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California Flying

'The biggest little city in the world'

The original "Reno: The Biggest Little City in the World" sign was first erected in 1929. The original sign is still there, but it's been moved and the arch has been replaced with a bigger one, which was built to accommodate the widening of Virginia Street, the town's main thoroughfare.

The original "Reno: The Biggest Little City in the World" sign was first erected in 1929. The original sign is still there, but it's been moved and the arch has been replaced with a bigger one, which was built to accommodate the widening of Virginia Street, the town's main thoroughfare.

Reno, Nevada, has a large all-weather airport a few miles south of the town center — Reno/Tahoe International Airport — as well as two smaller airports located within 10 miles of town to serve fly-in visitors (Spanish Springs and Reno/Stead).

If you've never visited Reno, you're in for a pleasant surprise. This modest-size city (with a population just over 200,000) is easy to get around, nestles dramatically up against a range of tall mountains to the west, and offers visitors a chance to try their hand at the gaming tables. Or they may wander through the downtown streets, where they will find a variety of museums, well-preserved historic buildings, and eateries that span the spectrum from the La Famiglia Italian Ristorante to the Beaujolais Bistro to the (vegetarian) Pneumatic Diner.


Reno is located on the California-Nevada border in the high-desert valley of Nevada. It is the second-largest city in Nevada and was the gambling capital of the United States before the growth of Las Vegas.

The Truckee River flows down from the mountains before coursing through the middle of Reno. The Truckee River Arts and Entertainment District is centered on the intersection formed by the river and Virginia Street, and extends for three or four blocks in all directions from that point. A very comprehensive and easy-to-use Web site for Reno visitors can be accessed online. There you'll find maps marking the downtown attractions, public works of art, and establishments. There are 13 sculptures, sculptural elements, murals, and statues located in and around the downtown area.


Reno touts itself as "America's Adventure Place" because visitors can ski at any one of 15 area ski resorts, play golf at a variety of nearby courses, enjoy white-water sports right in the middle of town, take in the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival, or enjoy many other outdoor activities. Reno is at 4,660 feet msl and averages 300 sunny days and 12 inches of precipitation a year.

The white-water park is a 2,600-foot-long series of drop pools — five in the north channel and six in the south channel — in the Truckee River as it flows around Wingfield Park Island. Large smooth flat rocks have been positioned along the two channels for river lovers and sunbathers.

Harrah's cars, star shows, and other attractions

The world-famous Harrah's automobile museum, now called the National Automobile Museum, is located in downtown Reno. With more than 220 examples of historic, hysterical, and hot-rod automotive designs and custom cars dating from the 1890s to today, this museum is open every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas. Visitors will see wheeled works of art ranging from Big Daddy Ed Roth's 1961 Beatnik Bandit to the 1949 Mercury that James Dean drove in Rebel Without a Cause.

Drive north up Virginia Street to visit the awe-inspiring Fleischmann Planetarium on the campus of the University of Nevada, Reno. Recent program titles include Full-Dome Star Shows Ultimate Universe, The Secret of the Cardboard Rocket, and Full-Dome Light Show Dark Side of the Moon, and others.

A little farther up Virginia Street is the Rancho San Rafael Regional Park, which is home to the Wilbur D. May Arboretum and the Wilbur D. May Center. May, a scion of the family that founded The May Co., made 40 trips traveling the world in the early part of the twentieth century and brought back an amazing array of artifacts and art from everywhere from Alaska to the Amazon. This world-class collection is amazing, ranging from T'ang Dynasty pottery to Italian amulets that predate the birth of Christ. The park is also home to the Great Basin Adventure, a place where small children can learn about and pet many animals, slide down a watery flume ride, and explore how to pan for gold.

Virginia City and Mark Twain

A short drive up into the mountains southwest of town will take visitors the 28 miles to Virginia City, a restored and preserved rough-and-tumble town that was at the center of the Comstock silver-mining boom of the 1860s that today bills itself as the largest historic landmark in the United States. Mark Twain worked as a reporter at the Territorial Enterprise, a newspaper in Virginia City, during the early 1860s. Roughing It, Twain's semiautobiographical book, contains nuggets gleaned during his time in Virginia City. There are plenty of interesting diversions for visitors, including joining underground mine tours, visiting historic buildings such as the Mackay Mansion and the beautifully maintained Fourth Ward School, which was built in 1876 and used up until 1936, and paying respects to the graves from that bygone era in the graveyard just north of town.

The Reno airports

Reno/Tahoe International Airport is located less than three miles from the Truckee River and Virginia Street crossing in the southeast corner of town. It's a big airport with long parallel runways (16L/34R and 16R/34L) and a single cross runway, 7/25. Although a regular procession of airline traffic lands and takes off at Reno, the airport is in Class C airspace. Approach and departure control and clearance delivery services are in use at Reno. Minimum sector altitudes for IFR fliers are more than 9,600 feet in all quadrants. The airport is located at 4,412 feet msl in the high desert, and decreased takeoff and climb performance can be a problem because of density altitude during summer months.

The two smaller airports — Reno/Stead and Spanish Springs — are both located north of Reno within 10 miles of the city. Fuel prices are quite a bit less than those at the big airport and car rental agencies serve both airports. Check AOPA's Airport Directory online for the latest fuel prices.

Reno is a fun town; it's filled with activities both strenuous and sublime, and it's located close enough to the California-Nevada border to qualify as a blue-ribbon California flying destination.

E-mail the author at [email protected].

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