Surrounded by 18 ski resorts—the densest concentration of slopes anywhere in America—Lake Tahoe is a winter-sports paradise. But despite its abundance of on-mountain thrills, the region has been lacking, somewhat, in off-slope amenities—unless you count the casinos and an all-night bar scene (not to mention attendant bachelor parties) on the lake’s south side. No longer. These days, it’s the northern towns—including Northstar-at-Tahoe and Squaw Valley ski resorts, lakefront Tahoe City, and, farther inland, the vibrant, historic town of Truckee—that have the real energy. Here, a look at the new North Lake Tahoe.
After much anticipation, the $300 million Ritz-Carlton Highlands, Lake Tahoe (doubles from $299) opens this month at the family-friendly Northstar-at-Tahoe resort. The 170-room stone-and-wood lodge has a cavernous 17,000-square-foot spa with earthy treatments, like a crushed pinecone exfoliating scrub and a cedar-oil massage; a buzz-worthy restaurant, Manzanita, where star San Francisco chef Traci Des Jardins’s comfort food comes with a French twist (duck meatballs; wine-braised short ribs); and a pampering “mountain valet” who will manage your gear and escort you to the snow. For a more intimate, in-town experience, there’s the three-year-old Great Value Cedar House Sport Hotel (doubles from $170), in Truckee, where the 42 rooms are built mostly out of recycled and sustainably harvested wood in an appealing minimalist style, with leather-upholstered platform beds and birch plywood furniture.
Eat and Drink
Twelve miles north of the lake, Truckee resembles a cross between Aspen and a 19th-century railroad town. Built during the boom years of the transcontinental railroad, its two-story wood-and-brick buildings now shelter a surprising number of fantastic restaurants. Before catching the morning lifts, head to Jax at the Tracks (breakfast for two $25), housed in a restored 1940’s dining car; try the aptly named Morning Addiction—layers of hash browns, avocado, bacon, and eggs, with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. Up the road, the loungelike Drunken Monkey (lunch for two $35) has creative sushi (halibut tempura with chili aioli), Asian tapas (Vietnamese shaking beef; curry mochiko chicken), and 14 types of sake by the glass. In Squaw Valley, home to the 1960 Olympic Winter Games, you’ll find one of North Tahoe’s best restaurants, PlumpJack Café (dinner for two with wine pairing, $120). The café’s new chef, Rick Edge, recently created a series of winemaker dinners, pairing bottles from single northern California wineries with dishes like venison loin and celery root, cocoa, and hibiscus, or seared scallops with roasted chestnuts. If you’re staying in Northstar-at-Tahoe, head to the sultry Baxter’s Bistro & Lounge (drinks for two $18) for artisanal cocktails (try the Alpine Blood Orange Cosmo), house-made charcuterie, and remarkably good live jazz.
Chic boutiques have also been cropping up in Truckee in recent years. Try Dylan’s Delights, for stylish children’s clothing and toys, and The Pharmacy, an apothecary-like space with tin ceilings and gleaming antique cabinets piled with lacy lingerie, Italian linen sheets, and beauty products from around the world. High Camp Home has luxe cowboy-inspired furniture—just in case you’re in the market for a cowhide-upholstered couch. In the lakeside Tahoe City, Kalifornia Jean Bar stocks dozens of cult denim brands. Head there during Friday happy hour for discount prices and wine tastings—guaranteed to make any jeans fit better. For the latest high-tech skis and outdoor gear, stop in at True North. The store also has a sleek in-house wine and coffee bar where the wine selection changes monthly.
This season, Squaw Valley celebrates its 60th anniversary with two revamped on-mountain restaurants and new ski and snowboard classes. But the biggest news is at Northstar-at-Tahoe, known for its diverse, beginner-friendly terrain. In the past year, it has unveiled a handful of expanded trails and lifts and North America’s only Burton Snowboard Academy. And the base village—a brand-new $55 million development—has a 9,000-square-foot ice rink and connects to the Ritz-Carlton by an intermountain gondola. The sophisticated après-ski crowd gathers around the fire pit at the Chocolate Bar (drinks for two $20), conveniently located at the base of the high-speed gondola, for spicy hot chocolates, espresso martinis, and a postcard view of the slopes.