Tahoe's Top Attractions
Once a rollicking railroad and lumber town, every vice known to man (and woman) has been practiced here. Filled with rowdy saloons, gambling halls and bawdy houses, Truckee in the late 1800s had more kick than a miner's mule. The town is named after a friendly Paiute Indian who helped guide the first party of white settlers through the region in 1844. It rose quickly in population when the Central Pacific Railroad arrived in 1868 as part of the Transcontinental Railroad. This development created two major industrieslogging and ice-harvestingand attracted a resident Chinese population that reportedly numbered as high as 10,000, second in size only to that of San Francisco's Chinatown.
But the hard-working Chinese, who threatened to monopolize the logging business, were driven out of town in 1886 by jealous white vigilante groups. Truckee's fortunes declined after the 1920s, and growth was stagnant until the 1960 Winter Olympics at Squaw Valley provided an economic rebirth as a ski resort destination. Today, Truckee is once again booming The town incorporated in 1993, combining the communities of old Truckee, Tahoe Donner and Donner Lake. Burned-out city refugees looking for greener pastures have pushed the population to 10,000 and attracted new businesses.
Through all of this, however, the gritty character of the old section of Truckee has been preserved. Nearly 100 of the 300 downtown structures were built prior to the turn of the century, and most of the historic buildings are concentrated along Commercial Row, where visitors can stroll along the wooden walkways and enjoy a slice of the Old West. While the historic district has become gentrified (with gourmet restaurants and stores catering to travelers), there are rustic places as well.
Among these are the Southern Pacific Railroad Depot, which has an interesting gallery of old photographs and is still an active stop for both freight and Amtrak passenger trains; the Bar of America, whose walls are adorned with pictures of famous outlaws and gunslingers; Cabona's clothing store, which always seems to have the latest in country chic; and Robert's hardware store, which has a lot more than hammers and nails. The Truckee Hotel, an institution on Bridge Street since 1873, has been restored to its former Victorian elegance and is a marvelous place to stay if you don't mind the trains tooting their way through town. Jibboom Street, once notorious as Truckee's famous red light district, has an old two-story jailhouse that is now a museum.
Other interesting places to check out include the Squeeze In, a tiny breakfast house with creative omelets; Zena's Restaurant in the vintage C.B. House (circa 1874), known for its muffins; Earthsong, whose basement is stocked with an aromatic variety of spices and coffees; Bob Roberts Jewelers, with Western silver and gold pieces and crystal geodes; Truckee Books, with a variety of local lore; Richardson House, a historic bed and breakfast above Commercial Row; and The Passage, a favorite hangout for food and drink. The century-old Masonic Building, destroyed by an explosion in 1993, has been rebuilt to house the Cafe Meridian, the first Truckee restaurant with a second-floor balcony dining area. The Capitol building, built in 1870 and the second oldest structure in town, once housed a saloon and dance hall and, later, Piper's Opera Company. Among the notables associated with Truckee is the great silent screen comedian Charlie Chaplin, who filmed The Gold Rush and other movies in the area. Truckee is a convenient stop along Interstate 80 and is 20 minutes north of Lake Tahoe. Information: Truckee Donner Visitors Center, (800) 548-8388 or (530) 587-2757.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication