Note: This post was published over two years ago, and was horribly out of date. So it's been updated. Reno's come a long way in two years. This post will be featured for a while and eventually updated again.
This page breaks Reno out by neighborhoods and describes them in terms of what you will find there. One thing that makes Reno truly great is its neighborhoods, of sufficient age and variety that they can even be broken down in terms of sub –neighborhoods.
Downtown proper that is. I'd say it's bounded by I-80 on the north, Liberty St on the south and by Arlington and Evans, west and east. Downtown’s skyline is pretty visually appealing from a large number of vantage points in the city. While it isn’t perfect, downtown is the epicenter of Reno’s ongoing efforts to improve its urban environment, and is worth a look. If you’re staying downtown while visiting, look here for what to do when you get tired of being inside the building.
At the north end of this part of town, you’ll find the major casino entity in Reno, which consists of Eldorado, Silver Legacy, and Circus Circus. Nearby, and next to a dreadful looking block of buildings (we’re sorry, we’re working on it!) is the original Harrah’s property. Well, not really, but for all intents and purposes, yes (the original Harrah’s casino was across the street). For some real Reno casino experiences, visit The Little Nugget, mid-block on Virginia Street south of Commercial Row, and Club Cal Neva, which will be unmissable. At the former, have a good cocktail from the bar. The Little Nugget is a slot parlor and is most famous as the home of The Awful Awful, a hamburger with a convoluted enough history, suffice to say, The Little Nugget can claim the title of home. At the latter… well, go inside. This is what gamblin’ looked like for a long time.
“WeFi” is the name that was given by a publicity-stirring resident of the hippest part of downtown, which is located at West and First Streets, right next to Wingfield Park and the River Walk. Whatever you want to call it (lots of locals sneer at “WeFi” but I kinda like it), it’s a nice place to go walking around, especially in the daytime. The merchant’s association calls it the Riverwalk District.
Not long ago, the Reno Redevelopment Agency created a Public Market on West Street between First and Second Streets in some beautiful old buildings. While this is a nascent project, in warmer months especially the market spills out onto the street during the day and becomes a bona fide farmer’s market, toward the end of the week. Special events also occur regularly here, and there is a great wine bar for tastings in a friendly atmosphere.
High rise housing is clustered around this area, bounded on the north by a project called Montage, a recent full scale renovation of a former casino, which as of this writing is not on the best financial footing due to the real estate bust. A recent project right on the river called Palladio is the building with the green pitched roof. Riverwalk, Arlington and Park Towers are all clustered around the river between Arlington and West streets, with Park Tower on the south bank of the Truckee.
East Fourth Street
This is Reno's classic strip o' bars at night. There are a number of long neglected buildings here just begging for someone to come use them for something modern. At the same time, there is work that needs to be done in this area as well if it is to be really worthy of investment. The streetscape is due for improvement.
East Fourth Street does have its afforementioned nightlife. Nightlife institutions like Lincoln Lounge, Club Underground, Davidson’s Distillery, Abby’s Old Highway 40, Treehouse Lounge, and Studio on 4th play host to a variety of events – everything from bikers to all ages open mic nights.
Also on East Fourth Street is Louis’ Basque Corner, and Casale’s Halfway Club restaurant – which is not a halfway house, but rather is halfway between Reno and Sparks. Or something. Classic American kitchen Italian. Basque food in Reno is legendary.
In Fall of 2007, something local leaders had been hoping and praying would happen finally happened.
A few years before that, a surcharge on rental cars was begun, and that money pooled into an account, to be used for the construction of a true AAA Minor League baseball stadium in Reno to accommodate a team – which needed to be found.
Some businessmen from out of town appeared with access to money, and those businessmen managed, in the span of a little over a year, to clear several buildings, including Reno’s main fire station, off a plot of land on the east side of downtown, and raised up a beautiful minor league ballpark, bought and relocated a team and had butts in seats cheering like crazy by Spring, 2009, for the inaugural season of the Reno Aces. Lake and First is a good place to start.
Good thing, too, because this part of downtown was looking pretty rough. A landmark building had burned down, and so a once vibrant part of town had been reduced to a bunch of empty lots. Those empty lots are filling up again. As of this writing, construction is underway on the second phase of the ballpark project, to include an entertainment complex, as well as a new transit center for downtown.
This district is also home to Santa Fe Hotel, another of Reno’s classic Basque restaurants. I’ll leave it to you to choose a favorite.
More investment is needed in the downtown area to unlock its full potential, but it’s already a lot of fun – and shows one way that Reno is truly The Biggest Little City.
People in Reno can sometimes be a little skeptical when people try to call their neighborhood something fancy. But one name that seems to have caught on with people is Midtown. Midtown refers to the area of town between Plumb Lane to the south, and Liberty Street to the north, just south of downtown. It’s truly a descriptive name, so that’s probably why people like it.
Midtown has two distinct neighborhoods hanging off of it, that share great common features, but are distinct in their own right. The two main streets of Midtown are South Virginia Street and Wells Ave.
My original, and current, Reno home. This strip of mostly commercial development punctuated by old houses and the odd apartment building is an old main street and recently underwent a community driven renovation. The road was narrowed and bike lanes were added. Street furniture, landscaping, and decorative lighting were installed, and public art was installed.
Wells Ave has become home to a considerable number of Latino businesses over the past several years. It’s also home to some great old bars, and an old bank (today a US Bank) that was once a church. While not necessarily a great pedestrian destination for tourists (the businesses are very neighborhood oriented), nonetheless south of Stewart Street, it’s pleasant to look at and has great views of the whole city and the mountains.
South Virginia Street
This is the stretch of South Virginia, Reno’s definite main street, bounded by Plumb Lane on the south and Liberty St on the north. This is where the zany antique malls, adult boutiques, cutting edge design studios, thrift shops, bars, nightclubs (including a gay bar), ethnic restaurants, and more other food options than I can recount, all seem to happily coexist.
South Virginia Street is in line to be rehab’ed in something called the Complete Street Project. South Virginia is home to Reno’s high capacity, high frequency BRT bus line RTC RAPID, and by November of 2010 it is expected that BRT stations, with level boarding platforms, will exist on Virginia, and streetscape improvements will have begun.
Today, South Virginia Street is a desolate place for pedestrians. Sidewalks in some places are about 2 feet wide. Yet it is undeniably urban, and undeniably: if you like cities and the kinds of funky yet safe things cities tend to have among their accoutrements, you will like this street.
The area around the University of Nevada, Reno, is an old residential neighborhood. UNR, as the locals call it, is also referred to as Nevada in NCAA sports.
The UNR campus is a great place to walk around, and if you don’t mind living in a neighborhood full of college students, you could do worse than to live in the neighborhood on the hill to the west of the university.
Driving through the leafy streets of Reno’s Old Southwest, it’s easy to imagine living there. The would be resident will be limited by the size of the pocketbook, however. It’s going to be really important here. A few main streets of this neighborhood are Plumas Street, Arlington Ave, and Mt Rose Street. The Old Southwest is the residential part of Reno with the most charming houses, mansions built when your grandparents were kids (around Newlands Circle on California Ave), leafy streets and interestingly enough, largely not a lot of pretense about the whole affair. Along the eastern edge, the border with Midtown, owners turn to tenants, a few apartment buildings emerge here and there.
The merchants like to call this street “CalAve” – and this is another designation that locals frequently sneer at. You can just say “on California” and people will know what you’re talking about. California Avenue is an edge between downtown and Old Southwest – and is a district main street of both but more closely resembles the latter.
On California you’ll find boutiques and great places to have lunch, a nightlife institution called Biggest Little City Club, as well as the marvelous St James Infirmary, and provided you’re not too late in the evening, The Chocolate Bar.
California is also located adjacent to two Reno institutions you need to know about: Peg’s Glorified Ham ‘n Eggs (Sierra and Liberty), what might possibly be the best breakfast you can get at a restaurant, and Nevada Museum of Art (Liberty and Flint), a Will Bruder designed building opened in 2003 as the new home of an institution, the state’s only accredited art museum, which has been going for decades.
It’s worth taking a brief moment to acknowledge the wonderful Idlewild Park. This park is the confluence of western downtown (not covered here yet), and Old Southwest charm. From Wingfield Park downtown, head toward the green mountains (the Sierra) along Riverside Drive, cross the river at Booth Street, and follow the signs to Idlewild Park. This is a great walk just about any day of the year.
There’s a lot more of Reno to cover on a neighborhood by neighborhood basis. But so many of the charms of the community are laid out here, that if you’re in search of what makes Reno Reno, you’ll hopefully find them with this guide. Good luck in the Biggest Little City.