When I was invited to visit Reno, Nevada, I didn’t quite know what I was in for. And, I’ll be honest, my expectations weren’t very high. Based on what I’d previously heard, Reno was like a small-town version of Las Vegas where casinos and gambling abound (not really my thing). But that preconceived definition proved to be wrong pretty quickly… or at least far too narrow.
Sure, I saw more mullets and camo print in one Reno weekend than I’ve seen over the past two years. But I also found myself impressed by the general coolness of the city. Not only is it a hub for local art and history, but it also offers heaps of breweries, local festivals, and adventure — everything that young partiers and outdoor enthusiasts alike could want.
Art, beer, and nature. Like a desert riff on Portland, Oregon.
If you’re ready to explore the “Biggest Little City in the World,” I’m breaking down the nine best things to do in Reno — from brewery hopping to ghost hunting — below.
Part I – ART & CULTURE
1. Take a Street Art Tour
What inspired me most about Reno was the collective passion and empowerment of local art throughout the city. Everywhere you turn, you’ll see large-scale murals plastered on the side of buildings, alleyways, parking structures, and on the ground in public plazas. The midtown neighborhood alone has more than 100 murals. Even utility boxes downtown are dressed in vibrant, hand-painted designs. In fact, Reno’s Public Art Committee commissions local artists each year to use the utility boxes as their canvases. The program is called Art Signals and was created to support artists and contribute to the vitality of the community.
If massive murals and quirky street paintings aren’t enough, just wait until you see the many towering, one-of-a-kind sculptures scattered throughout downtown. Reno is the closest city and airport to Black Rock City, Nevada — where Burning Man is held each year. Many of the festival’s giant art installations end up in Reno after “the burn.”
Want to appreciate Reno’s diverse selection of art up close? Take a walking tour downtown with Art Spot Reno, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting, celebrating, and educating artists by contributing to the integration between local artists and businesses. My tour guide and Art Spot Reno’s Executive Director, Geralda Miller’s passion for the local arts and culture scene helped me further appreciate the city’s effort to highlight its local talent. As a dedicated Burner and Reno local, her extensive knowledge of the city’s art and history provided a new outlook into the city’s diversity, community values, and future plans for growth and infrastructure.
My favorite piece (pictured above) along the tour was a sculpture collected from Burning Man. It’s called “Broken But Together” by Michael Benisty. The two mirrored figures towered over me as I hid below their bodies for a shady escape from the high desert sun. Despite the sweat and sore feet from walking all morning, these flawed-but-beautiful figures, holding hands to face the world, brought me a sense of comfort and hope. Broken but together, just like the rest of us.
To book a tour with Art Spot Reno, click here.
2. Visit the Nevada Museum of Art
As I said, it can get hot in the afternoon. If you’re desperate for some AC but still want to check out the local art scene, head to the Nevada Museum of Art. Upon arrival, you’ll notice that the museum building itself is a work of art – both on the outside and inside. The architectural design is astounding — with sky-high ceilings and a rooftop balcony (awe-inspiring view included) that’s used as an elevated event space. But what fills the building is what really makes this place special.
The Nevada Museum of Art, founded in 1931, features a diverse collection of work displayed in the museum’s various galleries. Its primary exhibit rotates every season, so there’s always something new to see. When I visited, the exhibit showcased “Land Art: Expanding the Atlas.” Land Art is made directly into the Earth’s landscapes by way of sculpting the Earth itself or building monumental structures out of natural materials. (Fun fact: The museum commissioned Seven Magic Mountains, the famous structure of rainbow rocks just outside of Las Vegas). The Land Art movement erupted in the 1960s and ’70s, with artists like Judy Chicago, Vito Acconci, and Christo and Jeanne-Claude leading the way and the exhibition makes you think deeply about how humans intertwine with the natural world.
Learn more about the Nevada Museum of Art and book a tour through the exhibitions here.
3. Check Out the Local Music Scene
Sculptures and murals aren’t the only kinds of local art to admire. The music community is another essential part of the Reno experience. Not only are there big-time concerts held at the Grand Theater in the Grand Sierra Resort, but there are often smaller community events and festivals where local bands proudly take the stage. I happened to be in town during the annual Off Beat Music Festival, in which bands from Reno and neighboring West Coast cities like San Francisco and LA come to share their talents. This year, the three-day festival was held in the hipster-esque neighborhood of midtown and featured more than 70 acts across seven different venues — including a range of saloons and unique event spaces (my first stop of the night was in an old refurbished church). It was like a rowdy bar crawl but with the added kick of live rock ‘n’ roll music, making it all the more enticing and badass.
If you miss the Off Beat Music Festival, don’t fret. There is always a selection of concerts and local events to choose from in Reno over the weekends. On the weekend I was in town, there was also an EDM concert in the park and a ukulele festival — which says a lot about the city’s eclectic nature.
For a full list of Reno’s upcoming live music events, click here.
PART II – ADVENTURE
4. Kayak to Bonsai Rock in Lake Tahoe
Rock out to live music in a dive bar at night, then cure your hangover the next day with a dose of fresh air and the great outdoors. Adventurers and nature enthusiasts will be happy to learn that Reno is only a short (40-minute or less) drive to Lake Tahoe in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America and the second deepest lake in the United States. You could fully submerge the Empire State Building in the middle of the lake and still have 200 feet of room to swim above it. The pristine lake water itself is almost as clean as drinking water, which is why it’s considered one of the purest large lakes.
If you want to get a first-hand look at the crystal clear water, go kayaking with Clearly Tahoe. They offer guided tours in completely transparent kayaks, so you can get a close-up look at the water from right under your feet. You can observe the lake floor, underwater rocks, and marine life as you paddle your way across the lake. Our guide shuttled my group to Bonsai Rock, which is one of the most photographed landmarks in North Lake Tahoe. On our way there, he shared fun facts and history about the area – legend has it that there’s a giant underwater sea creature at the bottom of the lake named “Tessy.” Bonsai Rock is the centerpiece of a little lagoon where the water looks like it belongs in the Bahamas. Its enchanting turquoise hue with the backdrop of evergreen-covered mountains is every bit as Instagrammable as the Seychelles.
In addition to this popular shoreline tour, Clearly Tahoe also offers sunset tours, eco-tours, and LED nighttime tours – stargazing, anyone? Tip: Being that the water is so deep, it stays chilly pretty much all year round. It’s a good idea to bring a jacket and a change of clothes because you’ll likely be cold after a dip.
Book a tour with Cleary Tahoe here.
5. Hike the Flume Trail to Monkey Rock
Take your Lake Tahoe adventure from the water to the land by hiking the nearby Flume Trail to Monkey Rock. A 2.6-mile, out-and-back portion of the trail leads you to a boulder that’s been carved to look like, you guessed it, a monkey. In addition to the quirky companion who greets you at the top of the hike, there’s a nearly 360-degree view of Lake Tahoe and its surrounding landscape. There are parts of the trek that are steep (I was definitely sore the next day), but this majestic mountainous lookout was well worth the sweat and shortness of breath. Mountain cyclists can also make use of the trail by renting a bike and going for a ride up and down the path.
Whether you walk or bike, you’re sure to work up an appetite. Regain your energy with lunch at Tunnel Creek Cafe, conveniently located next to the Flume Trail backcountry trailhead. It’s a homey cabin café and restaurant that serves coffee, breakfast, and lunch. I ordered the hummus wrap (it was fresh AF) and devoured it on the restaurant’s second-story deck in the sun.
If you end up in Reno during winter, you might not want to put water sports and hiking at the top of your to-do list (though both are great for late-fall shoulder season). Good news — Lake Tahoe is also home to ski resorts and snowy mountain tops that skiers and snowboarders of all experience levels can shred on.
Learn more about the Flume Trail and Monkey Rock here.
6. Hunt Ghosts in Virginia City
Don’t believe in ghosts? The Bats in the Belfry Ghost Tour might change your mind. On the opposite side of Reno from Lake Tahoe is Virginia City, a tiny mountain town that teleports you back to what feels like the 19th century. Virginia City was a mining town back in the late 1800s, and many of the mine tunnels still lie below the decks of the historic C Street. As soon as you get into town you’ll notice Victorian homes and a slew of old-school saloons and shops. The eerie little town looks like a movie set frozen in time. The trippiest part? Some of Virginia City’s inhabitants from the mining era are believed to still be looming through the halls of the town’s oldest buildings. In fact, Virginia City is recognized as one of the most haunted cities in the United States.
I’m a sucker for all things spooky, so I was excited (and slightly terrified) to go on the search for supernatural phenomena. The Bats in the Belfry guides are fully equipped with ghost hunting gear, such as a magnetic field detector that tells you when a spirit is close by (or… maybe just a magnet?). The tour takes you through the haunted Washoe Club to the courthouse and then to various landmarks where supposed fires and murders occurred (witnesses might say I panicked once or twice). You may even catch a few orbs on camera as you attempt to communicate with the souls of the dead.
Whether you believe in the hocus pocus or not, this ghost tour is an excellent way to learn about Virginia City’s treacherous history while having a bit of fun. The good news is that the tour starts and ends at the Washoe Club’s bar, so you can drown your fears in a cocktail or two.
Book your spot on a Bats in the Belfry Ghost Tour here (if you dare).
PART III – FOOD & DRINKS
7. Chill Out at The Eddy Container Bar
Food lovers, rejoice! The local cuisine and beverages will not disappoint. If you’re looking for a laidback spot to kick back and have a few drinks, head to The Eddy in Downtown Reno. It’s a bar and beer garden made out of repurposed shipping containers. Just like the rest of the city, the containers are adorned with murals and graffiti art. The venue is pumping with good vibes, hit music, and classic field games like cornhole. It feels like a backyard summer party, whether you go in the afternoon or end your night there.
It’s not a backyard party without a drink in your hand. The Eddy has 24 craft beers on tap, 10 fine wines, and a handful of handcrafted cocktails to choose from. I sipped on the “Son of a Peach” cocktail — a candy-like concoction spiked with vodka and topped with a peach ring. The Eddy also features a food truck that rotates every week, so you can grab a bite to eat while you drink and play. When I visited the young partiers’ hotspot, the food truck of the week was Urban Crudos, which serves fresh poke bowls and sushi tacos. The Top Loin Salmon Bowl was *chef’s kiss.*
Stay up to date with all the action at The Eddy here.
8. Beer Festivals and Breweries
Whether you like IPAs, stouts, lagers, or ciders, Reno has something for every kind of beer drinker. There’s a bundle of breweries popping up around town that make for a cool and casual place to drink with friends. If you’re looking for some authentic craft beers, head to Brauhaus 701, which serves German-American fusion drinks and food. Yes, that means pretzels and bratwurst. Silver Peak Brewery downtown is popular for its ales and lagers, and it offers a selection of pub food that goes beyond just greasy burgers and fries (although, those are always great). They’ve got everything from chicken and basil ravioli to a Mongolian-style pork chop and roasted butternut squash pizza.
When I said that there’s always something to do in Reno on the weekends, I wasn’t exaggerating. In addition to the many music-filled events, I also attended The Biggest Little Invitational. Reno hosts this elevated craft beer festival each year at the Bartley Ranch Regional Park. The festival featured unlimited tastings with more than 50 breweries from around the West Coast. It was no surprise that it got quite rowdy by the end of the day. The DJ and his impromptu (and very drunk) hype man got everyone on the dance floor for what looked like a messy “Thriller” flashmob. It was entertaining, to say the least. Besides the extensive selection of beers to try, there were also lawn games and local food vendors. Guests even strode the grounds with pretzel necklaces, chewing on the strings whenever they needed to sober up.
Overall, The Biggest Little Invitational was a downright good time. Check out Reno’s upcoming food and drink events here.
9. Eat Black Spaghetti at Liberty Food & Wine Exchange
Liberty Food & Wine Exchange is an artisan eatery and wine bar that serves Italian-American fusion fare made with regionally sourced ingredients. They have a long list of uniquely curated appetizers, pizzas, pastas, and entrées that will tempt you to order recklessly. To start, you can’t go wrong with the cauliflower, which is doused in Calabrian chili oil, garlic, and bread crumbs. I never knew such a bland vegetable could be so flavorful until I tried this dish.
For the main course, I suggest splitting a few dishes with the table so you can try a little bit of everything. I ordered the wood-fired crab fusilli (yum) and the squid ink spaghetti, which is made by mixing squid ink directly into the fresh pasta dough. Liberty’s seafood-inspired rendition comes with clams, scallops, and shrimp, and is cooked in a spicy white wine butter sauce with lemon. The combination of chewy textures and zesty flavors made it impossible for me to put my fork down.
If you find yourself at Liberty during fall, order the pumpkin cheesecake for dessert. Trust me, it’s worth every bite.
PART IV – WHERE TO STAY
10a. Whitney Peak Hotel
There’s no doubt that you’ll find a daily dose of adventure, memorable sights, and good eats in Reno. The Whitney Peak Hotel combines all three into one place. Located in the heart of downtown Reno next to the iconic Reno Arch, the trendy boutique hotel offers sleek, modern designs and views of the city or the Sierra Nevada Mountains in each room. Whitney Peak is also Reno’s first non-gaming and non-smoking independent hotel.
The best part? Whitney Peak is home to Basecamp Climbing Gym, which includes an indoor bouldering park and an outdoor climbing wall. The outdoor climb runs up the side of the hotel building, making it one of the tallest rock walls in the world. Bonus: It’s a pet-friendly property, so you can bring your pup along for all of the outdoorsy adventures!
Reserve your stay at Whitney Peak Hotel here.
10b. Grand Sierra Resort
If you want your hotel stay on the more extravagant side, book a room at the Grand Sierra Resort and Casino. The amenities, dining options, and activities within the slot machine-packed resort are seemingly endless. With a spa, party-centric pool area, bowling alley, movie theater, concert hall, escape room, and nightclub (I could go on), you could pretty much spend your entire weekend inside the building, if you wanted to.
Aside from the plethora of over-the-top but also totally cool activities, the retro-inspired suites have comfortable beds, black-out curtains, and waterfall shower heads that can help you wind down at the end of a long day of exploring. One of the best parts of the resort is the convenience of having everything you need in one place. It even makes the commute to and from the airport easy. They offer a free shuttle every 30 minutes throughout the day, so guests don’t have to worry about waiting on an Uber.
Book your room at the Grand Sierra Resort here.
Uproxx was hosted for this story by Reno Tahoe. However, they did not review or approve this story. You can learn more about the Uproxx Press Trip policy here.