Reno, Nevada: Exploring the "Biggest Little City in the World"

There’s never been more to see and do in Reno.

More than its casinos, Reno has walkable neighborhoods, shopping opportunities, good food, and great art. 

Sundry Photography / Shutterstock

It’s time to re-know Reno, Nevada. Once recognized only for its casinos, the city at the foot of the Sierra Nevada has evolved during recent years into a true hotspot, offering a multitude of diversions and epicurean adventures for just about everyone. That the city is a four-hour drive from San Francisco makes it a perfect weekend getaway for Bay Area locals and visitors alike.

Just north of the Reno Arch, the Playa Art Park displays the best of Burning Man's installations each year. 


Things to Do and See

Thanks in part to the annual Burning Man Festival in the Nevada desert, Reno has established itself as a year-round destination for art. Perhaps the best spot to experience these pieces is the Playa Art Park in the heart of downtown just north of the famous Reno Arch. The park exhibits some of the hottest of the Burn every year and boasts about 10 pieces in all. In late October 2018 three new installations joined the mix: a sculpture of a towering head, a sculpture of a horse, and a scale model of the world’s oldest bristlecone pine tree. (For more art, hit the streets south of downtown for the Midtown Mural Tour.)

Downtown Reno is teeming with other diversions, from casinos to live music venues and the Riverwalk District. Museum lovers will appreciate the sports history on display at the International Bowling Museum & Hall of Fame, and a new exhibit at the Nevada Museum of Art spotlights local American Indian artist Jack Malotte and his Great Basin landscapes (through October 20, 2019). If you’re traveling with kids, the Terry Lee Wells Nevada Discovery Museum is a must, too—especially the three-story climbing structure. This museum offers $5 admission every Wednesday after 4 p.m.

The hottest Reno neighborhood as of late is Midtown, just south of the Truckee River downtown. Once a less popular part of town, the area now teems with street art, coffee shops, chic restaurants, tattoo parlors, and eclectic boutiques. Two bars that locals love: Rue Bourbon, a New Orleansthemed bar with gator bites, Hurricanes, and live music; and Rum Sugar Lime, an upscale spot that specializes in tropical rum drinks.

Considering Reno’s roost in the Sierra, there are no shortage of trails to hike and bike nearby. Locals love the Galena Creek Recreation Area, which adjoins Galena Creek Regional Park and is surrounded on three sides by the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. The open space is situated at the confluence of high desert and alpine ecosystems, which means the types of terrain—and activities—are diverse. In winter, escape the city with a 3-mile, out-and-back  snowshoe out on the Upper Thomas Creek Trail. In spring, wildflowers explode along the 9.2-mile Jones Whites Creek Loop.

Two Chicks, a Midtown brunch spot, has become one of the city's iconic eateries.


Where to Eat and Drink

Two Chicks, a bustling Midtown brunch spot started in 2014 by two female veterans of the local restaurant industry, has become one of the city’s iconic eateries. The menu features elevated comfort food such as giant omelets, sweet potato fries, and chicken-fried steak. The owners’ first partnership was a grilled cheese truck, so it’s a good idea to try one of the melts. The Wiseguy—with fontina cheese, salami, and artichoke hearts on sourdough—is a great place to start. Also worth sampling: the Bumble Brie, with sliced green apples, ham, local honey, and melted brie on cinnamon-apple bread.

Cocktail aficionados swear by Death & Taxes, a dark and dimly lit lounge that specializes in artisanal cocktails made with seasonal ingredients and house-made syrups and infusions. Mixologists here have been doing exceptional work with mezcal: The Henry Corrales, with serrano and limeinfused Peloton mezcal, Meyer lemon syrup, and lemon, sips like a margarita from heaven. For those who prefer brown liquor, the Bill & Ward—with Rittenhouse Rye, cocoa-infused Cappelletti, Cynar 70-proof amaro, Carpano dry, and house tobacco bitters—is smoky in a good way.

Reno has become a lively craft beer city, and the Brewery District, east of downtown, has many breweries worth exploring. Two of the best include Lead Dog, which offers unusual options such as peanut butter–chocolate stout, and Imbib, which specializes in sours. Another standout from this neighborhood is 10 Torr, where head brewer Melissa Test uses independently grown hops and malt and clarifies beer through a centrifuge to protect the aromas and flavor without adding chemical fining agents. (The folks at 10 Torr distill their own spirits, too.)

Explore 15,000 square feet of costumes, antique furniture, and more at Junkee Clothing Exchange.


Where to Shop

The Burning Man crowd has precipitated a quirky and eclectic shopping scene in Reno. Exhibit A: Midtown’s Junkee Clothing Exchange, a 15,000-square-foot space that peddles costumes, vintage clothing, antique furniture, and more. There’s so much packed into the aisles and racks here, you'll need at least two hours to make a dent. Owner Jessica Schneider is a bit of a local legend, having worked in Reno as an interior designer for more than 20 years before opening Junkee in 2008. Many credit her with kick-starting the resuscitation of the Midtown District as a whole.

Another odd-but-awesome spot is Natural Selection, a modern-day curiosity shop. This mother-and-daughter-owned natural history wonderland sells everything from exotic plants to bones, skulls, taxidermy, and preserved animal specimens, making it as much a museum as it is a functioning business. Some of the more unusual items on a recent visit included Venus flytraps, alligator heads, coyote claws, and a springbok skull plate. The shop also sells a host of books about gardening, taxidermy, and more.

Local pride runs deep at Reno eNVy, a downtown boutique on Sierra Street that sells t-shirts and other apparel with designs and slogans that express adoration for Nevada. The creatives behind the shop started as tent vendors at the Reno River Festival in 2005, and have grown steadily ever since. The group formed a parent company named Home Means Nevada Co. in 2017, and the outfit also runs a flagship store at the South Creek Retail Center in South Reno.

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