A hidden gem of Northern California, the small mountainside town of Truckee is known for its stunning natural scenery, rich history and wealth of recreational opportunities. With a population of about 17,000, Truckee sits 12 miles north of Lake Tahoe and is surrounded by the Tahoe National Forest. The region is a snow-lover’s dream, with world-class ski resorts Northstar, Tahoe Donner, Boreal, Sugar Bowl and Palisades Tahoe (formerly Squaw Valley) within a 15- to 45-minute drive.
Originally inhabited by the Washoe, Maidu and Paiute tribes, and then by miners and settlers, Truckee derives its name from a Paiute chief who, in 1844, assisted thousands of emigrants heading West. Over the years, Truckee has evolved from a simple railroad town to a bustling lumber and mining hub, to what it remains today—a world-class destination for scenic beauty and world-class recreation.
In recent years, Truckee has seen an influx of affluent buyers from the San Francisco Bay Area in search of luxury mountain properties and first-class amenities. “It’s a drive market for them; they hop in the car to connect to nature, connect to family,” says Jasmine Watts, chief operating officer of Tahoe Mountain Realty.
The pandemic hastened many families’ home purchases, but “it’s settling down a bit,” Watts explained. “We’re starting to see a return to seasonal sales cycles.” Despite this, Watts says she has noticed a shift towards longer-term residents. “It’s a second home instead of a vacation home,” Watts says. “Our buyers are asking about home offices.” Additionally, buyers are requesting properties that encompass a large kitchen, a dining room and various living spaces, signaling a shift to more extended stays.
Based out of Northstar in Truckee, Tahoe Mountain Realty specializes in private resort communities chock-a-block with clubhouses, restaurants, fitness facilities, movie theaters, trout ponds and other amenities. “Owners love having a clubhouse and a place to meet their friends,” says Watts. “They love having all the resources at their fingertips to maximize their time.”
Among the popular resort communities are Old Greenwood, home to a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course; Mountainside, with homes tucked into the ski slopes at Northstar; Martis Camp, with a private express chairlift to Northstar and a golf course designed by Tom Fazio; and Gray’s Crossing, with a golf course and an extensive biking and hiking trail system.
“Come for the winter, stay for the summer,” Watts says. Living in the Truckee area means embracing the outdoors, with easy access to skiing and snowboarding, riding, biking, hiking, trail running, water sports and golfing. While Truckee is most associated with its rustic mountain appeal, the town also manages to be hip and sophisticated, with breweries and brewpubs, art galleries and fine dining. The large number of newcomers and second home buyer has led to a greater variety in restaurants and nightlife while still maintaining its small-town charm and sense of community.
Just west of downtown Truckee, Donner Memorial State Park and the Pioneer Monument commemorate the ill-fated Donner party of California-bound emigrants who wintered here in 1846-1847. Donner Lake, in the state park, has beautiful, calm water, a beach for kids and equipment rentals.
The graceful Rainbow Bridge/Donner Summit Bridge was built in the 1920s near Donner Summit. The concrete arch span provides beautiful views of the surrounding area, Donner Lake and Truckee.
The Brickelltown Historic District in Truckee lies along the original transcontinental railroad built by the Central Pacific. Many of the early businesses in the 100-acre district were lost to fire, but among those built from 1870 to the late 1920s are brick commercial structures and homes in Italianate, Greek Revival and Craftsman styles.
Dining and Shopping
Wander along Truckee’s River Street or the streets that intersect to find shops and restaurants housed in historic buildings. Among them are:
Bespoke & Atelier, which focuses on one-of-a-kind and “slow” goods made by local artisans.
Truckee Variety Co. is a throwback to the classic five-and-dime, with toys, games, craft materials and retro candy.
Family-owned Tahoe Sports Hub is the area’s go-to store for gear, apparel and rentals for skiing, snowboarding, paddle sports, climbing and hiking. Mountain bike and e-bike rentals too.
Moody’s Bistro, Bar & Beats, in the historic Truckee Hotel, is popular for its craft cocktails, farm-to-table menu and live music. Open daily for lunch and dinner.
Get your morning jolt of java and a breakfast sandwich at the Wild Cherries Coffee House. Open daily 6 a.m.-4 p.m. Enjoy the hippie vibe (and little green alien) at vegan- and veggie-friendly Squeeze In, open daily 7:30 a.m.-2 p.m for breakfast and lunch.
Long-time favorite Pianeta offers Northern Italian cuisine and homemade pasta in a cozy downtown setting. Open for dinner Mondays-Saturdays.
Need to know
Truckee is about a four-hour drive from San Francisco and about two hours from Sacramento. The nearest major airport, Reno-Tahoe International Airport in Nevada, is less than 40 minutes by car from Truckee. The Truckee Tahoe Airport near the town’s center serves private planes and charters.
The Tahoe-Truckee Unified School District has 11 schools serving students in kindergarten through 12th grade. Options for high school students include alternative and continuation schools as well as two traditional high schools. The town’s remote location often makes it difficult for students to participate in sports events in California, so students compete in the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Assn.
The private Tahoe Expedition Academy in Truckee focuses on hands-on and real-world experiential learning for kindergarten through 12th grade.