Free as a bird

There’s plenty to do in Renowithout spending a dime

If you had to choose, there is no better time than the summer to be broke. When else is “sitting outside” considered an activity? The weather is a little hot but better than freezing, so biking and walking are enjoyable rather than chores. There’s a festival or four every weekend, so if nothing else, you should not be bored. And we may not mention it below, but one of the best free things to do in Reno in the summertime is people-watch, with the river being the primest of all viewing areas.

For a dozen more ideas for a free and fun summer, we offer the following—for free.


Floating down the Truckee River is one of the most relaxing, fun, invigorating things a Renoite can do in the summer. Grab an inner tube—borrow a friend’s or get it cheap at the tire store if you don’t have one—air it up, slap on the sunblock, and throw in at nearly any accessible point along the river. For an easy trip that’s long enough to be satisfying but short enough to keep you from getting pruny toes and fingers, get in around Mayberry Park, then lie on your back and watch the tree branches and clouds move slowly above you. Smell the water. Wave to fellow floaters. Splash your friends. Get out and take a dip. You’ll likely end up around Wingfield Park—along with the rest of Reno—and its kayakers, swimming kids and fishermen.

We recommend you float on top of your tube rather than let your legs dangle in the doughnut hole—unless you like getting your knees scraped and bruised by hiding rocks. Also, wear some secure sandals or shoes to avoid the occasional piece of glass left by beer-drinking river revelers. But don’t let these words of caution scare you off. If you haven’t floated down the Truckee, you are missing out on one of the all-time greatest feelings Reno can induce in a person in one summer.

Free write

If nothing else, your thoughts are free. At least we hope so. You know that journal your Aunt Mildred got you for graduation that one year? Maybe it’s time to crack it open. The hot days of summer are good times to let the mind wander as well as the body. Write it down, be it a poem, a song, or subversive ramblings. Don’t worry about what others will think because this isn’t for them. Write nonsense if you want. Look, we’ll even start for you: Wiggle mania crouched its head and the violent sun wrecked havoc upon the poor lizard, slit-eyed and still. See? Easy! Nonsensical! Not very good! But fun! Didn’t cost a dime! Even if they’re seemingly mundane things, you can read about them years from now and remember the thoughts, events and people of your life at this time, this age, this summer.

If private introspection isn’t your thing, start a blog. It’s easy. Just go to a site like, or any number of free blog-starter sites. Post your thoughts, your photos, your favorite videos, whatever. We respectfully ask that the inspiring, funny and thoughtful posts outnumber the snarky, ranting and mean-spirited ones, but hey, it’s your fingers on the keyboard.

For the even more ambitious, isn’t there that book you’ve been meaning to get out of you?

Fat free

The possibilities here are endless, and they cost less than fat-free yogurt and are far less offensive than fat-free cheese. Sure, you could buy gear and “smart” clothing, but for the most part, moving your body (aka exercise) is a free enterprise. There are, of course, world famous trails to be found nearby—the Pacific Crest and Tahoe Rim trails come to mind. But it usually takes gas money to get to them. For starters, here are three great Reno hikes: 1) Jones-Whites Creek trail within Galena Creek Regional Park off Mount Rose Highway. It winds through pine forests for gorgeous mountain views. Take a short route for beginners, or hike the 9.2 mile loop, with access to Mount Rose Wilderness Area. 2) Peavine Mountain in the Humboldt-Toiyabe Forest is a quintessential Northern Nevada desert hike. Moving from around 4,500 feet to the 8,000-plus foot summit, it also offers stunning views of Reno. There are many unofficial and official trails squiggling around the mountain, though finding one can be difficult. Trailhead access points can be found along North McCarran Boulevard and Victory Lane near Keystone Avenue. 3) The Steamboat Ditch Trail. This network of paths running along the ditch (generally water-filled in the summer) in the ravines and canyons of Southwest Reno is a trail-runner’s dream and is also nice for walkers, be they of the human or dog variety, and mountain bikers. It intersects with the Tom Cooke and Hunters Creek trails, as well. Residences are nearby, so be respectful. There’s access from many streets in the area. An easily identifiable one is from the Horseman’s Park parking lot off Skyline Boulevard.

If hiking’s not your thing, try bicycling, mountain biking, climbing, or whatever else your body feels like doing.

Or maybe you’d like to try out a gym, yoga or dance class. Many of them offer free trial visits; just ask at the ones you’re interested in. For example, you can download a free guest pass for Sports West at Achieve Fitness also offers a free class every month.

Free trade

Spring left with the last lilac, so perhaps spring cleaning turned up a bunch of old clothes, records, CDs, tools, and knickknacks that meant a lot once upon a time, but not anymore. You could throw them in the trash, but they’re not worthless, and you hate waste. You could hold a garage sale, try to sell them on Craigslist or turn them into white elephant presents next Christmas. Or, you could hold a swap. Call your friends to bring their stuff, mix it with your stuff, and trade each other for it. Throw in some potluck- style food, cheap beer, or better yet, Margaritas, and make it fun. Cheap entertainment plus even cheaper goods.

You could also take your music to Recycled Records (3344 Kietzke Lane, 826-4119) or Discology (190 California Ave., 323-2121), to see if they’re deemed worth buying. Do the same with your clean, used clothes at Plato’s Closet (1509 S. Virginia St., 322-0110), or Junkee Clothing Exchange (960 S. Virginia St., 322-5865), both of which buy select used clothes.


Free verse

Now that you’ve done all that free writing, you may want to share it. Reno has quite a few open mics, some featuring originals-only music, others focus on spoken word, and others are open-ended. Perhaps the most well-known is the Reno Music Project (530-2940, 777 S. Center St.), hosted by Todd South every Friday at 7 p.m. out of Maytan Music Center. Generally, as long as you wrote it, you can get on stage. The RMP also showcases regional and local artists.

Other free open mics, from Monday through Sunday: Java Jungle’s (246 W. First St., 329-4484) music and poetry open mic is every Monday at 8 p.m. Zephyr Bar’s (1074 S. Virginia St., 324-9853) long-running poetry and music open mic is every Monday at 10 p.m. Amendment 21 (425 S. Virginia St., 786-0808) has an open mic on the last Tuesday of every month at 10 p.m. Newcomers Slide Side Coffee/Bar (616 W. Fourth St., 657-6220) has continued the open mic begun by the location’s predecessor, Tahoe Roasting Company. It’s held Wednesdays at 7 p.m. The Holland Project hosts Spoken Views on the third Thursday of every month at Sierra Arts Gallery (17 S. Virginia St., 329-2787) at 7 p.m. While there’s a $3 admission, it’s free for poets. Se7en Tea House’s (100 N. Arlington Ave.,348-9526) open mic features spoken word of the hip-hop variety on the third Thursday at 8 p.m. of each month. The Blind Onion (824 Victorian Ave., 351-2000) in Sparks hosts an open mic every Thursday at 8 p.m. Dreamers Coffeehouse (17 S. Virginia St., 322-8040) hosts Peace, Poetry and Music every first and third Friday at 6:30 p.m. And in Carson City, Comma Coffee (312 S. Carson St., 883-2662) holds an open mic the first Friday of the month at 8 p.m. In the West St. Market, Se7en on West (148 West St., 284-3363) hosts a Sunday afternoon open mic at 2 p.m.

Not ready to bare your soul to the world (or even a handful of Reno’s aspiring artists and their friends)? It’s OK to be an observer. Those people on stage are there to be before you, after all. Be merciful.

Free Willy

Sex, free and Nevada go together like laundry detergent, composite shingles and an Awesome Blossom at Chili’s. Actually, for the dirty minded among us, those things may not be as incongruous as they seem on first glance. And while this Summer Guide is intended to offer thoughts on how to spend the summer without spending the cash, even the great minds at the Reno News & Review are straining their imaginations with this one.

Well, even though this is Nevada, sex is generally considered “free,” but like your cell phone service, it’s all the add-ons that’ll get you. So, let’s be clear from the outset: The best free sex is the real thing you have with the person you love (and no, that doesn’t necessarily mean love the one you’re with).

So maybe free summer sex should focus on the things you and your lover can do together that don’t cost a lot that are also kind of sexy—but doesn’t that swerve into the realm of romantic? Hmmm …

Friday night dance parties: Fire up the iPod and kick off the shoes. Uncork that 1.5 liter of red, have a quick and easy meal on the deck as the hot sun fades into cool evening, and get your groove on. Latin rock ’n’ roll, some ’70s R&B with some Sinatra or Cracker mixed in for spice (and goddammit, what’s wrong with a little Enya?), and you’ll get where you want to go. If two hours of up-close dancing in the dark doesn’t have you writhing on the floor well, you might as well head over to Suzie’s Adult Superstore, 195 Kietzke Lane, and peruse the … books. Cost: Red table wine, $7.99

Got a lover? Got a car (or a bicycle-built-for-two)? Make a special trip to Windy Hill for a make-out session. Simply hop in the car and head south on Lakeside Drive (outside South McCarran Boulevard). Cost: $2.29 per gallon gasoline. And for you singletons, May was National Masturbation Month, but there’s nothing like a change in scenery to spice things up. Just kidding. (God, that’s pathetic.)

Free radicals

If you’re not up for spending, maybe it’s time to start giving—your time, specifically. As nearly every social, artistic, environmental and charity-type organization is facing budget cuts and heightened competition for limited funding, volunteers can make or break an organization or event. Sometimes it seems difficult to know just who needs what. One place to look is the “Local Volunteer Opportunities” website at REI, In a partnership with the nonprofit VolunteerMatch, it lets you find volunteer opportunities according to zip code, interest, and time commitment. Other suggestions:

The Salvation Army needs volunteers for everything from working in thrift stores to checking packages at the Sparks Farmers Market. See

Volunteering for the Reno Rodeo is a little bureaucratic and privacy invading, but if the rodeo is your thing, it can be done at

An easier-going organization is Friends of Black Rock Desert. They need volunteers to help staff their Visitor Contact Trailer during the weekends. To register, go to

On Sat., Sept. 26, National Public Lands Day will be held for cleanup events around the nation. To report a site needing cleanup or choose one from a menu that you want to help clear up, go to

Bristlecone Family Resources’ bicycle restoration project needs volunteers every third Saturday of the month 8:00am-12:00 Contact: Holly Welborn (775) 954-1400 ext 132.

The Reno Sparks Gospel Mission can use people to do everything from performing music to repairing furniture. See volunteers.shtml

Free Spirits

In an alternative newsweekly as deeply spiritual yet unapologetically intoxicating—or is that intoxicated?—as the Reno News & Review, it appears “Free Spirits” could have many meanings.

Churches, mosques, temples, yoga classes, group meditations, bars, taverns and saloons are all funded with cash provided by the patrons. On the other hand, it is possible to attend a great spiritual, musical, informative, mind-calming service at any of Northern Nevada’s spiritual centers without putting a penny on the plate. In some cases, like at the Reno Sikh Gurdwara, 1380 Selmi Drive (particularly on Sundays around noon), you can get an actual free meal. That means “Free Spirits” doesn’t just mean “people who think for themselves” or “buy one Jameson, get one free” or even “listen to some gospel music at no charge.” “Free Spirits” could potentially put money in your pocket, and in a synergistic way, help make America great and stimulate the economy.

Here’s how it works: Go to any church, mosque, temple or meditation that has a community lunch after service. There’s the Gurdwara, but many, if not most, spiritual centers have at least a potluck. Get your spirituality on, then strap on the feedbag.

Now here’s the key, you take the money you saved by not paying for lunch—let’s call it $10, since the lunch buffet at India Kabab & Curry, 1091 S. Virginia St., is $7.95 plus tax—and take that money down to the Chapel Tavern, 1495 S. Virginia St. You can get two $4 mojitos or Margaritas from 2 p.m.-6 p.m (and tip the bartender) any day, or all-you-can-drink mimosas on Sunday from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. for the whole 10-spot!

And what could be better than free spirituality, free food and free liquor? It’s better than free! It’s money in the bank!


Free fest

The summer festival season is upon us. While there are many fun and interesting offerings this year, here’s a list of some of the area’s most popular free festivals.

June features several notable festivals including EuroFest at Terrible Sand’s Regency, 345 N. Arlington Ave. The 11th annual celebration of European beer, food and music takes place June 5-7. While you will have to pay for the food and drink, admission is free and there are free performances by Celtic rock band The Young Dubliners on June 5-6, as well as various sets by polka bands Al Gruber and Salzburger Echo throughout the weekend. Visit

That same weekend will also feature the Street Vibrations Spring Rally on June 5-7. Bike enthusiasts get a condensed version of the larger fall rally, which takes place in September, during the third annual event. There will be bike games, competition ride-in shows, poker runs and walks, more than 80 vendors, live entertainment and more at Victorian Square in downtown Sparks. Admission to the festival is free. Visit

Bike enthusiasts who prefer leg power to horsepower can watch pro and amateur cyclists compete during the 18th annual Tour de Nez Cycling Race & Festival. The event has moved from its original Reno home to its new headquarters at Northstar at Tahoe in Truckee, but a few key races will take place in Reno on June 19 at Wingfield Park, First Street and Arlington Avenue. The event starts June 18 and runs through June 21. There’s no charge to attend. Visit

Watch art in action June 18-21 during the third NadaDada Motel. Artists working in various media rent rooms where they display, create or perform their work. The art happening takes place at Hotel El Cortez and the Town House Motor Lodge at Second Street and Arlington Avenue. Admission is free. Visit

July kicks off with one of the largest festivals of the year, Artown. The 14th annual arts celebration features many free events during the entire month—music and dance concerts, art exhibits, movies in the park, theatrical performances and more. There are even festivals within the festival, including RN&R’s free Friday night concert series Rollin’ On the River from July 3-31 (The Stately Gentlemen and The Mark Sexton Band on July 3; Drinking With Clowns and Los Pinguos on July 10; Lisa McCuiston and Krissi Moses on July 17; Trainwrecks and Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys on July 24; Jo Mama and Michele Lundeen & Blues Streak on July 31), the Gospel Fest on July 19, the Pacific Island Festival on July 24-25 and the 30th anniversary of the Reno Basque Festival on July 25-26. Many of the shows and programs take place at or near Wingfield Park in downtown Reno, as well as at the Robert Z. Hawkins Amphitheater at Bartley Ranch Regional Park, 6000 Bartley Ranch Road. Visit

As soon as Artown winds down, the king of special events, Hot August Nights, rolls into town. The 23rd annual celebration of classic cars and rock ’n’ roll from the ’50s and ’60s takes over Reno-Sparks and the surrounding area during the first week of August. There will be show ’n’ shines, controlled cruises (including the return of the Saturday night cruise through downtown Reno), live music on various indoor and outdoor stages in Reno and Sparks and other free events during the festival, which starts July 31 and lasts through Aug. 9. Visit

Finally, the summer festival season comes to a close with arrival of the 21st annual Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-off. Rib cookers from across the nation will compete for cash prizes and bragging rights to the best ribs in the West. More than 500,000 people are expected to visit downtown Sparks during the five-day event, which begins Sept. 2 and runs through Labor Day weekend. You don’t have to eat the ribs to enjoy the free live music on five stages along Victorian Avenue. Headliners include The Saddle Tramps, Hot Club of Cowtown, Restless Heart, The Fixx, Thin Lizzy and The Iguanas. Admission is free, although you will have to pay a few bones to eat some of those bones. Visit

Free country

Nevadans are accustomed to traveling to California for daytrips like Nevada City, Lake Tahoe, Independence Lake, Apple Hill and gold rush country. But sometimes the route to these places is more interesting. Instead of scurrying along the route to a destination, make the route a destination.

For instance, Renoites commonly visit Truckee and North Lake Tahoe. But the route that lies between these two points is an attraction. This 13.5 mile portion of Highway 89 is worth its own trip.

The highway follows the Truckee River, before the river’s water becomes as laced with urban nitrates as it does in Reno. There’s a hiking path along it, and bicyclists are familiar parts of the scenery.

There are numerous places along the river for picnicking, and if day trippers prefer to be served, the River Ranch Lodge at the corner of 89 and Alpine Meadows Road has an outdoor deck extending out over the river for lunch guests, who have been known to arrive on rafts.

Just as beautiful is one of the lesser-known routes for getting from Nevada to Lake Tahoe. Instead of taking the Truckee/Tahoe, Mt. Rose or Spooner routes, head for South Lake Tahoe by the back way. Head south from Reno on 395, which will turn into 88 after the Minden turnoff.

Soon you will begin to see one of the West’s most beautiful stretches of highway. From there until Meyers is a corner of heaven. Majestic cliffs and rock formations amid alpine stands of fir have drawn gasps from first-time visitors. It’s a gentle rise for bicycles. Here, too, there are many places for picnicking, as well as a place to eat—Sorensen’s Resort.

For a more ambitious day trip, get an early start and head to Willits in northern California. There are several routes you can take, but try to make one of them along the north edge of Clear Lake, where you can stop for breakfast.

Once in Willits, you will be in the town where Seabiscuit spent his retirement—you can tour the ranch where he lived—and ride the “Skunk Train,” an old timber line that takes riders through gorgeous redwood country to the coast and back. Depending on which trip you take, a barbecue can be included.

Most of all, you will see the 1964 Reno arch. After it was taken down in 1987, it became the Willits arch. While it doesn’t get the kind of attention here that it did in Reno, it has appeared in one movie, the Hilary Swank/Jason Robards film Heartwood.

Traveling home, you might try the Clear Lake route again. REO Speedwagon and Styx played there last weekend.


Free parking

There’s nothing that Free Bird enjoys more during the summer than getting outside and stretching his wings in the sun. He doesn’t even mind that he’s too fat to fly, because running around in a city park—that’s the real definition of freedom. Free Bird, like most Northern Nevadans, loves open spaces—be it a vast stretch of desert or just an acre or two of greenery at one of the region’s many neighborhood parks. The city of Reno maintains more than 80 parks—and that doesn’t even count the parks and hiking trails maintained by Washoe County or the many excellent parks in Sparks.

“Most of these parks are just great settings, with shelters and trees, for family barbecues, and getting together with the people that matter and enjoying things, whether it’s kicking a soccer ball around or tossing a football around,” says Sven Leff, recreations supervisor for the Reno Parks, Recreation and Community Service Department. “Those are some of the great, free things, where really you’re only limited by who you bring and the equipment you own.”

Here are a few of Free Bird’s favorite local parks:

Manzanita Park, 630 Manzanita Lane: Manzanita Park is like a man’s prostate, you either love it, or you don’t know where it is. Tucked away in a southwest Reno neighborhood, this bucolic park seems too big and too lush to be so little known. It has tennis courts, a baseball diamond, a creek, gently rolling hills, the whole nine yards. It’s sort of hidden, but so close to a main drag, Lakeside Drive, that you’ve probably driven near it dozens of times. First-time visitors are invariably heard to exclaim, “I had no idea this park was even here!”

Idlewild Park, 1900 Idlewild Drive: This park is like a birthday party waiting to happen. Just west of downtown Reno, Idlewild sprawls idyllically alongside the Truckee River, with amenities for kids of all ages, and some of the area’s best rentable shelters for barbecues and parties. There’s a swimming pool, which isn’t free, but still fun. It’s also home to one of Reno’s most popular skate parks. Because of its wide appeal and central location, it’s almost always packed, but if you love a park that feels like a party, here you go.

Rancho San Rafael, 1595 N. Sierra St.: Most authentic Renoites are familiar with Rancho San Rafael. It has a huge dog park and is home to the Wilbur D. May Center, a family learning space complete with an arboretum and The Great Basin Adventure, a miniature theme park. It’s also home to innumerable local events, most famously The Great Reno Balloon Race. But Free Bird’s favorite part of the park is the oft-forgotten north-of-McCarran area, which has some nice hiking trails, a Frisbee golf course and one of Reno’s funkiest and most interesting pieces of public art, the National Basque Monument.

Free wheelin’

Free Bird loves to rock ’n’ roll. Especially roll. Like Bruce Springsteen, Free Bird traded in his wings for some wheels. He loves to bike and skate. And one of the great things about biking and skating is that once you have the basic equipment, it’s always free.

A great resource for local bicyclists is the Reno Bike Project, 541 E. 4th St. They have restored bikes for sale, and offer classes and workshops on bike maintenance and other facets of Reno’s blossoming bicycle culture.

Kyle Kozar, cofounder and co-executive director of RBP, offers up a tip for a fun, free bicycle trip: “Ride your bike to Verdi.”

Follow the Truckee river path west from the downtown Reno trail to Mayberry Drive, on to West Fourth Street, then head through Mogul and hop on the bike path that connects Mogul to Verdi.

“That’s a sweet road ride,” says Kozar.

That Verdi route is part of the Tahoe-Pyramid Bikeway, a series of bicycle routes that follow the Truckee River between the weird sister lakes it connects. For more information about the Tahoe-Pyramid Bikeway, visit

Free Bird’s careful to always take his CamelBak water bag with him whenever he goes for a long bike ride. It gets hot under all those luxurious feathers, and there’s no sense in dehydration.

When Free Bird feels more like skateboarding, he heads to the skate park at Idlewild Park, 1900 Idlewild Drive, or the Reno city plaza by First and Virginia streets—home to an ice skating rink during the winter, it’s a popular spot for skateboarders during the summer months, and therefore colloquially called “the skating rink” all year round.

“It’s a hobby you can get better at,” says Andrew Coia, 24, who has been skateboarding for at least six years. “You’re always learning things.”

Skateboarding is fun in any weather, but some smart skateboarders stay in the shade during the hot part of the day and wait until the late afternoon before getting on their boards.

“At the end of the day, when it cools off, then it’s a thing to do,” says Terry Kennedy, 19.

To be honest, Free Bird sucks eggs at skateboarding. He can’t stand on a skateboard without ruffling his tailfeathers, but he loves what an expressive, creative thing it is—half way between sport and art.