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The Reno welcome sign. Photo by Jay Bouchard.

First-Timer’s Guide: Reno, Nevada

Now that DIA offers direct flights to the Reno-Tahoe International Airport, we've discovered there's more to the western Nevada locale than its proximity to Lake Tahoe.

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Reno often gets overlooked by travelers passing through on their way to Burning Man or Lake Tahoe. But the “Biggest Little City in the World” is much more than just a place to play a few hands of poker or stock up on supplies before a foray in the desert. Those who take some time to look beyond the retro casino marquees will be delighted to find a unique cultural community that is catching the eye of tourists and tech companies alike. (Tesla’s new Gigafactory has played a major role in Reno’s resurgence.) A vibrant public art collection, growing number of hipster hangouts, and easy access to backyard adventures make Reno a stand-alone destination—one that is even being compared to our own beloved renaissance town.

Odometer: 1,037 miles from Denver. We love a good road trip, but you might be better off getting to Reno on one of Frontier Airline’s direct flights, which launched late last year, offered three days a week.

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Get Outside

Reno is located 40 miles north of the renowned outdoor oasis of Lake Tahoe, which boasts the highest concentration of ski resorts in the country and one of the largest alpine lakes in the world. It’s so easy to get to the Tahoe area from Reno (it’s just under an hour drive, plus there’s a shuttle) that it’s even possible to enjoy time on the mountain (or lake) just hours after your flight lands. Many ski resorts even offer free lift tickets for use on the same day of your arrival.

But you don’t have to journey to Tahoe to enjoy the outdoors (although if you’ve never been—go!), as there are ample adventures closer to town. For example, Reno’s humble hometown hill, Mount Rose, is just 25 miles from downtown and offers a killer deal on skiing, not to mention a slew of warm weather pursuits, like mountain biking and hiking. Plus, the nearby Tahoe Meadows trailhead entices snowshoers and trail runners with its moderate incline and lake views. There are also numerous golf courses if that suits your fancy (check out Lakeridge, which boasts beautiful greens and year-round play).

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The Reno Riverwalk. Photo courtesy of Katie Hearsum

See & Do

Reno also offers plenty to explore within city limits. For starters, the casino scene is alive and well, with on-site gaming available at most hotels (many of which offer more approachable options than the state’s glitzy neighbor to the south). If you’re looking to get your feet wet with some beginner games or imbibe in some classic Nevada nightlife, Reno is a great place to start.

Part of the city’s charm is the resulting mix of 1950s cowboy cinema, NorCal cool, and a fresh millennial mindset. Nowhere is this unique blend more evident than at the world’s tallest outdoor climbing wall, which rises high over the funky Reno arch, lit up like a slot machine (see photo at top of page). The 164-foot wall is an extension of the Basecamp climbing gym at the Whitney Peak Hotel, where a day-pass includes access to yoga and climbing classes, as well as an indoor bouldering wall, supervised kids climbing areas, and day-spa amenities, providing hours of fun for the whole family.

Courtesy of the Orbital Reflector project

Art aficionados will enjoy a visit to the Nevada Museum of Art, the only accredited art museum in the state. The 7,000-square-foot museum was designed with inspiration from the region’s striking geological formations and houses a variety of collections and exhibits depicting themes concerning Western landscape, culture, and history. The museum is also home to the world’s largest archive of Burning Man art and artifacts, and one of the festival’s founders can even be spotted volunteering as a docent from time to time.

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As the main gateway to the Black Rock desert, Reno has naturally become the final resting place for many of the festival’s art installations. As such, you’ll find an impressive display of Burning Man artwork around town, from the massive “Believe” sign in city plaza, which was first on display at the event in 2013, to the Bicentennial Sculpture Park, where visitors can view art while strolling along the Truckee River. Follow along with various interactive guides offered by Art Spot Reno, like the Playa Art Trail and the Midtown Mural Map, for an entertaining way to explore the city. Or, plan your trip to coincide with Art Walk Reno, a community celebration of local art held the first Thursday of every month.

Shop & Relax

In addition to showcasing one of the city’s best collections of colorful murals, the Midtown District is full of restaurants, bars, galleries, and shops, including a great selection of vintage, thrift, and boho boutiques. Check out Golden Jackal for a curated selection of mid-century clothing and furnishings, as well as Nevada-mined gems and crystals; Nomad Boutique features a fantastic selection of apparel and accessories for yogis. And to find the perfect Reno souvenir, shoppers should also visit The Basement, an “incubator” of artisan storefronts including an apothecary, florist, chocolate shop, and various clothing designers and eateries.

For the ultimate pampering experience, head to Reno’s premier Forbes-rated spa at the Atlantis Hotel and treat yourself to the heavenly Cleopatra Milk & Honey Cocoon, which involves a full-body scrub, hot oil application, and heavenly “float” in a state-of-the-art SoftPack bed, finished off with a soothing massage. Make sure to spend some time in the unique Brine Inhalation Light-Therapy Lounge—a heated, salt-tiled room with a mesmerizing, sunset-inspired light show designed to bring you to nirvana.

Eat & Drink

Downtown, combine your visit to the art museum with Sunday brunch at the on-site restaurant, Chez Louie, a cheerful, light-filled café offering bottomless mimosas, French-inspired cuisine, and live music. Later, sample the taps and small plates at The Depot, a craft brewery and distillery housed in a beautifully restored historic railroad building. Around the corner is Louis’ Basque Corner, where you can indulge in a hearty, family-style spread of unique cultural staples like chorizo stew, lamb chops, and braised oxtail. Wash it all down with carafes of house wine or the Picon Punch, Louis’ famous specialty cocktail.

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The Depot Brewery. Photo courtesy of Katie Hearsum

The Midtown District is also chock-full of breweries, bars, coffee shops and eateries. Health nuts and those plagued with food allergies should head to Great Full Gardens, a midday cafe where delicious, nutrient-dense dishes are the norm. Death & Taxes Provisions and Spirits builds artful cocktails and offers mixology classes—perfect for date night. The area is also a hotbed of global cuisine, like Mari & Chuy’s Mexican Kitchen and Arario’s, which specializes in Korean-style “tapas” like Kimchee Fries and a spicy Bulgogi Bowl.

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If caffeine is more your thing, then get to the cozy Global Coffee Bar in the Basement marketplace, or the charming Hub Coffee Roasters overlooking the river. The Reno Riverwalk district really comes alive in the summer, when bars, cafes, and restaurants extend service to umbrella-spotted patios complete with dog bowls and yard games.

Stay

Reno has lodging options ranging from enormous casinos and event centers to cozy motels—most with surprisingly affordable rates. The Atlantis Resort is a travelers’ favorite, featuring a multitude of bars, restaurants, casino games, and swimming pools.

For those who aren’t feeling the casino culture, the independently owned Whitney Peak Hotel is the only non-gaming (and non-smoking) hotel in town. It’s also pet friendly and home to the Cargo Concert Hall, one of the best live music venues in town.

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