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Is South Lake Tahoe Expensive?

Is South Lake Tahoe Expensive?

Growing up in the Midwest, I know that parties by the lake are simple pleasures that anyone can enjoy. So when I was invited to spend a weekend at Lake Tahoe with a friend, I had to wonder: why would I need to go all the way to California to appreciate a party by a lake? And why is it so darn expensive?

Yes, Lake Tahoe is expensive. Everything is expensive nowadays, but vacationing by sites of natural beauty is especially pricey. Just about every single thing in and around the lake is well above in the national average in terms of price, explains one hotel in South Lake Tahoe (https://www.tahoelakeshorelodge.com/). That includes lodging, food, and a variety of smaller expenses you might not expect.

The costs quickly add up, especially if you’re vacationing on a budget. So, let’s look at what we’d be in for if we went to Lake Tahoe. I’m going to assume you’re traveling with a family or a group. The difference between a group and an individual isn’t too great, however. Going by yourself is expensive enough.

Cost #1: Lodging 

This is the biggest expense. If you were to google hotels near Lake Tahoe, you would probably find a hotel that costs less than $100 a night. But just because google tells you they’re there, doesn’t mean they are there. 

Hotels under $100 a night are frequently sold out and usually come with additional costs not listed online. Want wi-fi? That’s extra. Breakfast? Parking? TV? Extra, extra, and extra.

Hotels above $100 are a little more lenient about extra costs. Wi-fi, breakfast, and TV tend to be complimentary at hotels with higher price points. They might even have access to a pool, though this likely won’t be much of an incentive since you’ll have just been to a freshwater lake.

Parking will almost always be an expensive pain though, no matter what hotel you stay at. And I’m not just talking about parking at the lake—many hotels charge at least $30 to use their parking garages. And since the hotels are situated in bustling metropolitan areas, street parking is not an option.

Cost #2: Food

There is no denying that Lake Tahoe’s food is good. The area is known for its exquisite Mexican food, which has become a staple for any American looking to inject flavor into their vacation. And in any other part of America, that good food can be acquired at a totally reasonable price.

But this isn’t just any part of America, this is a vacation spot in California. A meal that would cost you $40 anywhere else can cost near $100. Many Midwesterners are shocked by this, but it’s really par for the course in that part of the country.

Paying $100 a meal, every meal a day, for however long your vacation lasts… it adds up. 

Cost #3: Lake Tahoe

Some people take one vacation a year. They skimp and save every penny they can in anticipation of the one holiday weekend where they can cut loose and watch their money go to work, bringing them luxury after luxury. It isn’t my ideal lifestyle, but I respect it.

The issue with doing this in anticipation of a trip to Lake Tahoe is Lake Tahoe itself.

Going by car costs $10, and by bike, it’s $2, so at least getting into the lake is cheap. But it’s not entering that’s going to cost you. It’s being there and leaving that’s expensive.

Lake Tahoe is a freshwater lake. That means that in a state of nature, it is amazingly clean and beautiful. But humans aren’t the only ones that enjoy clean water. Many types of bacteria can only survive in non-salt water. 

One of the costs you will (or at least should) incur when vacationing at Lake Tahoe is anti-bacterial ear drops. These are disinfectants that you drip into your ears to clean out anything that swam into you while you were swimming in the Lake. These can cost around $20 per bottle, and you’ll need one for every person.

Due to mass tourism, another necessity is flip-flops. The landscape is mostly clean, but it’s dirty enough that something unexpected could happen if you go walking around barefoot. Now, I know that you’re probably thinking, “okay, but flip-flops are like $3. What’s the big deal?”

Flip-flops are $3 when you buy them normally. But the closer you get to a body of water, the more expensive flip-flops get. They usually start at $20 a pair at places like Lake Tahoe.

In short, the lake itself is as demanding as the area around it. Were it not for the mass of tourists, perhaps the ear-drops and flip-flops would be unnecessary. But that’s the reality of vacation spots like Lake Tahoe: every step you take has a price, and everyone that can charge you for it will.