While Reno has a reputation for being Las Vegas’s grimier, less fun little sibling, I think it’s an extremely underrated destination. It’s relatively cheap, has amazing access to Lake Tahoe and the Sierra, and has an increasingly good food and bar scene. There are two adjacent neighborhoods where the city is seeing a renaissance – Riverwalk District and MidTown and are my two favorite to visit.
The Riverwalk District in Downtown Reno is anchored by two things – the historic casinos and the Truckee River. While this is definitely where you want to be if you’re going to gamble, there’s a lot more to do here than play the slots.
For a climbing experience like no other, you can climb at Whitney Peak Hotel at Basecamp. You can boulder inside or climb outside next to the famous “Biggest Little City sign. Also at Whitney Peak Hotel is the concert venue Cargo. Cargo is my favorite size of venue – large enough to attract big-ish names, but small enough that you still feel close to the action. In addition to concerts, they also host events like Zombie Prom, Henry Rollins Slideshow, and wrestling!
The Truckee River runs right through downtown, and Reno has really begun to take advantage of it. In addition to parks, riverfront dining, and pedestrian bridges, there is the Truckee River Whitewater Park, a whitewater kayaker playground with man made and natural features. You’ll often see whitewater kayakers paddling through the rapids, and the Reno River Festival is held every May, with competitions, demonstrations, and a fun street fair.
The Riverwalk District has some great restaurants as well. My favorite Italian restaurant is located here – Campo. It has great pizza and pasta, focusing on local, seasonal ingredients. Their menu varies with what’s in season, but you can’t really go wrong. If the beet salad is on the menu, order that and be sure to check out what their barrel aged cocktail special is. It’s usually something delicious.
For something less fancy, Pho 777 has the best veggie pho I’ve tried so far in Reno. For late night (or early morning!), greasy diner food the Mel’s Drive In in the Sands casino is cheesy, but perfect for what you’re looking for. Also, the Sands will give you a glimpse of the gritty side of Reno.
MidTown Reno is definitely the up-and-coming hipster neighborhood in the city. Greyson and I joke that every time we come there is some new Portland stereotype business that’s opened up – sushi burritos, dog aromatherapy, etc. Some of the original charm still remains. A cupcake shop will share a parking lot with a payday loan store and strip club.
My favorite things to do in MidTown are eat and drink, though there are tons of cute shops and one of the best thrift stores I’ve ever been to, Junkee Clothing Exchange, is located in this district. The Nevada Museum of Art is also here, and it is one of my favorite hidden gems in Reno. It’s only $10 to get in, and they frequently have incredible exhibits with renowned artists. If you’re visiting Reno and have a free evening or afternoon, I highly recommend it!
For breakfast, I frequent Great Full Gardens. This is a great restaurant to visit if you are feeding both vegetarians & meat eaters or adventurous eaters & pickier people – everyone will find something that they like. I almost always get the pupusas, but the liege waffles are a must try and they have the best vegetarian eggs benedict I’ve ever gotten. There are lots of other brunch places in MidTown that look great, but they almost always have long waits, while Great Full Gardens is (inexplicably) less busy.
For a different kind of breakfast experience, the Brewer’s Cabinet has a “Kegs and Eggs” special on Saturday and Sunday mornings. For $16.95, you get two beers and something off the breakfast menu. It’s a great deal, and I really like their breakfast food, especially the BC scramble.
Moving on to lunch, I like to go to Pinon Bottle Company, a tap house with an extensive beer list that is a great mix of local breweries, less distributed western US breweries, and few beers from far away. After ordering your beer, you can wander next door to Noble Pie Parlor and order delicious pizza. They’ll even deliver it to you back at Pinon, so you can continue enjoying your beer. I love the T-Pane, which has caramelized fennel and onions, sausage, and granny smith apples, though they do have more “normal” pizzas as well.
On to dinner and desert! When I want to go to a nicer dinner, I frequently go to Midtown Eats. Like many of Reno’s awesome restaurants, the menu is focused on local and seasonal ingredients, so it changes frequently, but everything I’ve had there has been delicious. They also make great cocktails. Though I am more of a savory treats person, my two favorite sweet things are donuts and ice cream. Simple combines both of these things into an amazing (and incredibly messy) desert. Simple gets donuts, cronuts, cookies, and ice cream from local businesses, and you can create your own ice cream sandwich. They are very messy, don’t get one to go!
That’s just scratching the surface of some of my favorite things to do, eat, and drink in just a couple of Reno’s neighborhoods. If you visit Reno, I hope you check out a couple of these places and enjoy them as much as I do!