Reno: it’s the city most of us think of either as a second-rate Las Vegas, or a spot you stop by on your way to somewhere more interesting like Lake Tahoe — or Las Vegas.
What I’m saying is most of us tend to view Reno less of as a destination and more of a rest stop. Which is unfair because Reno actually has a lot to offer. Unlike in Omaha where I was bored after 48 hours, I spent the same amount of time in Reno and felt rushed for time. Not just because it was the last top on my trip, but because I realized I wouldn’t have time to stop by the Nevada Museum of Art or the nearby Sundance Books and Music — a bookstore housed in an old mansion.
Before I say too many good things about Reno, I stayed at Harrah’s, a casino hotel that’s just old. It’s the only hotel I stayed at on this trip as there weren’t many Airbnb’s in downtown Reno.
Aside from the convenient downtown location right across the street from Amtrak there’s not much to say about this hotel, apart from the obvious fact that it was last renovated around the time Bill Clinton was elected president.
The Truckee River cuts through Reno. Along the river there’s a pedestrian path with a variety of parks, restaurants, and cafes. I particularly enjoyed dinner at Campo and the coffee at Hub Coffee Roasters, both of which are right on the river.
Heading west along the river from downtown, there’s a small island with an amphitheater called Winfield Park, and just across the street is a little sculpture garden called Bicentennial Park. Further west — not too far past Hub Coffee Roasters — a much larger park called Idlewild features a lake, various gardens, activities, and plenty of space for stretching your legs or having a picnic.
Just across the Truckee River from downtown is an old Post Office building from the public works era. It’s no longer used as a mail facility; the upstairs is now a West Elm store.
Sounds disappointing unless you somehow know to go downstairs to the basement where you’ll find a cafe, a bar, a salon, and other local businesses. There’s also a history wall with old photos of Reno, including the “quickie divorce” era in which Reno’s main attraction was its liberal divorce laws.
The basement is a hidden gem I would never have known about without the suggestion by a friendly local. I definitely would have stopped by for a coffee if I’d known about it in advance.
Midtown’s Death & Taxes might be the most ridiculous cocktail bar I’ve ever visited, but it’s so photogenic I had to include it here despite not staying long. The first clue the place would cost more than a nice dinner was I arrived in the late afternoon and it wasn’t happy hour, because they don’t have one. The second clue is the woman behind the bar who greeted me was cutting up roses… which I quickly realized were intended as cocktail garnishes.
The guy sitting next to me had ordered an entire ~750ml bottle of some liquor for himself, and offered me a sip which I politely refused. He clearly had a lot of money to throw around as he chatted with the bartender about some overpriced gin aged in whiskey barrels, which he claimed “tastes just like whiskey.” The guy on the other side of him laughed loudly and said “so just drink whiskey!” That guy had a point.
Just before I left a middle aged couple walked in. The wife ordered something from the cocktail menu, while the husband ordered some kind of call drink with Jose Cuervo. His wife shot him a dirty look, and without missing a beat the hip bartender said they didn’t have Cuervo and recommended their well tequila. Burn!
I’ve saved the weirdest for last, one of a lot of weird places in Midtown. Junkee is a large store selling all kinds of costumes, antiques, and secondhand goods.
The words to describe this store don’t exist yet. They have everything from old chairs, used jewelry, vintage comic books, armored knight costumes, and even a bowl of dolls correctly labelled “creepy.”
I’m not sure Junkee is the absolute weirdest store in Midtown — I did enter one small store there which had a giraffe skull for sale — but Junkee is a reasonably priced spot for costumes and odd decor.
One last observation about Reno; it’s easily the most friendly place I visited on this whole trip. Locals would just stop to say hello or good morning, help me out if I looked lost, and even recognized me if we crossed paths a second time. The city’s motto is true, Reno really is “the biggest little city.”