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8 Reasons Truckee is Tahoe's Trendy Hot Spot

Food, art, and fun—it’s boom time again in this railroad town.

The popularity of their lamb naanwich and other dishes led the owners of the Red Truck food truck to open a permanent spot at the Truckee-Tahoe Airport.

Khanh Le / Shutterstock

Under the craggy peaks of Donner Summit, the town of Truckee is as plucky now as it was when 19th-century lumberjacks and rail workers roved its streets. Recently, new restaurants, shops, and facilities have put a shine of sophistication on the town’s original grit.

Truckee’s colorful past flourishes on Commercial Row, where independent shops in picturesque railroad town storefronts showcase regional talent and a new gallery work space called Atelier offers weekly “social sketch” meet-ups. The gallery also hosts art classes, such as bookbinding, spoon carving, and cheese making, and sells original prints, paintings, and designer art wares. 

Atelier interior in Truckee, California, picture

More than a store, Truckee's Atelier is a creative nexus thanks to the classes and events it hosts.

Orbital Design Lab

Once jammed with saloons, Truckee now hosts many stylish restaurants and cafés. Seated in the intimate booths or along the lively bar at Pianeta, guests savor dishes rooted in the flavors of Northern Italy such as house-made tagliatelle with a mix of Tuscan and spicy fennel sausages.

At the Red Truck on the Runway café inside the airy Truckee-Tahoe Airport, daily specials include butternut panang curry soup and chicken vindaloo samosas with fig chutney dip. The savory curried lamb naanwich combines rich labneh yogurt, carrot, mustard seed salad, and hummus on house-made naan.

A glass of Miso Hoppy—a cheery beer brewed with Japanese hops—and a plate of nachos with black beans and smoky roasted salsa make a perfect afternoon repast on the patio at FiftyFifty Brewing Co. The brewery’s masterpiece is Eclipse, a chocolaty, espresso-like imperial stout aged in bourbon barrels.

Munch on gluten-free (and gluten-full) homemade treats while you sip on a warming drink at Coffeebar. The original location of this growing coffee shop and happy hour hot spot is a must-visit not matter the season or time of day.

Truckee River Legacy Trail alongside the Truckee River in Truckee, California, image

The newly expanded Truckee River Legacy Trail runs five miles and starts right in town.

Courtesy Town of Truckee

The newly extended Truckee River Legacy Trail meanders from downtown along the splashing river that guided pioneers through one of the West’s most rugged mountain ranges. Along it, walkers and bicyclists enjoy views of the willows and sagebrush in Martis Valley, which stretches out beneath the area’s highest peak, Mount Rose.

In April 2015, Stella transformed itself from a traditional restaurant into Stella Culinary, a teaching kitchen where chef Jacob Burton shares the techniques that have won him a cult following. In hands-on classes he teaches skills such as making sausage and improvising with farmers-market fare. A series of monthly pop-up dinners unveil Burton's latest recipe research, ranging from ramen to stone-oven pizzas. 

Glittering Donner Lake offers all the swimming, boating, and scenery of Lake Tahoe, in a less crowded setting. Nearby, the new Donner Memorial State Park Visitor Center, which opens June 6, displays a topographic relief map of historic travel routes and a cedar bark hut in the style of the Washoe people. 

By 2003, Moody’s Bistro, on the ground floor of the Truckee Hotel, had established itself as the go-to local eatery for farm-to-table food. Co-owner Mark Estee was held in such high culinary esteem locally that when Paul McCartney visited Lake Tahoe, he hired the guy to be his personal chef. McCartney then went on to visit the cozy neighborhood bar that features live music most nights and join in for a few songs. The impromptu gig was reported on CNN, and the story stayed hot for days. The attention must not have bothered McCartney; the following year he was back for more.

This article was first published in April 2015. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.