The 20 Best Things to do in Reno for First Timers
Reno is located in northwestern Nevada near the California border. It lays at the base of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and was a key stopping point for gold miners and western United States settlers in the mid to late nineteenth century. The city of Reno became a popular tourist destination during the early twentieth century because of its casino industry and pleasant semi-arid weather. It also became a stopping point for those seeking a divorce due to its liberal divorce laws during the early and mid twentieth century. Today Reno remains a popular tourist destination and is also home to many technology companies and data centers. The population is about 250,000 spread out over Reno’s 105 square miles. Downtown Reno is a popular tourist attraction and several areas were renovated during the past twenty years. Reno is just 22 miles from Lake Tahoe and is also near other popular tourist destinations including Virginia City and Carson City.
20. Aces Ball Park
Reno is home to the Pacific Coast League’s AAA minor league baseball team, the Reno Aces. The team began in 1969 as the Tucson Toros and became the Tucson Sidewinders in 1997 and finally the Reno Aces in 1998. Reno built the team a new ballpark in 2009. On land in downtown Reno that once was a dirt lot with a cheap motel and an old fire station, Ace Ball Park is now a 91,000 capacity ballpark with restaurants, food stands, beer gardens and luxury suites. The stadium connects to the Freight House District which was built at the same time.
19. Freight House District
The Freight House District was built independently but in correlation with Aces Ball Park in 2009. It’s a year round indoor entertainment district to enjoy before or after an Ace’s game or any other time. The building was once a railroad depot and became a storage facility for an art gallery before being renovated. It’s now filled with restaurants, bars and shops. The Freight House is filled with live music at night clubs including The Bluebird, LEX, 1 Up, Faces NV and Edge. The Freight House District is a fun place to take the family during the day and early evening and a vibrant nightspot on nights and weekends.
18. Hot Springs
The greater Reno area is well known for its hot springs. These natural geothermal underground pools attracted many visitors to the city during the late nineteenth century. Considered a great therapy treatment, bathhouses, spas and eventually hotels were built around the hot springs. While the Washoe Indians knew the importance of the springs’ healing and medicinal benefits, the hot springs attracted European emigranants, gold rush travelers and settlers. Dave Walley’s Resort was built at the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the city of Genoa in 1862. Today it is run by Holiday Inn and surrounds 5 hot springs. The resort has spacious guest rooms and suites and rustic decor. There is a swimming pool heated with geothermal groundwater. Guests enjoy soaking in the hot springs, gathering around an outdoor fire pit and dining at 1862 Restaurant where the views of the mountains are amazing. Another area resort, Carson City’s Carson Hot Springs also features hot springs, a pool, hot tubs and a patio as well as comfortable guest rooms. Guests of the resort enjoy dining at Sassafras Restaurant and drinks at Shoe Tree Brewery.
17. Original Virginia & Truckee Railroad
The original Virginia & Truckee Railroad continues to run in Virginia City but is now used for entertainment. Several special events are offered throughout the year. Each Labor Day weekend, the railroad line features a Civil War & Battle Event with the re-enactment of a famous Civil War battle in the area, a “Champaign Ride” on Saturday, and a parade on Labor Day. There are several family events including a train ride to a pumpkin patch, a Thomas the Train event complete with the popular blue Engine #1, and a ride on the “Candy Cane Express” in December.
16. Thunderbird Lodge
Thunderbird Lodge is a great place for visitors to Reno to unwind. Located in nearby Sparks, Nevada, the resort was founded in 1986 by Foster Mullen and has expanded to cities including Tahoe. The resort is located near Sparks Marina Park, the Sparks Heritage Museum, Victoria Square and several outlet shops. The resort features a full service spa offering massage and facial treatments. There is a fitness center and an outdoor heated pool as well as a whirlpool. Thunderbird Lodge is historically decorated and has 112 guest suites with kitchens. There is also an arcade for the kids and a 24 hour business center.
15. Peavine Peak
Peavine Peak is the highest peak of Nevada’s Peavine Mountain with an elevation of 8,269 feet. Once a place where Native Americans dwelled, prospector John Poe began successfully mining for minerals at Peavine Mountain in 1862. He developed the town of Poeville which attracted people on the way to California during the Gold Rush. Two other towns developed at the base of Peavine Peak, Webster and Brooklyn where gold miners would stop and some would settle. Today Peavine Peak is popular with outdoor enthusiasts. There are trails for hiking and trails for biking. Off road vehicles loved the spot but are now limited to restricted areas so as not to disturb the mountain and its guests.
14. Idlewild Park
Idlewild Park is a beautiful large plot of green space located along the south bank of the Truckee River on the southern end of downtown Reno. The land was gifted to the city of Reno by the State of California. The park features a pool, ball fields and a playground as well as 3 rentable areas, Rose Garden, Large Terrace and Snowflake Pavilion. Idlewild Park is known for its beautiful rose garden which features 200 varieties of roses with 1,750 rose bushes which are in full bloom throughout the summer months. The Rose Garden also features an art installation called “Rose Waterfall”. Visitors will also see The James D. Hoff Memorial statue which honors law enforcement. The park is popular throughout the year. There is a mini train that runs through the park during the summer months. Idlewild Park is home to a popular annual Earth Day celebration each April.
13. Stewart Indian School Cultural Center and Museum
The Stewart Indian School Cultural Center and Museum is a great place to experience Nevada’s deep Native American history as well as understand the transformation young Native American Indians went through during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The school is located in Carson City and was recently opened to the public. It began as an off reservation boarding school in 1890 for young Native Americans to live and learn to assimilate to life in the growing United States of America. What began as something perceived as negative by Native Americans, grew into a successful institution for learning while maintaining Native American Culture. The school closed in 1980 but now features its original stone buildings and a museum depicting what daily life was like for students and events such as story telling and learning about Native American culture.
12. Mount Rose Ski Resort
Reno is filled with great nearby places for outdoor activities, and there is a wonderful ski resort located just 30 miles south of the city. Mount Rose Ski Resort is located in the Carson Mountain Range and has a base elevation of 8,260 feet and a summit height of 9,700 feet. The ski resort encompasses 1,200 acres and includes 3 terrain parks. The longest ski run is 2.5 miles. The resort opened in 1953 and continued to expand through 1987. The resort’s Winter’s Creek Lodge was recently built and is located on the “slide” side of the mountain. The lodge has 200 guest rooms and includes a large restaurant and bar.
11. Outdoor Activities
Speaking of skiing, Reno is a great place for all kinds of outdoor activities. With its location near the Sierra Nevada Mountains, lakes, rivers and creeks, there are many places to find hiking and biking trails. There are also guided ATV tours, trap shooting and golf. Visitors and residents can enjoy fishing or kayaking the Truckee River and other nearby rivers and lakes. The mountains are also a great place to enjoy snowboarding, tubing, sledding, no shoeing and snowmobile riding.
10. Wine and Beer Tastings
Like most large cities, Reno has a great wine and beer scene. There are several great places that offer tastings and tours. One of the most popular city events is the Wine Walk which takes place the third Saturday of every month from 2pm to 5pm. Sponsored by the Riverwalk Merchants Association, the Wine Walk is an opportunity for visitors to visit restaurants and shops along the Truckee River in the Riverwalk District. Other great places to taste wines include L’Uva Bella, Ben’s Fine Wine and Spirits and Total Wine & More. Breweries that offer tastings and tours include Rose Brewery and The Depot Craft & Brewing Distillers in downtown Reno and nearby Virginia City Brewing and Taphouse and Great Basin Brewing Company.
9. Downtown Reno Walking Food Tour
Reno’s Downtown Walking Food Tour is a great way for adults to get to know the city and the best places to dine while learning about the city’s culture and history. There are two tours available, a Downtown tour and a Midtown tour. Both last about 3 hours and cost less than $70 for 2 people. Both tours offer 6 tastings at local restaurants, cafes and sweet shops. Both include a knowledgeable guide who tells stories of the city’s history and culture between walks to dine and learn about culinary techniques. The Downtown Tour takes place on Thursdays and Saturdays and includes historic Reno sites. The Midtown Tour takes place on Wednesdays and Fridays and includes information about the hip midtown Reno art scene. Private group tours are also available.
8. Self Guided Scavenger Hunt
Another great way for newcomers to Reno to get to know the city is a self guided tour which can be great fun. One of the best self guided tours in Reno is the Operation City Quest Scavenger Hunt. This tour costs just $10 and uses a Smartphone App to guide guests through downtown Reno in search of 120 objects. Guests can send pictures through the App to earn points. There are also several fun challenges and riddles along the way led by a remote guide. The tour meets and ends at the Reno Arch located on North Virginia Avenue. Another great Reno tour is the Self Guided Reno United States Scavenger Hunt. This costs $11 and features a launch code to begin at a spot on Island Avenue. This tour offers 15 clues and takes about 2 hours to complete. Along the way your remote guide offers interesting historical facts and fun stories. The tour completes where it begins.
If you enjoy seeing animals in their natural habitat, there are 2 great opportunities in Reno. Sierra Safari Zoo is Nevada’s only zoo. It was founded by the Sierra Nevada Zoological Society and continues to expand. Animal Ark is also a popular destination. Founded in 1981, it is located just a 30 minute drive north of Reno. The non-profit facility is a wildlife sanctuary. Here, animals that are injured, abandoned or non-releaveable are saved and cared for in a safe environment. Animal Ark has several events throughout the year including a Cheetah Run, Wolf Howl Nights and a Harvest Festival.
Reno is home to several interesting museums that are great to explore at any age. Most of the museums also have event space for rental. The Nevada Museum of Art not only displays important art work but also offers art classes and holds special events like a Sunday Jazz brunch. The National Automobile Museum displays 200 cars dating from 1892 to the present. It includes collections of Elvis’s cars and other celebrity automobiles. The museum features a large collection of cars owned by Bill Harrah, the gaming pioneer. The Terry Lee Wells Discovery Museum is a science museum where visitors enjoy hands on displays. The Wilbur D. May Center is an interesting place to visit. Wilbur May was a world traveler from northern Nevada. He led an interesting life as a businessman, soldier, artist and rancher. Exotic and rare artifacts that he found throughout his world travelers are on display at the museum which also features a 13 acre Botanical Garden and Arboretum.
5. Atlantis Casino Resort & Spa
When one thinks of visiting a casino resort in Nevada, Las Vegas automatically comes to mind, but Reno has some of the state’s best casino resorts. One of the best is Atlantis Casino Resort & Spa located just 5 minutes from Reno’s airport. The resort is just a short walk to Reno Town Mall and connects to the convention center and has 824 guest rooms and suites with views of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. While Atlantis has 60,000 square feet of gaming space, it also has plenty of non-gaming amenities making it a great place to stay. There are 8 on site restaurants, a luxury spa and indoor and outdoor pools. The family friendly resort also features a kid’s Fun Center filled with games for all of the family to enjoy. Another popular resort in Reno is the Eldorado Casino. Along with several restaurants and luxury amenities, the Eldorado features night clubs with live entertainment.
4. Virginia City
Virginia City developed as a “boomtown” after the 1859 discovery of silver. The population quickly rose as miners came to the area. By the mid 1870’s, the population of Virginia City was 25,000. However when the mines were depleted the population fell to 855 by 1878. Virginia City has many historic sites that attract 2 million tourists each year. Historic sites include the Storey County Courthouse which still has jail cells from the 1870’s, Pioneer Cemetary, the Silver Queen Hotel and Wedding Chapel, and the Union Brewery and Saloon. There are several hotels in Virginia City as well as Bed & Breakfasts, shops and casual dining.
3. Carson City
Carson City is a historic town located just 30 miles south of Reno in the Carson Range of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It is also the capital of Nevada. The area was occupied by the Washoe Native American Tribe before it developed as a town following the discovery of nearby silver and gold. In 1851 the trade post Eagle Station Ranch was built. Population grew as the town was developed. Today the population of Carson City is 55,000. The city attracts tourists due to its historic sites including the St. Charles Hotel, the former post office, the Governor’s Mansion and the city’s State Capital Building. Nothing built within 500 feet of the Capital Building can be higher than it. Visitors to Carson City can observe bald eagles in some areas. Carson City has several antique stores and museums that attract visitors. The city has several parks and features the Kit Carson Trail.
2. Lake Tahoe
Beautiful Lake Tahoe is just 60 miles from Reno, perfect for a day trip or a longer getaway. Lake Tahoe is located on the border of California and Nevada and is the second deepest inland freshwater lake in the United States witha depth of 1,600 feet. It is 22 miles long and at its widest point, 11.8 miles. The lake encompasses 192.59 square miles. The water is clear and beautiful set amid tall Sierra Nevada Mountains. As access became easier, Lake Tahoe became a tourist attraction at the turn of the twentieth century. Today about 3 million tourists visit the area each year. There are plenty of lodging, shops, restaurants and nightlife in Tahoe City and Squaw Valley. The lake provides a great place to enjoy water sports, the beaches, hiking, horseback riding and fishing. There are several ski resorts in the mountains.
1. Reno Truckee Riverwalk
Newcomers to Reno will enjoy experiencing the city’s recently renovated Truckee Riverwalk. It’s a great way to enjoy the city’s quieter slide and find places to shop, dine or hang out. The paved Riverwalk wraps around the Truckee River and extends 2 miles between Arlington Avenue and Lake Street. The walk is an easy stroll. It’s family and pet friendly. It’s clean and filled with natural beauty including the river, trees and flowers. The Riverwalk is close to area hotels and has plenty of nearby metered street parking. Visitors can also opt to park in the nearby parking garage and have their ticket validated at one of the areas businesses. The Riverwalk hosts art shows and hosts a wine tasting walk the third Sunday of every month.