On the revitalized banks of the Truckee River, there's a new game in town.
You’d have to come up with something dramatic to compete with the giant red Harrah’s logo that dominates the Reno skyline. Like, for instance, the nearby Truckee River. Its waters and refurbished banks form the lively centerpiece of the Truckee River Arts District, a place where the city’s attractions have expanded beyond gaming to art, culture, and nature.Although the big-box casinos hold their ground, three that have gone dark are now marked for redevelopment. What’s more, the remaining casinos hand out maps that guide visitors to the area’s museums, galleries, boutiques, theaters, parks, and café-style dining.
The official arts district stretches from Idlewild Park in the west to Lake Street in the east, and from California Avenue on the southern end to West First Street in the north. But, says Mary Ann McAuliffe, the arts and culture manager of the Reno-Sparks Convention & Visitors Authority, "it’s all about the river." The Truckee River travels some 105 miles from Lake Tahoe to Pyramid Lake north of Reno, rambling through downtown like performance art.
Stroll its banks on a granite walkway and admire marble and bronze sculptures, such as John Battenberg’s bronzes of creatures native to Nevada, amid cottonwoods that tremble green in summer, gold in fall. At Truckee River Whitewater Park, which surrounds an island called Wingfield Park, you can watch or join kayakers plying their craft. On the south bank, painters, sculptors, and photographers live and work in the Riverside Artist Lofts, a 1927 hotel by Frederic J. DeLongchamps, who designed many of Nevada’s important buildings. This architectural gem, saved from Vegas-style implosion, reopened in 2000 as affordable housing for artists. The Sierra Arts Gallery on the ground floor is open to the public, unlike the upstairs lofts, and hosts a variety of art exhibitions.
Follow David Boyer’s fanciful wind-powered kinetic banners along the River Walk down West First Street. It’s easy to forget you’re in the birthplace of Nevada’s gaming industry as you browse bohemian, chic, and avant-garde spots. At Dharma Books, owned by two Jack Kerouac fans, you can find used and collectible books, plus big sections of works on art, music, and Nevada and the West. The Brüka Theater invites spectators to sit on sofas for plays such as Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Sasha’s Boutique features classic and contemporary apparel. And at the vegetarian Pneumatic Diner, a neon-lit space—think Edward Hopper crossed with Alice’s Restaurant—you can get filling burritos and sandwiches like the ratatouille baguette (vegetables baked on French bread with cheese and pesto).
La Bussola shows off owner Meredith Tanzer’s keen eye for art that is retro, shabby, lowbrow, beach cottage, and functionally fabulous. She sells the work of more than 85 artists, from $10 bracelets and vintage-style bar towels to Buddha clocks and imaginative furniture such as a $700 hand-painted country hutch.
For fine arts, head to the Nevada Museum of Art at the south end of the district. Since its opening in 2003, the museum has featured the work of such luminaries as Auguste Rodin, Ansel Adams, and Maynard Dixon. The sleek building, inspired by Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, sports a rooftop sculpture garden with a view of 10,776-foot Mount Rose.
Near California Avenue, Pilates and yoga studios and a tearoom adjoin fashionable eateries including the Cheese Board & Wine Seller and clothiers such as Kalifornia Jean Bar, where burning incense does not obscure the unholy prices of distressed jeans—they start at $165.
Four blocks north, caffeine fiends fuel their musings at Dreamer’s Coffee House on a patio with a view of the river. Live music may waft over from EJ’s Jazz Café—a bar and restaurant that serves Cajun food next door—in tune with the singing of a riverside rescued from its former seediness. It’s part of the town’s best bet on a new way to delight its visitors.
Cuckoo for Cocoa
A cocoa-spiked cocktail and other scrumptious delights satisfy sweet cravings at the Chocolate Bar, 475 S. Arlington Ave., (775) 337-1122.
To cruise the Truckee River Arts District, catch the Sierra Spirit, a free shuttle. Look for one about every 10 minutes at any of 32 marked bus stops in Reno, eight within the arts district. For information go to www.rtcwashoe.com  and click on Sierra Spirit.
Photography by Ira Gostin
This article was first published in May 2006. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.
Pick up AAA's Northern California & Nevada TourBook and Reno map. For more information, contact the Reno-Sparks Convention & Visitors Authority: 4001 S. Virginia St., (800) 367-7366, www.visitrenotahoe.com . Area code is 775, unless noted.
WALK THIS WAY
Get a free copy of the Truckee River Arts District map at the Reno-Tahoe International Airport Welcome Center, at museums, hotels, and casinos, or from the Reno–Sparks Convention & Visitors Authority (see Basics).
To try kayaking on the Truckee, ask about lessons and rentals at Sierra Adventures, 254 W. First St., 323-8928.
ARTSY HOT SPOTS
La Bussola & Center Gallery 211 W. First St., 348-8858. Nevada Museum of Art 160 W. Liberty St., 329-3333. Sierra Arts Gallery 17 S. Virginia St., 329-2787.
ClayNichols Artistic items for home, garden, and life. 106 California Ave., 324-0505. Kalifornia Jean Bar 290 California Ave., 329-5326. Shoe 104 California Ave., 324-4616. The Wine Walk takes place the third Saturday of every month. Buy the River Walk Wine Walk map and commemorative wineglass for $15, and participating merchants in the River Walk area will pour samples of wine. 348-8858.
JUMPIN', JIVIN', AND JAVA
Deux Gros Nez 249 California Ave., 786-9400. Dreamer's Coffee House 17 S. Virginia St., 322-8040. EJ's Jazz Café 17 S. Virginia St., 324-9900. HIGHsocieTEA 131 California Ave., 329-8327.
Beaujolais Bistro 130 West St., 323-2227. Cheese Board & Wine Seller 247 California Ave., 323-3115. Lexie's on the River 1 S. Lake St., 321-5381.
Circus Circus 500 N.Sierra St., 329-0711, www.circusreno.com . Siena Hotel Spa Casino 1 S. Lake St., 327-4362, www.sienareno.com . Silver Legacy Resort Casino (800) 687-8733, www.silverlegacy.com .
For over 10 years, Artown has been bringing to Reno such performers as the San Francisco Ballet, Mikhail Baryshnikov, and Marcel Marceau. Throughout the month of July, the festival offers more than 300 free or low-cost events, including dance, music, movies, theater, arts, crafts, magic, and storytelling at numerous venues around town. 322-1538, www.renoisartown.com .