Off the Slopes in Reno

Cruise right past ski country to see what else this Nevada-side Sierra city has in store.

While everyone is scrambling to shred the gnar in the picturesque Sierra Nevada before the snow melts, we have an alternative itinerary for those who may not get excited about hurtling downhill on a couple hunks of plastic. Sure, the mountains are gorgeous, and holing up in the lodge with a cup of spiked cocoa is a perfectly pleasant way to spend a vacation, but what if we told you there is a whole lot more to discover just over the hill? Today, the biggest little city that was once known mostly for gambling and prostitution is brimming with culture. Read on to learn, straight from a Reno local, how to spend your time off the slopes in this Nevada escape.

The Food
Reno’s burgeoning food scene is a melting pot of international cuisine, with New American, Korean fusion, Hawaiian specials, AYCE (that’s all-you-can-eat) sushi and much more.

Ijji 2 in Reno
Ijji 2

AYCE sushi is what Reno should really be known for, and almost every sushi-serving restaurant in town participates in the promotion. It’s not a once-a-week thing or a limited menu. This is truly all-you-can-eat, delicious sushi, including every type of roll imaginable, plus appetizers, ice cream and, in some cases, cooked dishes, too. The prices vary from restaurant to restaurant, but a safe bet is $20 per person for lunch and $25 for dinner. Favorites include Pisces Sushi, O’A Sushi and Ijji 2 (which also serves teppanyaki).

Café Whitney in Reno
Café Whitney

For ambience, we recommend a stop at Café Whitney. This effortlessly chic restaurant serves breakfast and dinner on the bottom floor of Whitney Peak Hotel (the one with the large climbing wall on the side, but more on that later). The comfort food here is elevated with a chef’s touch, and the kitchen turns out picture-worthy charcuterie boards, Nashville-style hot chicken sandwiches, a taco trio, jambalaya and New York strip steak, plus an array of seasonal cocktails that rotate frequently. If you’re in the mood for a rowdier time, drag brunches are held about once a month and offer bottomless mimosas alongside easy breakfast fare.

Roxy in Reno

Another good spot for dining is Roxy inside the Eldorado hotel at The Row (which also includes Circus Circus and Silver Legacy) in Reno’s downtown. Here, martinis and live music draw guests in, and the place offers a traditional steakhouse menu with tableside cocktail presentations. It’s an especially easy visit if you’ve chosen one of these hotels as your home base.

Located in Reno’s MidTown neighborhood, Arario is on the second floor of a commercial building. Here, Asian fusion is on the menu. Bowls include poke, bulgogi, teriyaki and ika ika (a ground beef patty with black bean sauce and a fried egg), and everything is delicious. It gets busy, so reservations are recommended.

After dinner, you can mosey downstairs for beers at Piñon Bottle Co. or head across the street for Italian cocktails (including a wide selection of negronis, another Reno staple) at Amari. From there, the party will just be getting started at The Z Bar (complete with fi re pits, a soundtrack of ’90s hip-hop, peanut butter shots and a food truck that serves waffles until 2 a.m.); Rum Sugar Lime, a hot spot that serves a smattering of tropical-inspired cocktails; and Death & Taxes, a speakeasy-style place with dim lighting, cozy black couches and a gothic fireplace.

Rum Sugar Lime in Reno
Rum Sugar Lime

If you’re looking for a steakhouse without the casino prices (and without the casino), Biggest Little Steakhouse, also in MidTown, is your best bet. The quaint eatery features a roll-up garage-style door and indoor/outdoor seating. Live music is a common attraction, and every night of the week boasts food or drink specials. When I say that you can order filet mignon for $28, I’m not lying. Plus, the drinks are top-notch. Local’s tip: Try the barrel-aged Manhattan. The restaurant’s one quirk is that ordering happens at the counter, but that doesn’t take away from the white-tablecloth ambience and tie-clad waiters.

When it comes to breakfast, the great debate used to be between Peg’s Glorified Ham n Eggs and Squeeze In, both of which are still contenders. As the food scene has expanded, however, two newcomers may have dethroned the previous two: The breakfast (and pastries) at Perenn Bakery are unmatched, looking like a spread that jumped straight off your Instagram feed, while Pine State Biscuits offers a hearty option ideal for those recovering from a late night.

Perenn Bakery
Perenn Bakery. Photo by Cindy Rahe.

If you’re looking for something different, Ethiopian fare at Zagol is a can’t-miss experience. Also, Kenji’s Food Truck has a brick-and-mortar location, but the counter where you order your food looks like a food truck. Kenji’s serves quite possibly the world’s best (in our opinion) Spam fried rice.

The Great Outdoors
Just because you aren’t hitting the slopes doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be enjoying the snow. For a solid workout without the downhill threat, consider snowshoeing in Galena Forest, where trails run throughout a pine-heavy landscape. Remember, however, that you’re in higher elevation; the workout is going to feel more intense at 4,500 feet.

Snowshoeing in Galena Forest
Snowshoeing in Galena Forest

After you’ve worked up a sweat, shed the gear and punch up the road to The Lodge. This cozy, quaint wine bar is a common stop-off for locals coming back from Tahoe—located on Mount Rose Highway—or who want to escape the cold without leaving the view behind. Nestled inside, you’ll find options for wine flights, wines by the glass and bottle, brews and cocktails. There’s also food, including charcuterie boards big enough to share and pizzas in a variety of flavors. Curl up inside on a big, comfy couch, sidle up to the bar to make some friends, or take a seat on the outdoor patio to watch the snow fall.

Another way to soak up the magic of winter is to don a pair of skates and hit the ice. A full-sized rink at Reno Ice offers open skate times throughout the week (and weekend) if you’d rather be indoors. Many revel in the experience of a leisurely skate as the snow falls around them. The outdoor rink is located at Grand Sierra Resort, a solid option for overnight accommodations complete with restaurants, gaming, a theater, arcade and more. The outdoor pool area transforms with oversized fi re pits and a full bar serving drinks to warm your soul in the icy outdoors.

The outdoor rink at Grand Sierra Resort
The outdoor rink at Grand Sierra Resort

If it’s not too windy, adrenaline junkies can get their fix by scaling one of Reno’s downtown high-rises. Whitney Peak (known for its status as a non-gaming hotel) maintains a 164-foot artificial climbing wall—the largest in the world—that towers over the iconic Reno arch. Inside, you can continue the fun at BaseCamp Climbing Gym.

Whitney Peak Hotel
Scale a high-rise on Whitney Peak’s 164-foot outdoor climbing wall, which towers over the famous Reno arch.

The Fun Inside
On the list of Reno’s surprising draws: escape rooms. The city has so many that they’re like Starbucks: practically one on every corner. Puzzle Room Reno offers some of the scarier options, which are not for the faint of heart. You can choose to be locked in an asylum or get handcuffed to your teammates. It’s adjacent to the Riverwalk, which makes it easy to book a room time and then find dinner on the river. (We recommend Smith and River for creative cocktails with a view, or Liberty Food & Wine Exchange for a cozy yet lively atmosphere.) There’s also ax throwing across the street and a movie theater around the corner.

If I had to make a list of the must-try escape rooms in Reno, it would be this: an escape room on a pirate ship (yes, they built a 45-foot-long pirate ship indoors) at The Immersium or Keystone Escape Games’ Blood of the Original if you’re looking for a real scare—screams and all. Local’s tip: If you visit The Immersium, dine at Bistro 7 in the same parking lot.

The Immersium
The Immersium

Broadway theater used to be an experience you could have only in the biggest cities, but thanks to a supportive community of arts enthusiasts, Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts has created a local program that brings the biggest names (and big-city casts) to Reno’s downtown. In February, “Ain’t Too Proud,” the story of The Temptations set to their hits, will be on stage, and in March “Come From Away” plays for six days. Local’s tip: The theater is surrounded by restaurants you can walk to, including Old Granite Street Eatery with its elevated American menu.

If you prefer to laugh, Reno’s comedy-show circuit is also robust. Many know the Laugh Factory stage inside Silver Legacy downtown with constant shows and a revolving door of comedians with credible IMDb credits. In February, Jim Gaffigan will perform at Grand Sierra. For laughs and magic, The Theatre is the most unlikely Reno extravaganza you can find. It almost feels like community theater when you consider the venue and drink prices, but the show’s caliber is about ten times too big for the space, offering showgirl-style dancers, mind-boggling magical acts and more.

Playfield ’76
Playfield ’76

Arcade Bars have also gained popularity in the area. The recently remodeled Press Start is heavy on pinball machines and old-school gaming consoles. (Plus, the attached fried chicken restaurant, Cluckers, is worth writing home about.) During the day, anyone can play, but adult-only hours come in the evenings. Playfield ’76 is a similar concept but slightly different in its application, offering modern arcade-style games plus a restaurant and bar. If you’d rather let the whole family in on the fun, run to South 40, where you can catch the game with a brewski while the kids go nuts.

For a relaxing afternoon, a day pass to any spa will do the trick. The big hotels like Renaissance, Grand Sierra, Silver Legacy, Peppermill and Atlantis have their own, but Dolce Vita, inside the new Rancharrah neighborhood, has all of the same amenities including a hot tub, jellyfish meditation lounge, sauna and more. Local’s tip: Spend an evening in Rancharrah, a sparkling new development filled with shopping, dining and drinks destinations, plus lawn games and live music when the weather is right.

Playfield ’76
Playfield ’76

If you’re looking to explore Reno’s best nightlife but don’t want to walk the in-between stretches, you can hire a pedicab for the evening. Pineapple Pedicabs provides themed rides that show off the very best of Reno. To book, visit the website. Every month the itineraries change. In February, expect a smattering of romantic trips for two.

reno nightlife
Photo by donyanedomam/