Forget about its self-deprecating nickname of “The Biggest Little City in the World.” The first impression of Reno, Nevada, the engaging town spread out on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, is that the “little city”—presently home to more than a quarter million people—metamorphosed into one of the most desirable destination spots in the West without losing any of its small town charms.
Even an earlier moniker precedes Reno’s famous tag. As far back as 1898 the city was known as “The Divorce Capital of the World,” due to Nevada’s lax residency laws. By the 1940s, 50 out of 1,000 divorces in the United States were filed in Nevada and, of course, entrepreneurs established “divorce ranches” for guests seeking hassle-free divorces to stay in during the brief residency requirement. The establishments were the forerunners of modern spa retreats where the rich and famous of the day lounged and were pampered during their stay.
Rita Hayworth, Mary Pickford, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jack Dempsey and others of that ilk came here numerous times for what were known as “quickie Reno divorces.”
Presently, Reno goes by yet another nickname that’s probably more apt than the others: “America’s Adventure Place.”
The city’s surrounding area is known as the Truckee Meadows and is a paradise for unlimited outdoor recreational activities. Within a 50-mile radius from downtown Reno one finds the largest concentration of ski areas and facilities in the world. Hiking, camping, mountain biking, fishing and—of course—winter sports of all types are a mainstay to both residents and visitors.
But Reno is a two-fisted town in several respects. It has one foot firmly planted in the past and the other in the present. The modern city itself adds a cosmopolitan touch to an area of Nevada that is rugged in both lifestyle and topography.
There’s a certain anachronistic energy hovering over the place. What’s so distinctive about Reno is that it is one of those rare spots that manage to agreeably merge its wild roots as a brawling, bad ass mining town with all the trappings and conveniences of the modern age.
This is where one can spend the day visiting sites that reek of the 19th century and then while away the evening in modern and sparkling 21st century casinos featuring big name entertainment and first-class restaurants.
Sure, Reno has many of Las Vegas’ gaudy touches because, after all, this is still Nevada. But visitors scratching beneath Reno’s hustle and sheen will discover what’s essentially a Western town abundant with sophistication and style—a place that comes close to being a flawless destination—and yet remains firmly anchored to its brawny past.
An example of how Reno has managed to retain its heritage is exemplified by the Riverside Artist Lofts, once a rundown hotel-casino from the 1920s that was spared the wrecking ball about 10 years ago when it was converted into affordable living quarters and studios for local artists. Galleries fill the ground floor and a modest restaurant serves excellent food with a view of the river that runs through it.
Once a ghostly place that seemed best suited for gunfights—the area surrounding the Truckee River—downtown Reno has now turned into the Riverwalk District, an appealing zone that includes an ice rink, shops and restaurants.
The city attractions always offer life after recreation. The Nevada Museum of Arts is the dominant landmark in the city’s vibrant Arts District, stretching down the Truckee River from downtown Reno. Nearby, one finds boutiques, shops, and even the lively sound of music coming from Wingfield Park. There’s great shopping and elegant nightclubs.
Still, most come for the magnificence of its setting and for the wonders lying in the mountains.
Outdoor enthusiasts will find an area that stuns with its beauty. Nearby Lake Tahoe is a natural national treasure. More than a century ago, Samuel Clemens, a young failed miner working as a reporter in nearby Virginia City, saw Lake Tahoe from a distance and later—writing under his pen name Mark Twain—wrote that it “…was the fairest picture that the whole earth affords.”
As usual, Twain aced the description. The 22-mile-long and 12-mile-wide lake is surrounded by the Sierra Nevada’s lofty peaks and is the largest alpine lake in North America. Its waters are so clear that some claim that you can see objects sunk 100 ft. below its surface.