Considering Truckee’s beautiful Sierra Nevada setting and proximity to sizable cities (including Sacramento, less than 100 miles away and linked directly by Interstate 80), it’s somewhat surprising that this mountain town (elevation: 5,980 feet) only recently has been getting buzz akin to venerable resort areas such as Aspen and Vail, Colo. Outdoor enthusiasts have fun here year-round, often using Truckee—named after a friendly Paiute chief who helped guide emigrants over passes—as an overnight base for excursions to nearby trails, ski slopes or stunningly picturesque Donner Lake. Frequent visitors often have time shares or cabins of their own. Moseying about Truckee’s cluster of 19th century brick buildings provides a Western experience that’s bound to appeal to city slickers of all ages.
Shopping: A two-block stretch of Donner Pass Road constitutes Truckee’s historic downtown, where most shops conveniently are on one side of the street (the north) in what sometimes is referred to as Commercial Row. Approaching from the west, where you can park for free if you don’t mind an extra five minutes’ stroll, you will encounter a couple of small stores worth a quick stop: Tahoe Truckee T Shirtery (No. 10128—all addresses in this section are Donner Pass Road), whose washable wares include one that playfully proclaims “Bears Love People—They Taste Just Like Chicken”; and Tahoe Candle (next door, same building), whose beautiful products are hand-poured locally and contain real leaves. The store smells nice, too, which also is the case at Sweets Handmade Candies (No. 10118), whose Belgian chocolates are made on-site. Cooking Gallery (No. 10084) is an impressively extensive, two-level kitchenwares store, where I saw a decorative plaque that advises, “Be the kind of person your dog thinks you are.” The Pharmacy (No. 10072) sells facial products, jewelry, lingerie, makeup and candles, while upstairs The Boudoir peddles furniture, bedding and bath products under gorgeous glass-globe chandeliers; it even offers spa services. Clothing stores are sprinkled about the main drag, including the 89-year-old Cabona’s (No. 10100). Mountain Hardware & Sports (No. 11320) has “extraordinary” service and selection, according to one Truckee enthusiast.
Eating: A town of about 14,000 residents, Truckee has the usual assortment of fast-food eateries on its fringes, but Commercial Row boasts more-satisfying possibilities. Moody’s Bistro & Lounge (10007 Bridge St.), on the east end of historic downtown in the Truckee Hotel (a structure that dates to 1873), is an upscale and sophisticated place, despite the fact that one of its best-known entrées is called Moody’s Big Ass Pork Platter. Paul McCartney and then-wife Heather Mills dined there in 2003, and the “cute” Beatle even took the stage to perform an improvised “Truckee Blues.” The second-floor Pianeta Ristorante (10096 Donner Pass Road) has an extensive wine list and a cozy, woodsy interior; on warm days and evenings, its balcony beckons with views of the main drag. On a small hill just south of town, Cottonwood Restaurant & Bar (off Brockway Road)—a hangout for locals, skiers and mountain bikers—also has a great deck above the Truckee River canyon. Squeeze In (10060 Donner Pass Road) rustles up great breakfasts, with an astounding 62 omelets to choose from. (You can also write on the walls, as have thousands of other patrons over the years.) The strikingly retro Truckee Diner (10144 West River St.), built for 1940s Newark, N.J., and transplanted to Truckee in the mid-1990s, is worth a drive-by, at least. A mile or so west of the historic district, Wild Cherries (11429 Donner Pass Road) is a great place to grab a sandwich or partake of the housemade vegetarian chili.
Drinking: A little alcohol warms one’s belly and soul on cold winter nights, and the historic district has a couple of venues with fabulous, sprawling bars: O.B.’s Pub & Restaurant (10046 Donner Pass Road), featuring a friendly vibe and a burger-type menu; and Bar of America (10042 Donner Pass Road), whose entrées stress locally ranched meats and whose bistro burger draws raves. The Pour House (10075 Jibboom St.) has wine tastings (for a small fee) and bottles from all around the world. Caffeine options abound in town, but I was impressed with Truckee Book & Bean (10009 W. River St., between Donner Pass Road and the Truckee River), a cozy, semi-underground (both literally and figuratively) place with both new and used books, plus organic coffees and soft chairs in which to sink, sip, peruse and zone out to reggae music.
Chill out—The annual Truckee Winter Carnival (Feb. 1–10), which a century ago was distinguished by an enormous ice palace, today consists of diverse activities at many local sites. (For details, visit truckeewintercarnival.com.)
How to get there: Take Interstate 80 east for appoximately 90 miles to Donner Pass Road. Turn left and travel one mile to downtown Truckee.