Venture just north of Lake Tahoe in California, and you will discover the mountain town of Truckee. You can drive there in a few hours from San Francisco or Sacramento and leave city life far behind. Strolling through Truckee’s old downtown, you’ll trace the steps of gunslingers and lumberjacks. The raucous Old West occupied these streets long ago.
Truckee grew up along the river when the First Transcontinental Railroad added a stop in the town in the 1860s. For years, the main industry was logging. Today, Truckee offers quaint shops, historic sites, and lots of outdoor adventures.
Here are some great things to do on your weekend getaway.
Browse The Shops Of Historic Downtown Truckee
To get a feel for the old town, head straight to the stores and galleries on the main street, Donner Pass Road. A variety of boutique shops operate in buildings that were constructed in the 1800s.
My favorite shop is Word After Word, a bookstore that beckons visitors to come in and enjoy the written word. You’ll find it nestled between Sweets Handmade Candies and Uncorked Wine Bar, both of which are also worth a visit. Word After Word is just a few years old and came to Truckee with a mission to create a space for visitors to connect and enjoy community. Titles by local authors sit alongside the latest bestsellers. You can relax in a beanbag chair and peruse the book of your choice.
For decor items with a mountain theme, the gift store Bespoke is the place to go. The owners also run a store and art classroom called Atelier a few doors away. Pick up art supplies and, if the timing is right, sign up for a class on something that interests you, from screen printing to arranging flowers.
Visit The Train Depot
The train still chugs through Truckee as it did in the 1800s, and the station built there in 1891 still sells tickets and greets arriving passengers. Stop into the station to see the displays of early train memorabilia, such as a large scale. Now only two passenger trains pass through each day -- one from Chicago in the morning and one going back east in the afternoon.
The station provides the most convenient public restrooms, and if you need local maps and brochures, you’ll find them there. The friendly folks at the counter can answer any questions you have about Truckee, too.
Learn About Truckee’s Past At The Old Jail Museum
Truckee’s Old Jail occupies the ground floor of a two-story building just off the main street. After peeking in at the rusty, empty cells, climb the old wooden stairs to the second level, where you’ll find a museum run by the Truckee-Donner Historical Society. The building dates to 1875 and holds a variety of items from Truckee’s history. An enthusiastic docent chatted with me about all things Truckee.
Want to know more about Truckee’s colorful past? Head to the Truckee-Donner Historical Society’s website.
If you’re ready to sit and relax after walking around town, go behind the Old Jail Museum and take a seat on the bench in the small Community Memorial Garden.
Cruise The Rail Trail Along The Truckee River
The mountain country surrounding Truckee offers endless ways to get outside and enjoy the pine-scented air. A popular choice is to bicycle or walk along the Rail Trail. This paved path follows what used to be the railroad tracks along the Truckee River.
Open during the late spring and summer, this trail is fairly flat, offering views of the river the entire 7 miles. From Truckee, drive to Sunnyside or to Tahoe City to catch either end of the trail. Park at the Sunnyside Restaurant & Lodge lot or at the public parking lot in Tahoe City. The trail lies below a highway, so it’s not possible to safely park along the way.
When the winter provides abundant snowfall, the Truckee River roars to life when all that snow melts. It’s a pleasure to walk or cycle along the riverbank under a canopy of pines. You can go the entire 7 miles or start at one end and head back whenever you want.
Bounce Along The River In A Whitewater Raft
The Truckee River is the only outlet for Lake Tahoe, a lake 70 miles around and 1,000 feet deep in places. So, in the spring and summer, the river can tumble with plenty of whitewater rapids. In years of less snow, the river meanders peacefully.
You can rent a raft in Tahoe City and take off toward Truckee. Along the way, you can dock on a spit of land or just keep going. Spin and swirl all you wish, and then glide into the harbor at Sunnyside. The rental company will drive you back to Tahoe City.
Revel In A Winter Wonderland
If you visit Truckee in the winter, you will find plenty to do outside. The Tahoe area usually gets about 40 feet of snow, so you can ski, snowshoe, or just revel in the beauty of the white-covered mountain scene.
If you want to ski, Truckee is a wonderful home base for your trip. It's about a 15-minute drive from several ski resorts. Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows hosted the 1960 Winter Olympics; you can choose from 43 lifts at this world-class resort. Also near Truckee are Northstar California Resort, Boreal Mountain Resort, Sugar Bowl Resort, and Homewood Mountain Resort. A little farther away are Diamond Peak Ski Resort and Mount Rose Ski Tahoe.
Also check out snowmobile rentals and sledding for more outdoor activities.
With the snowfall so deep, skiing and other activities such as tubing are sometimes available into early summer.
Where To Eat In Truckee
Truckee’s Old West atmosphere might lead you to think the food is basic, but Truckee has developed into a haven for foodies. Whether you’re looking for sushi or a wine tasting bar, you’ll find it. Here are a few places in the center of town to whet your appetite.
Located in the historic downtown area, Trokay offers prix-fixe menus that will delight you. The chef-owners also serve up favorites like fried chicken and barbecue ribs.
What makes this restaurant even more fun is that you can take classes there. Why not learn about cheese pairings or making your own pasta while in Truckee?
Moody’s Bistro Bar & Beats
Imagine dining on roadhouse-style food while listening to live jazz inside a 1873 Truckee hotel. Good food, music, and history blend together to make your meal at Moody’s Bistro Bar & Beats an unforgettable experience.
The Pour House
Do you appreciate an exquisite glass of wine? The Pour House offers more than 350 wines from vineyards around the world. Enjoy fine cheeses, chocolates, and other snacks with your drink. You’ll find The Pour House on Jibboom Street, just a block off the main street.
Bar Of America
For a casual, lively lunch or dinner, the Bar of America is perfect. Housed in what was once the Bank of America, the restaurant is a place to relax. You can even enjoy live music in the evenings.
Where To Stay In Truckee
Modern hotels like Hampton Inn & Suites and Best Western are available outside of the historic part of Truckee. But for the most atmosphere and an authentic Truckee experience, why not stay in the heart of the historic downtown?
The Truckee Hotel, located at one end of the downtown main street, allows you to stay where stagecoach passengers once checked in for a rest. Opened in 1873, the hotel changed over the years, but the exterior was restored in 1992 to its original style. With updated rooms and warm decor, the hotel is ideal as a base for exploring Truckee.
What To Know Before You Go
Truckee has grown through the decades, and new housing developments and businesses fan out from the quaint downtown. If you visit, though, you will want to spend most of your time in historic Truckee. Grab lunch in an old cafe or relax on a bench and sip your coffee. Let your imagination run wild, back to the early days of the town. You will surely hear echoes of the days of mountain men, muddy streets, horses and buggies -- all the grit and romance of the Old West.
Hike up the steep hills a couple of short blocks above the downtown on any of the side streets. Then turn around for a view across the downtown and the railroad to the pine-covered hills. Look for the wooden houses built in the town’s infancy, and enjoy the majesty of the surrounding hills.
For more to see and do in the Lake Tahoe area, see this page.