Reno, Nevada, known as the "smallest big city in the world", is growing up. Its grungy image of a washed-up casino town and the go to place to get a divorce (think Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, Sammy Davis Jr.) is starting to fade--but it will never really go away. After all, it’s what gives the town its rich history and charm.
But even if it can't shake its history, it's transforming its future into a passionate city of delicious local eats, art (hello, Burning Man), tech companies (Apple, Tesla), and craft beer artisans, that are making a comeback in a big way. The locals love it, and big businesses and tourists are starting to notice it, too.
Reno is a proud town of locals and local business owners. Most purveyors own two to three businesses, even the Mayor, Hillary Schieve, has three retail businesses of her own.If you want to eat and live like a local they make it easy. The city is super walkable and is full of eclectic cafes, shops, and restaurants that source local produce, meats, brews, wine tours and more that have a strong, grassroots vibe.
Take the Reno Brew Bike tour with your besties--it won’t disappoint. You’ll laugh and roll your way through town on a party bike that will take you to some of Reno’s best breweries and eateries. Or you can tube or float down the Truckee River with your buddies with a few beverages in hand and tow.
The creativity of the artisan craft brew makers is off the hook. I tried some of the most spectacular and refreshing beers I’ve ever enjoyed (and I’m not a beer drinker). These craft beers are light, refreshing, perfect for a hot dry day in Reno (they just might take over my weeknight wine habit). Many are lower in alcohol than a glass of wine and I don’t have to open a whole bottle of wine, either.And if I have two beers, I don’t feel terrible the next day.
The different flavor profiles of these craft beers are insane. I tried three standouts: a jalapeno-infused beer, the Chilibeso, made by local brewing company Great Basin Brewing Co., Nevada’s oldest brewery, which is a three-time Gold Medal Winner at the Great American Beer Festival;a Ramble on Rose Sour made with hibiscus and rose hips; and a cucumber key lime sour beer from IMBIB (a local brewery where you can do a flight of tastings). Full disclosure: I don’t like dark beers, so my review only includes lighter, wheat, hefeweizen type beers and sours. I’m sure if you are a dark beer fan you’ll find just as many to suit your pallet. Barley wine might be for you dark beer drinkers, it too is a thing right now. It’s dark, bitter, and strong. Stop by craft brewer and distillery The Depot to enjoy a great one.
If you haven’t tried a sour beer yet, you’re missing out. They too are having a moment. Sours are fermented with different types of bacteria that give them their different flavor profiles. IMBIB Custom Brews makes a German sour called the Berliner Weiss. According to the bartender, there is only one other brewery in the world (that he knows of) that is still making this type of sour beer. It’s definitely worth a visit just to try these awesome craft brews!
If you want to eat like a local you’ve got to stop by Liberty Food and Wine Exchange that’s part of the Riverwalk Dining District. Chef Mark Estee has a full production kitchen doing everything from butchering and curing his own meat, to making his own bread and pasta in house. Much of the menu is sourced locally and you can even blend your own wine (they have a wine blending station). Almost everything on the menu comes in three available sizes, small, medium, and large, which is great if you want to share and trymultiple dishes with a friend. And prices are reasonable for this quality of food. The gnocchi with added Italian sausage is outstanding, and the heirloom tomatoes (availability depends on season) with the burrata are two I would recommend.
If you’re looking for a place to stay, there are the classic casinos like the Eldorado, or if you want a fresh new vibe you can stay somewhere like the Peppermill Resort & Casino that is a little more lux, or the Atlantis Casino Resort Spa. All of these hotels offer luxury spa treatments that sure to relax you, leaving you feeling refreshed and renewed. The micro-buff body scrub with peach seeds from the spa at the Silver Legacy Casino Resort, will leave your skin silky, soft and glowing for days.
If you want do a little shopping and socializing with the locals, you have to swing by The Basement. Located beneath the historic 1933 U.S. Post Office, this underground hideaway is home to everything from a local juice bar, local artisan chocolates, to boutique clothing shops, organic eats, botanical flower bar, coffee--and there’s even a local barber to cut your hair.
Or if you just want to get away and surround yourself with something that’s bigger than you, get up to the mountains of Lake Tahoe. It’s home to the largest alpine lake in North America, Lake Tahoe. You can do everything from paddle boarding, hiking, zip lining, mountain biking in the summer, to skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, cross country skiing, sledding, and more in the winter.
You can take the gondola to the top of Heavenly Mountain Resort even in the off ski season. Zip line through the trees and eat lunch at Tamarack Lodge. Or get a guided mountain bike tour from Jay Timmons from Over the Edge in South Lake Tahoe. He will take your mountain biking game to the next level. No you don’t have to do the fancy jumps, skids, or spin outs and charge down the mountain at ridiculous speeds. Do it for the view, the exercise, the feeling of accomplishment that you get when you get to the top, and then back to the bottom of the mountain. A few simple tips and adjustments from a pro like Jay can actually turn a mountain bike ride into an easy, joyful ride up and back down the mountain.
In the winter you can ski, snowboard, snowmobile, cross country ski, and snow shoe across the gorgeous mountains surrounding Lake Tahoe to get your outdoor thrills on. Some of the local favorite mountains to hit are Mount Rose and Kirkwood. Other destination favorites are Squaw Valley, home to the 1960 Winter Olympics, or Heavenly Mountain Resort that lives on the California-Nevada border. The view of Lake Tahoe from the California side of Heavenly is breathtaking. It’s worth a trip up the mountain just to see it.If you are a beginner skier or snowboarder I highly recommend you take a lesson--it will change your game and you just might enjoy it (don’t let your friend or family member take you to the top of the hill and say “I can teach you how to ski (or snowboard)", chances are you’ll have a miserable time.
If you want that rustic edge in your in your accommodations, stay at Basecamp. There are two locations, one in South Lake Tahoe and Tahoe City. I stayed at the South Lake Tahoe location and it is one of the most innovative hotels I’ve stayed in. The owners took three run down motels and turned them into one large cool community. Complete with a beer garden that opens up to a community courtyard with picnic tables, fire pits and an airstream to give you that rustic vibe, it’s easy to call this place home away from home, and is very affordable. You can even book a room that takes the great outdoors in, complete with a tent, faux fire pit, and stars. Perfect for those who want that outdoor rustic vibe but can’t give up a cozy, comfortable bed and lux amenities of a bathroom. There are also cool rooms that the whole family can stay in complete with bunk beds for the kids.The rooms are modern, clean, fresh, and the beds are very comfortable and cozy. They even have a few pet friendly rooms. An excellent value.
With JetBlue Airways affordable non-stop, flights from one of the friendliest airports in the nation, Long Beach Airport, Reno and Tahoe are on the road to becoming a top destination for the crowd seeking an affordable, rustic, chic vacation with little lux on the side.
Image collage of The Basement Reno courtesy of The Basement Reno