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Why Reno is the Best City You've Never Been To

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Do you like swimming at 8200 feet? Drinking beer outside? Ballparks that encourage picnicking? You should go to the biggest little city in the world.

Photo courtesy of RenoTahoe, via Flickr

A quick quiz (answer yes or no):

  1. Do you think Reno 911 is an accurate portrayal of the city of Reno?
  2. Is Reno that place where you once drank too much and got married at the drive-through chapel?
  3. Did you once visit Reno for a volleyball or bowling tournament and stay in a hotel downtown?
  4. Is your only perception of Reno from this movie, this show, or this song?
  5. Is Reno the city you drive through to get to Lake Tahoe?
  6. Do you think Reno is a day trip from Las Vegas?
  7. Are you vaguely aware of Reno's motto, despite never having visited?

If you answered "Yes" to any of the previous questions, this article is for you. (If not, you must be from Reno, so read on anyways, then let me know your favorite spots in the comments!)

Photo courtesy of Sky Island, via Flickr

It's easy to make fun of Reno. People who have never visited think it's Vegas's podunk alternative, and those who live there had to laugh when an ad campaign referred to it as "The New Brooklyn." But Reno falls somewhere in between its stereotypes: No, the policemen and women don't wear short-shorts; yes, Reno has a burgeoning hipster and craft beer culture.

Here are a few Reno facts for you non-believers: It's not unusual for people to spend their lunch breaks skiing, Lake Tahoe is 20 minutes away, it gets all four seasons without any being too harsh (none of this; more of this), and it's beautiful—there are cloud formations in Reno that don't exist anywhere else in the world. Even after high-tailing it to the East Coast as fast as I could after nearly ten years living there, Reno remains one of my favorite places. Nowhere else is there such a vast array of things to do. Don't believe me? Here are some of my favorite places and things to do in the biggest little city in the world: 

Midtown Eats is a great place for lunch or dinner. (Photo courtesy of RenoTahoe, via Flickr)

Places to eat:

  • Midtown Eats: It can be challenging to get a table at this tiny, rustic, neo-farmhouse restaurant, but it's well worth the wait. The tempura okra is a must.
  • Old Granite Street Eatery: A beautiful restaurant tucked into a side street in downtown Reno, this is a great place to get a ton of starters and share them with the table—just make sure you order the Devils on Horseback.
  • Stone House Café: Set in a beautiful 1900s home in Southwest Reno, it's the perfect place to meet friends for brunch.
  • Höma'ge Bakery: Go (early) for the almond croissants, bring a book, and stay for the cozy couches and outdoor eating area.

Places to get a drink (including coffee):

  • Chapel Tavern: Set off of a busy thoroughfare in midtown, it's just the place to grab a craft cocktail (just ask the bartender to make you his or her favorite) and a spot on the wooden outdoor patio.
  • The Depot: Head to this brewery-distillery—in an old drain depot in downtown Reno—for a beer or gin-based cocktail and some snacks.
  • St. James Infirmary: Named after the classic blues song, the Infirmary in midtown is a brewery-gastropub with a rooftop deck and patio that makes for an ideal spot for a daytime or summer night drink.
  • Public House: If you're from Reno, Public House is a good place to go if you want to run into every single person you know. If you don't live in Reno, it's a great place to order a craft beer off of their extensive menu. 
  • Under the Rose Brewing Company: Stop by on Thursdays at this large, warehouse-y brewery along the Truckee River for a beer and a bite from the food trucks parked outside.
  • Death and Taxes: This dark, cocktail-slinging speakeasy in midtown impressed even my jaded, Los Angeles-based brother. Grab a drink and have a conversation at the bar, or bring a date and settle into the couches in the corner.
  • Hub Coffee Roasters: If you're looking for a pick-me-up, walk along the river downtown to this local favorite, which has plenty of outdoor seating—and bike racks if you've just come in from a ride.
  • Bibo Coffee Company: South Reno is very residential, and you won't find much there that isn't a chain, but this coffee shop—which has amazing chai lattes—is tucked into a cluster of independent wine and cheese shops, including an artisanal olive oil shop next door.
Photo courtesy of Doug Jones, via Flickr

 Things to do in the summer:

  • Go out on the Truckee River: The sole outlet of Lake Tahoe, the river runs from the lake through the middle of downtown. Grab an inner tube and a case of beer and cruise downstream, or exit at Farad off of the I-80 and go cliff jumping into the river. Or, stay in Reno and run a kayak or surfboard (it's been done) through the urban kayak course downtown.
  • Visit Virginia City: Tucked into the mountains surrounding Reno, "ol' Virginie" is no longer the thriving mining town (or home to Mark Twain) it once was, but its main street still resembles the wild west. Get a beer at the Bucket of Blood Saloon, see the notorious Suicide Table, or have a chat with Stinky, a roaming character actor. If you're there in September, you can catch the International Camel and Ostrich Races, which Director John Huston started reportedly out of desperation while waiting endlessly for Marilyn Monroe to show up on set for "The Misfits" with Clark Gable.
Left: The Great Reno Balloon Race (photo courtesy of Trevor Bexon, via Flickr); Right: Viriginia City (photo courtesy of Thomas Hawk, via Flickr)

  • Go to Dawn Patrol at the Balloon Races: If you're in Reno in September and comfortable with an early morning, head out to the Great Reno Balloon Race at 5 A.M. to watch the balloons do a light show against the night sky—pajamas welcome.
  • Go to the Reno Rodeo: If you're in Reno in June, make sure you go to the "wildest, richest rodeo in the west," which is actually the fourth-largest rodeo in the country. Grab some grilled corn and beer at the fair, then make sure you catch the barrel racing and bull riding.
  • Go swimming on top of a mountain: During the summer, the Tahoe ski resort Squaw Valley opens a pool at the top of the mountain at 8,200 feet.
  • Catch a ball game: Reno's minor league team, the Aces is in a brand-new ballpark downtown that has a grass field on one side so you can pack a picnic, put down a blanket, and watch the game.
  • Go for a hike: If you're downtown, take the Hunter Creek Trail to the waterfall at the end, or head south and hike up the Thomas Creek Trail to Dry Pond, which has one of my favorite views of the city.
Left: The view from the top of a run at Mt. Rose; Right: The top of Upper Thomas Creek trail, with a view of Mt. Rose

Things to do in the winter:

  • Ski at Mt. Rose (or Tahoe): One of the most amazing things about Reno is how close it is to ski mountains. Mt. Rose is a local favorite and is a 15 minute drive from south Reno. If you're an expert skiier, take the Chutes, a set of Double-Black Diamonds on the northern side of the mountain (and if you only do one, do Beehive).
  • Go sledding: If vertical drops aren't your thing, grab a sled and head over to the Meadows, a sledding area just on the other side of Mt. Rose that has views of Tahoe—and access to the Rim Trail if you're snowshoeing. 

 See all of our picks on the map below. Where do you love to go in Reno? Did we convince you to visit? Leave your suggestions for us in the comments! 

Top photo by Sky Island; photo of arch by RenoTahoe; photo of Truckee River by Doug Jones; photo of balloon race by Trevor Bexon; photo of Virginia City by Thomas Hawk; final photos by Leslie Stephens

Fact checking by Nathan Chellman

Tags: reno, nevada, northern nevada, travel