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Reno: bright lights, little city. After years of living in the Bay Area and several trips to Lake Tahoe and other parts of Nevada, I had somehow never visited Reno, nicknamed the “biggest little city in the world.” As part of moving cross-country, I decided it was time to fix that and Mr. V and I spent 3 days in Reno before turning down U.S. 50, the “loneliest highway in America” to Great Basin National Park. (Apparently, Nevada is full of great nicknames!)
We spent our 3 days in Reno in May 2021, right as the world was beginning to re-open and travel resume. As such, you’ll see photos that show a combination of masked and unmasked activities; as always I recommend following local health guidelines (even once we’re past the current situation!).
If you’re planning a trip to Reno – or trying to decide if it’s worth making a stop off I-80 – let me be your guide. Based on our three-day trip to Reno, here’s how I recommend spending a weekend in Reno – or any other three day trip.
Note: This article contains a photo of Aboriginal Australian memorial poles. These pieces of art were produced specifically for public viewing. I respectfully share them with you while acknowledging the sanctity of these traditional art forms and the Indigenous cultural heritage that informed them.
In this post, I promote travel to a destination that is the traditional lands of the Wašišiw Ɂítdeʔ (Washoe) people. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.
Reno Travel Tips
Before jumping into what I recommend for things to do in Reno and how to fit it into a three-day itinerary, I want to cover a few travel logistics that will help you have an even better trip.
How to Get to Reno
First: how do you get to Reno? Well, Reno is a super easy road trip destination; it’s located right on Interstate 80 and is a perfect first night stop if you’re driving east on I-80 from San Francisco or last night stop while traveling westbound to SF. It takes about 3 hours and 40 minutes to drive between San Francisco and Reno.
If you’re considering a trip to Reno from further away, Reno is home to Reno-Tahoe International Airport. This is a great option for flying to Reno. Regular flights arrive from Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, Seattle, San Diego, Phoenix, Portland, Chicago, and other cities too!
Reno Weather & What to Pack
Reno, Nevada is located at 4,505 feet in elevation – so it has four distinct seasons. In the winter, expect snow and cold; summer brings high temps and a bright high-desert sunshine. In between, the weather will be transitional and varied – so be sure to check the forecast before your visit.
In terms of what to pack for Reno, traditional options for any given season will work. One thing you can leave home is a raincoat; Reno is in a semiarid climate and most of the rain comes in the late winter and spring. Be sure to pack hiking boots if you plan to hit the trails (mentioned below) or head over to Lake Tahoe which is a more adventure-oriented destination.
Reno vs. Las Vegas
If you’re researching Reno and trying to decide whether to visit Las Vegas or Reno, I recommend Reno if you’re up for:
- Some casino time, but not as many big shows or celebrity chef restaurants
- Exploring beyond the casinos to experience the real life of locals in the area
- Access to incredible outdoor activities like hiking in the Sierra Nevadas and visiting Lake Tahoe
I’m planning to do a post comparing Reno and Vegas soon, so I’ll add that link here once it’s live!
The 12 Best Things to Do in Reno for a Weekend
Visit the Casinos
As you might guess, Reno – like Las Vegas – is home to loads of casinos. Unlike Las Vegas though, they aren’t located in a strip; there are a bunch in downtown, several further around town, and some in neighboring Sparks, Nevada.
In any case, like Vegas, you haven’t really visited Reno unless you’ve done a bit of gambling. I spent a bit of time on the slots and lost a bunch before I found the electronic BlackJack machines and had a great time – and lost the rest of the money I had decided to spend. 😂
(Please gamble responsibly; if you struggle with a gambling addiction, consider seeking support.)
No matter whether you lose or win on the casino floor, a trip to Reno is a good time to treat yourself to a spa treatment. During our visit, Mr. V and I had a joint session at Grand Sierra Resort – he had a massage and I enjoyed a body scrub. There are loads of other spas too, including Spavia, Dolce Vita, and Spa Toscana at Peppermill Reno.
If you’re willing to drive a bit further, there are also hot springs spas you can visit, like Lawtons Hot Springs, Moana Hot Springs, and Reno Hot Springs.
Explore Along the Truckee Riverwalk
Despite being a dry, desert climate, Reno has a river – the Truckee River which runs from the town of Truckee, California through the Sierras to Reno and further north into the Great Basin.
Within Reno, the city has developed a beautiful riverwalk of trails and community areas that you can enjoy. Mr. V and I took a nice stroll one afternoon, and even dipped a toe into the chilly alpine-fed water.
If you’re up for a bit more adventure, the Truckee River is also a great spot for river floating during the height of summer.
Hang Out at the Eddy
I don’t normally call out a specific restaurant or bar in my weekend itineraries like this, but the Eddy is a unique enough place and worth the time that you should put it on your itinerary and plan for at least a few hours there.
In short, the Eddy is an outdoor food/drink space. It’s built from shipping containers and has a couple of different dining options; there are three bars with a number of different craft beer on tap.
Mr. V and I stopped here for an afternoon drink and snack – but we were definitely regretting giving up our table as the crowds formed and it became clear that The Eddy was clearly the place to hang out on a weekend night!
While downtown Reno is the place to be for casino-hopping and exploring along the river, Midtown is coming up as a place to be and be seen. We got the tip in our itinerary-planning process to spend some time in Midtown, so we decided to walk there after dinner downtown one night.
A string of eclectic restaurants, trendy and hip bars, and quirky shops line the main street in this neighborhood, Virginia Street. From brunch through late-night cocktails, Midtown is worth at least one meal and a stroll during your 3 days in Reno – but you could easily spend a lot more time here.
Admire Street Art…
As Mr. V and I set out to explore Reno on foot, I was delighted to discover how much street art there is all over town – but especially in Midtown. So if you’re heading out to explore Midtown like I just suggested, keep your eyes peeled – there are murals everywhere!
I really enjoyed that so much of the street art I saw in Reno was focused on Reno – there were several incredible murals dedicated to the city, its heritage, and its artistic style. I’m not sure if there’s an arts commission, but if so, they’re doing a great job approving pieces that make Reno’s street art scene feel unique.
…See Public Burning Man Art…
As you may know, Nevada is home to Burning Man, the cultural celebration that takes place out in the desert in Pershing County. Each year, artists create incredible works of art – many of which are either destroyed or displaced when the temporary community, Black Rock City, disbands at the end of the event.
Brilliantly, Reno has become one city that takes these artworks and displays them for the public who aren’t “burners.” Of course I loved the “Space Whales” in City Plaza (a few other works of art are in the same area) and I found this other piece along the Truckee Riverwalk.
In total, there are a dozen Burning Man pieces around Reno; click here to see where they’re all located.
… & Browse Galleries at the Nevada Museum of Art
“Small but mighty” is how I’d describe the Nevada Museum of Art. This isn’t a Louvre or MOMA where you need a full day to see all of the exhibits; you’ll be able to see all three floors of galleries in a few hours, making it a perfect thing to do in Reno for a weekend trip.
During our visit, there were a number of fascinating exhibits, including one on the Pre-Raphelites and a few other galleries with works by Aboriginal Australian artists and Black artists. It was honestly one of the best museums I have visited, as it included commentary on the card for each piece of art to help me make sense of it all.
Go Museum Hopping
If art isn’t your style, there are a number of other museums worth exploring in Reno:
- The National Automobile Museum – Also called The Harrah’s Car Collection, this is one for you mechanically-minded museum folks.
- Terry Lee Wells Nevada Discovery Museum – Perfect for families, this is a huge 67000 square-foot science museum with tons of hands-on, fascinating exhibits.
- Fleischmann Planetarium – You know I love space stuff – how could I not recommend the local planetarium. Located on the University of Nevada, Reno campus, this planetarium offers daily shows.
- Nevada Historical Society – As the name suggests, this museum focuses on preserving and sharing Nevada natural and cultural heritage through exhibits.
Any of these is worth a visit during your weekend in Reno if you have the time; you could also do one of these and the Nevada Museum of art if you really like exploring a destination through its museums.
Eat & Drink Across Town
For a small city, Reno has a fantastically diverse drinking and dining scene; spending a weekend in Reno is barely enough time to scratch the surface.
During our 3 days in Reno, we ate and drank at:
- Liberty Food & Wine – A upscale downtown spot that serves fab food without the white tablecloth. (The burger above was from Liberty.)
- Rum Sugar Lime – Not strictly a tiki bar, but definitely one of the best places to drink in Reno. (The drink above was from RSL.)
- Two Chicks – Perfect for brunch, and recommended to us by every local we chatted with. (The chilaquiles above was from Two Chicks.)
- The Eddy – Already mentioned!
- The Depot – A former railroad depot with a fantastic dinner menu and bar.
And we were supposed to grab breakfast at DISH too – but I was honestly so stuffed from all that food over the course of just a few days that we left it on the “to-do on our next visit” list.
While our original itinerary suggested heading up over the mountains to Lake Tahoe for a hike (more on Tahoe below), I decided to keep it local and did some research on hikes around Reno. In the end, we set out on the Tom Cooke Trail east of Reno. We barely scratched the surface of the 3.7-mile loop but it was a great way to start the morning by climbing up into the hills for some good views and plenty of open space.
Here are some other interesting hiking trails near Reno I found:
- Rattle Snake Mountain – A 1.5-mile out-and-back trail up the mountain – but not too strenuous.
- Hole in the Wall Trail – A 5-mile out-and-back trail along a river to a giant hole in a massive rock.
- Hunter Creek Trail – A 6.4-mile out-and-back trail that includes a waterfall.
Some of these were too long for the time we had – but if you love hiking and want to make that a priority during your 3 days in Reno, there are plenty of other options!
Visit Lake Tahoe
Though you’re *technically* visiting Reno, it’s so close to Lake Tahoe that I highly recommend spending some time near this gorgeous alpine lake during your weekend if you have the time.
It’s a 50-minute drive from Reno to the shores of North Lake Tahoe; once there you can explore Incline Village, Nevada, or head south along the lakefront to some of the trails or Sand Harbor Beach.
Tahoe is also a great option if you want to extend your three-day Reno itinerary into a 6-7 day trip with extra days around the lake too! (I also recommend a super-short 3-4 day Reno-Tahoe route among my list of the best San Francisco road trips if you’re short on time.)
3 Days in Reno: A Weekend Itinerary to Do
Okay, given all that – how do you fit all those great things to do in Reno into a weekend itinerary? Based on my trip, allow me to make a suggestion. You can definitely customize this for your own travel plans and what you enjoy doing!
Day 1: Museums & Midtown
On day 1 of this three-day Reno itinerary depends a lot on your arrival time. More than likely, you’ll have an afternoon to explore on your first day.
Given that time, you may want to head to one of the city’s museums. I mentioned several above, but the Nevada Museum of Art is the one I consider a must-do if you want to start appreciating how informative art is to Reno’s culture.
After that (or instead of that), you can then head out on a self-guided walking tour to see the street art in Midtown (or Downtown). Midtown is a good option since I then recommend having dinner and drinks in the same area before calling it a night; Rum Sugar Lime is a must-visit for cocktails if that’s something you enjoy!
Day 2: Downtown & the Casinos
On your second of 3 days in Reno, rise and shine for brunch before starting the day. Two Chicks in Midtown is the place – but you’ll need to get reservations or arrive early to avoid a long wait.
After fueling up, you could head to the spa, local hot springs, or pool at your hotel (like those I recommend below). I’ll leave it up to you to figure out which activity most suits your travel style – but I will also add that I’ve never regretted spending the money on a spa treatment to make my trip a truly relaxing experience! 😉
For lunch and the afternoon, I recommend heading to The Eddy for lunch and a drink or too. As I mentioned above, this is a great spot to spend a few hours, so don’t feel any need to rush. Afterward, a nice walk along the Truckee Riverwalk will help stretch your legs and help you work up an appetite for dinner downtown (such as at Liberty or The Depot).
Finally, end your day by heading to one of the casinos to try your luck. There are plenty to choose from – including the old school Cal-Neva, flashy Circus Circus, or posh Grand Sierra Resort further from downtown. Good luck!
Day 3: The Great Outdoors
For your final day in Reno, get out and explore the natural wonders in the Reno area. Start with a sunrise/morning hike, such as one of the ones I recommended above.
After freshening up and checking out from your hotel, you can then head to Lake Tahoe for the rest of the day. There are more trails to explore there, but spending the midday in Incline Village and afternoon enjoying the sun from Sand Harbor Beach. Then it’s time to head home or back to Reno for your departing flight.
Where to Stay in Reno
There are loads of options for places to stay in Reno, but on my trip, I stayed at the Grand Sierra Resort. This property, formerly a different casino, has had a total overhaul in the past few years and is now a beautiful, modern option.
They have two on-site pools, including an adult’s only infinity pool; a spa; a theater; a nightclub; restaurants; and tons of other amenities like axe-throwing and a sweet shop. Honestly, we could have spent our entire 3 days in Reno just exploring everything at the GSR – but luckily we had a tour to show us the highlights.
Here’s a peek of our room, plus a photo from the living room in the Presidential Suite (#goals):
If you’re looking for a place to stay closer to town, other than the casinos I found two great vacation rentals right along the Truckee Riverwalk: this one has a great view and sleeps up to six or this one is a cozy studio that sleeps three.
And there you have it – everything you need to know to spend a weekend in Reno! Have any other questions about how to spend 3 days in Reno? Let me know in the comments!