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The Best Way to Get from San Francisco to Lake Tahoe

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With impossibly blue-green emerald waters surrounded by snow-capped peaks and plenty of sun, Lake Tahoe’s iconic shine has caught travelers’ eyes for decades. 

Located on the California-Nevada border, several charming mountain towns surround the lake.  There are plenty of hikes for the adventurers, exquisite dining and lodging for luxury lovers, and so much camping, boating, and skiing. And of course, you can’t go wrong with a classic Lake Tahoe beach vacation. There’s a vibe for every type of traveler!

Fortunately, there are just as many transportation options in and around Lake Tahoe, suiting a wide range of preferences and budgets. Getting from San Francisco to Lake Tahoe, in particular, isn’t difficult but does involve some advance planning. The journey typically takes about 3.5 hours by car or a little longer via public transit, and you can book with Wanderu for the best rates and most options.

Let’s dive in to all the ways to get you relaxing lakeshore in no time!

San Francisco to Lake Tahoe by Bus

Ken Lund / Flickr

Taking a bus to Lake Tahoe from San Francisco is one of the cheapest options. There is no direct route, but the process is to simple: take a bus from San Francisco to Truckee, and in Truckee, switch to a shuttle to your final Tahoe destination.

While it’s a bit of a lengthy trip at nearly 6 hours, the route offers flexibility and some interesting stops. Plus tickets are super affordable – especially when you use Wanderu to find the best deals.

Bus Station in San Francisco

Salesforce Transit Center

425 Mission St

San Francisco, CA 94105 

Bus Station in Truckee

Truckee Chamber of Commerce

10065 Donner Pass Rd

Truckee, CA 96161

Greyhound is the only carrier running the first leg of the itinerary, from San Francisco to Truckee.  There’s typically a 30-minute layover in Sacramento, which is nice for breaking up the drive, and passes by scenic Napa Valley.

The bus arrives at the Truckee Chamber of Commerce, just steps from the visitor center. Truckee is a charming mountain town with excellent outdoor recreation, so it’s an excellent place to explore in its own right. TART (Tahoe Truckee Regional Transit) runs a free shuttle from the transportation depot to Tahoe City on the lake’s North Shore. Departures run hourly from 7:30 am to 5:30 pm.

The TART shuttles are super accommodating — they’re pet-friendly and equipped with racks for ski and snowboard gear! Just be sure to check the luggage policy for your bus so you don’t get stuck with any baggage fees.

If you’re going from San Fran to Lake Tahoe in the winter for some skiing action, check to see if your ski resort runs a shuttle or picks guests up from the Tahoe City Transit Center.

San Francisco to Lake Tahoe by Train + Bus

Loco Steve / Flickr

Taking a train from San Francisco to Lake Tahoe is possible, as long as you’re okay with a bus connection for the final stretch. You’ve got two trains to choose from – one of which (the Zephyr) is one of the most scenic train routes in the US. 👀

Believe it or not, San Francisco doesn’t have an Amtrak station. Luckily, the station in Emeryville is just across the bay, and from there, you can take a train to either Sacramento or Truckee before continuing on to Lake Tahoe.

We’ve included location details about each station you might travel through here.

Emeryville Amtrak Station

5885 Horton St

Emeryville, CA 94608

Sacramento Valley Station

401 I St, Sacramento

CA 95814

Truckee Chamber of Commerce

10065 Donner Pass Rd

Truckee, CA 96161

The two train options from Emeryville are the Capitol Corridor train to Sacramento or the California Zephyr to Truckee. Both destinations require taking a bus to Lake Tahoe in the final leg of travel, and both go through some of the most gorgeous landscapes in southern California.

For travelers commuting from San Francisco to South Lake Tahoe, the Capitol Corridor option will take you to Sacramento. From there, transfer to a Greyhound bus to South Lake Tahoe, which arrives at South Y Transit Center.

Alternatively, catch the California Zephyr to Truckee, then utilize the free TART shuttle to Tahoe the same way you would if you took the bus. This option is usually incredibly cheap (less than $50 for the whole thing!) but takes almost 7.5 hours. Depart San Francisco in the early morning if you plan to catch a shuttle from Truckee before the last departure at 5:30 pm.

Driving from San Francisco to Lake Tahoe

For the greatest flexibility, consider taking a DIY approach to the San Francisco to Lake Tahoe drive. Not only is this travel method the fastest, it also allows an opportunity to enjoy a few stops along the way! Even if you don’t have your own vehicle (or prefer not to drive it), there are numerous places in San Fran to pick up a rental car.

Depending on your destination — North or South Shore — the distance from San Francisco to Lake Tahoe is right around 200 miles. Expect either route to take between 3-4 hours. 

San Francisco to North Shore Drive

The route to Tahoe’s northern shore follows I-80 before diverting south onto State Road 89 in Truckee. This enjoyable drive passes through the edge of Napa Valley, around Sacramento, and through Tahoe National Forest. To break up the drive, consider stopping for a ski run or two at Soda Springs or learn about ill-fated 19th-century pioneers in Donner Memorial State Park

It’s important to keep a close eye on Lake Tahoe road conditions during winter. Poor driving conditions on 89 are common, and even sections of I-80 have temporarily closed due to avalanches. 

San Francisco to South Shore Drive

Driving from San Francisco to South Lake Tahoe takes roughly the same amount of time, just on a different route. The 188-mile drive takes you through Sacramento, then diverts to State Route 50, crossing through El Dorado National Forest. Make a wintertime pit stop to hit the slopes at Sierra-at-Tahoe Resort or in the summer, break up the drive with a hike like Pyramid Peak in Crystal Range. Just like the route to the North Shore, check road conditions, as Route 50 can become a “whiteout” with snow.

One thing to note about driving from San Fran to Lake Tahoe is that in peak summer and winter seasons, parking is an issue — especially in South Lake Tahoe. Consider leaving your vehicle at your hotel and using the free, on-demand TART shuttle to save time, money, and hassle. 

Flying from San Francisco to Lake Tahoe

View from the inside of a plane as it takes off from the Reno airport

Ken Lund / Flickr

The closest airport to Lake Tahoe is Reno-Tahoe International Airport, just 60 miles (about 45 minutes) away from the lake. Most major airlines service the airport and there are usually at least two flight options from SFO to Reno every day. Flights from San Jose, Oakland, and Palo Alto go to Reno several times per week, too.

Of course, you’ll still need to get from Reno to Tahoe, and luckily the South Tahoe Airporter shuttle runs to several casinos and hotels in South Lake Tahoe. Book your ticket on Wanderu to make sure your seat is reserved.

Alternatively, you can catch a FlixBus from the airport to the Hard Rock Hotel in Stateline, Nevada. Typically, five buses make this one-hour trip every day. 

If you’re heading to North Lake Tahoe, the North Lake Tahoe Express private shuttle operates several daily routes from the Reno-Tahoe airport and runs year-round. One-way fares are $99 per person.

Getting Around Lake Tahoe

The Lake Tahoe area is well-serviced by public transportation in both the North and South regions. Most Tahoe ski resorts even offer free shuttles to hotels and other spots along the lake during ski season, but visiting smaller towns or secluded beaches is more difficult without your own transportation. 

However, in larger, popular towns like South Lake Tahoe and Tahoe City, many people prefer to get around without a vehicle, as parking is often problematic and expensive. It’s not at all uncommon to see parking rates at around $7 per hour. 

Traffic can also be an issue, especially during the ski season and peak times in summer (primarily weekends and holidays). Plan for average trip times to double or even triple! Uber and Lyft are readily available, but these options don’t spare you from sitting in traffic and are often quite expensive between towns. 

Buses are split between TART routes in the North Lake region and TTD (Tahoe Transportation District) in the South Lake region. The latter line has more stops and runs more frequently, especially around Stateline, whereas TART buses are very convenient when direct but take additional time when a stopover is required. 

Interestingly, traveling between the North and South sides of the lake via bus is somewhat difficult. Few bus lines run along its length, instead using a nearby city as a hub and servicing either the North or South region. But if you want the best of both worlds, book a full-day bus tour around the whole lake!

Another excellent way to experience Lake Tahoe is on two wheels. Rent a hybrid bicycle for a day and take in the North Shore’s immense beauty as you explore various trails and beaches.

Things to Do in Lake Tahoe

Once you make the trip from San Francisco to Lake Tahoe, there are tons of activities to enjoy in every season. 

North Shore Activities

In the summer, the shimmering Lake Tahoe is a major draw for kayaking, paddle boarding, or simply basking in the sunshine. Head to Secret Beach near Incline Village for one of Tahoe’s prettiest shores, then get some retail therapy. Check out Robin’s Nest in Kings Beach, an upbeat gift shop known for its mug collection, or the Tipsy Gypsy in Tahoe City, a boho-style boutique. 

If you’re visiting in winter, Diamond Peak Ski Resort and Northstar California Resort have incredible slopes. Finish the day with American-style tapas at Bite Restaurant and a stroll through Incline Village, considered one of Tahoe’s most luxurious and bustling hubs!

South Shore Activites

The South Shore is famous for its sprawling hotels and resorts, but also makes for a great base to explore the outdoors. Zephyr Cove is an excellent jumping-off point for motor-fueled activities, from wintertime snowmobiling to summer boating, and those looking for a cardio rush can hike up Mt. Tallac for impressive panoramas. 

For something a bit lower-key, this half-day photography tour showcases phenomenal lake and mountain views. 

Lake Tahoe Photographic Scenic Tour

This is the ultimate Lake Tahoe Tour for photography fans and tree huggers. The half-day hiking and sightseeing tour stops at waterfalls and glaciers, and there are frequent bear sightings (from afar)!


Lake Tahoe Hotels

Ready to spend some time in Tahoe? Here are some excellent accommodations we recommend: 
  • Fireside Lodge – South Lake Tahoe: Cabin accommodations with numerous included perks, including breakfast, a daily wine and cheese reception, and loaner bicycles, snowshoes, and kayaks
  • Tahoe Seasons Resort – South Lake Tahoe: All-suite property at the base of Heavenly Ski Resort
  • Mother Nature’s Inn – Tahoe City: Lodge-style hotel across from Commons Beach and within walking distance of downtown
  • Cottage Inn At Lake Tahoe – Tahoe City: Historic adults-only lodge (children over age 13 are welcome) three minutes from the lake with a private beach and free breakfast
  • Franciscan Lakeside Lodge – Tahoe Vista: Lakefront lodge with private beach and pier access

Effortlessly blending awe-inspiring mountain scenery, small-town charm, and outdoor recreation, Lake Tahoe is certainly enchanting. Each area of the lake has its own unique vibe, so there’s always something new to explore for every type of traveler. 

With several convenient transportation methods, getting from San Francisco to Lake Tahoe or hopping around the lake is a breeze. With just a few stress-free clicks on Wanderu or the Wanderu app, you’ll have your plans finalized and be well on your way to relaxing lakeside.

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About the author
Taryn Shorr

Taryn Shorr

A classic Type A personality, Taryn's favorite aspects of travel are the planning and meeting new people. She's most drawn to the mountains and has a knack for quickly finding the best happy hour in new destinations. When she isn't writing for Wanderu or traveling, Taryn runs her own blog, Chasing Trail.

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