It endures labels such as “a poor man’s Las Vegas,” but one visit to Reno dispels such nonsense. Reno might not match Vegas’ glitz and star power, but it offers attractions unavailable near The Strip.
Reno resides on the edge of the Sierra Nevada range, with outstanding opportunities for alpine hiking, rock climbing and skiing. Nearby Lake Tahoe ranks among America’s most-photographed natural wonders. A preserved taste of the Old West lives in neighboring Virginia City.
The city’s 20 major casinos generate more than a half-billion dollars in annual revenue. Visitors find many opportunities to test their luck.
Beyond gaming, consider these 12 enticing Reno attractions. Some require a short drive, but most are in or near the city center.
Enjoy Reno’s Scenic Stretch of the Truckee River
Not many cities boast whitewater rapids flowing within sight of downtown high-rises. On either Truckee bank, an excellent system of paved trails connects with pedestrian bridges over the river. Eight city parks hug the shoreline.
Within steps of that shore is the Riverwalk District, a collection of more than 60 restaurants, shops, and other downtown tenants determined to bring foot traffic into Reno. Inexpensive city parking is available along this stretch.
During the summer, visitors swim, raft and kayak, with on-site rentals available. The Class 2 to 3 rapids are safe for novices and families to enjoy.
Experience Gorgeous Lake Tahoe
The northern shore of Lake Tahoe, about 40 miles from downtown Reno, is a bit more “off the beaten path” than the southern end, where high-rise resorts greet tourists and casino players. Lake Cruises depart from Zephyr Cove Resort. It costs less to rent a kayak for half the day, or plan a hiking excursion in adjacent state parks. Lake lovers don’t always agree on where to find the most photogenic overlook, but Inspiration Point in California’s Emerald Bay State Park is a popular choice for taking pictures.
Gear Up for Some World-Class Skiing
The Lake Tahoe region ranks among the best ski areas in the United States for two reasons: huge vertical drops and high elevations that rarely lack heavy winter snow. Mount Rose Ski Resort is about 25 miles south of Reno, while other famous slopes such as Squaw Valley require a longer trip. In all, greater Lake Tahoe offers 13 major resorts, 10 of which are on the Reno side of the lake.
Ride Into History at the National Automobile Museum
After gaming pioneer Bill Harrah died in 1978, Holiday Inn acquired his collection of 1,400 cars and all the accompanying research. Plans to sell the collection prompted much anger in the Reno area. In response, Holiday Inn donated 175 vehicles and Harrah’s research to create one of the nation’s top automobile museums.
It is possible to spend hours here examining all types of vehicles. Movie buffs will find James Dean’s 1949 Mercury coupe amid cars owned by Frank Sinatra, John F. Kennedy, and Lana Turner.
Venture Back into the Old West in Virginia City
Prospectors pursuing the Comstock Lode made Virginia City the biggest town between Denver and San Francisco in the months and years following the Civil War. Throughout its rich history, this place endured boom-and-bust cycles and lives today as a monument to the Old West. Wooden sidewalks connect buildings restored to original specs. Touristy kitsch is always at arm’s length, but visitors find an excellent walking tour that starts at the city’s welcome center.
The 25-mile drive south from Reno up to Virginia City’s mountain perch is an experience in itself. Take Highway 341 and experience sweeping views of the Sierra Nevada range and the city of Reno.
Take in Reno’s Special Events
Few cities of Reno’s size host a more robust selection of festivals and major public events. The 13 top annual events—known as The Iconics—include national championship air races, a hot-air balloon race, a classic car promenade called “Hot August Nights,” a professional rodeo, and even a Shakespeare festival staged on the Lake Tahoe shoreline.
Check the online schedule for scores of smaller events each month that cater to niche audiences. In November, for example, Reno hosts the Off Beat Music Festival, featuring unknown but promising musicians from a variety of genres.
Visit Injured and Orphaned Species at Animal Ark
Animal Ark wildlife sanctuary, about 25 miles north of downtown Reno, is not primarily a tourist attraction. It exists to provide “a safe haven for injured, abandoned and otherwise non-releasable wildlife.” However, visitors can observe this work from a mile-long trail. Docent-led tours are available, as are golf cart rentals for those unable to walk long distances. The “park closed” sign hangs from November to March, but occasional weekend openings occur during that time. Popular arrival times are 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. when staffers feed the bears.
Explore Downtown Street Art
Reno loves street art as evidenced by the many major works displayed across the downtown area. Artists arrive from around the world to create their masterpieces. Each year, the city sponsors a mural marathon competition staged on the side of the Circus Circus Hotel & Casino on Virginia St. ArtSpot Reno provides an online map for self-guided mural tours, and, during warmer months, docent-led tours.
Scale the World’s Largest Climbing Wall
The side of downtown Reno’s Whitney Peak Hotel boasts the world’s tallest artificial climbing wall, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. That 164-foot climb isn’t for everyone, so BaseCamp, the facility that administers this record-setter, also offers a 7,000-square-foot indoor bouldering park. BaseCamp caters mostly to Reno residents but offers day passes for visitors who want to test their climbing skills.
Go Interactive at Terry Lee Wells Discovery Museum
First opened in 2011, the place locals call The Discovery has become Reno’s interactive home for STEAM learning (science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics). It started as a children’s museum, and still caters to young audiences, but teenagers and adults also make interactive science discoveries in this learning lab. Visitors can walk through a detailed human anatomy exhibit, create their own original artworks, or use real tools and materials to invent simple machines.
Feast on Reno’s Burgeoning Restaurant Scene
It may be a surprise but Reno has an impressive food scene that just keeps getting better. In addition to great resort dining options, downtown Reno supports a growing collection of innovative eateries. Visitors will find enough must-try restaurants to enable new discoveries each day.
The Depot houses a craft brewery, a distillery, and an ambitious chef who creates unique in-house food items at moderate prices. The Brasserie St. James combines a brewery and a restaurant serving up a variety of inventive beers and pub fare while Too Soul Tea Company can compete with tea houses in London
Tour the Nevada Museum of Art
The exterior of this museum is an artistic statement itself, designed to mimic formations in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. Inside, the goal is “an ideal place for dynamic conversations about the ways that humans creatively interact with environments.” Collections focus on the work ethic in American art, an altered landscape photography section, a contemporary art area, and a fourth division reserved for art of the Greater West.