All really good advice. I'd just like to add that it's important to bring a winter survival kit with food, blankets, a thermos of hot coffee and anything else you normally use in the course of a day. When Max chain law is in effect on Donner it's best to check the weather and decide whether it is even worth making the attempt. They can close the highway behind you but there you are. I spent twelve hours last winter getting over due to a jacknifed truck and a wrecked snowplow. Single file traffic at 5mph makes for a long day. Caution is key up there, it can get pretty wicked, and if they have issued a wind warning as well it's best to just wait it out.
Taken from a forum post regarding a day-trip to Tahoe without renting a car:
I grew up on the north shore of Tahoe, Incline Village to be exact. If you don't have a car and you want to spend a couple hours up at the Lake, you really will not see much since you will spend most of your time in transit.
There was many years ago, a Hyatt shuttle that connected Reno Airport to the Hyatt in Incline, but now it is operated by North Lake Tahoe Express (For reservations and additional information, use web link: http://www.northlaketahoeexpress.com/)
If you don't want to rent a car, and the shuttle bus does not work for you, your only other real option is to take the Amtrak up to Truckee then take the TART buses from there. I've included lots of information on the TART buses on my various pages of Tahoe. Take a look at my Incline Village page for starters.
One excellent way to see the Reno & Lake Tahoe area is to take advantage of the many limousines available through the many companies in Reno or Lake Tahoe.
Most cars are fully equipped and have amenities including a full liquor bar.
One of the biggest advantages is that someone else drives while you take in the scenery without fear of driving off the road and you can request stops along your selected routes--all the while sipping your favorite libations without the risk of driving yourself.
Rates run about $75.00 U.S. per hour and drivers are usually tipped 15-20%.
You do not need to get taxis everywhere in the city. Unless its late at night, Reno does have a decent bus system to get you around Reno, Carson, and Douglas areas.
The "Pride" is a cheap bus that gets you to/from the airport, Reno, Carson, and Douglas County. http://www.rtcwashoe.com/transportation/pride/
The "Citifare" is a bus that services the Reno/Sparks area. http://www.rtcwashoe.com/transportation/citifare/
The "Sierra Spirit" is a free bus that services downtown Reno area, making stops all along Virginia St. http://www.rtcwashoe.com/about/organization/transportation/sierra_spirit/
Once you are up in the Tahoe Basin, there is also the economic TART bus too.
The Sierra Spirirt is a free bus that will take you around the center of Reno and makes a complete loop every 30 minutes. It is a great way to get around.It goes as far as the University to the north and the Museum of Art to the south.
This wonderful airport is home to the Reno National Air Races. It is also home to a new Air Tanker Facility opened by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) as well as 9,000 feet of new runway. In 1942 was built by the Army Air Corps. It was renamed in 1951 after Croston Stead who died while practicing in his P-51 Mustang. It continued to serve its community until 1963 when the base closed, but reopened in 1966 as Reno-Stead Airport.
Reno Tahoe Arpt Auth
P.O. Box 12490,
Reno, Nv 89510
Some tour companies operate bus tours from San Francisco. Often these are overnight packages complete with a hotel room. Food and casino credits are usually included. One such tour company is Lucky Tours.
In addition, many organizations charter buses for overnight group trips to Reno.
Flying to Reno is relatively convenient. The flight from San Francisco to Reno lasts only about a half hour. However, the door-to-door journey will take a couple of hours due to transportation to and from the airports as well as the airport security rigmarole. But flying eliminates the need for driving over the mountains or across the desert. Reno’s International Airport is served by several airlines.
A more nostalgic transportation alternative is to take the train. Amtrak has regular service to Reno from Sacramento, Oakland, and San Francisco. (From San Francisco, Amtrak shuttles passengers to the Oakland Station by bus.) Amtrak’s Capital Corridor route runs between San Francisco and Reno, with stops at cities in between. Amtrak’s California Zepher runs between Chicago and the San Francisco Bay Area and serves Reno along the way. The Zepher also stops at select cities in Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and California. The train offers some spectacular scenery when crossing the Sierra Nevada Mountains, especially in the winter.
Many options are available for getting to Reno. Most people drive. A high percentage of those traverse Highway 80 from California. A friend once described Highway 80 as the only mountain highway that isn't a mountain highway. This is true to a point, as it is a well-maintained four-lane highway that crosses Donner Pass in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It is a major route. However, in the winter driving conditions can deteriorate quickly when chains are required. It might take an additional several house to cross the pass in a snowstorm. Heavy snow and even avalanches can close the highway altogether. It is best to check the road conditions before crossing the pass.
From San Francisco one should allocate about four and a half hours for the trip, and from Sacramento one should allocate about 2 and a half hours for the trip. This schedule would include one short stop for food or gas. Auburn, Forest Hills, and Colfax present the best bets for services before crossing the mountains.
It's very easy to get anywhere you want to go from Downtown Reno. The bus station is located right in the heart of downtown. I needed to get to the Peppermill on South Virginia street from Circus Circus on North Sierra Street. All I did was walk a few blocks to the bus station and caught a #1 bus straight to the Peppermill. It was about a 15 to 20 minute ride. The fare at $1.75 for adults which isn't bad and the bus was comfortable. There is also a yellow bus, the name escapes me which is free if you want to shuttle around the downtown casinos. I never did that, I always walked but I though that was pretty cool for the elderly people up there.
I also took a taxi coming back because it was late at night. The fare was a bit steep for about a 10 minute ride at $10.00 but it's worth it in the late evening hours.
In Chinatown and other locations, I have heard that you can hop on a bus in San Francisco on Friday after work to head to Reno and come back on Sunday in time for work on Sunday. Certainly do encourage weekend gambling addiction here - work hard in San Francisco for a chance of jack pot in Reno over the weekend.
We regularly drive from San Francisco to Reno the fast moving interstate I-80. Driving back on Sunday night can be challenging if you are tired as the traffic is heavy and it is fast downhill. So get plenty of rest if you are driving, if not take the bus instead of drive.
Another fun way is to use Highway 50 and stopover in Lake Tahoe. The view during the winter is incredible with tall pines and heavy white snow all around the blue lake and along the highway.
Make sure you bring a bicycle to Burning Man. It is the only way to get around. There are a couple of camps that volunteer doing bike repairs, but it is a good ideas to travel with a spare tire tube and chain just in case. Burningman is big and it makes all the difference by being able to hop on your bike and GO!
Scattered around the downtown area are now signs that tell you where things are located that may be of interest to a tourist. These signs list Museums and such and their distance from that point. On the back of the signs is a city street map pinpointing where you are. I thought that theae were very handy to come across and I halfway know my way around town!
Car rental is a MUST. Reno is not a place to stay unless you want to just gamble in the casinos. Our enjoyment was obtained by traveling outside the city limits. We took a short trip through the Dohner Pass and drove to Tahoo (less than an hour away) The views were absolutely breathtaking. We made a short stop in Truckie CA along the way. Great rest stop.