Lake Tahoe

South Lake Tahoe vs. North Lake Tahoe: What is the Difference?

Along with the lake being split between California and Nevada, Lake Tahoe is also divided between two main shores: north and south.  Both are equally beautiful, with stunning panoramic lake views, and both offer endless year round outdoor activities, incredible lodging, and fine dining.  But each shore can offer visitors a very different Tahoe vacation experience.  Deciding on which shore to visit comes down to personal preference, and what kind of Lake Tahoe experience one is looking for.  So the question often asked is, “South Lake Tahoe vs. North Lake Tahoe: What is the Difference?”

South Lake Tahoe | Casinos at Stateline

The Stateline casinos on the South Shore.

South Shore

Both shores are comprised of a handful of small cities and towns, as well as both being divided between California and Nevada.  The south shore includes: South Lake Tahoe (the largest city), Meyers, Stateline, Zephyr Cove, Glenbrook, Emerald Bay, and the Markleeville and Kirkwood areas.

The Experience

The main attraction of the south shore is the bustling downtown casino area.  On the Nevada state line sits four large casinos: Harrah’s, Harveys, MontBleu, and the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.  Just across the state line on the California side is the large Shops at Heavenly Village; filled with restaurants, unique shops, bars, live outdoor music, and the Heavenly Gondola (which runs during the winter and summer months), it is a very popular destination for visitors of all ages.


The south shore is also more popular among those looking for an exciting nightlife experience.  The town is filled with bars, many with live music or events, and the casinos cater to the 24-hour crowd looking to dance the night away in their numerous clubs and lounge areas.  Food can also be found around the clock, mainly in the casino corridor.  The south shore is also home to numerous outdoor music events, like the popular SnowGlobe featuring multiple days of outdoor EDM-style music over the New Year’s holiday week, and Harveys hosts their outdoor concert series every summer with big headlining names like Dave Matthew’s Band, Phish, and Janet Jackson.


The south end of the lake also has year round outdoor activities available for all ages like boating, jet skiing, hiking, biking, fishing, snowshoeing, skiing, and snowboarding.  There are three ski resorts accessible from South Lake Tahoe: Heavenly (the largest), Sierra-at-Tahoe, and Kirkwood.


North Lake Tahoe | Tahoe City

Tahoe City on the North Shore.

North Shore

Like the south shore, the north shore is also made up of small cities and towns: Incline Village, Tahoe City, Kings Beach, Carnelian Bay, Crystal Bay, Sunnyside, Tahoe Vista, and the Truckee and Donner Lake areas.

The Experience

Famed for its quieter, more laid-back and family-friendly atmosphere, the north shore is more popular for visitors looking for a more modest vacation experience.  Most of the cities and towns are smaller in size, and most businesses have earlier closing hours, giving visitors a more quaint community feel during their vacation. Tucked away throughout the many towns are some incredible restaurants.  One notable restaurant would be the Lone Eagle Grille in Incline Village, located on the lake behind the Hyatt.  Their fine dining menu, hand-crafted cocktails, lakefront setting, and upscale mountain lodge decor offer a truly unique Tahoe dining experience.


For nighttime excitement, there are a few casinos on the north shore, the Hyatt in Incline Village being the largest, along with the Tahoe Biltmore and Crystal Bay Club located on the Nevada state line in Crystal Bay. The Tahoe Biltmore offers many live music shows throughout the year.  In Tahoe City, you will find there are a handful of bars and lounges offering the perfect setting for an after dinner nightcap.


There are also endless activities for the whole family year round like river rafting, hiking, biking, boat rentals, beaches, skiing, cross-country skiing, snowboarding, and sledding. During the summer months, the north shore offers numerous picturesque beaches, like the famous Sand Harbor with its fine white sands and large granite boulders, perfect for the whole family to explore and enjoy.  For the winter months, the north shore is dotted with ski resorts, both inside the Lake Tahoe Basin, and neighboring areas: Squaw Valley USA (famed for hosting the 1960 Winter Olympics), Diamond Peak, Northstar-at-Tahoe (which has a large central village and the newly constructed Ritz-Cartlon Hotel), Alpine Meadows, Boreal, and Mt. Rose.

Both South Lake Tahoe and North Lake Tahoe have much to offer every Tahoe visitor.  Hopefully these descriptions of the two shores help you in your vacation planning and deciding which shore is right for you and your group or family.  If you land on the south shore, we have an extensive list of South Lake Tahoe vacation rentals to help create your next Tahoe trip memories in a beautiful mountain home!

About Devon Fennessy

I am a long time local of South Lake Tahoe, CA, and have worked in the tourist industry (namely vacation rentals) since 1998. I have experience blogging for two of my own websites: a health blog, and culinary blog with recipes, how-to's, and kitchen must-haves. I also have an Associate of Science Degree in Culinary Arts from the International Culinary School at the Art Institute in Las Vegas. I am currently the Communications Director for Buckingham Properties Lake Tahoe, located in the heart of South Lake Tahoe, and love living the Tahoe mountain life!

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