Take up a collection

A guide to the region’s myriad museums

The Nevada Museum of Art features art, both global and local.

The Nevada Museum of Art features art, both global and local.

You might not realize just how many museums there are right around Reno. I didn’t, until I began compiling a list of them for this guide—a list that quickly swelled to nearly three dozen. And it’s by no means an exhaustive list. There are more museums in this region than could fit into a single story. The ones I’ve chosen to include here range from science museums to history museums. There’s something for everyone. Whether you’re a visitor yourself, have visitors coming to town or are just looking to entertain your nuclear crew in the months ahead, I hope you’ll use this guide for inspiration. With so many museums to choose from, you could even make a season of it. (If we’ve left your favorite museum out, write us a letter to the editor at renoletters@newsreview.com and tell us about it.)


When it comes to museums, Reno has the region’s most diverse offerings. In addition to its art and history museums, the city is also home to a children’s museum, a bowling museum and an automobile museum, to name a few.

Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe Museum and Visitors Center

709 State St., Nixon

Hours: (Winter) Monday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; (Summer) Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Learn more at: pyramidlake.us/museum.Admission: Free, but donations are welcome.

OK, so this one isn’t in Reno, but it’s well worth the trip to nearby Nixon. Visitors to the museum can learn about Pyramid Lake’s native inhabitants, the Paiute Indian Tribe. The museum also contains exhibits exploring the natural history of the lake and the animals that make a home there, including the Cui-ui fish and the American White Pelican. Visitors can also get information about Pyramid Lake recreational policies and purchase camping, boating, fishing and day-use permits.

“We did celebrate our 20-year anniversary last year,” says Billie Jean Guerrero, the museum’s director. “We have a lot of information that talks about Pyramid Lake culture and history. It covers everything from a veterans’ display to historical to current events. Right now, we’re running a display on the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.”

Nevada Museum of Art

160 W. Liberty St.

Hours: Wednesday-Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., with extended hours until 8 p.m. on Thursdays. Learn more at: nevadaart.org. Admission: $10 general admission, $8 for students and seniors over 60, $1 for kids 6-12 years old, Free for NMA members, kids under 5 and high schools students with valid school IDs.

At any given time, the Nevada Museum of Art plays host to a wealth temporary exhibitions featuring art, both local and global, contemporary and historical. It’s also home to permanent collections divided into four thematic focus areas: Altered Landscape Photography, Art of the Greater West, Contemporary Art and American art depicting work ethic.

Terry Lee Wells Nevada Discovery Museum

490 S. Center St.

Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with extended hours until 8 p.m. on Tuesdays; Sunday noon to 5 p.m. Learn more at: nvdm.org. Admission: $10 for kids 1 to 17 and seniors over 65, $12 for adults, free for children under 1.

The museum is a hands-on, interactive museum with exhibits covering topics ranging from science to history. It also brings in large traveling exhibitions and hosts adults-only evening events featuring science demonstrations and drinks.

“Some people still think of The Discovery as a children’s museum; however, the experiences at The Discovery are interesting and engaging for visitors or all ages,” says Patrick Turner, the museum’s vice president of marketing and communications. “The Discovery recently opened Mindbender Mansion, a large-scale, eclectic exhibition filled with brain teasers, puzzles and group challenges designed to test the brain power and problem solving skills of even the most advanced puzzlers.”

National Automobile Museum

10 S. Lake St.

Hours: Monday-Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.Admission: $12 for adults, $10 for seniors 62 and older, $6 for kids 6 to 18, free for members and kids 5 and younger.

This museum houses what remains of the car collection of late Harrah’s Casino owner Bill Harrah. It’s a locally beloved collection of more than 200 vehicles set up for viewing on mock historical street scenes.

“This year, in November, we celebrate our 30th anniversary,” says John Peterson, who has been a docent at the museum for 28 years. “When [Bill Harrah] died, he had 1,412 cars—and they all were stored over in Sparks. He had had a vision for creating Harrah’s World, which was going to be over in the west part of Reno, McCarran Boulevard and I-80. And that was going to consist of four buildings that celebrated the four countries that helped start the automobile industry: the United States, England, Germany and—people don’t know this today—France.”

Wilbur D. May Center

1595 N. Sierra St.

Hours: Wednesday-Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m, Sunday noon to 4 p.m. Learn more at: www.washoecounty.us/parks/maycenterhome/index.phpAdmission: $10 for adults, $9 for seniors and kids 3 to 17, free for kids under 3 years old.

The museum is attached to the Wilbur D. May Center, which brings in arts and other exhibits, including interactive exhibits geared toward kids. In the museum, visitors will find the private collection of Wilbur D. May, accumulated over a lifetime of world travel.

“We are excited to bring ’Art of the Aloha Shirt’—an exhibition about the history of the iconic Hawaiian shirt,” says Assistant Curator Samantha Szesciorka. “This … exhibit will feature original sketches and swatches, advertisements and vintage shirts. It opens on Sept.1, 2019.”

W. M. Keck Earth Science and Mineral Engineering Museum

University of Nevada, Reno, 1664 N. Virginia St., 784-4528

Learn more at: www.unr.edu/keck.

Arte Italia

The Nevada State Railroad Museum is located in Carson City.

442 Flint St., 333-0313

Learn more at: arteitaliausa.org.

National Bowling Stadium, Bowling Museum Hall of Fame

300 N. Center St., 335-8800

Learn more at: www.bowlingmuseum.com/Visit/Reno-Satellite.

The John and Geraldine Lilley Museum of Art

University of Nevada, Reno, Arts Building, 1664 N. Virginia St., 784-6682

Learn more at: www.unr.edu/art/museum-of-art/visit.

Fleishmann Planetarium

University of Nevada, Reno, 1664 N. Virginia St., 784-4812

Learn more at: www.unr.edu/planetarium.

Anthropology Research Museum

University of Nevada, Reno, 1664 N. Virginia St., 784-6704

Learn more at: bit.ly/2UEns6r.

Nevada Historical Society

University of Nevada, Reno, 1650 N. Virginia St., 688-1190

Learn more at: nvculture.org/historicalsociety.


Victorian Square in Sparks is a bit like an outdoor museum. It’s home to historical buildings like the Glendale School and an old steam engine—both of which can be explored in greater depth by scheduling a tour through the Sparks Heritage Museum.

Sparks Heritage Museum

814 Victorian Ave., Sparks

Hours: Tuesday-Friday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; and Saturdays, 1 to 4 p.m. Learn more at: sparksmuseum.org.Admission: $5 for adults and kids over 12, free for members and kids under 12.

The museum’s exhibits tell the story of Sparks from the time California-bound immigrants were passing through to the modern day.

“We keep archives on local families here in Sparks,” says Tandy Gach, the museum’s manager. “As much as we can, we actually keep family files on hand—if you want to know about McCarran, Sullivan. The different streets you see within Reno and Sparks, you’re also going to see more information here about who those people were. It’s a great place for that.”

Virginia City

Virginia City was designated a National Historical Landmark District in 1966. Basically, the entire town is a museum. Of course, it’s also a popular tourist destination, with plenty of kitschy shops and bars and restaurants. Visitors can go inside many of the historical buildings in town, from Saint Mary’s in the Mountains cathedral to the Fourth Ward School Museum.

Fourth Ward School Museum

537 S. C St., Virginia City

Hours: Daily, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., May 1 through Oct.31Admission: $6 for adults 17 and older, $3 for kids 6 to 16, Free for kids under 5, Free for active military personnel with current ID.

As the name suggests, the museum is located inside a historical school building. Visitors can learn about the history of the school and of mining on the famous Comstock lode through several permanent exhibits. The museum also has a gallery for rotating exhibits.

According to Executive Director Lara Mather, “It is the only four-storied, Victorian Era, Second Empire, wood school building in existence in the United States. This state-of-the-art building was completed in November 1876. It is home to the first two graduates from a Nevada school, both women, in the class of 1878. The doors to this 25,000 square foot school closed in 1936. Although attempts at restoration began in the 1960s, the building remained vacant and deteriorating until it became a museum in 1986. In 2004, the National Trust for Historic Preservation awarded the Historic Fourth Ward School the National Preservation Honor Award for its restoration and recognized it as a Distinctive Destination.”

Mackay Mansion Museum

The National Automobile Museum contains around 200 cars.

291 S. D St., Virginia City, 847-0156

Learn more at: www.uniquitiesmackaymansion.com.

Way It Was Museum

113 C St., Virginia City, 847-0766

Learn more at: visitvirginiacitynv.com/museums.

Comstock Firemen's Museum

125 C St., Virginia City, 847-0717

Learn more at: visitvirginiacitynv.com/museums.

St. Mary's Art Center

55 R St., Virginia City, 847-7774

Learn more at: visitvirginiacitynv.com/museums.

Carson City

From the Carson City Hot Springs to the capitol campus, Carson City is packed with historical sites. It’s also home to several great history museums—including the Nevada State Railroad Museum, where visitors can have the opportunity to ride on a real steam locomotive.

Nevada State Railroad Museum, Carson City

2180 S. Carson St., Carson City

Admission: $6 for adults, free for kids 17 and younger.

The museum contains both full-size historical steam engines and tiny scale models of Virginia & Truckee Railroad locomotives. It’s also home to a plethora of railroad equipment. On certain days, the museum offers rides on steam engines or a self-powered motorcar from 1926.

Of the 152 McKeen Motor Cars built between 1905 and1917, the Nevada State Railroad Museum is home to the only one in the world that is fully restored and operable,” said Adam Michalski, curator of education. “The McKeen Motor Car at the Nevada State Railroad Museum was built in 1910 for the Virginia & Truckee Railroad. It operated on the railroad mostly between Reno, Carson City and Minden from 1910 until 1945. After the car was taken out of service, the body was used as various restaurants in Carson City for several years.”

Nevada State Museum

600 N. Carson St., Carson City, 687-4810

Hours: Tuesday-Sunday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.Admission: $8 for adults, free for members and children 17 and younger.

This museum has been beloved by generations of Nevadans. There’s a changing gallery, a permanent Native American exhibit called “Under One Sky,” other permanent exhibits focused on natural and cultural history, plus the historic Carson Mint and its associated building, where coins were minted from 1870 to 1893.

The Children's Museum of Northern Nevada

813 N. Carson St., Carson City, 884-2226

Learn more at: www.cmnn.org.

Brewery Arts Center

419 W. King St., Carson City, 883-1976

Learn more at: breweryarts.org.

Bower's Mansion

4005 Bowers Mansion Road, New Washoe City, 849-0201

Learn more at: bit.ly/2GyzDwt.


Last Chance Joe stands outside the Sparks Heritage Museum.

Truckee is an undeniably beautiful little mountain town. It’s historic downtown district is a popular destination with tourists. The town is also home to a selection of museums, including a kids’ museum and the Donner Memorial State Museum, a place visitors can go to learn more about the ill-fated Donner Party that tried to cross the Sierra in October of 1846 but became trapped in a snowstorm.

Donner Memorial State Park and Museum

12593 Donner Pass Road, Truckee

Hours: 10 a.m to 5 p.m, dailyAdmission: $10 per vehicle between May 1 and Sept. 30, $5 per vehicle between Oct. 1 and April 30.

Truckee’s history is on display at the Donner Memorial State Park Visitor Center. The visitors’ center houses a museum opened in 2015 that features artifacts and stories of the Donner Party, the Washoe people and the Chinese people who constructed the railroad. There is also a section exploring early motoring adventures over Donner Pass.

Kidzone Museum

11711 Donner Pass Road, Truckee, California, (530) 587-5437

Learn more at: kidzonemuseum.org

Truckee Railroad Museum

0075 Donner Pass Road, Truckee, California

Learn more at: bit.ly/2ZydXJw

Old Jail Museum

10142 Jibboom St., Truckee, California, (530) 582-0893

Learn more at: www.truckeehistory.org/old-jail-museum.html.

Rocking Stone Tower

Commercial Row at High St., Truckee, California

Learn more at: bit.ly/2ISUr4F.

Lake Tahoe

Perhaps you usually head to Tahoe for a dip into the lake’s clear, cold waters. Next time, you might consider dipping into one of the area’s many museums before you take a swim.

Tahoe Maritime Museum

401 W. Lake Blvd., Tahoe City

Hours: The museum is closed until June 1 for the installation of a new exhibit. Learn more at: tahoemaritimemuseum.org.Admission: $5 for adults and kids over 12, Free for members, kids 12 and younger and for all active duty, national guard and reserve military personnel and their families.

The museums collections include historic watercraft, engines, water-sports gear, ephemera and archival materials related to the lake’s maritime history.


CA-89, Tahoma, CA

Learn more at: vikingholm.com.

North Lake Tahoe Historical Society and Gatekeeper's Museum

130 W. Lake Blvd., Tahoe City, California, (530) 583-1762

Learn more at: northtahoemuseums.org.

Thunderbird Lodge

5000 NV-28, Incline Village, 832-8750

Learn more at: thunderbirdtahoe.org.

Tallac Historic Site

1 Heritage Way, South Lake Tahoe, California, (530) 541-5227

Learn more at: bit.ly/1Wjfmih.