Known for its neon lights, Old Western heritage and slot machines, over the last decade Reno has been quietly reinventing itself from “the other Nevada gambling destination that isn’t Vegas” to one that lives up to its famed slogan of The Biggest Little City in the World.
Today Reno is still home to its share of casinos, should you want to try your luck, and its Old West roots are alive and kicking but it is also adding fine dining, a burgeoning art scene -- including Burning Man installations -- and non-casino lodging to its why-you-should visit hand of cards.
Reno is also a gateway to Lake Tahoe, less than an hour away, which in winter is a top ski destination and in summer attracts kayakers, SUP boarders, boaters and sun seekers. Here is why you should spend a weekend exploring Reno.
What to Do
There is also plenty to experience in Reno itself. First stop for most people is the Reno Arch, a city landmark on Virginia Street at Commercial Street downtown. The sign and arch seen today is actually the third incarnation or the original and now one of two arches in Reno.
The original arch and sign was created to celebrate the completion of America’s first coast-to-coast motor routes in the 1926. Its original sign promoted the Nevada Transcontinental Highways Exposition held in Reno in 1927. Following that event, however, a contest was held to determine a new sign since the expo was over. A man from Sacramento won $100 for his slogan, “Reno, The Biggest Little City in the World.”
This arch remained on display until the 1960s when it was torn down for a new look sign that changed again in 2018 to what is seen today. The original arch was preserved, however, and now its steel gliders straddle Lake Street between the National Automobile Museum and the Renaissance Hotel.
If street art is of interest, the city is home to a number of art installations originally made for Burning Man, which is held in the desert about 100 miles away. City Plaza downtown hosts two installations from Black Rock City. Here you’ll find BELIEVE and Space Whale. There are many other former Burning Man installations as well as sculptures from local artists around the city including in the Neon Line District. Explore on foot or rent a bicycle.
Reno’s mural scene is also popping with works of art on seemingly every block. The Downtown and Midtown areas are home to more than 100 murals created by local, national and international artists.
Other attractions include the National Automobile Museum, which has one of the best vintage car collection in the world. Here you view more than 200 vehicles form the 19th and 20th centuries. For arts and culture you’ll also want to pay a visit to the Nevada Museum of Art. It has a permanent collection and rotating temporary exhibits as well as a lovely gift shop.
What to Do Around Reno
Lake Tahoe is one of the biggest attractions of course and you can explore both the California and Nevada sides from Reno. Lake Tahoe is split into North and South sides. The North Side is only about 45 minutes from Reno. You can drive the entire 72 miles around the lake, but we recommend at least doing the portion starting and Incline Village in the north and drive south along the east shore to Zephyr Cove. This portion of the drive is a National Scenic Byway.
If the wind isn't blowing too hard and you are visiting in spring, summer or fall then book a tour on the lake itself with Clearly Tahoe. They'll take you out on the clear turquoise waters of this lake in a completely transparent kayak.
For winter sports head to Mt. Rose - Ski Tahoe. At 8,260 feet the resort on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe has the highest base elevation in the area. Just a 25 minute drive from downtown Reno and 10-minutes from the buzzing Incline Village area it has convenient slope-side parking lots, which is rare for Tahoe ski resorts. Mt. Rose’s elevation makes its snow conditions some of the best in the Sierra Nevada’s. It has more than 60 trails with the longest run clocking in at 2.5 miles. The terrain breakdown is 20% beginner, 30% intermediate and 50% advanced and expert.
Where to Eat
Most of the best restaurants are found in Reno’s Riverwalk District, which runs along the Truckee River that flows through downtown. Here you’ll also find unique boutiques, bars and theaters. Wild River Grille is located right next to the Truckee River and has a dog friendly patio in summer. It offers different lunch and dinner menus but the focus is on gourmet takes on American fare. The dinner menu includes steak and chop options as well as seafood selections from an Idaho Trout Almodine to a spicy shrimp pasta.
Liberty Food & Wine Exchange is another good choice. It focuses on hand-crafted, sharable plates that showcase regionally sourced ingredients fused with international flavors. The artisan eatery doubles as a wine bar and also has a market onsite.
For Mexico City inspired street tacos and everything mezcal head straight to Estella Tacos y Mezcal at The Jesse hotel, which is cooking up some of the most creative fare in Reno. The menu is short but everything is delicious. Whatever you do, don’t skip the homemade bean dip, guacamole and chips. The carnitas, chicken chirmol and al pastor tacos are also house favorites.
Peg’s Glorified Ham n Eggs is where to go for breakfast downtown. The local favorite has an extensive menu of breakfast favorites.
Where to Sleep in Reno
The Renaissance Reno Downtown Hotel is one of the best luxury properties in town. Located on South Lake Street next to the original Reno sign and with the new sign visible from some rooms, it has great views of downtown and the river.
Rooms and suites are really spacious with large windows and super comfy beds. The hotel has an art focus throughout including awesome wallpaper murals of old Reno photos. If you are traveling with a dog, it is pup friendly.
Its onsite restaurant, The Shore Room, is excellent. It serves a Mediterranean-inspired menu in casual fine dining environs and is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Room service is also offered.
Also make sure to book an appointment at The Refuge Spa onsite. A proper day spa it offers a full range of treatments and amenities. The Refresh Facial is really a refreshing experience and includes cleansing, exfoliation, extractions with neck, shoulder and head massages in between steps. The spa also has a float tank, all sorts of massage treatments and an infrared sauna. In summer, there is a rooftop swimming pool accessible from the spa that is open to all hotel guests.