Reno, Nevada, has long been known as that gambling, quick-marriage, quick divorce place. But the city has been re-inventing itself as the gateway to great skiing in the nearby Tahoe region. Reno can also boast all season outdoor activities like kayaking on its Truckee River, which stays well above freezing all year long. Such activities cater to younger adults and families, especially. So much so, that currently only 12 per cent of visitors cite gambling as their primary reason to come to Reno. In this article on Reno, I want to discuss another aspect that is bringing in visitors: arts and culture. This probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about this northwestern Nevada city entity (that includes Sparks). Read on for my top recommendations for a culturally and artistically good time. You’ll even find out about how a budget friendly all-you-can-eat buffet cuisine is so quantitatively and artfully presented, you’ll be tempted to stare at it!
Cultural and Artistic Reno
The National Automobile Museum’s artfully created cars transcends the typical museum experience. The National Automobile Museum is one of the great gems in Reno if you like cars and the history of America. As you venture through this museum, you’ll learn about the culture of America from the early part of the 20th century on. My experience was made even better by having a docent (tour guide) named Mike Thomas. He was not only knowledgeable and engaging about automobile history, but he even answered my “curve ball” questions. Many tour guides at museums seem to have only “script knowledge”, and act annoyed at any question that’s not within the confines of their monotonous and boring presentations.
The Great Mogul
William F. Harrah, the great hotel and casino mogul, had an incredible hobby. He collected over 1,400 cars from 1948 until his death in 1978. Harrah employed a staff of over 200 people to work on the restoration of the cars he fancied. Now, well over 200 significant automobiles are housed in a 100,000 square foot complex in downtown Reno, which also includes some loaned cars from other private collections. Four historical era street layouts include the 1900’s, 1930’s and 1950’s, which feature dioramas of shops and signages from those eras. Guests can dress up in 1920’s style garb and pose in a 1926 Model T like I did with a Canadian visitor (see picture).
Each of the cars on display has detailed information on its make, model and interesting facts, historical or otherwise. The National Automobile Museum houses such historical cars like the 1907 Thomas Flyer, which won the 13,000-plus mile race (not including water crossings) around the world in 1908, from New York to Paris – the long way! It took 169 days to complete the race, the only around-the-world race to date via automobiles. James Dean’s movie car from “Rebel Without A Cause” is housed here, a 1949 black Mercury. The 1934 Dymaxion may be the strangest car. It looks like a giant insect with three wheels. Instead of a rear window, it used a periscope. This was the ingenious design of Buckminster Fuller. The 1966 Batmobile is on display until July 28, 2007. You’ll also find a nice collection of vintage racing cars, including one that looks more like a missile than a race car.
Ever seen a three-wheeled car while traveling abroad, especially in the UK? Well, these cars were created for tax reasons. In jolly Ol’ England, officials taxed automobiles by how many wheels they had, so fewer wheels meant less tax. Some of these artfully created auto works are onsite. Did you know that such auto magnates as David Durban Buick got his start in bathtub building?
A number of celebrity cars have been donated to the museum, including John Wayne’s 1953 Corvette and Elvis’s 1973 Cadillac El Dorado Coupe. I learned something about celebrity automobiles. When restoring them, it’s not wise to re-upholster the seats or steering wheels because this is where the stars sat. Doing so hurts the car’s history and value.
For special events, there is a theater with 157 seats. Automobile history is featured through a changing exhibit gallery. The museum is stocked with an extensive library full of owner manuals, technical and restoration books. It also offers special automobile programs throughout the year, including a safety driving course for people over 50.
For docent-led tours, come at either 10:30 a.m. or 1:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, at 12:30 p.m. Sunday, included in the admission price.
Andy Warhol Exhibit
The work of Andy Warhol either creates amazement or irritation. There’s no lukewarm. The Nevada Museum of Art has brought in close to 90 of Warhol’s prints, collectively called Andy Warhol’s Dream America, on display until May 27, 2007. There’s still time to see Warhol’s thought-provoking works, including many of his Campbell’s Soup cans. The museum has made it a point to showcase Warhol, for both adults and children. School groups are brought in and lectured about the significance of the artist’s contribution to global pop culture. Youngsters can play with replica Campbell’s Soup cans, everybody can look through several books on the life and career of Warhol. The museum provides a free guide to learn more about the creations and the motivations behind the works. I enjoyed viewing six of Warhol’s 1979 Shadows I (screen prints with diamond dust on Arches 88 paper), which he deemed as “disco décor” and used for wallpaper and fashion shoots, rather than for display in galleries. The Jacqueline Kennedy prints from 1965-66 also caught my attention.
This exhibit is so special that travelers can even purchase hotel-casino/museum packages for this gala Warhol event. Go to the Reno-Sparks Visitor Site for more details.
More Museum Offerings
The rest of the museum, which contains 13,000-plus square feet of gallery space, focuses on such subject matter as environmental and altered landscape sculpture, paintings and photos. The Nevada Museum of Art has over 1,900 pieces in its permanent collection from the mid-1800’s to the present day. These pieces rotate on a regular basis. A real powerful exhibit is Robert Beckman’s “Body of the House”, which showcases eight paintings covering 2.33 seconds of the 1953 Nevada Test Site’s 16 Kiloton nuclear bomb explosion which decimated a house. I was also impressed with Louis Aston Knight’s 1930 “Skyscraper” painting.
The children have their own Discovery Center, full of interactive exhibits that change every six months or so, like “Create Your Own Postcards”. Even the roof of this museum, called the Nightingale Rooftop Sculpture Garden, is open to the public. Visitors can see views of downtown Reno and the Sierra Nevada Mountains, as well as some modern sculpture work.
Carvings Buffet displays food as art in buffet style – unique and impressive. It’s part of a six-million dollar RENO-vation project for the Harrah’s hotel/casino. I have never been more affected with a buffet restaurant than I was with Carvings Buffet. Can you believe that for just $10.99, you can enjoy an all-you-can-eat weekday brunch that includes several different kinds of cuisine stations, as well as friendly and attentive service?
Here are a few of the choices I had and/or saw while I had breakfast. Some of the food looked so good, I just wanted to stare and ponder the artful creations.
From the Italian section, I had a choice of three kinds of pizza, including the Vegetarian Pizza. The crust was so tasty and soft. If you go to the Seafood section, you’ll see New Zealand Mussels and Peel & Eat Shrimp, to name a few. From the American section, I feasted on some good tasting broiled chicken.
Of course I saved room for dessert. The dessert section is unbelievable! You’ll find donuts, sweet rolls, brownies, cakes, cookies, pies and more. I thought the cheesecake was especially delicious, creamy tasting. Other buffet areas include Mexican and Asian selections.
Drinks like orange juice come in very large glasses and are gratefully re-filled! For lunch and dinner, the options change at each section. Specialty buffets occur throughout the week. During the weekend, champagne brunches will keep diners pleased.
Roy’s Travel Tips:
Reno is touted as “The Biggest Little City In The World”. This came from a Chamber of Commerce advertising ploy decades ago. This phrase has stuck. Walk through the cleaned up and revitalized downtown areas of the California Avenue Arts District (CalAve) and the nearby River Walk to see why. As you take in such businesses as art galleries and coffee bistros, you’ll be immersed in a small town ambiance despite the fact that this metropolis has roughly 300,000 people (including Sparks). Only the high rise hotel/casinos give a clue that you’re not in a small town.
One coffee bistro to try is the Dreamers Coffee Company. Take in some great regional artwork on display at this establishment. Or enjoy reading, table games like Monopoly and free WIFI internet access while savoring your favorite coffee (like some inspired by Snickers and Milky Way bars) and hearty bistro sandwiches. A must try is the Vanilla Latte Milkshake!
All the major airlines fly into Reno/Tahoe International Airport (airport code is RNO). For the best deals, check Frontier Airlines.
Roy A. Barnes writes from the windy plains of southeastern Wyoming, some 950 miles down Interstate 80 from Reno. Besides Andy Warhol’s work, he loves 19th Century European Impressionist paintings. Roy has contributed frequently to Bootsnall.com.