When you’re traveling for fun or work, you’ll eventually find yourself with some down time. Even if you’re on a gambling vacation, you should take some time to explore the community.
Doing things for free isn’t the same as being cheap. Every major city has parks and sidewalks, and you can walk around for free. But there’s more to enjoying a local community than walking down the street looking for a restaurant or bar.
Even so, smaller cities like Reno, NV, count on tourist fees to support their cultural venues. The admission fees are not bad, usually in the $5 to $12 range. But if you’re in the mood to visit a museum, there’s a way to get in without having to pay the standard admission fees.
The Nevada State Museum system allows people to pay for supporting memberships. Funny enough, their official website doesn’t tell you how to get a $35 membership, but you can do this through any of the member museum sites.
If you visit Nevada several times a year and want to check out the top museums in the state, that $35 fee reduces the price of admission for you. This is the one exception for this list of free things to do in Reno.
1 – Take a Walk Along the River
The Truckee River flows right through the heart of Reno, and all the casinos are located on or close to the river.
Walking is great for your health, and it’s a lot easier on your knees than running. And you don’t need to pack a jogging outfit to take a walk.
The Truckee River Whitewater Park is also in the Riverwalk district. If you happen to have a kayak strapped to the top of your vehicle, you can use it on the river for free. People love to hang out at Whitewater Park just to cool off and enjoy the water.
You’ll find plenty of local businesses happy to take your money, but the Riverwalk itself is free and is very popular with local residents and visitors to the city.
2 – Visit Rancho San Rafael Park
If you want to relax in an outdoor area with a great view, Rancho San Rafael Park is a great choice. Reno is located on the west side of Nevada, close to Tahoe National Forest and a couple of mountains.
The park was once a working ranch established in the 1890s by the Pincolini family. They grazed cattle there and sold the property in 1920 to sheep herder Russell Jensen. Unfortunately, he passed in 1925, but his widow held onto the land for another 10 years.
Dr. Raphael Herman and his brother and sister-in-law bought the land in 1935 and built the first permanent buildings on it. The ranch is named after Dr. Herman. The Hermans held the property until Raphael and Norman passed and Marianna Herman moved to California.
She sold the property to the State Public Employees Retirement System in 1979, which in turn, sold the property to Washoe County after its citizens approved a bond issue. Public donations of money and land improved, and the park was expanded over the years.
The park hosts the Wilbur D. May Museum which charges admission, but the park itself is well worth a visit. There are 25 acres of manicured turf, out of a total of 595 acres of land.
Visitors can also enjoy the May Arboretum and Botanical Garden for free.
3 – Visit Idlewild Park
Located in the Riverwalk district, Idlewild is a community park with a lot of facilities for families and individuals. It’s a good place to take the kids if you’re visiting with your family. The rose garden and public art exhibits add to the interest factor.
The Lions Club Arch area inside Idlewild is great for children. Younger children will love the train ride on weekends, but there is a small fare. The park’s convenient proximity to casinos and downtown Reno should be suitable for everyone else visiting the city.
Locals may congregate in the park on Friday evenings for Food Truck Friday. The walk is free, but you’ll obviously have to pay for your food. You can learn more about Food Truck Friday from their Facebook account.
4 – Visit During Free Community Events
There are free concerts in Reno, although they are only scheduled a few times throughout the year. The Reno Philharmonic schedules a few free concerts.
The Reno Chamber of Commerce also schedules occasional public performances.
For three days every September, visitors to the city can look up and watch the Great Reno Balloon Race.
Check these sites in advance of your trip to or through Reno, just in case you get lucky and can take in some great music for free. This is a family-friendly event and more than 120,000 people visit every year.
5 – Enjoy Free Music at Local Casinos
At least two casinos in Reno offer free shows to visitors. The Sands Regency hosts a local farmers’ market every Thursday. Anyone can attend. Bands perform live music, so this is a great place to visit. And you don’t have to buy anything.
Peppermill Resort Spa Casino strives to live up to its name. Their Terrace Lounge offers live music every night that anyone can listen to. This is a great venue for hearing local performers and it’s quite popular with Reno residents.
Silver Legacy at the Row schedules free music at the Silver Baron Lounge. Enjoy performances by local bands and artists.
6 – Browse Local Urban Art
If you’re strolling through the Midtown District in Reno, you’ll see a lot of local artwork for free. Hundreds of local buildings have been painted with murals or adorned with outdoor art.
The city hosts an annual Art Walk which features live music performed by local bands.
You can learn more about the Reno Midtown Art Walk from their official site. It may be a little slow to load, but it’s worth the wait.
7 – Visit State Museums
This is the one exception on our list that isn’t necessarily free, but may be worth the expense. The Nevada State Museum system consist of seven museums. One of them, the Nevada Historical Society, is located in Reno.
Purchasing a membership in the museum system not only provides support to this state network, it gives you free admission to any of their venues. The basic individual membership costs $35 but there are other options.
Basic memberships entitle you to 15% discounts in state museum stores and a 50% discount on train rides in Carson City.
To reach Carson City from Reno, drive south on I-580 for about 30 to 40 minutes, where the Nevada State Museum and the Nevada State Railroad Museum are located. The train rides are at the railroad museum.
Paying for a basic membership makes more sense if you’re traveling around the state or want to go back more than a couple of times. The museums occasionally host events that members are invited to for free.
Cities across America have invested billions of dollars in remaking themselves over the past 30 years. You may not be tempted to visit Reno just because they have a few great parks and outdoor art, but if you know you’re going, and you want more than just a gambling experience, there’s plenty to do.
Reno has a few advantages over other Nevada cities because it’s not sitting in the heart of the desert. You’ll find other adventures waiting for you, including some desert trails and nearby Native American reservations.
Reno also provides easy access to two national forests. It’s a remote destination for most people, but what put Reno on the map in the first place was the arrival of two national highways during the 1930s. Now, there are two interstate highways and an airport. Reno is one of the easiest “remote” places in the USA to get to, especially for vacation travelers.
With 20 casinos, Reno also offers visitors plenty of gambling fun opportunities. Reno may not be the gambling capital of the country, but it is sometimes called Nevada’s “other Las Vegas.” If you want a break from the same old experiences in Las Vegas and Atlantic City, then Reno is well worth considering.