Find your sweet spot in Nevada
Venturing off the beaten neon-lit path and into Nevada’s western frontier proves all that glitters ain’t gold in the Silver State
When it comes to Nevada, the first things that usually spring to mind are casinos, clubs and hotels, and while there’s plenty of those, venturing off the neon-lit path promises to be highly rewarding.
Reno-Tahoe territory in the State’s west is a world of contrasts, where past and present collide with ghost towns along scenic highways remnant of a rich mining past and modern-day cowboys strut past walls of street art.
It’s where high desert plains set against the magnificent peaks of the Sierra Nevada mountain range provide the backdrop to more outdoor activities, festivals and events, and world-class spas than any other resort destination in America.
Enjoying 300 days of sunshine, it’s a year-round, road-trip friendly destination, where you can easily ski at Lake Tahoe in the morning, golf in Carson Valley at noon and let loose in Reno once the sun sets behind the Sierra, discovering plenty of hidden gems along the way.
After suffering a significant blow during Nevada’s toughest recession ever, ‘The Biggest Little City in the World’ has reinvented itself, breathing new energy into its districts to offer a thriving foodie and arts scene mixed with eclectic boutiques, museums, galleries, and dynamic nightlife.
Once rundown and seedy, MidTown District today is hip and happening, with funky restaurants and cafès, quirky boutiques and street art adding a cool hipster edge.
Downtown’s vibrant Riverwalk District is where the history of the city’s birthplace meets the present day. Right along the Truckee River, you’ll find a variety of restaurants, shops, galleries, pubs and breweries, many of them housed in restored and repurposed heritage buildings.
Originally built in 1870, the old Riverside Hotel, with its notorious history of corruption, quickie divorces, a fire, and a murder mystery, was destined for demolition in the late nineties but the Sierra Arts Foundation intervened to save it. Today this brick beauty is the organisation’s headquarters alongside artist residences, a retail space and Wild River Grille restaurant, which serves up fresh American fare, cocktails, craft beers and live music in an ambient alfresco setting.
Nearby, the city’s 1933 US Post Office on Virginia Street has retained many of its original features after becoming ‘The Basement’, a collaborative marketplace featuring 12 vendors (including excellent barista-made coffee at Global Coffee), and an art gallery.
Further downtown, stop by the Burning Man Playa Park to see art installations from the previous year’s Burning Man Festival, or check out the National Automobile Museum’s collection of more than 200 vintage cars, including famous casino mogul William Harrah’s collection and the winner of the New York to Paris race, the legendary 1907 Thomas Flyer. For a hit of action, conquer the world’s tallest climbing wall at Whitney Peak Hotel’s ‘Basecamp’, or kayak the river at Truckee River Whitewater Park. After dark, there’s plenty of nightlife, entertainment and dining to explore.
Just 40-minutes’ drive south-east of Reno, this old mining town was the largest city between San Francisco and Denver during the 19th century mining boom thanks to the first major discovery of silver ore in the country – the Comstock Lode.
Beautifully preserved, its Victorian buildings are frozen in time, and with each step along its creaky wooden boardwalks, you’ll feel like you’re walking back in time. The Old West is deeply felt here and legendary tales of cowboys, hardworking miners, gangsters and ill-fated madams offer a glimpse into the town’s colourful past. Have a pint at The Delta Saloon and see the “Suicide Table” where people reportedly shot themselves upon hefty gambling losses, or Bucket of Blood Saloon, said to be named after the brawls that took place here, which were apparently so violent, the barkeeper would sweep out buckets of blood the next morning. There are some insightful tours you can take, including the famous Virginia & Truckee Railroad, which still runs today, chugging along a slow and steady route from Carson City and running summertime tours to Gold Hill.
For a good historical overview from a local guide, hop onboard the charming Virginia City Trolley, which loops around the town and features many major sites along the way, including a stop at the annual Way It Was Rodeo, held every August.
Whether it’s hiking epic trails, hitting a round at a championship golf course, or simply embracing the relaxed local way of life, here it’s all about finding your very own ‘sweet spot’.
Take a scenic 45-minute road trip from Reno, where you can expect to see wild horses and deer alongside breathtaking Sierra mountain vistas, before stopping at Carson City, the State’s capital. Explore its Victorian buildings, leafy streets, Nevada State Museum inside the former Carson City Mint and the Nevada State Capitol building with its glimmering silver dome cap and lush gardens.
Nestled into the base of the Sierras, Nevada’s oldest town Genoa, will truly charm you. Proudly known for its “three Hs” – history, hiking and hospitality, its small community of around 220 residents has worked hard to preserve the town’s heritage. Originally settled as Mormon Station in 1851, Genoa’s past is felt all around, starting at the Mormon Station State Historic Park, which was essentially the town’s birthplace. There’s a small museum inside the old log trading post (a replica of the original) and a monument of John ‘Snowshoe’ Thompson, the legendary mailman of the Sierra who would carry the mail from Placerville, California to Genoa, making the gruelling journey on skis through the snowy mountains for 20 winters in the 1880s.
Stroll up the road to the lovingly restored Town Hall, quaint cafès, a quirky antiques store full of trinkets to take home and the famous Genoa Bar – Nevada’s oldest bar, dating back to 1853. Order a Picon Punch – a classic Basque cocktail and, when hunger hits, head to the pretty streets of Gardnerville for a hearty helping of traditional Basque cuisine at J.T. Basque Bar and Dining Room.
For a thrilling, and in my case, a white-knuckle experience you’ll never forget, go soaring in an engineless glider plane with Soaring NV at Minden-Tahoe Airport. Thanks to the unique atmosphere created by the surrounding mountains, Carson Valley is among the top three places in the world for soaring, and once you and your pilot have been towed aloft by a small plane, you’ll soar above the mountains and over spectacular views of Lake Tahoe. Top off the day with a soak in one of the geothermal pools at David Walley’s Hot Springs Resort and Spa.
Shimmering blue waters, iconic grey boulders, pine tree forests and snowy peaked mountains – Lake Tahoe’s landscape is breathtaking and, while it’s the largest alpine lake in America, there’s plenty to do both on and off the water.
Start off easy with a scenic cruise onboard the historic paddle wheeler M.S. Dixie II from Zephyr Cove in South Lake Tahoe up to Emerald Bay, then take it up a notch with a gondola ride from Heavenly Village up to Heavenly Mountain Resort’s Epic Discovery. Located on the California-Nevada border, this adventure playground offers plenty of activities for all ages, from hiking and sightseeing to exciting zip line tours and ropes courses.
If you’re after a livelier nightlife scene, stay South, which offers bars, restaurants, clubs and concerts, as well as casinos such as Hard Rock Hotel and Harrah’s. Friday’s Station on the top floor of Harrah’s is a top choice for fine dining, exceptional wines and photo-worthy sunset views.
North Lake Tahoe is great for families and adventurers, with beaches like Sand Harbor ideal for swimming, paddle-boarding and kayaking, and a range of hiking and biking trails. The iconic Flume Trail, which was cleared and opened by cycling champion Max Jones in 1983, offers some of the most rewarding views of Lake Tahoe. However, at a length of 22.5 kilometres and plenty of steep inclines, it is rated as difficult, with the high altitude adding an extra challenge; so if you’re less experienced, opt for an easier route.
There’s definitely a trail for everyone, and Flume Trail Bikes, also owned and run by Max Jones, will sort you with a bike and point you in the right direction. Afterwards, reward yourself with a cold craft beer at one of the many Tahoe Ale Trails that conclude with
a watering hole such as Alibi Ale Works, which has a range of interesting and innovative flavours on tap. We’ll drink to that. •
Photography by Lana Bogunovich and Travel Nevada.
Delta, Qantas, United Airlines and American Airlines fly between Australia and Los Angeles, and Southwest Airlines will get you from LAX to Reno-Tahoe International Airport
• Delta Airlines: delta.com
• Qantas: qantas.com
• United Airlines: united.com
• Southwest Airlines: southwest.com
Where to stay
• Casino hotels Grand Sierra Resort and Circus Circus, for entertainment. grandsierraresort.com, circusreno.com
• For a more boutique option, go Whitney Peak Hotel. whitneypeakhotel.com
North Lake Tahoe
• Hyatt Tahoe for five-star, lakeside luxury. laketahoe.regency.hyatt.com
Where to eat and drink
• Morgan’s Lobster Shack for the best lobster rolls in town. morganslobstershack.com
• Two Chicks for egg-cellent brekkies. twochicksreno.com
• Wild River Grille for riverside alfresco dining. wildrivergrille.com
• Kanpai Sushi for all you can eat sushi. circusreno.com
• Roxy’s for more than 100 types of martinis and jazz. eldoradoreno.com
• Little Nugget Diner, a hole-in-the-wall diner famous for its ‘Awful Awful Burger’. littlenuggetdiner.restaurantwebexpert.com
• Genoa Bar & Saloon for befriending the locals over a Picon Punch. genoabarandsaloon.com
• J.T. Basque Bar & Dining Room for traditional Basque cuisine. jtbasquenv.com
• Friday’s Station for fine dining and panoramic sunset views. caesars.com
• Alibi Ale Works for craft beer and kombucha on tap. alibialeworks.com