The Vacation Re-Make You Crave in Reno Tahoe
There’s a vibrancy in Reno Tahoe that you probably already know something about, from the shimmering sapphire waters of Lake Tahoe (aka the Jewel of the Sierra) to the eye-popping neon of Reno's beloved historic signage. But some would argue that what makes Reno Tahoe a true bright spot—and a contender for the top ranking on your summer travel list—is the vibrancy of the local spirit. With so much happening here, whether the creative energy buzzing, new hot spots opening or the old classics reawakening, you’ll want in on the whole experience ASAP.
Of course, the jaw-dropping beauty of the setting doesn’t hurt: The Sierra Nevada mountains—on view from any point of the drive between Reno and Lake Tahoe—is dazzling unto itself, and the perfect grand finale to a road trip. Not that driving here is merely scenic; it's also easy from any number of western starting points: 3.5 hours from the Bay Area, 6.5 from Boise and around 8 from Los Angeles or Salt Lake City.
If you'd rather fly, your options are more plentiful than ever with close to 30 nonstop flights from around the country to the Reno-Tahoe International Airport. But no matter how you arrive, you'll want to do so soon—lest you miss out on everything that's happening. Here are eight highlights.
Quirky, cool, creative and collaborative, the businesses that define Reno's ever-revitalizing Midtown District would be worth visiting even if the neighborhood hadn’t just undergone a $100 million makeover. But with the main thoroughfares and public transportation now modernized—improving not only traffic flow, but also walkability—you have all the more reason to visit.
To dive into the amazing local mural scene, book a Pineapple Pedicab Midtown Mural Tour, during which you’ll also get an overview of the area’s restaurants, coffee shops, bars and boutiques. To keep the theme going, kick back afterward with a pint of Prickly Pear Pixie or a Little West of Center at the majorly muraled Wonder Aleworks.
Reno’s Neon Line
Anchored by the new Glow Plaza (and the even newer Glow Plaza Festival Grounds), Reno's Neon Line is a developing district that blends innovation with nostalgia. While Glow Plaza is a state-of-the-art event space and kaleidoscopic light show in one—where summer 2022 will bring free outdoor concerts every Friday and Saturday night—the surrounding neighborhood is essentially becoming an open-air museum of vintage neon signage and Burning Man art.
With new shops and restaurants coming to the area, too, it's evolving into yet another wonderfully walkable stretch of downtown Reno that's buzzing with new energy.
Quick side trip to Sparks
Minutes east of downtown Reno is the particularly family-friendly city of Sparks, where summer hot spots range from the Wild Island Family Adventure Park to the Sparks Marina, where you can kayak or paddleboard on the lake or stroll the waterside walking path.
And be sure to check out the new waterfront Sparks Water Bar, where the marina and mountain views are epic from the deck at sunset, and the menu—with its lobster deviled eggs, prime rib French dip and signature Wet Woody cocktails—has quickly inspired a following.
Serious foodies (specifically BBQ fans) have a bonus incentive to visit Sparks over Labor Day Weekend: the Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook Off, also called the Super Bowl of rib competitions, brings dozens of the country’s top BBQ teams to compete, along with thousands of BBQ fans to enjoy the offerings.
The summer arts scene
As compelling as the murals of the Midtown District and the vintage signage of Reno's Neon Line are, they’re just the intro to Reno's arts scene. In fact, for the entire month of July, Reno is home to Artown, with a staggering lineup of cultural events across a variety of genres—from a 50th anniversary performance by the iconic Manhattan Transfer to daring new choreography by the Sierra Nevada Ballet.
Artown brings plenty of family-friendly events to Reno, from the beloved Chalk Art & Music Festival to movies in the park and arts walks and classes. But the most outsized take on family fun is the Dragon Lights Festival, which starts during Artown and continues through August 12—a magical six-week stint when larger-than-life lantern sculptures light up the night at the Wilbur D. May Arboretum and Botanical Gardens.
Another regional event worth adding to your summer arts calendar: The Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival (July 1-August 21), where lively productions ranging from the old-school (Much Ado About Nothing) to the 21st-century (Mamma Mia) are performed under the stars. Though the entertainment itself wins raves, so do the lake views that serve as the backdrop—all best enjoyed with a picnic and a bottle of wine.
The reborn Riverwalk
The Truckee River, connecting Lake Tahoe and Pyramid Lake, runs through the heart of downtown Reno. There, you'll find The Reno Riverwalk District and its dozens of inviting shops and restaurants.
The river views pair perfectly with everything from the French fare at Beaujolais Bistro to the seasonally-driven contemporary cuisine at Wild River Grille and the fresh seafood at Smee’s Alaska Fish Bar. Then again, you can reel in your own catch right in downtown (seriously!) so don’t be surprised to see the occasional local angler on the banks.
But perhaps the best way to enjoy the Riverwalk is to actually walk it, ideally on the third Saturday of every month, when the Reno Riverwalk District Wine Walk allows you to sip your way through the neighborhood’s participating businesses with a wrist band and official wine glass.
Reno’s bonus urban adventures
Though fishing and sipping wine by the river may well provide all the exertion you need on your summer break, anyone who craves a bit more of an adrenaline rush should proceed to the Whitney Peak Hotel’s Basecamp, longtime home of the World’s Tallest Artificial Climbing Wall, per the Guinness Book of World Records. While the record was recently beaten, the nearly 164-foot ascent is still a top urban adventure.
If you’re looking for something a bit more down-to-earth, know that Reno has plenty of hiking trails, too. Rancho San Rafael Regional Park alone has miles of them, many of which are accessible for all abilities. The paths traverse wetlands, desert landscapes and the aforementioned arboretum. To explore even more landscapes, hit two trails within minutes of Reno: The Hunter Creek Trail rewards you with a waterfall and the Upper Thomas Creek Trail follows a stream through the pines.
The epic trails of Lake Tahoe
If Reno is a great warmup act for walkers and hikers, Lake Tahoe is the best kind of headliner—with trails that span all manner of ecosystem and skill level.
One favorite also happens to involve one of the shortest drives from Reno: The Tunnel Creek Trail follows a section of the Flume Trail, and delivers lake views for the majority of the hike. Park at the trail head and refuel after your hike at the Tunnel Creek Cafe.
The entire Flume Trail, which runs from Spooner Lake State Park to Incline Village, is world-famous among mountain bikers for a combination of stunning lake views and challenging terrain. This 14-mile ride includes some steep stretches, so be prepared if heights make you nervous. Still, you'll be spared a very long (uphill!) ride back to the starting point by a shuttle service from Incline Village.
The jewel of the Sierra
Whatever imagery you’ve seen, nothing can prepare you for the clarity or color of Lake Tahoe. Little wonder that gemology comes up in almost any attempt to describe these waters.
But whether you dub the lake “the jewel of the Sierra,” “the sapphire of the Sierra” or simply, as Mark Twain did, “surely the fairest picture the whole world affords,” these are waters you want to immerse in—or at the very least, cruise though. So don’t leave Reno Tahoe without kayaking, paddleboarding or boating at Lake Tahoe. In fact, save this for last, and you’ll have a true storybook ending—the only risk being a vow to return. Soon.