Skip the Casinos in Reno

1. Where to Stay

Rooms at Peppermill Reno are subdued compared to the property's Vegas-style flamboyance.Photo: Courtesy of Peppermill Resort Hotel

Escape neon-lit downtown for a quiet retreat at Wildflower Village (from $30), an art-centric, overgrown complex in a residential neighborhood by the Truckee River. Home to several galleries and studios, a wedding chapel, a café, and a pub, the property also offers three types of nightly accommodations: hostel, studio apartment, and bed and breakfast, the latter being the nicest of the three. During your stay, you can sign up for painting classes led by working artists or rent a bike ($36/day) to pedal on the pleasant riverside path.

Opt for a central downtown location at the Eldorado (from $69), just a few blocks away from the revamped Riverwalk District. Though the neon-decked exterior and two-level fountain decorated with life-size mermen may seem gaudy, rooms are adorned in neutral palettes and many offer luxuries like Jacuzzis for a surprisingly low price. The food program here is excellent, with everything from butchering to baking to pasta-making to coffee-roasting done on-site to service Eldorado’s nine restaurants.

Get a taste of Vegas-style excess at Peppermill Reno (from $89), a sprawling resort with 1,000 rooms, a few 5,000-square-foot suites, two faux-Tuscan swimming pools with fountains, countless dining options, half a dozen casinos, and more. The rooms, spread across three buildings, come in nearly twenty different styles and many look out at the surrounding mountains. Its location near the convention center may not be as central as you’d like, but the property is newer than many of the older casino hotels downtown, and Enterprise offers rental cars on-site.

2. Where to Eat

Campo is one of the city's most celebrated restaurants.Photo: Courtesy of Campo

Make your own eclectic meal at the West Street Market, which offers outdoor communal seating and several restaurants to choose from. Bowl serves all of its dishes—kale salad, Moroccan meatballs, paella—in bowls ($12–$18), while Z Pie offers gourmet pot pies ($6.75–$7.95) stuffed with everything from Italian sausage to Thai chicken. No matter what your preference, this is an ideal option for dinner after the monthly Reno Wine Walk, which allows you to sample wines from more than a dozen merchants for $20.

Taste the city’s most lauded Italian food at Campo, housed in one of the riverside condo buildings anchoring the fast-improving downtown district. After earning a spot on Esquire’s 2012 list of best new restaurants, this popular spot continues to impress with its handmade pastas and wood-fired pizzas (made in an oven imported from Italy), including the Bee Sting ($15), which is topped with salami, Serrano peppers, and honey. The kitchen also turns whole hogs into all types of charcuterie, some of which is bound to show up in the four-course chef’s tasting menu ($50).

Tap into the local craft-beer scene at Brasserie Saint James, a brewpub in the burgeoning Midtown district. Choose from a selection of house-brewed varieties and imported bottles to pair with hearty plates of duck cassoulet ($18) or braised pork shoulder ($16). Reno averages 300 days of sunshine a year, which you can take advantage of with an outdoor meal in the beer garden or on the rooftop deck.

3. What to Do

Truckee River Whitewater Park sits in the middle of Reno.Photo: Courtesy of Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority

Explore downtown’s museums and galleries, for something more cultural. The burgeoning area near the Truckee River has several art galleries, including Gallery 3 and Saya Fine Art, and is home to the Nevada Museum of Art, housed in an impressive four-story building inspired by the spare landscape of the nearby Black Rock Desert (where Burning Man is held). The National Automobile Museum and Nevada Discovery Museum (for kids) are also nearby.

Ride the river in the middle of the city at Truckee River Whitewater Park, which boasts eleven drop pools in a half-mile course for kayaking and rafting. The banks of the river have been revamped into a riverwalk area made up of walkways on either side and five parks, where the less adventure-inclined can opt to simply go for a stroll or swim. Book your ride through Tahoe Whitewater Tours; if you’re experienced, you can rent an inflatable kayak ($12/hour) to tackle the 5.5-mile run from Mayberry Park to downtown Reno.

Leave the city for a bit to taste wines in the surrounding region. Churchill Vineyards in Fallon, an hour away, is a pioneer in Silver State viticulture that uses Nevada-grown grapes for its wines. Appointments are required, but it’s worth it for whites that are particularly crisp thanks to consistently warm days and cool nights. If you’re up for it, you can drive another hour and 40 minutes to Tahoe Ridge Winery, which is open daily for tastings and regularly wins awards for its California-style reds.

4. Insider’s Tip

JT Basque Bar & Dining Room is one of the few remaining Basque restaurants near Reno.Photo: Courtesy of JT Basque Bar & Dining Room

Starting in the Gold Rush era, northwestern Nevada attracted a large population of Basque immigrants, whose legacy chiefly lives on in a scattered collection of restaurants that serve hearty family-style meals. Diners choose an entree, like garlicky lamb chops, and an all-you-can-eat feast for the table appears: soup, salad, beans, French fries, bread, dessert and coffee, and even a bottle of wine—all for generally under 30 bucks a head. Reno proper is home toLouis’ Basque Corner and the Santa Fe Hotel, but for a true old-school experience, it’s worth the hourlong drive toJT Basque Bar & Dining Room in Gardnerville, which appears to have hardly changed since the Lekumberry family (which still runs the place) opened it in 1960.

5. Oddball Day

The V&T Railroad makes a quick trip to the ghost town of Silver City.Photo: Courtesy of V&T Railroad

Spend a day exploring some of western Nevada’s quirky local history. After fueling up with coffee and a pastry for the road at the excellent Hub Coffee Roasters, drive 40 minutes up into the mountains to the former mining town of Virginia City, whose “Big Bonanza” discovery in 1873 inspired the television show Bonanza. These days it’s touristy, yes, but main drag C Street offers some fun in the form of shooting galleries, old-timey photographers, and intriguing historic buildings including the 1876 four-story Fourth Ward School and Museum. (Since Mark Twain spent some time in town writing for the Territorial Enterprise newspaper in the 1860s, there’s a museum dedicated to the author as well.) For lunch, tuck into simple pizza, calzones, or sandwiches at the Red Dog Saloon, a tavern that was originally part of the Comstock Hotel, built in the 1870s, and now a favorite gathering spot for locals. Follow that with a ride on the scenic V&T Railroad ($9–$12), which makes a 35-minute trip to and from the ghost town of Silver City and passes incredible mountain landscapes on the way. When you need a break, be sure to sample a pickle-laced Bloody Mary at the historic Bucket of Blood Saloon. Have an early dinner at Core, a charming seasonal American restaurant run by a friendly young couple that opened over the summer. Afterward, see what’s playing at the Piper Opera House, which had its heyday beginning in Virginia City’s 1860s boom era and hosted national and international stars until it shuttered in 1920; it’s had various afterlives as a museum and theater since. At the end of the night, if you don’t want to drive back to Reno, grab a room at the cozy, circa-1875 B Street House Bed & Breakfast, known for its gourmet morning meals.

6. Links

Artown is the handiest guide for learning about local performances and art exhibitions.

Read up on all that the Reno Riverwalk District has to offer.

The official site for Reno and Lake Tahoe has comprehensive listings of all there is to see and do in the region.

Find more ideas for your Reno itinerary on Nevada’s official travel site.

Skip the Casinos in Reno