Known as the “Biggest Little City in the World,” Reno is just a 45-minute drive from Lake Tahoe and is bustling with art, food & adventure.
Yes, we’ve heard the jokes: “Reno is so close to hell you can see Sparks!” Whether it’s the Muppets, Johnny Cash, or Comedy Central, Reno has often been the target for a good punch line. But trust us and don’t laugh Reno off so quickly on your mountain vacation. Situated at the crossroads of Burning Man and the tech industry, with a view of the snow-capped mountains behind the neon lights, Reno has a surprising amount of vision, passion, and creativity brewing within its city limits. If you’re looking for art, nightlife, and eclectic food to mix up your mountain vacation, a 45-minute drive is a quick trip to immerse yourself in a bustling city of the high desert. And please, don’t head straight to the Black Jack table. Reno has a lot going for it—that’s part of the reason why companies like Tesla and Patagonia chose this city to set up operations. With a bustling foodie and nightlife scene, street art, and a small urban hub that’s truly walkable, Reno lives up to its name as the Biggest Little City.
Head Downstream to the Riverwalk District
Follow the snowmelt from the Sierra Crest all the way to Reno’s Riverwalk District, where the Truckee River flows through the heart of the city. Here, baskets of flowers adorn footbridges and flat stones offer a seat to soak in sunlight and watch the water rushing by. Upriver, a fly fisher may be casting their rod. Or, you might see a kayaker cresting a whitewater wave. All this just a block or two away from the casinos.
The Riverwalk District is Reno’s historical center, where the city first bloomed a century ago and continues to thrive today. Located between Arlington and Lake Streets, dozens of shops, restaurants, and bars are located on both sides of the Truckee River, including the movie theater. This neighborhood is a great place to grab a bite and watch a flick after. Try Liberty Food & Wine Exchange, a hip place from Reno-Tahoe restaurateur Mark Estee, for wood-fired pizzas, cured meats, pasta, and a great wine selection. Go to Thali for homemade, vegetarian Indian food and Kwok’s Bistro to satisfy a craving for Chinese. Not feeling the movie lineup? Test your lumberjack skills at the axe-throwing bar. The Eddy, an outdoor bar with lawn games, is another great spot for warm evenings.
Art, Art, More Art
Reno is one of the last stops on the road to Burning Man, and absolutely, the playa has an influence on the Biggest Little City. While the neon green and pink lights from the casinos are sure to grab your attention as you drive down the hill from Palisades and Alpine, a closer look reveals murals, sculptures, and art installations on almost every corner. Grab a bicycle or head on an art walk to see more than 70 murals painted in Reno’s Midtown District. Don’t skip the murals downtown, either. A glance up an alleyway between casinos will likely reveal a gem of color and beauty.
Many of Burning Man’s art installations have found a longer-lasting home in Reno in the Playa Art Park, like an installation of human-sized letters that spell the word “Believe.” This one feels like a testament to Reno’s persistence and optimism.
Feeling inspired, yet? Keep that going with a stop at the Nevada Art Museum. Founded in 1931, the museum is known for exhibits that transect art with realms of technology, feminism, and natural environments. Or step inside the Stremmel Gallery, with a fine art collection for a more accurate depiction of the culture here than anything you’d watch on Reno 911. Looking for a family-friendly option? Head to the Discovery Museum, where kids can learn about art, science, math, engineering, and technology through hands-on experiences.
Where the Wild West Meets the Mountains
Maybe it’s the heat, but Reno comes alive in the summertime with a calendar full of family-friendly events. With everything from bull riding to mutton bustin’, the Reno Rodeo is an annual event in June and celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2020. July is Artown, a month-long community arts festival with free concerts, movies in the park, and many other opportunities to both enjoy and participate in the arts. Next, the city revs up for Hot August Nights, a festival devoted to classic cars and rock ’n’ roll.
Reno’s New Vices Are in Midtown
It used to be that you got married in Vegas and divorced in Reno, cementing a reputation for vices alongside the gambling and the brothels. This city has always had a soft spot for mischief and it still is a place to indulge with no shortage of craft cocktail bars, breweries, and eating establishments.
Need a morning fix? Grab a coffee from third-wave roaster Old World Coffee Co. and head across the street to browse novels and magazines at Sundance Books, housed in an old Victorian mansion. Music aficionados shouldn’t miss Recycled Records, with a collection circa 1984 that will make audiophiles swoon. Another time machine is Junkees Clothing Exchange. Not just a place to get your next Burning Man outfit, Junkies’ collection of vintage pyrex dishes and other houseware is reminiscent of your grandmother’s attic.
Is it time for après yet? For a glass of Burgundy, visit the friendly folks at Craft Beer and Wine, an establishment beloved by locals. Or pull up a barstool at Piñon Bottle Company, with a large selection of craft brews from around the region. Located on Center Street in Midtown, Piñon is surrounded by restaurants of all kinds. Next door, Noble Pie serves up pizza. Upstairs, Arario has a great bibimbop bowl among other Korean dishes. Across the street, Midtown Eats is classic American fare with salads, burgers, seafood, and a full bar. But definitely, do not overlook the Taco Shop in the white building with pink doors. It’s cheap, it’s delicious, and it’s family-owned and operated.
Wrap up the evening with your pick of craft cocktail bars or breweries. Death & Taxes serves spirits in crystal glasses inside an old Reno home with two front doors—a remnant from Old Reno. (To house couples looking for a quickie divorce, Reno built homes with separate entrances.) Brasserie St. James has award-winning Belgians and farmhouse-style ales. For a Negroni, go to Amari. For a Mai Tai, go to Rum Sugar Lime.
Only now, after you’ve experienced the art, the museums, the shopping, the eating, and the drinking that Reno has on tap, are you allowed to go to that Black Jack table. The casinos are open 24-7. If you plan on spending the night, we recommend checking in at the Atlantis Casino Resort Spa. The Atlantis has all the slots, tables, and poker you could ask for plus a deluxe spa, fitness center, and fine dining all under one roof.