Just when you think you’ve seen or heard it all, you end up in a place bearing a name worthy of a city council voting session. Or just when you’re convinced you’ve graduated to the class of judging a book by its content and not its cover – -in this case, a name — you have to live through a crash course in anthropology. Not a bad thing, entirely, especially if the yield is gained knowledge in something totally new. I opted to sit out of a course and rather enjoyed first hand the value of the questionable content; in this case the city, or town, really, of Truckee, California. Truckee. Yes, every bit of what you just read. A town with the name of what sounds like a kids’ innoncently coquettish verbiage when speaking to a crush. It’s how I felt the first few times I said “Truckee”. I ended up on the winning side of silly verbiage when my annual travel work as a Seekender with Hampton Inn by Hilton took me on a 5-day trip to Lake Tahoe. And very lucky for me, their property closest to Tahoe is in Truckee. Who knew such a town even existed.
Fresh powder, $7 lavender lattes, therapeutic spa treatments, and pricey dinner dates is exactly what you expect to enjoy when you plan a trip to Lake Tahoe, mostly on the Cali side. What you don’t expect, at least as a rookie, is a quaint town, 20 miles outside of the Tahoe City, replete with charm, flair, friendlier-than-most people and an elevated sense of arty. Actually, a level of arty I’ve not seen in some American towns known for unique arts and crafts.
Of all the American towns on my growing list to visit, Tahoe was inspired by my parents’ summer 2016 trip there. It all looked so plush and green. I wanted to enjoy the same, but considering winter was knocking, it only made sense I try to get some runs down North Star or even Squaw Valley mountain. I’d be cheating on Jackson Hole — another exploratory trip I took as a Seekender — no doubt, but I’ll be in a rendezvous there in just a few weeks. Plus, I’ve heard some of my avid snowboarding friends hype up the bowls in Tahoe, I really thought it merited an attempt. Fortunately, for Truckee’s benefit, and my long-term satisfaction, I was fighting a bad cold which kept me from further considering layering up in base clothes for any kind of snow activity. And it worked out that the region is in a quasi-drout, leaving the snow caps just a distant figment.
And all that meant more time in Truckee, one of America’s undiscovered, gem-of-a-find.
Few places I visit warrant 3 days of 10-hour photo-editing sessions and 1,000 words of real estate on my site. At least not these days. But it’s exatly what I’ve been doing in between cookbook tour appearances; and diligently fighigting off a lingering flu — glued to my desk, scrolling through some 700 images of the surprising elements I enjoyed.
To start, a dusty snowfall in Truckee is as magical as the elusive kiss Anne Hathaway’s character, Andy Sachs, had under a starry night in Paris in epic film The Devil Wears Prada. She wasn’t expecting the romance of it all. And neither was I. My traveling partner this go around — an avid cycling friend — and I found ourselves scouring for a night cap at The Bar of America, a corner brick and mortar perfectly situated to welcome newcomers unfamiliar with the night affairs. A hearty pizza and mini sliders hit the spot at 11pm. It was the local band, however, that truly introduced us to the earthy, yet sophisticated vibe of Truckee.
Snow fell lightly on the festive lighted posts as we exited and drove our way to the Hampton Inn, just 2.4 miles up the road and around the pine tree-lined bend.
No late night hunger pains should cloud your judgment when establishing expectations of a town’s culinary attitude. Bar America rightly did their job. Our brunch the next morning, though way out in Incline Village, didn’t add up to the standard. We made our way back to Truckee and casually settled into Squeeze In Café the following day. Typically, not my idea of a swanky brunch in a 5-star vacation town, but after the mediocre success at Incline, I was all in for a battle of Bobby Flay’s omelette. Because that’s what you do after you’ve waited 20 minutes while Amber aimlessly calls out missing waitlist names. They rolled in obscurity, we sat with intention.
For $50, said friend and I enjoyed an unreal helping of spuds with opposing omelettes with three scratch made sauces to pair, French toast with redeeming qualities (see aforementioned mediocrity), chunky home made biscuits, bottomless mimosas and something else. Whatever else was, it was good. Normally, eats that delicious will make up for the jarring graffiti on the walls. I enjoyed theirs. A combo of hip, edgy, funk, rock, roll, Elvis, The Bangles, and nerdy cycling dudes kept me interested. Our first official view of Truckee was looking really promising.
My mission when exploring a town — intracontinental or across the pond — is always to procure the best espresso available. Do not expect that at Squeeze In, rather mosey on the quaint sidewalks of downtown and historic Truckee, flanked by cute boutiques on one side, selling anything from fancy $300 jeans, to handmade local pottery to snow gear — and a vintage train track on the other — until you get to the Coffee Bar. Before you get there, enjoy a conversation with this guy… a local musician fully in love a conversationalist who will indulge his keen history of Ray Charles’ performance for Barry Gordon back in the 60s.
The coffee was good. Very good. Pictures I don’t have don’t do it justice, but their syrup infusions are worth the additional $1. You’re right outside of Tahoe. $1 for syrup is wildly acceptable.
Evening hops to Incline Village for a sexier-than-cool sunset-watch tryst over a crackling fireplace and dinner at an intimate staple brick house with other day trips on highway 89 to and through Tahoe City, are necessary if you want to get a full view of Tahoe life and more of an appreciation for Truckee’s aesthetic. The former dishes out what you expect in a lavish ski town.
If not for our cozy and ultra comfortable stay at the Hampton Inn in Truckee, my friend and I wouldn’t have met Sam, the passionate coffee grinder and lover extraordinaire (very much a la Bob Marley) at Dark Horse Coffee, where we enjoyed a mini hands-on course on grinding single origin beans. Much to Drew-the-owner’s entertainment, we visited them every morning while there, mostly for the conversation and the chill vibe of the customers — very Tahoe-esque without the presumption your plans entail ice skating at North Star with a timed trip up the mountain in a private gondola for a chimney-side, $20 classic cocktail atop the ambient Ritz Carlton. Because, yes, you must also do that to fully understand Tahoe.
Our ideal geo-landing also afforded us an upclose view of the subdued Truckee River, the only artery that feeds off Lake Tahoe. It’s as pretty as it appears in these pictures we took on the last morning there, but easily overlooked unless an invested inhabitant like Sam escorts you there and offers another mini lesson on the river’s efficiency. I loved the houses on both sides of the river, especially because I imagine their water source comes from there stream. And I’m all about energy conservancy. The people of Truckee seem to get that. Talk to Sam. He’ll tell you more.
We did the obligatory pose.
Probably most beautiful about Truckee, apart from the genuinely kindspirited people, was Donner Lake. I’m an urban lake kind of city girl. I live a few miles from one here in D.C. When I come across another, I stop and relish. Our short visit there was on the way back from Donner Pass, a history lesson you must come back for in another post. 5 minutes in idle is surely the best way to rob yourself of serenity and reflection. But if you stand at the right time, you’ll get a peaceful glimpse of the migrating birds. More importantly, you’ll enjoy the vibrant sunset in the far distant. Simply because it’s not as polluted as Lake Tahoe, may you get a clearer view of the trees’ reflection of the cold lake. A local fisherman was baiting for edible trout in 40F, the ideal time for catching.
In all we weren’t able to see in Truckee, or even Tahoe proper, I was sure that dining there was not going to be an issue. On our last night, an obvious choice after much reliance on locals’ opinion, Moody’s, right across from The Bar of America, sealed my affection for all things Truckee. A super casual entry dining room, reserved mostly for pizza and football lovers, precedes a more formal dining room, coiffed with vintage French posters and burlesque lighting. We got very lucky and were seated at the farthest table in the restaurant. It was also the closest to the open window kitchen.
As our shredded oxtail-smothered fries descended on our table, I got a good whiff of a California Tempranillo as the server passed to the table on our right. I’m no sommelier; not even a bona fide wino. I did, however, pick up on those strong, bold and musky notes. I was right on the nose. It was perfect. Said friend ordered a lovely chicken pizza for me, which I thoroughly devoured in part, before I finishd off a creamy butternut squash soup. While we quietly watched the kitchen move swiftly to move covers, we sipped our respective wines and then it hit us….
There wasn’t a single truck in all of Truckee.
And that’s no lie.
Thanks to my friends a Hampton Inn, you can come back tomorrow for a spectacular view of Donner Lake from the top of the historic Donner Pass. There’s a great American story there. They make it possible for traveling friends, couples and even families with kids, to travel the greatest of America with the super suitable accommodations and in most cases, extremely convenient property locations. Truckee wouldn’t have acquired two new solid fans but not for that massive property, just 20 minutes south of Tahoe City, fully decked out in Christmas merriment.
Be a Seekender. Go out and get lost. John Muir said it best:
“In every walk with Nature, one receives far more than he seeks.”
*This post is part of 4 part series of experiences sponsored by Hampton Inn by Hilton. All experiences, storytelling and opinions are honest and my own.