Truckee River in Alpen glow
On a mild winter or summer afternoon the patio at the River Street Inn
is the place to be. It sits just across the railroad tracks in Truckee. I was lucky to catch the Alpen glow as the mountains to the east turned pink and the full moon glinted off the water. It wasn’t on my original list but a perfect introduction of what to do in Truckee.
In the first days of the Inn, timber workers and ice cutters would stay in unheated rooms. The cutters were used to cold. They built standing pools to freeze and cut ice then store it until summer. Restaurants as far away as New Orleans claimed to use Truckee ice.
Charlie Chaplin and his film crew stayed there in the 1920’s. They were busy filming ‘The Gold Rush’ and would commute to the sets in nearby Soda Springs. I wondered if he’d had my room overlooking the creek.
Near the train station a flagpole plaque reads:
“Renowned for its lumber industry, transcontinental railroad, ice houses, saloons and red light district, Truckee has never been known for her laid back demeanor. It’s always been a town where people come to entertain themselves on Friday and Saturday nights, just as it is today.”
The plaque was erected in the 1980’s and it’s still true.
In the winter, snow or not, there are plenty of diversions in the area. You may come for the hiking, kayaking, or biking when the weather’s mild, or all the winter sports you can imagine. Even on the warm winter days I was there, snowboarders and skiers were climbing on shuttles and buses to Squaw Valley and Tahoe resorts. All that exercise works up an appetite. If you’re looking for great coffee, fresh fish and tasty entrees, a welcoming bar – no matter what your budget, there’s no shortage of options in the area.
What to do around Truckee? Eat!
My first Truckee meal was in the 1882 restaurant
downstairs at the River Street Inn. Locals came by as the evening sky darkened. The one page menu was full of hearty entrees, appetizers and sides.
Beignet and Blackberrry sauce at 1882 Bar and Grill
Fortifying myself for a busy few days in the area, I choose pulled pork with sweet potato fries and a skewer of grilled vegetables. Couldn’t resist a half order of Beignets as they were served with a small tureen of the house-made blackberry sauce. With its hint of triple sec, I was tempted to swirl the last of my Zinfandel in the remains. Delicious to the last drop.
Come morning there were breakfast and lunch cafes all along Donner Road but I wanted to start the day slowly and stepped into the Dark Horse Coffee Roasters as it opened. Jeanne was still setting up but welcomed me. Cafe tables cast deep shadows near the front windows. With Wifi and comfy couches in the back, I settled into overstuffed leather and sipped as a few locals made their way in. When I get back to San Diego, I’ll have to compare it to the sister locations there.
Jeanne pours at Dark Horse Roasters
Outside there was plenty of shopping at Bespoke Gallery, Riverside Studios and the Artisans Marketplace. The Houzz award-winning furniture store, Perouse Spirit Tahoe Interiors, was full of temptations. But sustenance was in order and Marty’s Cafe was the place. It was warm, casual and filled with light. The menu offered all the usual suspects plus a chilled coconut couscous, Huevos Rancheros and an Egg Beaters Healthy plate. I chose the later. The grilled tomatoes listed on the menu were missing (there were only fresh slices on the plate.) but soon forgotten as the potato patty was creamy and full of tasty green onion. Polly kept my coffee cup topped off with a strong, fresh brew.
Another strong contender for casual dining would be the Jax Diner. The building stands out across the train tracks in all its stainless steel glory. It’s an original diner but the only of its kind transported across the United States. Jax at the tracks opened in Truckee in 1995 and has even starred on the Food Network.
Jax Diner at the tracks in Truckee
Healthy living is a big part of the Truckee lifestyle and over the past few years Yoga Studios and Wellness Centers have been filling to capacity. I signed up for a class at Yoga Studio Tahoe
. Bolts of fabric for the acroyoga classes twisted towards the tall ceiling. The room was warm and softly lit. Friendly murmurs surrounded me, most everyone knew each other. After over an hour of movement and relaxation I was more than ready for the day.
On the way into town my bus driver pointed out the Donner family monument and asked me to notice how high the pedestal was. I could just make it out through the trees. Once I finally stood beneath it the impact of what the family endured that fateful winter slipped into my bones.
No one knows the strength of kindred love till it is tried.
~ Elizabeth Keegan, 12 years old, 1852
The statues stand 23 feet above the ground. That’s how high the snow was when they were trapped. They were boiling snow for water and had no idea that the lake was close and endured tragedy on top of tragedy. Today however the place is a marker to the strength of family and resilience.
Today a happier spirit permeates Truckee. Locals mingle with visitors to enjoy the sun as well as the snow. They gather at local watering holes and fill the restaurants like Moody’s
, attached to the Truckee Hotel for music and great food. I had dinner in a back room booth with cousins who live in the area. We wondered if it was the same table that Paul McCartney sat at when he once stopped by with friends.
Coffee Bar Patio on Jiboom Street, Truckee
On the side street, Jiboom, the Coffeebar
has a distinctly European vibe. Outside seating and spacious indoor tables, free wifi and impeccable coffee keep the place overflowing with regulars and lucky visitors. Another option, the small shop, Morgans Lobster Shack,
was founded by a pair of Easterners, Shawn and Heather Whitey, to bring fresh seafood to town and it’s a popular stop for good reason.
Oyster Po’Boy at Morgans Lobster Shack, Truckee
The Mustard Aoli and Chipotle Tartar Sauce match any on the Eastern seaboard as far as I’m concerned. If you go don’t miss the patio in the back to soak up some sun with your fish.
If you’re thirsty for something a little more robust, step into the Pour House Wine Tasting Room for a treat. The family run shop overflows with libation options and hosts an inviting tasting bar in the back.
Family is also behind the award-winning Stella’s and the Cedar House Sport Hotel
. Built by Patty and Jeff Baird to encourage the “connection between the human body and landscape,” they’ve worked with the community to match luxury with environmental consciousness.
Cedar House Sports Hotel Lobby
The restaurant, Stella, requires reservations and stays full based on the talents of Chef Jacob Burton, one of Food & Wine Magazine’s People’s Choice for Best New Chef. The site’s south facing slopes are full of garden beds where salad greens, flowers and herbs sprout in the spring with a hydroponic garden flourishing the rest of the year.
The Sports Hub has rentals year round.
Ready to work off all that great food and drink?
You don’t need to carry gear up the mountain. The Sports Hub has a generous rental program for skiers, paddle boarders and bikers and more. You can test out gear too with a deep upstairs consignment area. Try out the latest in bike touring, Fat Tires, available along with tours and guides.
I found out quickly that it doesn’t matter what time of year you go, whether you’re into extreme sports or not, find out what to do in Truckee and you’ll come home with many happy memories.
If you go:
- Avoid the crowded roads and the long drive from the Bay Area. Take the Amtrak Capitol Corridor train/bus service with several departures daily into Truckee.
- Book hotels in advance during peak seasons and weekends year round.
- Check on weather conditions to help you pack well.
- Get ready to get high – Truckee is at about 6,500 feet!
Dark Horse Cafe
Jax at the Tracks
Pour Wine and Cheese Bar
I was a guest of Visit Truckee and transportation was provided by the Capitol Corridor department of Amtrak. All opinions and pictures remain, as always, my own.
I like the laid back feel of Truckee I got from your post Elaine. After this winter though I think i’d rather enjoy it in the warmer months!
Thanks, Alison, I can commiserate but after living on the other coast, it was a relief to get a taste of real winter!
Glad you came and enjoyed our cute little town! Thanks for visiting!
I wish I’d made it to Truckee sooner. It would be fun to visit in the winter and then in the summer. So much to do and taste and see year round. Thanks for having me.
I haven’t been to Truckee in a few years. Your post makes me want to return and try out a few of those restaurants!
I have a sense that Truckee and you would be a great match.
The story of the Donner Party captured my imagination as a kid and I actually read a new account of them just recently. I had no idea however, that the snow they were stranded in was 23-feet high. Other than the cold weather, Truckee sounds like a terrific place to visit with lots of choices for great food.
It was startling to see how high the snow was when the Donner party was stranded. Summer and spring are lovely in the area if you’re not that big on snow.
Looks like a great place to spend some time and enjoy the outdoors.
There’s so much to do in the area indoors and out.
Thanks for introducing me to Truckee! Looks like a great town to spend a long weekend and enjoy the Sierras. I will keep it in mind when I am in the area.
I hope you get a chance to visit and play in Truckee.
Another area I know nothing about, but you have certainly piqued my interest with this post
Thanks, Paula, Truckee has a special place in my heart as relatives live nearby but I don’t think I’d have discovered it otherwise.
There’s such a distinct flavor to the Sierras and Truckee is more of a favorite to me than fancier places like Tahoe. Your thorough list of resources is really helpful. I’ve not been to this area in decades, but remain very fond.
Thanks, Betsy. Truckee is close to the Tahoe and Squaw Valley but has that small town charm. Fond is a good word for how I feel about it too.
Wow, what a photo! I wanna play in the Eastern Sierras:)
Glad you liked it. There’s a lot of fun to be had.