Reno, Nevada might bill itself as “the biggest little city in the world,” but the metropolis that sits less than a four-hour drive from the San Francisco Bay Area has a downtown that gets bigger and better every year. Autumn is a great time to visit, once the air is crisp but before the snow. Here are some of the best ways to spend your trip.
Things to Do and See in Downtown Reno and the Riverwalk
Reno is the closest major metropolitan area to the annual Burning Man festival, which means the city is teeming with art from the Burn. The two most accessible pieces are on City Plaza. One, dubbed Space Whale, is a life-sized sculpture of a mother and baby humpback whale; it’s made of steel lattice and hand-painted stained glass. The other comprises 12-foot-tall rustic steel letters with bird cutouts that spell out BELIEVE.
The performing arts scene in Reno ranges from Broadway performances and orchestral ensembles to racy screenplays with challenging world views—all within a 5-minute walk. The Bruka Theater, on the corner of Virginia and First streets, is known for its eclectic shows and an intimate theater setting that has audiences sitting on the floor. The Pioneer, two blocks from the river on Virginia Street, is known more for local spins on classic Broadway. The Eldorado Showroom, inside a stretch of interconnected casinos called The Row, brings in world-traveling acts like its current show, "Cirque Paris," which ends Nov. 11, and “The Unbelievables,” which runs through New Years.
Looking to relax? The Spa at Silver Legacy opened in 2018 and offers massages, facials, waxing, a full-service salon, a fitness center, and a boutique retail area. The spa director created two signature scents that incorporate indigenous plants such as Russian sage, Jeffrey pine bark, white pine, desert peach, and roseberry; the scents are used in treatments and are available for sale as oils in the shop. There’s even a custom tea-pairing program by Davidson’s Teas. In addition to 12 treatment rooms, the 21,000-square-foot facility comprises relaxation lounges, a salt inhalation chamber, and hydrotherapy soaking tubs.
No visit to downtown Reno is complete without exploring the Riverwalk District. Take a stroll along the 1.5-mile Raymond I. Smith Truckee Riverwalk that flanks both sides of the river and connects downtown to Wingfield Park, an island that doubles as an outdoor venue for concerts and other events. The district is home to numerous art installations and murals, boutique shops, more than two dozen restaurants, and local brews.
Where to Eat and Drink in Downtown Reno
Chef Mark Estee is considered the father of slow food in Reno, and his flagship restaurant, Liberty Food & Wine Exchange, offers a glimpse into his world. The menu boasts dozens of small plates, including local beef sliders, duck confit polenta, Porchetta sandwiches, and gnocchi. Liberty also has an in-house butcher shop, bakery, production kitchen, and event space.
Beer lovers, take note: Reno has 10 craft breweries within a 5-mile radius of downtown. The Silver Peak Restaurant and Brewery was one of the first, and it still receives accolades for its malty Red Roadster. Pigeon Head Brewery, which opened in 2014, specializes in German-style lagers, but a range of seasonal beers are often available on tap. One of the newest additions to the local beer scene, The Eddy, is a beer garden ringed by old shipping containers. Backyard games such as cornhole and giant Jenga keep visitors entertained while different food trucks throughout the year delight. It also has space for local artists to show off their work.
Perhaps the best patio in all of Reno is at Wild River Grille, a sprawling restaurant that overlooks the Truckee River. The place is hopping during Happy Hour, during which drinks such as the raspberry lemon drop and the Wild River mule and bites such as the spicy Thai wings and crab-and-salmon cakes all are $7 or less. For dinner, if it's the menu that night, try the house meatloaf, a combination of portobello mushrooms, ground beef, and Italian sausage.
Where to Shop in Reno
Underground malls that comprise artisan shops, restaurants, and various retailers are the rage in Reno right now, and locals are flocking to two of them. West Street Market, a block from the river, is mostly bars and restaurants, including a wood-fired pizzeria, an Indian eatery, and a bar that specializes in kava. The Basement, located below the West Elm shop on the south side of the river, is more retail-oriented, and boasts a barber, chocolatier, coffee shop, and clothing boutiques.
Of course West Elm is a destination, too. In 2016 the home goods store opened a flagship location in the circa-1930s former U.S. Post Office building, becoming the first major retailer to come to Reno in more than 30 years. The building has Art Deco aluminum and glass stylings and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Even if you’re not shopping, the architecture is worth a visit.