Hidden Treasures

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TRUCKEE • DOWNTOWN NAPA • SUISUN CITY • OAKLAND • THE PRESIDIO 

This summer, if you’re thinking of passing by Truckee on your way to Tahoe’s north shore or Reno, think again: This little hamlet has not just vintage charm, great shopping and excellent eats, but also dramatic history and scenery—plus, a Ritz-Carlton (yes, really). For an extra-relaxing getaway, you can take the train and cover the compact, cute downtown on foot; in it, you’ll find sweet local shopping, not to mention America’s best burger, according to Esquire magazine. Even if you drive, you’ll avoid the traffic jams that plague Tahoe City—and if you’re still jonesing for a high-country lake vacation, serene and pristine Donner Lake is there for you. Jump in.

 

WHAT TO DO

Shopping
Downtown Truckee’s Commercial Row may only be a block long, but it’s packed with more great browsing than many malls three times its size. We especially love the crafty, Truckee’s charming Commercial RowPortlandia sensibility of Bespoke (10130 Donner Pass Rd., bespoketruckee.com, 530-582-5500)—which boasts a wall papered in book pages, a flock of wooden birds dangling from the ceiling, and everything from irresistible hand-finished wooden salt spoons to the perfect wool picnic blanket from Minnesota mill Faribault—and the artful, earthy, made-in-Truckee vibe at Riverside Studios (10060 Donner Pass Rd., 530-587-3789, riversideartstudios.com). Don’t miss the whimsical, sports-inspired sculptures made from upcycled chairlifts and other ski-resort castoffs. Clothing store Cabona’s (10100 Donner Pass Rd., 530-587-3161, cabonas.com) dates back to 1918, but its fashions are up-to-date. Tip: Head to town on a Thursday evening through Aug. 29 for a lively street scene with a farmers’ market and most stores open until 9 p.m. (truckeethursdays.com).

Hiking and Biking
It’s late summer and the snow is long gone. Why go to a ski resort? Because riding the chairlift is the easiest way to get to breathtaking hiking trails or adventurous mountain biking. Northstar California Resort, just a few miles from downtown Truckee, operates its lifts all summer (Fridays and weekends only in September) and offers free guided hikes, as well as themed hikes like a stargazing tour ($30) and copious groomed hiking and biking trails, from easy to challenging. Not up for much exertion? A couple of rides on the lifts, with expansive views of distant peaks, is a plenty fun way to while away a sunny Sierra afternoon ($10 for lift pass; 5001 Northstar Dr., 800-466-6784, northstarcalifornia.com).

Stand-up paddle surfing on Donner LakeDonner Memorial State Park
We’ve all heard plenty of Donner Party jokes, but the stark reality of the pioneers’ (and Truckee’s) history is movingly memorialized in the compact but fascinating Emigrant Trail Museum at Donner Memorial State Park (530-582-7892, parks.ca.gov), which traces the group’s route and missteps, such as a fatal desert “shortcut.” Look for the whiteboard on which museum workers follow the wagon train’s route with an “on this day in 1846” vignette. If you prefer the outdoors, take the easy half-mile nature trail loop (this summer, check out the large beaver dam on placid Donner Creek) or try the longer (but still easy) Lakeshore Interpretive Trail, which leads to lovely picnicking spots on picturesque, sapphire Donner Lake.

 WHERE TO EAT

Restaurant Trokay
Cold-brewed Blue Bottle coffee, roasted bone marrow with house-made brioche, a silken 63-degree egg yolk with suckling pig “tête du cochon.” This must be a menu from San Francisco, right? Nope. It’s at Trokay (10046 Donner Pass Rd., 530-582-1040, restauranttrokay.com), the elegant yet unpretentiously friendly brainchild of chef-owners John and Nyna Weatherson, who moved to Truckee in 2011. John attended The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York and has worked for such superstars as Daniel Boulud; Nyna used to be head cheesemonger of the venerable Murray’s Cheese Shop in New York City (yeah, you’ll want to check out Trokay’s cheese plates). Wild gulf shrimp with heirloom summer melons at TrokayWhether you go for one of the full tasting menus offered at dinner or order à la carte—items include house-made buttermilk biscuits and gravy from the fun “breakfast for lunch” menu, and the artfully crafted heirloom summer melons with wild gulf shrimp—the cooking and service are meticulous. And speaking of that Blue Bottle coffee, don’t miss the “frozen latte” with tiny doughnuts and salted caramel powder for dessert.

Moody’s Bistro, Bar & Beats
With live music Thursdays through Saturdays, a fun cocktail menu with both well-made classics (Aviations, Negronis) and fresh inventions (like the Bourbon Rummy, a refreshing concoction that’s like a mojito with bourbon) and equally fun bar bites, such as mini corn dogs—even the dog is made in-house, a three-day process—Moody’s might mainly seem like a good local bar (10007 Bridge St., 530-587-8688. moodysbistro.com). But it’s also a worthy choice for serious dining, from the pizza with bacon, sausage, mushroom, fennel and arugula to a hefty pork chop served with barley risotto. And you never know whose music you’ll hear: it’s been a few years, but Sir Paul McCartney once got up and played a few songs while dining here. Keep an ear out.

Burger Me
This fresh, cheeky burger joint (10418 Donner Pass Rd., 530-587-8852, realfreshburger.com) has practically had a line out the door since it was featured not just on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives but was also crowned by Esquire magazine as “Best Burger” last year for its barbecue bison version. It’s no wonder: the buns come from local Truckee Sourdough Company, the beef is all-natural and sustainable, and the menu has both the basic burger standbys and more creative picks like a gyro burger (made with lamb), a patty melt brilliantly spiked with pepperjack and sauerkraut, and an ahi burger with Sriracha coleslaw. Our advice: go despite the lines (they move fast), but get there by 11:30 a.m. for a quicker lunch (Burger Me opens at 11).

WHERE TO SLEEP

The River Street Inn
If you take the train up to Truckee for your getaway—and you should, at least once—The River Street Inn, in an 1885 building that overlooks the rushing Truckee River, is the ideal base for your overnight trip, with a central location that’s a block’s walk from the train station (tip: bring earplugs and request a room in the back of the house) and the rest of downtown, as well as clean, cheery, comfy rooms that sport down comforters and claw-foot tubs. It’s a simple, homey inn without chatty owners or awkward mealtime convos; the breakfast is of the continental variety and the common area is comfortable ($130-$195; 10009 East River St., 530-550-9290, riverstreetinntruckee.com).

The Cedar House Sport Hotel
The Cedar House Sport  Hotel’s dramatic entrance.Just outside of downtown Truckee, this mod eco hotel (think Euro-style platform beds, a boutique feel in the rooms and dog-friendly) offers guests a wide range of sporty, outdoor activities courtesy of an in-house travel and touring company, from tame (birding, yoga) to adventurous (Pacific Crest Trail and high-altitude endurance hikes, kayaking). For those who prefer to stay indoors for their sports, the hotel’s acclaimed restaurant, Stella, also offers culinary boot camps and less-intensive seminars like the “Think Like a Chef” lunches, designed to help you hone your palate ($170-$280; 10918 Brockway Rd., 866-582-5655, cedarhousesporthotel.com).

The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe
Sure, the name says Tahoe—but the address is in Truckee, just up the mountain from nearby Northstar, which is accessible by a special gondola line. This luxe property, opened in 2009 as only the second-ever ski property in the Ritz family and the first-ever AAA Five Diamond resort in the Tahoe region, boasts a soaking tub and fireplace in every room; a giant, octagonal fireplace as the centerpiece of the cozy, yet grand lobby area; and, at the outdoor fire pit, a daily s’mores presentation by the in-house “marshmologist.” In winter, a complete ski valet service whisks your equipment away for a truly hassle-free ski-in, ski-out experience—but in late summer and fall, which this Ritz-Carlton calls its “secret season” (and when rooms are a little less pricey), the pool and quiet hikes take center stage. Don’t miss the spa, which is also open to non-guests and features a huge copper soaking tub and private cabin for couples’ treatments or girls’ retreats ($299-$5,000; 13031 Ritz-Carlton Highlands Court, 530-562-3000, ritzcarlton.com). —K.W.