Mid-winter break is just around the corner and there's no shortage of snow in the Sierras. It's not too late to make plans for a family getaway to have fun in the snow. Check out our guide to ski, snowboard and snow play locations for North and South Lake Tahoe.
The Lake Tahoe area has a variety of resorts and ski areas to suit anyone's taste and budget. Here's our guide to places to ski, snowboard, tube, sled, and play in the snow around Tahoe. We're tried to focus on spots that offer not only skiing and snowboarding, but tubing, snow play, and other winter activities, too. If we've omitted your favorite, please let us know.
Make sure you check before you head up to the high country, though, as opening dates are tentative and dependent on snowfall and weather; we've included website links and phone numbers.
North Lake Tahoe
Just a few hours away off Interstate 80, North Lake Tahoe and the Truckee area offer a huge concentration of ski resorts and other destinations for fun in the snow.
One of our favorite family getaways is a visit to the Monterey Peninsula and the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium. It's about a three-hour drive from Marin, making it possible as a day trip, but even better as an overnighter or long weekend with the family. Winter may even be the best time to visit, since you can avoid the coastal fog that blankets the area in the summer and the tourist season crowds have subsided a bit.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium is widely considered to be one of the best in the world, and we're willing to bet that it is. The exhibits reflect the aquarium's mission to research and educate the public about the biodiversity of Monterey Bay and the California coast, and they're fascinating.
Snow, snow, snow—the winter season in the Sierra is off to a fantastic start! While we love the skiing and winter fun at Lake Tahoe, we know that not everyone's a skiier, and sometimes families just want to go up and have some fun in the snow. While many of the Tahoe ski resorts like Northstar, Squaw Valley, and Heavenly have tubing parks, ice skating, and other winter non-skiing activities for the family, there are plenty of other places in the mountains where you can get your snow play fix without the ski resort hustle and bustle (and price tag).
Most of these snow play sites are within a few hours' drive from Marin and the San Francisco Bay Area. While some have tubes and sleds to rent, others, most notably the California State Sno-Parks, offer little more than a place to park your car so you can go play in the snow. For a list of Lake Tahoe ski resorts that offer both skiing and snow play activities, read our article here.
The Polar Express Train Ride on the Santa Cruz and Monterey Bay Railway. Photo courtesy Premier Rail Collection
There's something magical about taking a special holiday outing with the family on a train! While the popular Polar Express train rides at the California State Railroad Museum and Railtown 1897 sold out way back in October, you can still find plenty of other opportunities in the Bay Area and Northern California to celebrate the holidays on board a train, including and all new Polar Express Train Ride in Santa Cruz. But get your tickets as soon as you can—most of these rides will sell out.
Tahoe offers so much more than winter sports. Sure, it’s a winter wonderland of skiing and snowboarding, snow tubing, sledding, ice skating, and snow-filled fun. But there’s also a packed calendar with unique events to make your Tahoe memories for a lifetime. As long time locals, we put together a list of our favorite kid-centric events.
With more snow moving into the Sierras, it's time to start thinking about winter sports family fun in the mountains. While downhill skiing and snowboarding are synonymous with snow sports to many people, cross country skiing is a fun and low-key alternative to the lift lines. Cross country skiing is fun, easy to learn, and requires a minimum of equipment. Dress in warm active clothing, put on your boots and skis, grab your poles, and you're good to go!
We tried out cross country last winter, and had a great time. My kids picked it up right away—after 20 minutes on the practice loop they were off and hitting the trails. The whole family can join in, too—you can even get a jogging stroller on skis and pull your little one along, and many cross country trails allow dogs, too. An added bonus: cross country skiing is one of the best aerobic exercise activities you can do. It's a great way to get active and enjoy the beauty of the mountains in winter.
For a quick family seaside getaway, few destinations beat the Monterey Peninsula town of Pacific Grove (or "PG", if you're a local). There's so much to do there, from visiting the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium to just relaxing at the beach. We recently took a fall weekend road trip down to PG and stayed at the fantastic Asilomar State Beach and Conference Grounds, which is an ideal place to stay for families and affordable too.
While Asilomar is technically a conference center, you can reserve rooms there and take advantage of everything it has to offer without going there for a conference. Previously, we'd visited the gorgeous beachfront grounds a few times to marvel at the amazing Arts and Crafts architecture of many of the buildings, but hadn't actually stayed there until now. We were pleasantly surprised, and can't wait to go back. I love the fact that you can walk right across the street to the beach, so you don't need to get in your car.
Wouldn't it be great if you could take your family on an amazing African Safari adventure, but still have the convenience of being in the Bay Area? Safari West, a wildlife preserve and private zoo located near Santa Rosa offers just that!
Tour this 400-acre preserve in Sonoma County's rolling hills and get up-close-and-personal with giraffes, rhinos, zebras, monkeys, cheetahs, and a huge variety of birds and African antelopes. Not only can you tour Safari West, but you can stay overnight in one of their luxury "glamping" tent cabins. We had a chance to stay over at Safari West and take one of their Classic Safari tours, and it was an unforgettable experience.
While winter and summer are the most popular times to visit Truckee and the Lake Tahoe area, fall can be a fantastic time for a family trip up the mountains. The weather is often beautiful, fall color abounds, summer’s tourists and winter’s skiers are absent, and there’s still plenty to do in an amazing place. And it’s not too far away, either.
We love events like the annual Fall Festival at Tahoe Donner, a mountain community and ski area just outside town. This laid-back autumn event, which takes place this year on October 8, features family fun like pumpkin carving, arts and crafts, food, pony rides, archery, a petting zoo, and much more.
While many of Tahoe Donner’s summer programs close in the fall, the community still boasts some great restaurants and other upcoming fall events, including their free Light Up the Night holiday kick-off event in late November. Tahoe Donner offers great family winter sports opportunities, too, including cross-country skiing, snow shoeing, and even fat biking at their Alder Creek Adventure Center.