monday, Taco Tuesday, Italian Wednesday, Thirsty Thursday and Fish Friday. Yum!
TAKE IT EASY
In the afternoon, slow things down at the Magic Carpet Golf & Arcade for indoor/outdoor fun for the whole family. The facility has two 19-hole courses and one 28-hole course overlooking Lake Tahoe, with colorful structures and challenging hazards to put your friendly competition to the test. Once your group has putted their hearts out, stop by the arcade for pinball machines and video games.
Don’t want to give up the outdoors just yet? Wind down with an incredible sunset at Carnelian West Beach until dinner.
RECHARGE WITH DINNER
Cap off a beautiful day in Carnelian Bay with a luxurious dinner at Gar Woods Grill & Pier. Its floor-to-ceiling windows offer gorgeous views of the picturesque shoreline. Make sure to order the iconic Wet Woody, Gar Woods’ signature blended cocktail, with a painted sky as your backdrop. Now toast to a day you’ll never forget.
For more Carnelian Bay fun, check out our page.
A DAY IN NORTHSTAR
Enhancing the Lake Tahoe North Shore with a people-friendly vibe is Northstar, a ski resort built upon thoughtfulness and social interaction. Themed outdoor movies and mountain biking color Northstar summers; in the winters, skiing and ice skating. Now, the Ritz-Carlton also claims its first Tahoe address in this town. Enjoy ski-in, ski-out access paired with exceptional luxury designed for travelers ready to indulge in a sophisticated mountain retreat. Fun fact: Bing Crosby hosted his first “Crosby” golf tournament here in 1934. Okay, one more fun fact because this destination is so great: Northstar was a former lumber site and originally named “Timber Farm.” The name was changed to Northstar-at-Tahoe in 1972 when the mountain opened for skiing.
RISE AND SHINE
Copper Lane Provisions: Your one stop-shop for groceries and provisions. Stock up your family’s room or visit for breakfast items like bagels, burritos, bowls, muffins and even s’mores for your fire pits. Co-owner Jonathan grew up visiting Northstar with his family and went to culinary school in nearby San Francisco.
For a sit-down breakfast, head to the Ritz-Carlton’s Café Blue. It’s casual, and the menu features fresh-pressed juices, signature house-made paninis, breakfast pastries and coffee drinks.
For something a bit more unique, try out White Rabbit, known for its ramen and donuts. Located at the Village in Northstar California Resort, stop in and try their mochi cake donuts and Tokyo milk tea boba drink. Or, have lunch for breakfast with a bowl of warm ramen.
SEIZE THE DAY
Take group mountain biking lessons from Northstar Resort. The pros will teach you the basic skills needed for the bike park, plus you’ll get to know the riding equipment, work on balance, speed control and learn biking protocol and safety. Their two-hour group lesson includes a full access lift ticket, half-day freeride bike rental, helmet, body armor and coaching. If you take the morning or day lesson, you can also extend your bike rental for an additional fee to practice the rest of the afternoon. For more Northstar summer activities, visit their page.
This one’s more of a nighttime activity, but you can also go ice skating at the Village at Northstar in the winter on their 9,000-square foot rink, which offers outdoor fire pits and delicious cocktails. It’s free for all, with skate rentals available. Plus, check out the village’s roller skating in the summer—also free of charge, unless you need to rent your skates, which are available right near the rink.
Go tubing at Northstar, the exhilarating ride down the 200-yard hill. You’ll be transported by tow lift to the top of the hill and slide down one at a time or in daisy chains. Tickets are available on a first come, first serve basis, and can be purchased at the Tickets & Season Pass Office in the Village at Northstar. For even more winter Northstar fun, check it out.
The town isn’t short on dining options, but here are two ideas to provide some variety for your afternoon.
Rubicon Pizza Company: A family-style Italian restaurant serving pasta, upscale hand-tossed pizza, gourmet salads and appetizers in a comfortable atmosphere. Stop by for one of their daily pizza specials or sit at the bar for a drink and access to the full menu after a long morning on the hill.
Uncorked + Petra: Enjoy a large selection of wines with your Mediterranean meal. Uncorked showcases a large selection of limited production wines from around the world. Petra, on the other hand, is the accompanying farm-to-table Mediterranean restaurant, tailored to the wine program and serving locally sourced tapas. Sit by the outdoor fire pit on a crisp fall night.
TAKE IT EASY
Go shopping at the Village at Northstar. Pop in and out of over 35 onsite shops and restaurants. There’s a mix of national brands like The North Face and Patagonia, plus local shops. For a full list of retailers, go here. We recommend sipping on a latte or cocktail as you make your way from boutique to boutique.
Check out Northstar Golf Course, “the best value golf course in Tahoe.” Links style on the front nine with open meadow views, and a true mountain course on the back nine, this 18-hole course offers a friendly environment for all.
Before dinner, see a movie at The Village Cinemas. Popular Hollywood hits are shown with comfortable seating and plenty of concessions. It’s on Copper Lane near the entrance to the Village at Northstar, across from TC’s Pub. Check out what’s playing and showtimes online or text MOVIE to 775-277-6069.
RECHARGE WITH DINNER
Do dinner at the Ritz-Carlton. We’ve got two recommended spots depending on what you’re craving.
Manzanita: Perched midmountain on the resort, Manzanita features California cuisine with a regional mountain resort influence. The culinarians’ approach is fundamental yet creative, sourcing the finest, seasonal ingredients, then manipulating them to creative diverse flavor profiles. Enjoy your favorite dishes spun with a new twist.
For a familiar family dinner—and casual environment—check out The Backyard at the resort. Inspired by traditional BBQ favorites, their menu features homestyle dishes like Texas-smoked beef brisket, pulled pork and other selections cooked on the onsite smoker. They also make their BBQ sauces in house. Make sure to check online first, depending on when you’re visiting, to ensure it’s open. In the winter, there’s ski in, ski out outdoor smokehouse dining, and in the summer, poolside service.
If you’d like to stay at the Village at Northstar, try the Bourbon Pub. Grab a burger and pair it with the perfect pint or barrel-aged cocktail. Reservations are highly recommended.
There’s so much to do, so much to see in Northstar. Get more trip inspiration here.
A DAY IN DONNER SUMMIT
Tucked into a granite spine splitting the Sierra Nevada in half, this picturesque mountain town offers local dining, shopping and outdoor activities. Truly a year-round playground, Donner Summit summers allow you to hike and bike hundreds of trails and its winters bring visitors from all over to ski at Sugar Bowl, Boreal, Donner Ski Ranch, Royal Gorge and Soda Springs. Fun fact: it was named after the Donner Party, who in November of 1846 found the route blocked by snow and were forced to spend the winter on the east side of the mountains. Of the 81 settlers, only 45 lived. That’s one history lesson we won’t forget.
RISE AND SHINE
Squeeze in a breakfast at Squeeze In! They concoct arguably one of the best omelets in all of Lake Tahoe and have been consistently voted Truckee’s Best Breakfast, year after year. With 14 tables, the spot fills up quickly so make sure to get there early.
SEIZE THE DAY
Donner Summit is known for its awesome resorts—to make the most out of your day, you can’t go wrong with either Sugar Bowl Resort or Soda Springs Mountain Resort. Enjoy popular winter sports like skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing and beyond. You’ll likely spend the full day here.
Woodward Tahoe at Boreal Mountain Resort should also be high on your list. The year-round outdoor sports facility features 11 parks, eight lifts, skateparks and a large indoor hub with classes. They offer summer camps, too, ranging from multisport, skateboard, mountain bike, parkour, BMX and scooter.
This Tahoe town also has some unforgettable hiking as well. Check out Donner Summit Canyon, which is just one of the many hikes offered in Donner Memorial State Park. In the winter, Royal Gorge is a perfect stop to snowshoe, skate ski, and for season passholders, there are trails specific to bring Fido along. It also happens to have the largest cross-country ski area in North America.
Another Donner Summit highlight is the Pacific Crest Trail/Mount Judah Loop, a 4.6-mile loop. There is a section of the Mt. Judah Loop that connects with the Pacific Crest Trail, a 2,650-mile trail running from Mexico to Canada.
You can’t miss Donner Lake Kitchen, a homey, rustic kitchen feeding travelers since the seventies. Order a burger and fries to keep you going for all the activities ahead. And as one reviewer put it, “The sweet potato fries are magical.” They also serve wine and beer.
TAKE IT EASY AND SEE THE SIGHTS
There’s something for the history buffs out there, too. Learn about the Native Americans, pioneers, settlers and the infamous Donner Party who gave this region its unique charm. Plus, railroads, California ski culture and early automobile travel that make up the town’s past. You’ll want to head to the 20 Mile Museum to learn more – it’s comprised of a series of interpretive signs along Donner Pass Road.
RECHARGE WITH DINNER
At Donner Ski Ranch is the Old 40 Bar & Grill. It’s an awesome dive bar serving dishes like jalapeño poppers, pizza and grilled favorites, from a mushroom Swiss avocado burger to patty melts and Philly cheesesteaks. AKA, the perfect way to close an adventurous day!
There’s more to see in Donner Summit. For all the activity and dining ideas, plus lodging options, travel this way.”
A DAY IN TRUCKEE
When you think classic mountain town, think Truckee. This magical spot is so diverse in its entertainment: one day you might be rock climbing, the next you might see an Olympic skier at a pub. Truly a wonderful vacation destination for first-time Tahoe visitors and families, your day in Truckee will be nothing short of lively. You’ll find that Truckee is reminiscent of the California Gold Rush Era, which is sprinkled in some of our agenda activity ideas below. There’s so much to do in this historic mountain town—let’s get started.
RISE AND SHINE
Start your day off in one of Tahoe’s most iconic and well-known coffee shops, CoffeeBar. They’ve been in Truckee since 2010, priding themselves on being comprised of over two decades of industry knowledge. They’re just off the main street in historic downtown Truckee. Fuel up for the agenda ahead with their Cabin in the Woods drink, which “channels the essence of Tahoe forests in the summertime…a house-made juniper rosemary syrup perfectly balances sweet and herbal flavors.” Check out their full menu to start thinking ahead on breakfast so you have time to hit everything on the agenda.
SEIZE THE DAY
There’s boundless fun to be had in this Tahoe town, but we’ve rounded up just a few ideas for today’s itinerary (PSST: More activities here).
Raft down the Truckee River: There’s a speed and level for everyone, but the calmest route is from Tahoe City to River Ranch. To ramp up your level of white-water rafting, you can do a guided tour with a rafting outfitter taking you on rapids in the class 2 and class 3 levels. For a calmer float, check out Truckee River Rafting. For those guided trips, Tributary Whitewater Tours is a great choice.
Go on a winter adventure at The Ritz-Carlton: The resort has plenty of awesome activities year-round, but if you’re here in the winter you must check out their snowshoeing and skiing explorations. According to their website, snowshoeing is the fastest-growing winter sport in the world.
Sightsee Truckee atop a majestic horse: Horseback riding in Truckee is a unique way to spend your day. You’ll throw it back to Truckee’s wild, wild west days in the 1800s, where horses reigned supreme as a transportation method. Explore a variety of rides for all levels, from beginner to kid-friendly and expert. We recommend Tahoe Donner Equestrian Center, but there are plenty more companies, too. Happy trails to you!
See Rainbow Bridge: Along Hwy 40 is this iconic bridge built in 1926. It offers amazing views of Donner Lake and a more than 1,000-foot climb. Find a lookout point for a photo with your crew in front of the spot that was inspired by Big Sur’s Bixby Creek Bridge. (It’s also referred to as Donner Memorial Bridge.)
If you plan on spending the rest of the afternoon in historic downtown Truckee, then a lunch spot in the same area is always a good call. Ideas include 1882 Bar & Grill, a BBQ spot with a deck facing the Truckee River, Bud’s Ice Cream, a delicious cool down after a great meal, and Jax at the Tracks, old-school diner featured on the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” show.
TAKE IT EASY
For a more laidback afternoon, check these off your list. Bonus points for hitting them all.
Try a proper pint: Alibi Ale Works offers 18 and counting frequently-rotating Alibi beers on draft, as well as cider, wine, nitro coffee, kombucha and other non-alcoholic options. It provides a comfortable space for people to gather and relax and is open to your entire family—even the fur babies of the bunch. Hungry? Their small but mighty kitchen offers pub fare to pair with the perfect pint.
Check out some great art: Riverside Studios is owned and operated by five local artists with a focus on the handmade. Carmel Gallery is another recommended Truckee gallery, featuring a stunning collection of fine art landscape photography, a complete framing service and unique collections of sculpture, woodwork, glasswork, jewelry and Berkeley Mills furnishings.
Go back to the Wild, Wild West: In downtown Truckee lies both the Old Jail Museum and the Truckee Railroad Museum. If you want a blast from the past, you won’t want to miss these and their interesting exhibits.
RECHARGE WITH DINNER
Switch things up with a private dinner from Hey Chef!—sometimes the finest dining experience is right at your own table. The service will match you and your group with a chef who can best meet your event and dietary needs. Indian, Italian, Thai, Japanese, sushi, Mexican, American, French….whatever the menu, there is a chef for you. You can schedule your group’s dinner here.
Wanting to get back out on the town? Venture across the Truckee River to Cottonwood Restaurant & Bar. Go on a Thursday for the best FREE live acoustic music coupled with discounts on libations and select menu items. Moody’s Bistro & Lounge is a popular spot for locals as well, where you’ll find soulful music inspired by San Francisco’s legendary 90s jazz scene, plus delectable American dishes. The menu at Moody’s changes every day.
Truckee is truly a magical mountain town. Add more ideas to your agenda!