Mountain vistas layered with blues and greens. Check. Crystal clear water rippling with calming waves. Check. Canoes. Paddleboards. Sailboats. Jet skis. Check. Check. Check.

Bookstores…Not so much.

Vacation Goals and Bookstore Woes

It’s my favorite activity when discovering new towns and cities, checking out bookstores. Some people might think all bookstores are alike. But I view them as a representation of the area and the people. It’s also a place to get to know the local flavor.

Therefore, whenever I visit a new place my goal is to find all the bookstores!

But what if a town has no bookstore? (GASP!) What does that say about it?

As my ears clogged and popped with the winding mountain roads cutting their way to Lake Tahoe, I was about to find out.

Bookstore Geography: North vs South Lake Tahoe

Being an East Coaster and not much for winter or summer sports (reading is my sport), I knew very little about Lake Tahoe before visiting. To figure out where to stay, I had to do some research.

Here’s what I learned: Lake Tahoe is divided, in more ways than one.

lake tahoe north vs south.pngFirst, it’s divided between two states, California and Nevada.

Second, it’s divided into North Lake Tahoe and South Lake Tahoe, but these areas straddle the states.

The north and south sections both have distinct characteristics. Basically, North Lake Tahoe appeals to the outdoor sports and family-friendly types. And South Lake Tahoe is the party town, complete with endless gambling. (See map above for visual representation. In the North, there are cute little waving people, below dancing snowboarders. And cartoon maps don’t lie, right?)

With a circumference of 72 miles of narrow mountain roads, it can take over three hours to drive around the entirety of Lake Tahoe. Consequently, my family and I had to choose: north or south.

Since I have a 13-year-old daughter, of course I chose the gambling, nightlife south. Just kidding, that would probably be irresponsible. We chose the north, specifically Tahoe City.

Side note to travelers re Tahoe City

The moniker of “city” is a bit aspirational. Quaint little hamlet seems more appropriate. The town might want to also invest in some dictionaries because it also doesn’t know the definition of “hotel.” If all the rooms open to the outside, it’s a motel. That said, Tahoe City is an adorable place complete with shops selling local goods, art and restaurants.  I really liked the city little quaint hamlet.


What I didn’t know at the time we booked our trip, however, was that ALL THE BOOKSTORES are in the south. It would take over an hour to drive to them.

Here are the thoughts going through my head when I discovered North Lake Tahoe had zero bookstores: No bookstores? Are these people monsters? What am I getting into with this vacation? 

Determined Traveler: Bookstore Desert Won’t Stop Me!!

What’s a bookish girl in a bookstore desert to do? Surely, she can’t just deal with the lack of bookstores and enjoy the five (yes five) books she already packed in her suitcase that she won’t possibly finish in one week anyway.

Um. No. Don’t be crazy.

But I did TRY to distract myself with non-bookish activities. And the views of Lake Tahoe, not to sound corny, are worthy of poetry. (Note: I am not known for my photographic abilities. Photographic inabilities are the better term to describe me. So if you look at these pictures and think WOW, it’s even more WOW than this.)

We hiked.

tahoe 3

We water-sported.

tahoe 2

And, finally, we did something to sate my bookish desires, a little bit. We went on a steamboat tour, which meant I got to feel like I was in a Mark Twain novel for a brief few hours!

tahoe gal steam boat

On the steamboat tour, we also learned some very interesting facts about Lake Tahoe. (The fact nerd in me loved this part.)

  • At 1,644 feet deep at its deepest, Lake Tahoe is the second deepest mountain lake in the US, after Crater Lake and the 16th deepest in the world.
  • The Native American Washoe people have lived in the Lake Tahoe area for at least the last 6,000 years.
  • Thanks to the natural filtration of volcanic rock and overturn of water from the Truckee river tributaries, Lake Tahoe water is 98% pure.

Take a steamboat tour and learn some facts! My kind of activity. Even my daughter kind of liked it. (Look, she’s smiled for a picture twice! It’s like seeing a unicorn!)


Can’t Take It Anymore! Need a Bookstore!

About two days into our Tahoe vacation, it happened. I couldn’t take it anymore. I needed a dose of bookstore if I was going to survive. An internet search informed me one existed about 30 miles away in a place called Truckee.

If the name “Truckee” hadn’t elicited about 30 minutes of jokes, mostly about being named by a small child with a penchant for automotive toys, I’m not sure my family would have agreed to go to some remote mountain town just for a bookstore.

Lucky for us all, Truckee (which was NOT named by a toddler but rather named after a Paiute chief) turned out to be quite the little gem.

After drifting through the mountains, over Donner Pass (yes those Donners), a surprising one-road town emerged from the trees.

truckee downtown.jpg

As my daughter pointed out, it had the distinct feel of a frontier town with flat-topped buildings, wooden beamed facades and a railroad running through the center.

In front of shops peddling local goods, carts bloomed with flowers. Restaurants and an old-timey soda shop rounded out the uniquely eclectic feel. It’s a town that’s not easy to label. Part historical, part quirky, part luxury.

ella and K word after word bookstore truckee

And the best part? Bookish!

There, nearly at the center of the main road, was my oasis in the bookstore desert. With clever displays and a wonderful array of books, the Word After Word bookstore did not disappoint.

word after word truckee.jpg

Having packed my entire vacation attire in a carry-on, I didn’t have much room and told myself if I bought a book it had to be something thin and small.

However, Word After Word had something I’d wanted desperately. Something all the other bookstores I’d visited in the last few weeks (and there were a lot before coming to Tahoe) had failed to have in stock… The two-plus inch first book in the Illuminae Files series. (Yes, I know I could have bought it on Amazon and I do purchase books from the global book – and everything else – giant, but I also like to support the indie stores whenever I can.)

And there it was with its fiery orange and red spine, sitting on the shelf of the YA section. Suitcase be damned! I had to have it. So, I purchased it, along with a small book of short stories about Tahoe. (I mean come on, I did say I could buy a book if it was small and thin and I wanted to take a little book reminder of Tahoe and Truckee home with me.)

truckee bookstore books

After adding to my TBR, we had dinner outside in the blissfully humidity-free atmosphere of Truckee as the sun set. It was a wonderful way to end our little vacation to Tahoe. (And the bookstore wasn’t bad either. 😉 )

Moral of the story: There’s always an oasis in a bookstore desert if you look hard enough! (Or if you’re crazy enough to force your family to drive long distances to get there.)