Sometimes the best things were a surprise – Reno

I don’t gamble really. I dislike smoking, casinos, etc. So when we decided to fly to Reno to enjoy the Reno Jazz Festival our son was playing at I honestly had tremendously low expectations. We’d been to Reno once before – maybe 25 years ago or so. It was Vegas-lite. Except with a bunch of Harleys on the main drag. There were some good things (take your beer with you when you walked outside²) and plenty of unpleasant things (the food, the casinos, the smoking, and well… kind of everything).

Our expectations were low. We read a bit about the new riverwalk area on the Truckee. But as we approached the airport we were taken by the lovely snow-clad mountains (Tahoe region was clobbered with snow this year). On the drive into town our shuttle driver mentioned how lovely the University of Nevada/Reno was. We were skeptical especially as we hit downtown – the casinos look pretty bad, worn out, seedy. And like all American cities these days Reno has a homelessness problem.

We walked up to the UNR campus and wow! the driver was right. They’ve built a lovely campus that blends new buildings with old, sunny walking paths all over the place, and just a general sense of “yeah, this is a great place to attend college”. I don’t know if that is true or not but the kids walking around all seemed happy so that’s the only measure I went with.

The downtown riverwalk area is also lovely. There is a popup-style bar called the Eddy – cocktails, bocci, and watching the river go by (in almost overflowing flood stage). There are restaurants like Campo along the river too. There are snazzy-looking apartments downtown. With the Sierras only an hour away I can see how the recast of Reno as an outdoorsy place is gradually replacing the older, stodgier, seedier casino (getting 50k new jobs with a Tesla plant isn’t going to hurt either). Our hotel is the first non-smoking, non-casino place. It comes with a great climbing gym, an outdoor climbing wall that is scary-looking, and a nice restaurant¹

The drivers stop at crosswalks. The place is pretty clean overall. More than anything else it was so much better than our low expectations that we just spent a lovely weekend there and would go back.


 

¹ Of note is that service in Reno is generally terrible. Not mean or anything, folks are friendly. But the staff at every bar or restaurant seemed to be pretty much on their first day on the job (exception was the bartender at Whitney Peaks). Four or five waiters milling around… but no one could quite figure out why all these people were in their restaurant. At a lovely pub on the river one poor bartender was just confused with a simple drink order and stumbled back and forth asking for the directions again and again. So reset your expectations, this isn’t big-city dining. It’s honest but sort of stumbling along but with a general good will vibe about it.

² The outside beer thing is gone – they changed the law at some point so it’s pretty much like everywhere else in the US – finish your drink, then stumble on down the road.

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