DescriptionWhen most people hear the words “gambling” and “Nevada,” they automatically think of Las Vegas. But if you grew up in the 1960s and '70s—and especially if you lived in northern California—“The Biggest Little City in the World” was where it was at.
Back then Nevada meant casinos, craps tables and big-name entertainment. It was where adults went for a little bit of naughty fun since, except for horse racing and poker, gambling wasn't legally allowed anywhere in California. Even the 4-hour drive to get to Reno was an adventure, on a highway that crossed the rugged Sierra Nevada mountain range. Once travelers reached the “Welcome to Nevada” road sign it was a different world; even the grocery stores had slot machines.
During Reno's heyday more than 3 decades ago, big hotel-casinos like Harrah's and Club Cal-Neva lined Virginia Street, downtown's main drag. The Mapes Hotel, which stood on the north bank of the Truckee River, was one of the state's first lavish hotel-casino complexes.
Then a period of decline set in, fueled mainly by two related factors: the phenomenal success story of Las Vegas, and the increasing popularity of northern California casinos operating on Native American lands. The Mapes closed in 1982 and was demolished in 2000. Downtown still has shuttered stores and hotels, but that doesn't mean Reno's dead. Garish casino signs advertise deals like steak and eggs for $4.99. And the Reno Arch—otherwise known as the sign touting “The Biggest Little City in the World”—still arches proudly (and blazes with neon after dark) over Virginia Street.
These days the city is all about repurposing. Former hotel-casino buildings have been converted to condos. Fitzgeralds, an old-school casino that was a longtime downtown fixture before closing in 2008 has metamorphosed into the Whitney Peak Hotel, a multiuse facility that includes a 1,000-person capacity concert hall. It also encompasses BaseCamp, a bouldering park that boasts the world's tallest competitive rock climbing wall. The 164-foot outdoor structure scales the building's east face and looks down on the Reno Arch; phone (775) 398-5400.
One of the more visible spruce-up efforts is the revitalization of the area along the Truckee River. The river's narrow, swift-flowing waters run right through the middle of downtown and are the centerpiece of Wingfield Park. The landscaped walkways running along both sides of the riverbank are a nice place to stroll.
Kayakers and tubers navigate the Truckee's series of man-made rapids. The park also is the starting point of the Reno-Tahoe Odyssey, a relay race that follows a 178-mile course. Teams of 12 runners negotiate the river on a route that travels through the Sierra Nevada and along a portion of Lake Tahoe shoreline before circling through the northern Nevada high desert back to the race's starting point. The 2-day event takes place at the end of May or early June.
Cinco de Mayo Festival is celebrated in late April or early May at the Grand Sierra Resort. For 10 days in mid-June, the likes of barrel racing, bull riding and steer wrestling at the Reno Rodeo draw huge crowds. One of the rodeo's highlights is the Mutton Bustin' competition, in which kids who want to be cowboys get a gentler taste of what it's like to be on top of a buckin' bronc by riding sheep. It all happens at the Reno-Sparks Livestock Events Center, 1350 N. Wells Ave. Among Reno's other annual events is Hot August Nights, which offers classic car cruises and a '50s-style sock hop. September brings the excitement of the Great Reno Balloon Race, one of the largest hot air balloon rallies in the country, and the National Championship Air Races and Air Show, which takes place at the Reno-Stead Airport.
Greater Nevada Field, 250 Evans St. at the east end of downtown, opened in 2009. The home stadium of the Triple-A Reno Aces seats just over 9,000 fans. Home games are played from early April through late August or early September; for schedule and ticket information phone (775) 334-7000.
Reno's also big on bowling, and major tournaments take place here regularly. The National Bowling Stadium, downtown at 300 N. Center St., is much more than a tenpin alley, although it has 78 championship lanes as well as a 440-foot video screen that projects state-of-the-art scoring graphics. The bronze sculpture of a family on their way to the bowling alley, just inside the front lobby entrance, makes for an amusing photo op. Phone (775) 335-8800.
Hotel-casino complexes like Harrah's and three interconnected properties—Circus Circus, the Eldorado and the Silver Legacy—ably carry on Reno's gambling tradition. There's also plenty of action outside the downtown core, namely at the Peppermill, the Atlantis and the Grand Sierra.
And for a taste of old-school Reno, you must make the pilgrimage to The Nugget, downtown at 233 N. Virginia St. You'll have to brave the secondhand smoke that pervades this small, seen-better-days casino on your way to The Little Nugget diner, the original home of the Awful Awful burger (as in “awful good” and “awful cheap”). The char-grilled patty is tucked into an onion bun, garnished with lettuce, tomato, red onion and “secret sauce,” and presented atop a veritable mountain of fries. It's unpretentious yet satisfying, much like the city itself.
Visitor InfoReno-Sparks Convention & Visitors Authority 135 N. Sierra St. RENO, NV 89501. Phone:(775)827-7600
Things to SeeAnimal Ark
CasinosAtlantis Casino Resort Spa Reno
SkiingMt. Rose Ski Tahoe
White-water RaftingTahoe Whitewater Tours