Spend a Lively Weekend in Historic Virginia City, Nevada

The Old West is alive and well in a charming pioneer town outside of Reno.

Mackay Mansion in Virginia City, Nevada, an old mining town.
Mackay Mansion in Virginia City, Nevada.
Courtesy Visit Virginia City

Flush with gold and silver from the 1859 discovery of the Comstock Lode, Virginia City once boasted 100-plus saloons, one for every 30 inhabitants. You can still wet your whistle in this rollicking slice of the Old West 20 miles outside Reno, and you’ll also encounter Victorian buildings, an old-time railroad, and a local fondness for such oddities as camel races.

Four-mile excursions on the Virginia & Truckee Railroad depart the 1870 depot and snake through a high desert landscape that includes Gold Hill, where the Comstock era began. Trains are pulled by a vintage steam or diesel locomotive.

In a handsome redbrick space, the Roasting House serves a gold rush waffle (topped with peanut butter, walnuts, and honey), sandwiches, and other fare.

The Historic Fourth Ward School museum hosts an exhibit of period clothes, such as a lady’s feathered hat, and devotes a room to a then-unknown, local 1860s journalist named Mark Twain. You can tug the rope to ring the 1876 school bell.

Western wear meets steampunk garb at the Old Red Garter, a shop stocked with more than 2,000 Stetsons and other hats, red leather cowboy boots, and Victorian-style women’s gowns, complete with bustles.

People ride camels in the International Camel Races in Virginia City, Nevada.
People compete in the International Camel Races in Virginia City, Nevada.
Bad Dog Photography

During the annual Virginia City International Camel & Ostrich Races, held in September of every year, jockeys on humped or feathered beasts scramble around a track accompanied by banjo and harmonica music—and raucous laughter from the stands. Zebras race, too.

Get a fascinating, up close look at mining during tours of the historic Chollar Mine. Led by a guide, participants walk along a tunnel dug deep into a hill and shored with massive timbers, then end up in a chamber 100 feet below ground.

At the Cider Factory, a charming restaurant in a rustic 19th-century cider factory, the sophisticated seasonal dinner menu may include marinated, pan-roasted duck breast.

Peruse treasures at the Comstock Rock Shop, such as sparkling amethyst geodes, inlaid soapstone boxes, American Indian arrowheads, and dangly semiprecious stone earrings. 20 South C St., (775) 847-0383.


This article was first published in September 2014 and updated in February 2019.