Reno: Fun and Gaming in the High Desert

April 4, 2014 frvtravel

By Thomas Jones

Fun and Ganes in the High Desert

Let’s begin by getting the elephant out of the room right away; Reno is not Las Vegas, and nor does it want to be. While both towns have definitely benefited from the State of Nevada’s lax laws on avarice and cheap electricity, Reno differs from the power guzzling bling-bling, ka-ching machine of the South, because it has moved on from being a party town reliant on gambling and quickie divorce, to reinvent itself as a city teeming with a vibrant arts and cultural scene, fine restaurants and wine bars, endless sports and outdoor activities,and packed with a multitude of different events and live performances all year round. Even better, it STILL has gambling!

Reno has something for everyone. Thanks to its location at the foothills of the snow-capped Sierra Nevada Mountainsand surrounded by desert and alpine lakes like Lake Tahoe, it’s possible in winter to snowboard in the morning and water-ski in the afternoon, experience some living history, eat like a king and then gamble all night. When the summer rolls around Reno is in high gear with adrenaline pouring out of every pore hosting events like the classic car convention Hot August Nights, Street Vibrations motorcycle rally, The Great Reno Balloon Race, the Reno Rodeo and the Best in the West Nugget Rib Cookoff, and the Reno Air Races.

Being something of a sports Mecca, it moves from season to season without a hitch. Apart from nearby Lake Tahoe’s world-class skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, visitors can also take advantage of whitewater rafting and kayaking in the Truckee River that passes right through downtown Reno. There are more than 50 golf courses, and endless trails for mountain biking, hiking, rock climbing, hunting, skydiving and all manner of water sports ion the surrounding lakes. Downtown Reno also has the highest manmade climbing wall in the world built on the side of a casino.

The city is also slap dab in the middle of cowboy country rich in history, and a few miles out of downtown is the old gold and silver mining town of Virginia City, a living ghost town that stands as a tribute to its Victorian-era history with actors in cowboy garb, complete with missing teeth in some cases, old saloons, boardwalks, shops, candy stores, antique stores, museums, churches and restaurants lining its streets. It takes about 30 minutes to make the drive up through the sun-scorched landscape and really helps put the Wild West, and America itself, into perspective.

To fully savour Reno’s exciting urban renaissance, then look no further than the Riverwalk District along the Trukkee River that flows through downtown. It’s a celebration of all the wonderful things that Reno has done to reinvent itself in the past two decades and here you will find countless shops, bars, restaurants, lodgings, cafes, art galleries, museums and even a white water park for kayaks and locals on rubber inner tubes in a safe, fun, friendly area that celebrates Reno’s arts, culture, and history all year round. It’s especially popular on the long summer nights with the many bar-centric events like the Reno Santa Crawl, Super Hero Crawl and monthly wine walks being particularly popular before a late night visit to the gaming tables.

Click to view slideshow.

Like the gold and silver rich hills that surround the town that made the city’s name Reno is nothing if not resourceful.

Riverwalk is also the best bet when it comes to wining and dining and the scene is as good as anywhere in the world. Here you will find everything from French country cuisine toSpanish-style tapas, gourmet pizzas, Thai, sushi, and several wine bars and brew pubs along the way…you name it, it’s here and the whole neighbourhood is abuzz with people having a good time and spending money. One place not to miss is CAMPO, a popular casual urban-chic eatery that is jumping every night of the week. Named one of the “Best New Restaurants in America” in 2012 by Esquire magazine, their brilliant hospitality even extends to the guests on the menu in that they care enough to only use the most humanely treated meats and organic, local and seasonal ingredients that they can source on the day.

For more traditional casino-glam-style dining then check out the Pearl Oyster Bar and Grill up on the first floor in the Silver Legacy casino. Here you will find a great selection of fresh seafood and wide selection of oysters from Japan and the USA. It’s open to the sights and sounds of the casino so you should simply take a seat at the bar, order a dozen freshly-shucked with a couple of their trademark Bloody Mary’s and let the night unfold.

Across the road at the Eldorado Casino is Brew Brothers, a microbrewery that produces no less than eight distinct beers onsite. Named best brewpub by Nightclub & Bar magazine they also have great comfort foods in the form of steaks, pizza and the biggest tower of onion rings you ever seen. It brings in a lively crowd of locals after hours for the live rock music on stage, and when the dancing stops and the band leaves the building, head across the floor to Roxy’s Lounge for some gin-based relaxation. The bar is famous for 102 different types of Martinis – the best accompaniment for lounge lizards since piano and smooth vocals.

Reno spent it’s formative years wallowing in gold prospecting and then gaming,and it would be a tragedy if you came here and didn’t enter the belly of the beast and stay in a casino resort. This is where America dresses up in all the gaudy finery of Capitalism and comes to life in all its opulence and wealth. Casinos are never short of cash and they lavish it on their guests with grandiose designs, massive hotel rooms, bars, restaurants, an endless run of shows by top-notch performing artists, and of course the ceaseless excitement of neon lights, slot machines and the throw of the dice.

Downtown the big three would have to be the El Dorado, Silver Legacy and the massive Circus Circus. These places are events, not hotels and you need to let yourself be picked up by their tides of fantasy and bling and go with the flow. They are starting to show their age, however, so if you want something a bit fresher and grander thenthe safe money is about 10 minutes back up the main road at the Peppermill Casino and Resort. It has over 1,600 rooms and suites and it’s packed to the gunnels with restaurants, bars, marble, mirrors, swimming pools and slot machines and all wrapped up in a bouquet of faux Tuscan décor that would make Liberace himself blush with its abundance of Italian frescoes, marble Romanesque statues, fountains and Corinthian columns.

Like the gold and silver rich hills that surround the town that made the city’s name and filled its coffers in the first place, Reno is nothing if not resourceful. The city’s renaissance has turned a once struggling city into a must visit destination brimming with energy and excitement, and a place where people live their dreams rather than chasing them on the spin of a wheel.

Insider Tips

  • If you are feeling flush then book the over-the-top adventures of the Roman Opulence or Safari Adventure Suites at the Peppermill Resort. It will change your life.
  • If you have a hire car leave it at the hotel and take the local white taxis if only travelling local; shouldn’t cost you more than $10 dollars a ride if travelling within a 10km radius.
  • Head to Riverwalk late in the day to enjoy the abundance of alfresco bars and cafes in the long summer evenings and watch the world go by.


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