Ask a California resident where to go for regular vacations or weekend getaways, and chances are high that at the answer will be 22-mile longLake Tahoe. Tahoe’s azure-blue waters and boulder-strewn shore draw visitors in summer while a plethora of snowy ski hills and forested wilderness draw winter sports enthusiasts.
Californians from the flatlands refer to Lake Tahoe as Tahoe. But the real locals get more specific—it’s all about the North Shore versus the South Shore.
Drive to the South Shore and you’ll find a large town sprawling south along the huge lake, with glittering casinos just across (and I do mean just across) the state line. The South Shore offers great lakeshore parks with opportunities to access the water in the summertime.
The North Shore boasts the most downhill ski resorts, many of them clustered around the small, historic town of Truckee. It’s possible to drive all the way around the lake, stopping at both shores, state parks, and sights in both California and Nevada.
The closest commercial airport to Lake Tahoe sits in Reno. The Reno International Airport (2001 E. Plumb Ln., Reno, NV, 775/328-6870, www.renoairport.com ) offers flights on many major airlines and a few smaller carriers. This airport is open year-round, but be sure to check your flights in advance in the wintertime since storms delay and sometimes cancel flights here. Once you’re in Reno, it’s easy to rent a car or a truck in the airport from any of the major agencies.
You can’t get to Tahoe by train, but Amtrak (1000 Emerald Bay Rd., 800/872-7245, www.amtrak.com ) does run a bus service to South Lake Tahoe down at the South Y transit center.
The main roads to Lake Tahoe from points west (the Bay Area , Sacramento, Wine Country , the Central Coast ) are I-80 and state Highway 50. I-80 takes you to the North Shore and Highway 50 to the South Shore. It takes about five hours to drive up to Lake Tahoe from the San Francisco Bay Area  in good weather without traffic. From Sacramento, it’s only about two hours.
But don’t expect good weather or light traffic if you’re planning to drive up to Tahoe on a Friday in winter. Everybody else will be on the road with you, significantly slowing down the routes. Generally, Highway 50 runs a bit faster than I-80, but you’ll want to check traffic reports before you hit the road to see which way will work best.
Visitors doing a full tour of the eastern California mountains starting in the Eastern Sierra will take state Highway 120 from Yosemite  or Mammoth  up to Tahoe. As always, check road conditions before attempting this route in winter. Storms may cause chain requirements or even wholesale road closures. Carry chains that fit your vehicle in winter, unless you’re driving a four-wheel drive and know how to navigate in snow
In winter, even the highways can close during major storms. And the smaller roads surrounding the lake can shut down for weeks at a time. Again, traffic reports both on the radio and online can give you information about road closures and alternate routes. If you’re planning a winter trip, be aware of the weather and plan for a certain amount of uncertainty.