How to do Lake Tahoe on a budget

Diamond Peak Resort
Diamond Peak Resort

SAN FRANCISCO, March 18, 2014Spring is in the air in the Bay Area. The much-needed rains are finally here, and the rain has produced some much-needed snow at Lake Tahoe. Bay Area locals and ski travelers from around the world are starting to flock to Tahoe to stretch their ski legs a few times before the warmth of summer crushes ski and snowboarding hopes for another season. Just like any ski destination, Lake Tahoe has very luxurious accommodations, restaurants and ski resorts.

However, these high-end hospitality retreats can certainly hurt the pocketbook, even for a weekend trip. But there is a way to experience Lake Tahoe on a budget. Here’s a round up of some of the best, most affordable places to explore.

Tahoe Biltmore
Tahoe Biltmore

Diamond Peak Resort

Diamond Peak Resort sits on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe’s north shore in Incline Village. And while they are one of the smaller resorts, small certainly doesn’t mean dull or boring. Some of the best views of the majestic lake can be found on the runs of Diamond Peak. The resort boasts 26 un-crowded runs, most with breathtaking views, and they have super easy access from the parking lot right to the ski lifts. They even have an award-winning ski school for all experience levels. Base elevation is 6700 feet with Diamond Peak cresting at 8540 feet, offering a vertical drop of 1840 feet. Their longest run is 2.5 miles, with terrain 18% dedicated to beginner runs, 46% to intermediate and 36% advanced, including several jumps and rail features in their terrain park.

As a result of its elevation, the snow at Diamond Peak is great.  During spring skiing, however, the time to hit the slopes is definitely morning before the sun warms it up. Lines are essentially non-existent when you take the high-speed quad to the top, and you can ski right onto the lift more often than not. The resort does a great job of grooming several of the main runs, leaving them silky smooth for some fast carving. And perhaps the biggest feather in its cap compared to all the ski resorts around Tahoe, is that they make more snow than any other resort, the contributing factor for which could be that they are the only resort permitted to get their water for snowmaking from Lake Tahoe. So even during the dry season we had to start this year, Diamond Peak was operating most of its lifts and offering more skiing acreage than nearly all of the larger resorts.

Diamond Peak Resort
Diamond Peak Resort

Aside from the amazing views of the lake, the best thing about Diamond Peak is the price. An all day adult lift ticket is only $59. Compare that to $114 at Squaw. Kids 6 and under are free, and here you get to ski free on your birthday. Diamond Peak’s Child Ski Center is top notch. They have a dedicated learning area, surface lift and low instructor to child ratio (1:5), so your children are guaranteed to receive personalized attention in a fun, parent-free environment. But you don’t need to be a kid to take lessons at Diamond Peak; they also have a ski and snowboard school for adults, offering group and private lessons.

Diamond Peak has a full ski shop onsite, as well as a stellar equipment rental shop, boasting the latest and greatest in ski/board brands for every level.  The resort also participates in many fun events throughout the season as well, including the Special Olympics that were held there on March 1st.

The fun doesn’t end with their quality runs. It ends with “Last Tracks” wine tasting at their mountaintop Snowflake Lodge. Here, while everyone else is taking their final run of the day, guests get to sit on the sunny deck, overlooking gorgeous Lake Tahoe. At Last Tracks you sit and sip artisan wines, paired perfectly with light bites, all while soaking in the views. While you are sitting, relaxing and sipping, the dedicated crew at Diamond Peak is grooming a run for all the Last Tracks attendees. At the end of the event, you get to enjoy a freshly groomed run to the bottom of the resort. There is a fee for attending ($34) and you must make reservations in advance. The Snowflake Lodge is a quaint building that has limited capacity.

Diamond Peak - Last Tracks
Diamond Peak – Last Tracks

The Biltmore Hotel

The Biltmore Hotel and casino is a Tahoe legend. It was constructed in 1946, back in the Rat Pack era. And back in that day such stars as Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra and John F. Kennedy used to spend time there. Today, the Biltmore certainly isn’t the glamorous hotel that it was back then, as it has lost some of its charm over the years. But the vintage style can still be seen through its somewhat weathered exterior. It is important to note that The Biltmore today isn’t trying to be that elegant hotel of yesteryear, but rather a convenient, clean, safe and charming place to stay for a good value. Room prices range from $44 – $119 a night, depending on the room and the time of year.  And the owner has big plans for a complete tear down renovation in the next few years.  Called the “Boulder Bay Project”, the existing Biltmore will be completely leveled and a new 16-acre “green”, 275 room eco-friendly hotel, wellness center and community center will be built, including 4 acres of public park space.  The new development will reduce run-off into Lake Tahoe by 90%.

Tahoe Biltmore - Property Image
Tahoe Biltmore – Property Image


A definite Biltmore highlight is their two restaurants. They recently opened Bilty’s Brew & Q restaurant. GM/Chef Bryan Peterson was brought on board to transform the former steakhouse into a destination for craft beer and the best barbeque in the whole Tahoe area. The restaurant has a steakhouse vibe to it for sure, but don’t let that fool you, this place is a 100% BBQ and beer house now, although they do have a pretty good wine list, too for those of you that prefer grape juice to hops and barley. Guests get to enjoy house-made fresh potato chips, featuring chef’s specialty BBQ dipping sauces to get you warmed up. Not to miss dishes include their Ring of Fire burger (if you can handle it!), fish tacos and gourmet mac n’ cheese. Delish! Your meal here won’t break the bank either. The average dinner bill for two, without alcohol will run you about $50 (includes tip).

Not to be outdone, Chef Peterson also heads up the Biltmore Café, a very hip looking and popular breakfast destination. Try their $2.22 Marvelous Monday breakfast special, or their All-You-Can-Eat Sunday Brunch special for $9.95. Floor to ceiling windows and delicious food treat diners to a great breakfast experience; you may decide to dine here daily during your visit. The average check for two adults is about 30 bucks.

The Biltmore has a 6000 square foot event space, which they rent out for a mere $500, perfect for weddings (they also have a 50 person chapel on site), bar mitzvahs, or any corporate event.  In addition, the Biltmore casino has a great nightclub scene with ample stage and dance floor at which many musicians, both local and not, play frequently.

Additional Recreation & Wellness

For any of you non-skiers, or if you’d just like to get a workout or swim in during your stay, head to the Incline Village Recreation Center. This 3700 square foot complex boasts a wide variety of fitness activities, such as indoor swimming, full gym/weights, cardio equipment, gymnasium for basketball and volleyball, fitness classes (yoga, zumba, etc.), as well as massage therapy, dry sauna and complete locker room with showers. It definitely has a high-end YMCA feel to the place; super family friendly with classes geared towards kids, and kiddie daycare. In the spring and summer months, they also offer tennis, paddleball, youth camps, and disc golf.

Lake Tahoe form Diamond Peak / Image Sherrie Perkovich
Lake Tahoe form Diamond Peak / Image Sherrie Perkovich

The massage therapy they offer is pretty basic, but you will get one heck of a massage here. If you want a high-end, luxury, all day, all sensory experience, then this is not the place for you. But if you would like to get an excellent massage for a lot less money than a luxury spa, then this is the place for you. Be sure to check the open gym schedule; often times on weekends, the gym is busy with basketball players, and the massage room is located right next door to the gym. Go early in the morning if you’d like a more peaceful experience. Massage rates begin at $50. Day passes for access to the entire facility for adults are just $15, kids are $9 or less, depending on their age. Daily, weekly, monthly and season passes are available.

Meals – Suggestions for Breakfast & Dinner

Two favorite places in the Incline Village area are The Log Cabin for breakfast and Bite for dinner. Log Cabin claims to have the best breakfast in Tahoe, and they just might. They have everything on the menu from fluffy pancakes to creative omelets and perfectly crafted waffles; the usual breakfast fare, but extremely delicious. Try one of everything. This cozy, home cooking-style local favorite gets very crowded. Get there before 8:30am if you don’t want to wait for a table. The average breakfast bill here will be about $35, a little more on the pricey side here, but worth it. And if you stay at the Biltmore, you can splurge a little on a few of your meals.

Tahoe Log Cabin restaurant
Tahoe Log Cabin restaurant

Bite is an American tapas restaurant that features small plates to share, and an impressive wine and beer list. This hip-ly designed restaurant is a local favorite spot as well. It does tend to get loud in there; head there early if you have kids with you. Don’t leave without trying their Ahi Sliders, Goat Cheese Sliders and breaded Risotto Balls. Make a reservation on weekends and busy holidays. They do offer seating at the bar too. The average dinner for two adults without alcohol will run you about $50.


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