Rediscovering Reno

Nevermind those casinos. “The Biggest Little City in the World” is home to one of the West’s most vibrant arts scenes, too

You don’t have to scratch far beneath the surface to find there’s a lot more than just gambling going on in this desert town at the foot of the Sierra Nevada. Turns out, Reno has become a mini-mecca for creative types. A few key factors, from its affordability to its proximity to the Silicon Valley and Lake Tahoe’s beaches and ski slopes, have made Reno an entrepreneurial hotspot, home base for top tech companies, destination for kayakers and mountain bikers—and home to a thriving arts and culture scene rivaling that of much larger cities.

How did fine art find its way to Reno? With the help of a few pioneers who recognized the creative talent that’s always been in the region—and knew just how to showcase it. Here’s what we can thank them for:

STREMMEL GALLERY  One of the finest contemporary art galleries in the West—founded in 1969 by husband and wife, Turkey and Peter Stremmel—can be found right in Reno’s Midtown district. It’s worth a stop just to marvel at the building’s award-winning architecture, but what’s inside the 6,500-square-foot space is equally impressive: paintings, drawings and sculptures by a broad range of mid-career and established artists from America and Europe. This fall, check out shows featuring Roger Berry’s graceful yet industrial metal sculptures, and remarkably realistic watercolor cityscapes by John Salminen. 1400 S. Virginia St.,  

ARTOWN RENO owes its reputation as a vibrant arts community in large part to Artown, a month-long festival held each July that showcases artists and performers from around the region and around the world. With more than 500 events to choose from (most of them free) in nearly 100 locations around town, there’s something to do every day, from art exhibitions and workshops to theatrical and musical performances to movies and dancing in the park. Not visiting in July? Get a taste of the festivities by strolling the Truckee River Arts District, where you can enjoy galleries, public art installations and events ranging from wine walks to street fairs any time of year.

NEVADA MUSEUM OF ART  Inspired by the geologic formations of the nearby Black Rock Desert, this dramatic structure (by Phoenix-based Will Bruder Architects) encloses 15,337 square feet of gallery space—plus a rooftop sculpture garden—showcasing contemporary works, landscape photography, Western art and more, with special exhibitions highlighting an exciting array of artists and media. While you’re there, stop for a bite at Chez Louie, where menu items are often inspired by current exhibitions. 160 W. Liberty St.,

PIONEER CENTER FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS  Known for its gold geodesic dome roof that nearly touches the ground, this 1,500-seat venue—completed in 1967—is on the Nevada State Register of Historic Places and the National Register of Historic Places. Home to the Reno Philharmonic Orchestra and the A.V.A. Ballet Theatre, the “Golden Turtle” hosts more than 100 live performances each year, including the popular “Broadway Comes to Reno” series—this fall, catch Blue Man Group, “Flashdance” and “Jersey Boys.” 100 S. Virginia St.,

GRIMES POINT ROCK ART  Some of the area’s most fascinating art can be found not in galleries or museums, but outside, at one of the country’s most accessible petroglyph sites. At Grimes Point (about 75 miles from Reno) you’ll find hundreds of chocolate-brown boulders inscribed with circles, lines, and human and animal figures—all estimated to be about 6,000 years old. Visit on your own and view the petroglyphs from a short, self-guided interpretive trail, or join a free educational tour led by the Nevada Rock Art Foundation this August 16 or October 18.

LAKE TAHOE SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL The drama of Lake Tahoe’s spectacular scenery meets the drama of live theater at this annual festival at Sand Harbor State Park, not far from Incline Village. Each summer, more than 20,000 patrons gather at the outdoor amphitheater to enjoy professional productions of Shakespeare’s works as he intended them to be seen—outdoors, under the stars. This year, gorgeous sets and costumes will transform the lakeshore into the Forest of Arden six nights a week from July 11 to August 24, in a production of Shakespeare’s comedy “As You Like It.”

RIVERSIDE ARTIST LOFTS  Rising above the Truckee River, the Late Gothic Revival-style Riverside building has been converted from a historic hotel to a unique art space. The top five floors offer affordable live/work studios to artists—occasionally open to the public during the annual Artown festival—while the ground level houses the Sierra Arts Gallery, where you can browse contemporary artwork by new, mid-career and established artists, as well as University of Nevada students. 17 S. Virginia St.,  

When in Reno

STAY  The Peppermill Resort Spa Casino is Reno’s poshest place to stay, with luxe guest rooms, a three-story, 33,000-square-foot spa, and a “Caldarium” complete with indoor pool, sun deck and “secret garden.”

EAT  Unfussy, locally sourced, delicious Italian food is the focus at Campo, where chef/owner (and James Beard Award semifinalist) Mark Estee ensures that just about everything—from pizzas to salumi—is made in-house.

Categories: Mountain Travel