For much of its history, Truckee was a vibrant railroad and lumber hub, serving as the jumping off point for train passengers heading to Lake Tahoe and supplying the timber to help build the intermountain west.
But the interstate freeway, which passes through town, doomed the passenger railroad and the local lumber industry withered away, leaving Truckee a somewhat faded back-water for most of the last half of the 20th century.
However, the old town, thanks in part to the tech boom in the Bay Area, has seen a resurgence in fortune over the last 20 years, with multi-million dollar homes, upscale clothing boutiques and home-furnishing stores and lush, tournament-ready golf courses strewn throughout the Martis Valley attesting to that.
Some of the old-timers have had a little trouble adjusting to the new paradigm, but for most folks, Truckee, which still retains much of its rural, small-town vibe, is a sweet place to while away the time, whether on holiday or for good. And here are five of the many reasons why:
The skiing/snowboarding, of course
Within 20 minutes’ drive of downtown Truckee, there are seven downhill and four Nordic ski centers, four of which — family-centric Northstar, imposing Squaw Valley, laid-back Alpine Meadows and the grand dame of the Sierra, Sugar Bowl — can hold their own against many of the country’s top resorts. And don’t forget: The local Sierra mountains collect up to 500 inches of snow per annum, meaning the skiing and riding generally lasts a long time.
Getting your fill
The time has long passed when your dining options in town consisted of greasy-spoon diners and pass-their-prime steak houses. With the foodie-centric San Francisco crowd hanging around, Truckee now has a variety of restaurants that suits all tastes and fits all cuisines. Among the faves are Truckee Tavern, an American-cuisine bistro whose continuously changing menu features locally sourced produce and meats; Pianeta, whose northern Italian menu features brilliant house-made pastas (the ravioli, in particular, are superb); 50/50, a craft brewery and restaurant that is widely known for Eclipse, a barrel-aged stout, and a wide selection of salads and burgers, and Tacos Jalisco, a counter-style Mexican-food establishment that serves truly authentic burritos, tacos and specialty dishes (try the Armadillo).
The apres scene
As befits a town that traces its roots to the wild, wild West, Truckee has its fair share of bars and watering holes, some of which are truly dark and divey. But four stand out as epitomizing the range of Truckee’s drinking options: Moody’s, a bistro that features an eclectic selection of live music and a place where Paul McCartney has been known to sit in for a song or two; Cottonwoods, which is perched on a hill above downtown Truckee, affording great views of the Sierra crest, and has an intimate, mountain chalet feel; Uncorked, a wine bar and shop that showcases a large selection of international vintners; and Bar of America, the town’s original ski bum and locals’ hangout.
The Sierra Avalanche Center
With the Carson Range to the east and the Sierra crest to the west, Truckee is hemmed in by towering mountains that afford a multitude of backcountry ski lines. However, it’s always best to know the conditions before you head out, and that’s where the Sierra Avalanche Center comes in. This Truckee-based non-profit produces regularly updated daily snow, weather and avalanche conditions on its Web site (sierraavalanchecenter.org) for the greater Lake Tahoe area. The Center also conducts weekly seminars on backcountry safety and avalanche awareness.
Living in a small, outdoor-oriented mountain town like Truckee has its distinct advantages and affords a great quality of life, but sometimes, you know, you just gotta get away for some glitz, glamor and maybe a few museums and theaters. And luckily for Truckee denizens there are easy options: Reno, with all its neon, big-box stores and international airport, is just 35 minutes east down Interstate 80, while the San Francisco Bay Area, in many respects the culture capital of the West, is a 3.5-hour drive away in the other direction.