Reno cum laude

RN&R’s guide to parental entertainment in Reno

What parent doesn’t like old bars (candy stores and museums, too), old cars and a snow-fed river on a hot day? Find it in Virginia City, Reno’s National Automobile Museum and along the Truckee River.

What parent doesn’t like old bars (candy stores and museums, too), old cars and a snow-fed river on a hot day? Find it in Virginia City, Reno’s National Automobile Museum and along the Truckee River.

Photo By David Robert

If you’ve just made it through your first four years of college, congratulations! If your parents came to town to see you collect your diploma, you’re going to need to find some way to show them a good time in Reno while they’re here.

There are hundreds of restaurants, countless events and a range of good daytrip spots. But if you’re too wiped out from finals week to play tour guide and plan itineraries, here’s our graduation gift to you: The RN&R’s annotated guide to only-in-Reno (or near Reno) spots to visit that both you and your out-of-town parents will probably like.

Sugar rush
Chocolate Bar 475 S. Arlington Ave., 337-1122

Unless the ‘rents are from San Francisco or London, their local watering hole probably doesn’t involve chocolate fondue, chili truffles or hand-made ice cream sandwiches rolled in toasted coconut. If they want to see something fancy that’s not in a casino, show them Chocolate Bar’s smooth, dark interior design and addictive, chocolaty desserts. But beware: Although Chocolate Bar has become fast known as a prime spot for sweets and drinks, it’s also become known for its often frustrating “European-paced” service. Save yourself the frustration of salivating for a half hour as you await your frosty chocolate martini by going in the afternoon, when there aren’t many other patrons to compete for the attention of the affable but leisurely staff.

Serving up chocolate martinis and chili truffles, the trendy Chocolate Bar is not your average watering hole. But go early, as the place gets packed in the evening.

Photo By David Robert

Wade a minute
Truckee River, near First Street and Arlington Avenue

If Mom and Dad are from Boston, where it wasn’t that long ago that rowers on the Charles River were advised to get a tetanus shot, or Phoenix, where the Salt River and the word “gangrene” often come up in conversation together, they’ll be amazed to see you roll up your jeans, wade into the Truckee River and emerge with your health likely uncompromised. The same relatively clean water that keeps adventure seekers happy from high-elevation Lake Tahoe to desert-floor Pyramid Lake flows right through downtown Reno, where a lunchtime wade or an evening swim is as convenient as any other urban amenity. (While Sierra Street is still under construction, the convenience level of accessing anything downtown is compromised, so schedule a little extra time and patience for street parking.)

The easiest way to enjoy the river, short of just sitting on the grass at Wingfield Park and watching kayakers flip and frolic through the Truckee River Whitewater Park, is to walk along the paved path, which stretches a few miles in either direction. (Last time we asked around, RN&R readers voted “walking along the river” the “best thing to do downtown” in the 2005 Best of Northern Nevada issue.)

If the parents are feeling adventurous, dart over to Sierra Adventures (254 W. First St., 323-8928) to rent an inner tube or kayak.

Up in elevation, back in time
Virginia City

The lights of an old-time saloon in Virginia City point to Piper’s Opera House, built in 1885.

Photo By David Robert

Parents from the Plains states might enjoy a dose of Dramamine before you drive them up the guard-railed cliffs of Geiger Grade to Virginia City. Once you’ve made the 22-mile, vertigo-inspiring ride, winding past sandy, pine-dotted hills up to a sweater-weather 6,000 feet, park anywhere, and walk along the covered wooden sidewalks past fading shreds of Victorian splendor in this former mining boomtown. Ornately carved doorways, Gold-Rush-era chandeliers and endless displays of antique bottles give the place the air of a pre-gentrification Park City, Utah, or a not-yet-polished-up Jerome or Tombstone, Ariz. No Starbucks or Thomas Kinkade galleries in this tourist town, though.

It’s easy to stumble upon fudge shops, old-time saloons and antique mining equipment as you make your way down C Street, Virginia City’s main drag. The town’s real highlights are slightly less obvious but just as easily accessible: At the legendary Bucket of Blood Saloon, five bucks gets you an aerial view out the picture window and a superb Bloody Mary in a plastic cup with two olives and a pickled green bean. One block up the hill, at 1 N. B Street, five bucks affords a backstage glimpse of the always-under-renovation Piper’s Opera House (847-0433), built in 1885. Tours are given daily by volunteers. On Tuesdays, your guide through the dark, creaky, quietly dazzling performance hall is 76-year-old actress Barbara Gulling Goff, considered the area’s foremost authority on the building’s history. (Her cousin used to own the place.) If your parents happen to be from Germany, you’re in luck; catch executive director Margo Memmott’s version of the opera-house tour in their native language.

Head down Union Street, which, if you’re turning off C Street, looks like an alley. Several blocks down a steep grade is the St. Mary’s Art Center, formerly the St. Mary’s Hospital, at 55 R Street (847-7774.) The big brick building, also under perpetual renovation, is a friendly, comfortable place to see changing art exhibits and peek into hospital-wards-turned-visiting-artists’ quarters. Directors Mimi Patrick and Linda Nazemian give free tours Tuesdays through Sundays.

Car-buff heaven (and fun for everyone else, too)
National Automobile Museum, The Harrah Collection 10 S. Lake St., 333-9300

Parents visiting from Southern California, where the Petersen Automotive Museum dares to bring up not-so-sunny, car-related subjects such as air pollution, urban sprawl or oil dependency, might not be impressed with the pro-car gleam of the National Automobile Museum. But everyone else will likely find it hard to keep their jaws closed while perusing the rooms and rooms of automotive eye candy.

Locals mourn the cream of the collection that was sold off after Bill Harrah’s death, but more than 200 shiny, pristine specimens remain. The collection is particularly strong in examples from the automobile’s first half century or so, from the first horseless carriages to the opulent movie-star-mobiles of the 1930s and ‘40s. Even the most avidly environmentally minded visitors are likely to find themselves lusting after the curves and chrome of a 1948 Delahaye—huge by today’s standards, a car made to symbolize a feel-good era of over-consumption—or the youthful brawn of a cherry-red ‘65 Mustang. The sweet nostalgia of longing for one of the many bygone eras of classy, assertive, American industrial design, at $9 a head, is as good as going to the movies.