The Poor Man's Guide to Food, Booze, Skiing, and More in North Lake Tahoe
While there's probably no better winter Bay Area getaway than a trip to Tahoe, between lift tickets, drinks, lodging, renting gear, food, and other-drinks, a quick ski trip can get pretty pricey pretty quickly. (No, really: lift tickets at Squaw and Alpine are $119.) Still, that doesn't mean you should spend the entire weekend nursing your Irish coffee by the fire while all of your friends are out having a blast. 'Cause seriously: it is possible to do Tahoe on a budget, which we set out to prove with this, our poor man's guide to North Lake.
And no, South Lake isn't on here. If you're looking for cheap fun there, hit up the casinos. They'll give you free drinks while you lose your money. Wait. That's not how being on a budget works at all. Yeah. Maybe just stick to North Lake.
The Deal: You get your fifth day of rentals FREE.
The Lowdown: Willard’s is a family-owned-and-operated shop, so you can feel good about giving them your money. Plus, Day 5 is free. Can’t really beat that.
Truckee, Kings Beach, Squaw Valley, and Tahoe City
The Deal: Book your rentals online and save up to 20%. Enter promo code TDMAP20.
The Lowdown: You can rent your gear at the mountain, but probably don’t do that. Dave’s prices are legit and there's a sweet demo selection. Plus, if you’re a kid, a student, in the military, super old, or just want to sing the Michigan fight song in its entirety, you’ll get extra discounts. You can also pick up and drop off at any of the four locations.
The Deal:Beginner Progression Upgrade
The Lowdown: If you’re a legit beginner, renting at the mountain actually makes sense because you can get everything you need to get started -- a lift ticket, equipment rentals, and two days of lessons -- for $200. Considering a lift ticket alone costs $119, it's actually a great deal. They have the same deal for intermediates except it’s a one-day lesson and it costs $149.
The Deal: Alice's is Squaw's village grocery, so beer is way cheaper there than anywhere else at Squaw.
The Lowdown: Grab a beer (or 70) from the back fridge and then take it outside where you can enjoy it by one of the fire pits or on the chairlift.
The Deal: Happy hour from 4-6pm Monday-Friday. Fish Taco Fridays from 6-9pm include $4 fish tacos (they’re huge, with a double tortilla so you can split one into two). Draft beer, house wine, and margaritas are all on special. Appetizers and pizzas are 50% off. And every time you order something, you get a raffle ticket for the hourly raffle. Prizes include snowboards, shot skis, lift tickets, snow gear, SHOT SKIS, and more.
The Lowdown: This bar and restaurant in the heart of historic Downtown Truckee was just renovated, but the good food, great drinks, and live music are still all there.
The Deal: Fat Tuesday is every Tuesday from 5-10pm. Enjoy raw or BBQ oysters from Tomales Bay, homemade jambalaya with shrimp, chicken, and andouille sausage, $3 pints of Abita Amber, and Southern jazz.
The Lowdown: Walk into the BT on any weekday and you’ll find the bar packed with locals. Go on the weekend and you’ll find it packed with locals and tourists. Both for good reason: it’s a mellow spot to grab a bite, the staff is friendly and on top of its game, and the food is affordable in a town where "affordable" isn’t really a thing. It's also a great spot to watch the game.
The Deal: Happy hour Sunday-Thursday from 4-7pm with bottomless chips and salsa.
The Lowdown: The Blue Agave serves traditional Mexican food and has a pretty great drink menu, assuming you like margaritas and twists on margaritas. If you come when it’s warm out, you can sit outside in the sun with your dog and enjoy lake views right across the street. Or leave the pup at home and watch the game inside on the big screen.
The Deal: Make your first drink a "shifter." It’s a PBR for a buck.
The Lowdown: Tucked away in a corner of the Squaw parking lot, you’ll find Cornice Cantina. This restaurant/bar is all about affordable Mexican food during the day and a lively bar scene at night. The chicken wings are not to be missed, even though chicken wings aren’t Mexican.
Base of Alpine Meadows
The Deal: Happy hour every day from 3pm until close includes $2.25 PBR drafts and $3.75 premium drafts. On Thursdays you can get a $5 PBR and sushi hand roll from 3-5pm.
The Lowdown: Though it’s hard to beat Treats at Alpine Meadows, Crest Café is also a great breakfast spot to hit on your way to the mountain. You can even call ahead and your food will be ready for you to pick up.
The Deal: Happy hour every day from 4-6pm and all day on Sunday. Includes: half-priced appetizers, and $1 off well cocktails, draft beers, and house wine. In addition, they have $1 PBRs after 9pm.
The Lowdown: Fat Cat has a laid-back vibe, good food, and friendly bartenders who know how to make a strong, tasty drink. You’ll find a mix of locals and tourists at this cozy spot that often has live music.
The Deal: Happy hour from 3-5pm, Monday-Friday includes food specials and 33% off of all drinks. Plus, there’s a $3 “Beer of the Moment” on special daily.
The Lowdown: FiftyFifty is a craft brewery and restaurant most famous for its award-winning Eclipse barrel-aged stout. The portions are huge, so order wisely.
The Deal: Happy hour from 4-6pm every day includes pitchers of margaritas for $12, $2 Miller drafts, and $3 Dos Equis; $3 well drinks and a DJ on Thursdays from 9pm-12:30am if you’re paying with cash; live music and drink specials on Fridays; two tacos for $5 on Wednesdays; $7 shot and a beer every single day. Bam.
The Lowdown: Super affordable, good Mexican food with amazing views of the lake. Great for big groups or just hanging out at the bar, drinking margaritas made by awesome bartenders, and watching the game/view.
The Deal: $14 pitchers of Bud and Bud Light
The Lowdown: The Chammy is the spot to go when you’re finished skiing and the sun is still up. Bring your dog. Grab a beer. And if you plan on being there often, look into the Pint & Pitcher Passes.
The Deal: Get a hand roll (spicy tuna or spicy salmon) or one of the famous Mama’s Balls, plus a Bud or Bud Light for $6 every day from 3-5pm and all day on Tuesdays.
The Lowdown: One might think it’s weird to get sushi in Tahoe, but one would be wrong. Especially if the sushi is from Mamasake, a super-popular restaurant in the Village with views of the mountain.
The Deal: $2 Tall Boy Tuesdays with live music, plus daily specials.
The Lowdown: The BBQ may be from Alabama, but the stunning lake view is all Tahoe. Moe's smokes its fresh meat daily, so when it's gone, it's gone. There are also 8-10 Southern-style side dishes every day. Order a platter of pulled pork with cornbread, two sides, and a drink for just $12.
The Deal: Social hour from 2-4pm, Monday-Friday includes $2 PBR, $2 Tecate, $5 adult hot chocolate, $5 skinny margarita, $5 wine specials, and a bunch of apps from $3-6.
The Lowdown: Plumpjack is definitely the fanciest restaurant at Squaw (see: “social hour,” not “happy hour"), but the scene in the bar is always comfy and chill and you can’t really beat $2 PBRs. Plus, they have a fire pit. So... yeah.
The Deal: Happy hour in the bar from 5-6:30pm every day and all night long on Sundays and Mondays. Specials include $3 draft beers, $4 glasses of wine, $4.50 house margaritas, $4 vodka lemonades, and a ton of appetizers for 50% off.
The Lowdown: The River Grill feels super fancy with its white tablecloths and views of the Truckee River, so it’s sort of surprising that they have such a great happy hour, but the happy hour is so great that it’s one of Tahoe’s most popular. In other words: get there right at 5pm if you want a seat at the bar.
The Deal: Happy hour from 4-5:30pm, Monday-Friday. Nachos, wings, and a duo of sliders are $6 each and select draft beers are $4.
The Lowdown: Rocker’s name is a tribute to Shane McConkey and the technology for skis that he helped pioneer. It’s also home to The Big Gnarly Burger, a 4lb burger that feeds up to eight people and will cost ya $54.
The Deal:Download the app for a specials page that gets you free upgrades like getting your spudz "Otis Style" with melted cheese and onions.
The Lowdown: If you’re staying in Truckee, you’ve got to get breakfast at Squeeze In. The menu is extensive, to say the least, and you can get two mimosas for $9.99 (or a pitcher for $21.99).
The Deal: Burger and a beer (draft) for $10 on Tuesdays. Half-price fish tacos (two for $6.50), $4 Pacificos, and $5 margaritas on Wednesdays from 4-9pm.
The Lowdown: The Sunnyside Cheeseburger (usually $14) is one of the best in Tahoe, and the fish tacos are the real deal (get one beer battered and one Cajun). Plus, Sunnyside is right on the lake, so if you get there before the sun goes down, you’ll be treated to a view that makes everything taste even better.
The Deal: Happy hour Monday-Thursday from 3-5pm. Live music, $4 draft beers, $5 well drinks, $6 house wine. Plus, rotating food specials.
The Lowdown: Grab a seat on the patio where you’ll still be able to hear the live music, but also chat with your buddies.
The Deal: Half-price dinner entrees on Mondays (through April 6, 2015); complimentary s’mores every day from 4-4:30pm; après ski special every day from 3-5pm that includes $5 draft beer, $5 house wine, and $3 off specialty cocktails; $20 endless mimosas on Sundays during brunch.
The Lowdown: Walking into the West Shore Café is a bit like walking into a Restoration Hardware catalogue, but in a good way and with kick-ass views and seriously good food. It's the perfect spot to relax after a day at Homewood (or any mountain for that matter). You really can’t beat free s’mores, ya know?
The Deal: 1) Tahoe Super 4: Ski for $83 a day
2) $39 Beginner Only Lift Ticket
The Lowdown: Though KSL buying Alpine Meadows wasn't a unanimously popular decision, it does mean that your lift ticket now gets you access to Squaw and Alpine. And there’s a shuttle that will take you back and forth. Of course, that lift ticket will cost you $119 if you’re an adult, so if you’re going to ski or ride for four days, the Tahoe Super is a good call. If you’re a beginner, the $39 is a great deal, as long as you have zero plans to leave the beginner area at Squaw or the Subway/Meadow chairlifts at Alpine.
The Deal: 1) Triple Play Pass: Three full days of skiing or riding, starting at $186.
2) Adult First Timer: Get all-day equipment rental, a beginner lift ticket, and a half-day lesson for just $49 Sunday-Friday (and not on holidays). Purchase it online at least two days in advance to lock in the price.
3) Active military ski and ride free on any day that’s not a holiday. And their spouses and children get 50% off of lift tickets.
The Lowdown: Homewood is by far one of the most beautiful mountains (you feel like you’re going to ski right into the lake) and also has some of the best deals on lift tickets, especially if you buy online.
The Deal: 1) $15 Fridays for college students and active military.
2) Three-pack of lift tickets for $109.
The Lowdown: For just $64, adults can ski and ride from 9am to 9pm. If your legs can handle it, that is.
The Deal: Get 15% off of a two-night stay through March 13th. Or take your chances and use Hotel Tonight for an even better deal.
The Lowdown: Pet-friendly, really good (free) waffles in the morning, clean rooms, and it’s right across from the lake.
The Deal: Rooms range from $90 to $195 a night
The Lowdown: It’s still pricey, but it’s a good deal for Tahoe, where rooms can run a few hundred bucks a night. Plus, you can bring your dog and there’s a free continental breakfast.
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Daisy Barringer is Thrillist's SF Editor and if you want to know her absolute favorite place for cheap drinks in Tahoe, you're going to have to hit her up on Twitter @daisy and offer to buy her one. Don't worry; she drinks PBR, so it won't cost you that much.