WFH when Lake Tahoe is Home
Enough friends and students have asked about my experience of living in and working from Lake Tahoe that it seems worth describing the pros and cons for those of you who might be contemplating the same move.
My husband and I moved here about 5 years ago after spending 25 years in the Bay Area. We loved the life we’d lived in Palo Alto, Atherton and San Francisco, but with our children raised and gone and our company sold, we sought a place that supported more than just our work. Tahoe beckoned.
We have not regretted our decision. The most notable benefit of living here is the extraordinary natural beauty of the lake and surrounding areas. Regardless of the season, each day produces photo-worthy scenes anywhere I go — which means I can easily forget work stresses and instead enjoy being alive.
Not only are my surroundings world-class, they’re accessible. I hiked over 200 miles this summer and never once repeated a trail. Tahoe is a recreational paradise for a range of activities from skiing and curling in the winter to paddling and rafting the rest of the year. Cyclists can choose from road racing to off-road adventuring and everything in-between. Top athletes of all ages live here and pursue their sport of choice, often experimenting with newer equipment and activities like snow cycling or hydrofoil surfing. The hospitals are well-regarded for their sports medicine and bone-setting docs.
In normal times, Tahoe’s summer entertainment lineup is extraordinary with top name Country, Rock and Indy performances from May through September, mostly in small, open air venues. I’ve seen hundreds of live concerts in my life and at least 3 of the best I saw at Harvey’s outdoor arena. Likewise, local musicians play at bars, restaurants and parks around the lake throughout the summer. Entertainment options in the winter can be spotty but still enjoyable, particularly if you like Blues or aging rock gods. If you’ve always wanted to attend a music festival in sub-zero temperatures, SnowGlobe attracts thousands of young people in mid-winter.
For those that enjoy gaming, it’s available in the casinos, bars and even grocery stores on the Nevada side of the lake. Unfortunately, fine restaurants are few and far between. So far, I’ve only found five that are comparable to ones common throughout the Bay Area, but good burgers, decent Mexican and wood-fired pizzas are everywhere. Similarly, you won’t find high-end grocers or extensive farmer’s markets, but Whole Foods has a small store in South Tahoe and large chains provide decent produce year round.
I left behind a rich and varied community of friends and colleagues in the Bay Area, and I worried I’d not find enough new friends here, but that concern quickly vanished. Tahoe is home to active, social people who have the time and interest to join others in hikes, concerts or simple gatherings. It’s diverse in the sense that Trump supporters live next door to Biden supporters and 70 year olds hike alongside 20 year olds, but don’t expect to find much ethnic, racial or religious variation here. My brother tells me there’s no gay scene. On the other hand, the Lake is home to a large number of strong female entrepreneurs and uber-moms who home-school their children while also being top-rated therapists, instructors or engineers.
Despite Tahoe’s obvious appeal, it has its downside for year-round residents, particularly those still working full-time. The weather is highly variable — so much so, that I routinely monitor at least 3 different weather apps and subscribe to the area’s weather guru. While we enjoy 80 degree days in the summer, the season is short, rarely starting before mid-June and often ending in Sep. In the winter, we can get up to 100 inches of snow in a single month — or barely any. If barely any, then we worry about drought and fire. If 100 inches, the skiing is superb but getting out the front door is a challenge.
Getting anywhere is a challenge in the summer and on holiday weekends when millions of tourists descend on the lake, filling all the restaurants, stores, camp sites, beaches and roads. From July through Labor Day I have to run errands or go to meetings in the early morning or skip them all together. I know area businesses need tourists because there’s not enough full-time residents, but traffic jams reach Bay Area levels in the high seasons.
As for the support needed to comfortably work from home, it’s adequate. Homes tend to be small and dated, but usually have an extra bedroom or two that can serve as an office. The internet provider options around the lake are few and at least 3–5 years out of date, but they work sufficiently except in extreme weather. FedEx and UPS manage to deliver without much problem, but depending on your residence, the USPS may not offer service to your door. You’ll need to actually go to the post office. Professional service providers are limited here, but if you’re working from home you probably know how to find support anywhere.
If you’re considering moving to this part of the country and the description above hasn’t deterred you, then your choice becomes one of where. The lake’s circumference is 72 miles and communities dot all sides. If you choose to live on the east side in Nevada, you won’t pay state taxes and your property taxes will be minimal, but you’ll pay more for housing. The largest towns — South Lake Tahoe, Tahoe City and Kings Beach — are on the California side. The nearest large airport is in Reno, closest to the Nevada side but still a good hour away.
Your next choice might be whether to live near the shore or in the mountains. That’s largely a personal preference, but mountain homes struggle more with snow while beach homes have to deal with tourists, wind and sand. If you have children, you’ll want to pay close attention to the school districts as they range from excellent to very poor.
Home prices swing widely but are generally more affordable than the Bay Area (along with most utilities). As in all resort communities, the closer you are to the water, the more expensive the house. Right now, very few properties are for sale and they command top dollar, but every economic downturn deflates home values here quickly. There’s also a raging battle over short-term vacation rental homes which constitute about 15–20% of the Lake’s housing stock. If these are capped or otherwise discouraged, that will free up more homes in the most desirable areas. Long term renting or condo ownership is an option in most locations, although don’t expect the choice, amenities and professional management you find in urban areas.
As I said, I don’t regret moving here. I experience nostalgia for our time in the Bay Area, but I don’t miss it. Frequent visits and teaching online for Stanford Continuing Studies supplies more than enough contact and mental stimulation, and I can honestly say my life here is better than its been anywhere else. If you’re active, self-sufficient and reasonably adventurous, you are probably a good fit for this community, regardless of your age. If your lifestyle depends on good restaurants, year round entertainment options, excellent retail or moderate weather, you’ll want to keep searching.