Food52 Life

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

August  6, 2015

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.

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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

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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I eat everything.


nina September 13, 2015
This was such a great resource for my recent visit to Reno. I also loved Sundance Books and Heritage Restaurant that is part of Victory Point Hotel!
Millie M. August 11, 2015
What about Campo on the river? Or Brasserie St. James on Center which has some of the best pub food in town. And for an old Reno staple, there's always Johnny's on 4th St. Great classic cocktails and one of the best Caesar Salads in town. Very enjoyable just to have light dinner and a cocktail in the bar.
James August 11, 2015
In my opinion, if you eat in only one restaurant and have only one cocktail in Reno, it should be dinner and a picon punch at Louis Basque Corner. A true Reno institution.
Seth P. August 10, 2015
You forgot to mention one of the best recreation activities available in Reno. Mountain Biking! Peavine single track has exploded over the past 5 years with a vast amount of great trails and then you have Tahoe to Downieville all world class areas to ride.
Ali August 10, 2015
Sierra water gardens off Dickerson street is the best kept secret of all of Reno. Tucked away and totally out of nowhere you are in a magical Escape of greenery and tranquillity. Succulents and ponds- the river is on the back end with horse shoes. also BYOB concerts every other Friday! Best, the absolute best.
Debbie K. August 10, 2015
Next to University at Reno is the Navada Historical Society Museum, looks like nothing but inside a wealth of amazing artifacts.
Mary L. August 10, 2015
Reno Air Races, Squeeze In, and most definitely, the clouds...
Cindy E. August 10, 2015
Love this!! I went to college in Reno, met my husband there, and got married there (at Lavender Ridge). We live in Portland now, but visit a few times a year. It's so close to Tahoe and the restaurants seem to just be getting better and better. Most of my family and friends are still there, so I love visiting. We always have brunch at Stonehouse and get donuts from Doughboys. Our last visit we discovered Coffee Bar and were so pleased!
John L. August 10, 2015
Don't forget about Noble Pie Parlor. Best wings and pizza in the Reno area open to the wee hours of the morning.
Rebecca C. August 10, 2015
Shakespeare on the Lake is a favorite. And the spa at the Atlantis is wonderful!! Also Campo, Sup, Rubicon Deli, Rounds Bakery....
Terrilyn M. August 9, 2015
Shopping! The shops in Midtown are incredible! Junkee Clothing Exchange, The Chocolate Walrus, Polyester's, Dress Me Up, Dollhouse, Clothes Mentor, Plato's Closet, and the newly opened Timeless Fashion Consignment Shop & Bridal Salon.
T August 8, 2015
Also see this article...
Kristine H. August 8, 2015
Great article! I'm staying in Reno next week for a night and can't wait to check some of these places out. Is there a hotel or area you'd recommend staying in?
T August 8, 2015
Whitney Peak is a great place. They have a great restaurant too, Heritage.
Diana K. August 7, 2015
<3 Thank you for the Reno love! Tahoe isn't 20 minutes away, it's about 45, so lunch break skiing is harder than that buuuuut it has been wonderful to drive up to it on a whim for years and years. I moved away 5 years ago but still love a good Reno visit!
Leslie S. August 7, 2015
I guess it depends what part of the city you're in! I was able to at least once a day—but I lived in South Reno which is definitely closer to Tahoe/Mt. Rose than other parts!
Dan M. August 7, 2015
One of the best places to get breakfast in Reno is Peg's Glorified Ham and Eggs. Unless you get there early there is usually a wait during the weekends but it is totally worth it.
Leslie S. August 7, 2015
Yes! Their wedge salad is delicious. There's also one in South Reno that has a shorter wait!
dymnyno August 7, 2015
Love parents were married there...Secret Harbour...KWNZ was our radio station...
dymnyno August 7, 2015
(we owned it)
Leslie S. August 7, 2015
How great! Where is secret harbor? My favorite beach in Tahoe is Chimney. And you most know Tom Quinn then!
dymnyno August 7, 2015

Secret Harbor,(south of Chimney) surrounded by Tahoe National Forest was a private enclave whose members included San Francisco socialites like the Theriots and others. It was a fancy campground with a dock, boathouse, on premise caretaker and a clubhouse designed by Julia Morgan,
Leslie S. August 7, 2015
Oh yes! I know exactly where that is!
TheWimpyVegetarian August 6, 2015
Really nice article! We live part of the year at Tahoe and go over to Reno fairly regularly. I admit we're still getting to know. I now have a nice list of things to explore. Thanks! Is the Truckee running in Reno? I know they've closed the damn up here at Tahoe as the Lake levels are low.
Leslie S. August 7, 2015
Unfortunately the Truckee is running at extremely low levels this year and may not be open this summer I just learned! But luckily you have plenty of other places to explore—I hope you enjoy! Head up to Fallen Leaf lake above Tahoe if you haven't already been—one of my favorite spots!
boulangere August 6, 2015
I love visiting the son and daughter-in-law, who live there. Hiking and mountain biking opportunities are abundant and never far away. I love The Stone House and The Old Granite Street Eatery (I met Sir Patrick Stewart there last winter). Compass is lovely, too; its beautiful patio overlooks the Riverwalk. Reno also has an active home-brewing community, in which my son participates; all are very generous with their experiences and information.
Tee I. August 6, 2015
Thanks for the Reno love, Leslie! While I'd love it if we could claim an exclusive on lenticulars, they do occur in lots of other mountain climates. We just happen to (lucky us) get a lot of them.
AntoniaJames August 6, 2015
Interesting! How does that 4,400+ foot elevation affect baking there? Does it give you grief? ;o)
Leslie S. August 6, 2015
Yes! I think it's actually the reason I don't bake now—I never quite figured it out (see this article:! Baking cookies always ended in heartbreak.
dymnyno August 7, 2015
Helen, I actually also have a house in Sun Valley Idaho at 5600 feet...yes a challenge that becomes a daily reality.