When most people hear the word “Reno,” they think of one of two things: gambling or divorce. While both are an integral part of the Nevada city’s history and identity, neither would seem to make for a particularly enjoyable family vacation.
But, it’s been 50 years since Reno began altering its reputation as America’s divorce capital and at least as long since locals started exploring Reno life beyond the gaming floor. During the past decade alone, development of downtown Reno has seen a shift from sprawling gaming complexes to smaller, mostly independent restaurants, shops and art houses. While gambling remains a key draw for visitors and natives, it’s far from the only show in town. Take a spin around downtown instead of on the roulette wheel. Here are some ideas.
1. Get wet: The Truckee River, which runs along First Street, has emerged as one of Reno’s greatest resources. The Truckee River Whitewater Park (First Street and Arlington Avenue) features 2,600 feet of class 2 and 3 rapids suitable for kayaks, canoes, inner tubes and other small watercraft. Wingfield Park, which encompasses the whitewater park as well as four other sites along the river, offers picnic shelters, barbecues, basketball courts, an amphitheater, pathways and swimming access. Some nearby shops such as Sierra Adventures) (254 W. First St.) rent and sell water gear and other equipment. Many restaurants and shops also line the so-called riverwalk.
2. Drink some coffee: Downtown Reno has quietly become home to more specialty coffee shops than the average piazza (square) in Italy! These include Dreamer’s Coffee House (17 S. Virginia St.), Se7en Teahouse and Bar (100 N. Arlington Ave.), Tahoe Roasting Co. (616 W. Fourth St.), Bibo Coffee Company (680 Mount Rose St. and 50 W. Liberty St.). The Java Jungle (246 W. First St.), and Pneumatic Diner (501 W. First St.)
3. Go to a concert: While downtown has been a notoriously tough area for small music venues, bars such as Se7en, the Satellite Cocktail Lounge, (188 California Ave.) and Tonic Lounge (231 W. Second St.) frequently host live music. Several small clubs have managed to hang on near the east end of Fourth Street, too. Most casinos also host live music that ranges from lounge crooners on the gaming floor to national acts in large show rooms. Also, the Reno Events Center (400 N. Center St.) and Lawlor Events Center (1500 N. Virginia St.,) host a variety of concerts and other shows.
4. Watch a game: The Reno Events Center is home to the Reno Bighorns, a National Basketball Association Development League team. Other local teams include the University of Nevada Wolf Pack and the Battle Born Derby Demons, a women’s roller derby team. Reno also is home to the National Bowling Stadium, which hosts the United States Bowling Congress Open Championships every three years, and is in the process of building a Triple-A baseball stadium (sierranevadastadium.com).
5. Have a drink: Among the scores of neighborhood bars, pubs and dives, several downtown Reno watering holes distinguish themselves. The Sierra Tap House(252 W. First St.) offers riverside seating and a wide selection of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. products in a Chicago-style setting. Jungle Vino (adjoined to the Java Jungle, see No. 2 above) proffers wines and elaborate mixed drinks in a wine bar setting. And the Silver Peak Brewery (124 Wonder St. and 135 N. Sierra St.) makes arguably the best beer in the state.
6. Bring something home: The new West Street Market (West Street is situated between First and Second streets) features several farmers markets and festivals, as well as a permanent bakery, wine bar, gift shops and restaurants. The Chocolate Bar (475 S. Arlington Ave.) sells high-end chocolates, truffles and beverages, as well as “small-plate” meals. Also, general souvenir shops are commonplace on West Street and in casinos, especially near the Reno Arch (Virginia Street between Second and Third streets).
7. Learn something: In addition to being a work of art in its own right, the Nevada Museum of Art (160 W. Liberty Street) features rotating and permanent exhibits in many media. The Wilbur D. May Center (1595 N. Sierra St.) houses a museum of stuffed, exotic animals and artifacts, an arboretum, and Great Basin Adventure – a semi-educational, semi-recreational amusement park. Nearby, the University of Nevada, Reno, (1664 N. Virginia St.) recently opened a stunning new student union and a multimillion-dollar library.
8. Read something: The Reno Gazette-Journal newspaper is available throughout downtown, but visitors should keep an eye out for the Reno News and Review, a free weekly publication with extensive listings of local events and activities. Sundance Bookstore (1155 W. Fourth St.), Dharma Books (11 N. Sierra St.) and the University of Nevada bookstore all offer books of local and national interest.
9. Take in a performance: The Bruka Theatre (99 N. Virginia St.) and the Pioneer Center (100 S. Virginia St) feature live performances ranging from children’s plays to existential drama and opera. The Nevada Museum of Art (see No. 7 above) sometimes hosts live performances as well. And the Century Riverside 12 (11 N. Sierra St., the same building as Dharma Books) is a standard movie theater that occasionally offers independent movies along with the blockbusters.
10. Take a walk: Though it is certainly possible to find ugly settings in Reno (visitors are advised not to wander too far east of downtown without a destination in mind), the riverfront is quite an attractive place to walk year-round. In the summer, children splash in the river while their parents lounge in one of the many parks or sip coffee on cafe patios. In the winter, glittering lights are strung from bridges and trees and people crowd the Rink on the River (near First and Virginia streets; varies seasonally). Annual events such as Hot August Nights and Street Vibrations routinely attract thousands of people from across the country.
Simply stated, today’s Reno is a far cry from the divorce ranches and smoke-filled gambling parlors of old.