The Lake Tahoe area is not one of the least expensive places to visit. Hotels, skiing, spas and restaurants can add up in this popular destination. However, what Tahoe does have in spades is tons of natural locations that are really cheap and great to visit. There are also some locally known restaurants and cafés that will stretch your budget further on your next vacation to the Sierra.
Watch salmon spawn at Taylor Creek Visitor Center — Photo courtesy of Averain
If you are coming to Lake Tahoe to go skiing, the larger resorts like Heavenly, Squaw and Northstar are going to be more expensive because of their amenities and popularity. Instead, check out the Sierra-at-Tahoe ski resort. For $35 a day, you can get a 2.5-hour lesson, a lift ticket and equipment rentals.
Other cheap or even free things to do at Lake Tahoe (especially if you have kids) are to visit the free Taylor Creek Visitor Center - where you can learn more about the Lake Tahoe flora and fauna on the area's four walking trails - and to stop in at the interactive museum, which features a window that has views underneath the water of Taylor Creek. During the fall, you can watch the creek's salmon spawning.
If your family is active, rent a bike at Gear & Grind (and get some of their ice cream, too) in Tahoe City and pedal along the West Shore bike trails. This trail starts at Alpine Meadows and goes around the lake to the South Shore. The trail is off the road, and along the way you can access several restaurants and coffee shops.
For some cheap summer fun, you can't beat Sand Harbor on the East Shore. You have to pay for parking at this park and beach area, but for around $8 to $10 per car, it's an inexpensive way to enjoy the water, the sand and the views.
The Driftwood's Huevos Del Driftwood — Photo courtesy of Driftwood Cafe
If you are looking for some cheap places to eat, try Driftwood Cafe in South Lake Tahoe for both breakfast and lunch. For around $9, you can get the massive Huevos Del Driftwood with tortilla chips, grilled potatoes and mushrooms, topped with two eggs, salsa, cheese, sour cream and green onions . . . and a homemade jalapeño corn muffin.
For a mid-afternoon pick-me-up, the coffee at Alpina Coffee (located in a small cabin) on the way to Emerald Bay is hot and only costs about $3 a cup. They also have a nice garden you can sit in to enjoy how much money you've saved.
For dinner, head over to Evan's American Gourmet Cafe in South Lake Tahoe. By their prices, you would never guess that this restaurant and its blend of worldly cuisine is Zagat rated. For only $24, you can get an elegant dish of Herb and Panko. Finish up your meal with the Candy Bar Tart with cashews, coconut and dark chocolate served with vanilla bean ice cream. That might be worth spending a little more money on.