When most people hear the word “Reno,” they think of one of two things: gambling or divorce. While both are an integral part of Nevada City’s history and identity, neither seems like a place for a particularly enjoyable family vacation.
But, it’s been 50 years since Reno began to alter its reputation as America’s divorce capital and at least that long since locals began exploring Reno’s life beyond the arcade. Over the past decade alone, downtown Reno’s development has seen a shift from sprawling gaming complexes to smaller, mostly freestanding restaurants, shops, and art houses. While the game remains a key draw for visitors and natives, it is far from the only show in town. Take a spin downtown instead of on the roulette wheel. Here are some ideas.
1. Get wet: The Truckee River, which runs along First Street, has become one of Reno’s greatest resources. 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 boats. Wingfield Park, which encompasses the whitewater park as well as four other sites along the river, offers picnic shelters, grills, basketball courts, an amphitheater, trails, and swimming access. Some nearby stores, such as Sierra Adventures) (254 W. First St.) rent and sell water and other equipment. Many restaurants and shops also line the so-called river walk.
2. Drink some coffee: Downtown Reno has 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 difficult area for small music venues, bars like Se7en, Satellite Cocktail Lounge, (188 California Ave.) and Tonic Lounge (231 W. Second St .) frequently offer live music performances. Several small clubs have also managed to stay close to the east end of Fourth Street. Most casinos also offer live music ranging from lounge singers in the game room to national acts in large performance venues. Additionally, the Reno Events Center (400 N. Center St.) and Lawlor Events Center (1500 N. Virginia St.) host a variety of concerts and other performances.
4. Watch a game: The Reno Events Center is home to the Reno Bighorns, a team of the Development League of the National Basketball Association. Other local teams include the University of Nevada Wolf Pack and the Battle Born Derby Demons, a women’s roller derby team. Reno is also 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 many bars, pubs and clubs in the area, there are several watering holes in downtown Reno. 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 (adjacent to Java Jungle, see number 2 above) offers wines and beverages made in a wine bar setting. And Silver Peak Brewery (124 Wonder St. and 135 N. Sierra St.) makes arguably the best beer in the state.
6. Take something home: The new West Street Market (West Street is located 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, souvenir shops in general are common on West Street and in casinos, especially near 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 mediums. The Wilbur D. May Center (1595 N. Sierra St.) houses a museum of exotic animals and stuffed artifacts, an arboretum, and Great Basin Adventure, a semi-disciplinary and semi-recreational amusement park. Nearby, the University of Nevada, Reno, (1664 N. Virginia St.) recently opened an amazing new student union and multi-million dollar library.
8. Read Something: The Reno Gazette-Journal is available downtown, but visitors should keep an eye out for Reno News and Review, a free weekly publication with extensive lists of local events and activities. Sundance Bookstore (1155 W. Fourth St.), Dharma Books (11 N. Sierra St.), and the University of Nevada Bookstore offer books of local and national interest.
9. Catch a performance: The Bruka Theater (99 N. Virginia St.) and the Pioneer Center (100 S. Virginia St) feature live performances ranging from children’s plays to existential theater and opera. The Nevada Museum of Art (see number 7 above) sometimes hosts live performances as well. And Century Riverside 12 (11 N. Sierra St., the same building as Dharma Books) is a standard theater that occasionally features independent films alongside blockbusters.
10. Take a stroll: While it is certainly possible to find unpleasant settings in Reno (visitors are advised not to stray too far east of the city center without having a destination in mind), the riverside is quite an attractive place. to walk all year round. In the summer, children splash in the river while their parents relax in one of the many parks or have coffee in the courtyard of the cafes. In the winter, bright lights are strung from bridges and trees and people crowd the river track (near First and Virginia streets; varies by season). Annual events like Hot August Nights and Street Vibrations regularly attract thousands of people from across the country.
Simply put, the Reno of today is a far cry from the divorce ranches and smoke-filled gambling halls of yesteryear.