Retreat to Reno for Your Family’s Next Mountain Vacation

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Nestled in the Sierra Nevada Mountains just across the California border from North Lake Tahoe, the “Biggest Little City in the World” welcomes family visitors year round. Reno, Nevada offers downtown hotels and restaurants that appeal to both kids and parents while also being only a short distance from hiking, skiing and other mountain recreation. We’ve got loads of recs below to make planning your family Reno adventure a cinch!


Take a stroll through downtown Reno and you’ll find plenty of activities that the kids will enjoy. The Discovery Museum is a STEM-learning mecca where the kids could spend hours exploring topics like human anatomy, the water cycle and the connection between art and science. Delve into Nevada’s rich history while learning about wagon trains, Native Americans that inhabited the area and how the railroad shaped the area. Dig for archeological treasures and conduct your own experiments. The museum is closed on Mondays and ofters $5 admission on Wednesdays after 4 p.m.

A stroll along Reno’s Riverwalk is a great way to spend the afternoon. The Truckee River passes through the city and you can dip your feet in at various access points along the way or rent a kayak to traverse it on the water. Enjoy public art installations and eateries that offer refreshments and shady spots to people watch. Barbara Bennett Park has climbing structures and plenty of grass for the kids to run around, right at the river’s edge.

Let your sweet tooth explore the candy making business with a visit to Kimmie Candy in Reno. Makers of everyone’s favorite ChocoRocks and Sunbursts (the candy and chocolate-coated sunflower seeds), Kimmie Candy offers free tours to the public on weekdays at 10 a.m., noon and 3 p.m. Note: E-mail or call as tours require a reservation.

Before you see how these tasty creations are made, you get to sample some of the wares at their sampling station in the gift shop and watch a short movie about the Kimmie Candy business. The gift shop is open from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. on weekdays and offers all of their amazing products for sale. Look for the “Oops” rack that offers items at a discount when the label was misplaced during processing.


Reno’s Riverwalk District is a great place to grab a bite to eat. The Eddy is a community gathering spot where you can spend some time enjoying the sun, a slice of pizza and a craft beer. Here you can play free yard games like bocce ball, cornhole and giant Jenga as well as some arcade games in a funky outdoor space. Well-behaved dogs are welcome as are kids during the daytime hours. You can bring in outside food or purchase a pizza or salad from Fire Trail Pizza located in the yard.

Another fun spot to grab a bite to eat that allows the kids to run around is West Street Market. Here you can find unique eateries that offer organic Indian food, wood-fired pizza, matcha coconut lattes and kimchi tacos. Grab your meal and pick a spot in the outdoor courtyard or walk over to the Riverwalk (only a block away). Save some room for ice cream from Icecycle Creamery. Their always-changing, unique flavors include Reno 911 (coffee with pieces of donuts) and root beer.


Right in the heart of downtown and walking distance to the Riverwalk, Circus Circus is a family-friendly option for those looking to stay a few nights in Reno. Two towers offer rooms that will easily sleep families with amenities like in-room coffee makers and refrigerators that make your stay just a little bit easier. Kids will love riding the trams between the two towers and parents will enjoy the coffee shop in the lobby and free parking.

More than just a hotel with a casino, Circus Circus recently underwent a renovation to its Carnival Midway and the kids will love it. Free circus shows take to the stage throughout the day.

There are a number of kid-approved restaurants in the Midway including the sit-down breakfast spot Madame Butterwork’s Curious Cafe that offers everyone’s favorite Dutch baby pancake. The food court makes family dining easy with The Habit Burger Grill, Panda Express and Yogurt Beach all in one area.

Carnival and arcade games will keep the kids busy for hours so load up their game cards and try your luck at Skee-Ball, pop-the-balloon racing and even virtual reality rides. Your arcade card stores any tickets you win which can then be redeemed at the prize counter.

One of the benefits of staying at Circus Circus is that it is part of The Row, three hotels connected via an indoor walkway. With Circus Circus at one end, Silver Legacy in the middle and Eldorado Resort at the other end, you get access to 25 restaurants and loads of entertainment options. Walk down to Eldorado to take in the Cirque Paris show. The audience becomes part of a Paris nightclub as you watch jugglers, mesmerizing roller skating acts and more. (Note for parents: the show can get a bit suggestive at times.)

In addition to a number of 24-hour buffets, The Row is home to Millies24—a family-friendly spot that offers a large menu with Mexican food, traditional diner fare like fried chicken and loads of delicious desserts. El Jeffe’s Cantina in Circus Circus offers quesadillas, tacos and daily happy hour specials that will feed the family at a discount.

Visit Virginia City

A 30-minute drive from downtown Reno brings you back in time to the gold rush days in Virginia City, Nevada. Saloons and vintage stores line the main drag and offer a glimpse of what life was like then. Enjoy a half-hour show put on by the Virginia City Outlaws where cowboys engage in in a “shootout” and hilarity ensues. Visit the mines and learn about mining history throughout the town.

A stop at The Way It Was Museum is a must-do for any visit to Virginia City. Free for kids 11 and under and only $4 for adults, the museum houses artifacts from the mining days and other periods in Nevada history. View some of the elaborate gowns that women wore and read about how gambling came to the area.

Seasonal Adventures

A trip to Reno brings snow in the winter, hot days in the summer and plenty of activities for all the seasons. Early September brings the Great Reno Balloon Race to town, followed by Eldorado Italian Festival in early October. Halloween activities bring families to the area to check out Scarecrows on Parade in Tahoe City and Halloween Harvest Festival at the Resort at Squaw Creek.

The proximity to the Tahoe ski resorts makes Reno the perfect winter destination, especially in January when Learn to Ski Month activities take over the area. In spring and summer, it’s all about hiking, mountain biking and whitewater rafting.

Only three and a half hours from San Francisco, Reno is the perfect weekend road trip destination for adventurous families. Head to the Reno Tahoe and the North Lake Tahoe websites for more information on events in the area and help with planning your Reno visit.

—story and photos by Kate Loweth

Editor’s note: This trip was paid for by Circus Circus/The Row but all opinions expressed here belong to the writer. 


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