While it is much older and historic than its glittery southern Nevada counterpart which is Las Vegas, Reno’s sleepier reputation as the “Divorce Capital of the World” is experiencing a funky renaissance that is attracting a new generation of clientele. The Biggest Little City in the World just got a little bigger. 

The hotels, boarding houses and hospitality ranches that catered primarily to those temporary residents (mostly women) waiting out the six-week residency requirement before their court date have been restored and transformed into hip, yet affordable restaurants, cafes, music venues, crystal shops and breweries.

The pedestrian-friendly midtown stretch of South Virginia Street is lined with one novel business after another, like the Two Chicks cafe, which started as the GourMelt Grilled Cheese truck by two Nevada natives and evolved into two charming restaurants. The breakfast and brunch spot has an extensive menu including almond poppy seed French toast with fresh blueberry compote and a selection of four $9 Bloody Marys.

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Best Bet Motor Lodge (Michele Stueven)

The midtown strip also is dotted with restored and rehabilitated motor hotels that lead the way to one of Nevada’s oldest cities, beckoning with the original neon signs that lured weary travelers. There’s the Ho Hum Motel and the newly opened and renovated Best Bet Motor Lodge. It originally opened as the Ox-Bow Motor Lodge in 1958, and the new rooms of the 21-room boutique hotel located in the center of midtown are a comfortable nod to its mid-century past. One of the original rooms has been converted into a sauna club that extends out to an AirStream trailer and wellness area. 

While gambling became legal in Nevada in 1931, as the divorce industry declined, gambling became the major Reno industry. Unlike most cities in Nevada today, you don’t realize you’re in a gambling state in many areas of Reno outside of downtown.   No slot machines in the corners or dancing martini neons.

The charming Pangolin Cafe, a few doors down from the Best Bet, is a charming local hangout that features a variety of tea shot lattes, mochas, traditional coffee and sparkling drinks like cardamom or rose/lavender lemonades. The highlight of the cafe is the housemade Turkish delights that come in vanilla rose, sour grapefruit, lemon, tart raspberry, and pomegranate pistachio flavors. For something a little stronger, the mid-century-style Emerson Cocktail Lounge next door is a friendly and affordable stop for craft cocktails. There’s a great selection of various gin and tonics, as well as classics and specialty drinks like Strawberry Fields — house vanilla-infused vodka with fresh strawberries and lemon.

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Turkish Delights at Pangolin Cafe (Michele Stueven)

For a quick morning bite, Perenn Midtown is a fresh-baked bread counter serving pastries, espresso and a variety of sweet and savory tartines, as well as prosciutto or fig and brie baguettes.

Centro Midtown is the place for energy and tapas. Perfect for sharing and sipping alongside at TK, there’s olive oil poached salmon bruschetta, lemon piccata meatballs and Korean BBQ spiced cauliflower with kimchi hummus, pickled shiitake mushrooms and shaved radish.

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Waffle at Stone House Cafe (Michele Stueven)

Off the beaten path of South Virginia Street, hidden in the residential Southwest neighborhood, you’ll find The Stone House Cafe. The yellow craftsman bungalow made from local river rock and surrounded by a path of outdoor patios was originally built in 1918 and opened as a restaurant in 2005. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, highlights include a variety of burgers, steaks, lamb and chicken curry.

But if it’s action you want, there’s still plenty of it in downtown Reno. Center Street and North Sierra near the riverfront section of town along the Truckee River are experiencing a rebirth, which is spreading out to other parts of downtown, combining the renovation of historic structures into breweries and boutique hotels.

Chris Reilly and wife Piper, who renovated the Best Bet Motel down the road, have also opened a small six-room sister hotel downtown, the Jesse Hotel and Bar, in a restored historic brick building that previously housed a jazz club. In the 1920s through the  1930s, it was the Royal Hotel — a temporary residence for transient workers and divorcees and opened as the Jesse in 2019.

The property also includes a romantic courtyard restaurant, Estella, a lively, modern Mexican cantina specializing in street tacos, salsas, assorted side dishes and mezcal-inspired cocktails that rival anything in Los Angeles. Try a prickly pear mezcal margarita alongside fish or mushroom tacos and charred spiced elote rounds served with crema, hot sauce and herbs.

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The Jesse Hotel downtown (Michele Stueven)

Smith and River is a fun American Bistro overlooking the rushing Truckee River downtown. Signature cocktails include the  S+R 76, made with herb-infused vodka, prosecco, lemon and honey, as well as the similar Reno Pack mocktail, a nod to the University of Nevada Reno’s Wolf Pack. The summer menu includes plenty of housemade pasta and vegetable-forward items like a pizza with roasted summer squash, sweet corn, pickled red onion, stracciatella, roasted garlic, arugula and a drizzle of balsamic.

Also fun on the riverfront walk is the outdoor container bar The Eddy,  a collaborative community space with live music, local art, free yard games and free fitness classes, and much more. Three bars feature 24 craft beers and 10 fine wines on tap, as well as hand-crafted cocktails. The container is family-friendly for all ages during the day, as well as dog-friendly for well-behaved pups.

For the gaming energy that brings most of us to Nevada, upscale options further downtown include the Atlantis Casino Resort and Spa, The Grand Sierra Casino Resort and The Peppermill Reno Resort.

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Tableside at Atlantis Reno Steakhouse (Michele Stueven)

The steakhouse at the Atlantis is arguably the most elegant restaurant in all of Reno, with some of the best tableside theatrics in Nevada. In addition to fine steaks from Allen Brothers of Chicago and Japanese Wagyu imported from Kumamoto, Japan, there are a variety of tableside dishes including a classic Caesar, tossed spinach salad, Steak Diane, flaming scampi, Bananas Foster, Cherries Jubilee and Crepes Suzette. The wine list has scored the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence for 23 consecutive years.

For music, upcoming acts at The Grand Sierra Casino Grand Theater and hotspot LEX Nightclub include Jewel and Melissa Etheridge on Saturday, July 20; Dweezil Zappa on Tuesday, Aug. 6; and Dianna Ross on Saturday, Aug. 24.

And if you want to zen out altogether, take the short drive up Mount Rose Highway to Lake Tahoe and sign up for a relaxing and easy Bonsai Rock Guided Kayak Tour in clear vessels over 65-foot waters with Clearly Tahoe. They also offer e-bike tours and bicycle rentals, as well as other group experiences. The kayak paddle takes about three hours in all and will drum up an appetite that can be quelled at the Sage Leaf Tahoe Incline Village. Summer 2024 highlights include braised bacon breakfast tacos, a soy-glazed chicken sandwich, 28-day dry aged flat iron steak in a green peppercorn sauce served with duck fat-fried steak fries and a pineapple sage martini. Just the thing to restore all those well-spent calories.

 

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Bonsai Rock Guided Kayak Tour (Courtesy Visit Reno Tahoe)

Historic Side Shows

 

A short drive into the mountains on the way to Tahoe is historic Virginia City. At its peak, the mining town was a thriving metropolis of 25,000 residents. Its hills made millionaires, with silver and gold buried deep beneath the streets.  Men and women traveled from around the world to live and work there, miners pulled millions of dollars from shafts and tunnels 3,000 feet beneath the thriving town. The spirit of those Comstock “originals” still inhabits the places where they once worked, lived, worshiped, educated and died.  While it’s a fraction of its original size, plenty of historic buildings have been restored including the Opera House, the Bucket of Blood Saloon and the Territorial Enterprise where Samuel Clements (Mark Twain) worked as a reporter.  Events and tours take place year-round.

More than 100 years old, The Reno Rodeo comes around for ten days’  worth of activities every June. Dubbed “Wildest, Richest Rodeo in the West,” the Reno Rodeo is a Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association-sanctioned sporting event and is a non-profit organization made up of about  900 volunteers. Each year more than  140,000 fans attend the fourth richest PRCA tour rodeo and the third best as recognized by USA Today’s 10 Best Readers Choice. The event impacts the Reno/Sparks area economy with $42 million going to hotels, casinos, restaurants and retail outlets. The Reno Rodeo has been nationally televised on The Cowboy Channel, CBS Sports, Fox Sports Net, Versus, ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPN Classic.  It’s a guaranteed rootin tootin time.

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Courtesy Reno Rodeo

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