Less than a day's drive from the West Coast is the largest alpine lake in America: Lake Tahoe. Straddling the California/Nevada border, the twenty-of two-mile-long lake offers the best of both worlds: skiing and gambling (on the Nevada side, of course).
As long as you're on the Nevada side of the border, getting a marriage license is relatively easy. There is no waiting period or blood test—-just bring your driver's license and $40 cash. California's more restrictive marriage laws require a medical examination (see the article on getting married in San Diego).
Best Time to Go
Like most ski resorts, the Lake Tahoe area is busiest the week after Christmas and during spring break in March. The ski resorts (most of which are on the California side) are packed during those times. Meanwhile, the Nevada resorts tend to charge lower prices during the winter than the summer. Hence the best time to go depends on what you want to do— gambling, skiing, outdoor hikes, or just relaxing by the pool?
What Makes it Special
Nine area ski resorts (including Squaw Valley and Heavenly) combined with the casinos make Lake Tahoe a unique winter destination. In the summer, a variety of outdoor activities (hiking, river rafting, golfing) is supplemented by several music and theater festivals. Typical events include a microbrewery beer fest, the Kokanee Salmon Festival, Autumn Food and Wine • Jubilee, Oktoberfest, and Snowfest winter carnival. Fans of the "Bonanza" TV show might enjoy a visit to the Ponderosa Ranch, where the show was filmed. Of course, the casinos have another draw besides slot machines and blackjack: big-name entertainers like Bill Cosby regularly come through town.
Insider Travel Tips
The elevation of Lake Tahoe (between 6000 and 8000 feet above sea level) may take some adjusting to—take it easy the first day and drink plenty of fluids.
The north and south shores of Lake Tahoe really have two different atmospheres. The north end of the lake is more quiet and relaxed, with rustic lodges and 1 a calmer pace. Meanwhile, the south side is frenetic and crowded—the many casinos attract a younger and noisier crowd.
The nearest airport is Reno, about an hour's drive away A new carrier, Reno Air, has sparked an airfare war there with bargain-basement air fares. As a side note, American Eagle (the commuter arm of American Airlines) does fly into the South Tahoe airport.
Costs, Accommodations, and Getting Around
Our pick as one of the best places for a destination wedding and honeymoon at Tahoe is the Cal-Neva Lodge in Crystal Bay (702-832-4000, 800-225-6382). Straddling the border of both states on the north shore of Lake Tahoe, the Cal-Neva has a classic hunting-lodge decor with plenty of wood and stuffed animal heads—a decidedly laid-back feel.
The resort/casino boasts a full-time wedding department that helps coordinate all the ceremony and reception details. Three locations are available to tie the knot, including two chapels and a white lattice gazebo overlooking the lake. The cost for the chapels are $250 to $300, while the gazebo is $400—this includes a minister and live music. Apparently the ambience of this place is not lost on brides and grooms—the Gal-Neva last year held over one thousand weddings!
As for the honeymoon, the lodge offers a three-night package that includes dinner for two, a cruise on a paddleboat with dinner and dancing, and two breakfasts. The price runs from $481 for a "premier room" to $841 for the honeymoon chalet in the summer. Winter prices (except for the week after Christmas) are somewhat less, running $416 to $743. Seven-night packages are also available, ranging from $933 to $1696 in the summer, and $1085 to $1924 in the winter.
If you want to stay on the south shore of Lake Tahoe and want to avoid die crowds, try Harvey's resort and casino (800-648-3361). Harrah's and Caesars are more popular but definitely more crowded. The Inn by the Lake in South Tahoe (800-877-1466) near Stateline has a three-night package for $468, five nights for $768 and seven nights for $ 1038; this includes a room with private balcony overlooking the lake and a complimentary show or boat cruise with the five- or seven-night stays.
Many ski resorts offer honeymoon packages as well. For example, the Tahoe Seasons resort (916-541-6010) at Heavenly Valley ski area has a two-night package that is $317 in the winter and summer and $250 in the spring and fall. Accommodations include a suite with fireplace, private spa, and breakfast.