Winter holds a special place in the hearts of most Northern Nevadans. Because the Reno area enjoys four distinct seasons, it is easy to forget in the heat of July that temperatures can and often do plunge into the single digits during the early part of the year.
For natives, this phenomenon of forgetfulness takes one of two forms: Folks are either constantly thankful that they live in such a varied place with so many different ways to enjoy Mother Nature's wonders, or they head for home at the first sign of snow, cranking up the heat and avoiding the outside world until April.
This wintry weather presents an interesting challenge for visitors, especially those who come to the high desert expecting palm trees and pool parties. About six months out of the year, people expecting a Vegas-style oasis will be surprised to discover a beautiful but blustery mountain town with more ski bums than suntans.
But that's no reason to stay home. Even aside from the famous casino district and nearby ski resorts, there is plenty to do in the Reno area year-round. Even the most warm-blooded visitors can find someplace to hunker down and enjoy the season, often without so much as putting on a hat.
1. Just watch
If you come from a place so warm that your car windshield never frosts over, simply watching a real snowstorm can be fascinating. While many businesses in the downtown casino district offer warm drinks and opportunities for people watching, the Java Jungle coffee house (246 W. First St.) is the area's reigning hot cocoa champion, as well as a hangout for artists, police officers and everyone else. One can also watch snow blanket the Truckee River and several historic buildings from inside.
2. Go shopping
While Reno is home to scores of boutiques and specialty shops, January may not be the best time to go window shopping. The Summit mall (13945 S Virginia St.) lacks the charm of some of the smaller shops, but offers dozens of big-name stores and restaurants within easy walking distance of one another. Visitors from warmer climes should remember that The Summit's parking lot and pathways may be slick this time of year.
3. Go back to school
If you're lucky enough to be in town while school is in session, the University of Nevada Reno, (1664 N. Virginia St.) can be one of the most vibrant places in town during the cold months. In addition to a stunning new student union and a multi-million-dollar library, the university features numerous performance venues, art galleries and restaurants that remain open and lively no matter how cold it gets.
4. Get in the market
The new West Street Market (West Street between First and Second streets) is still going through some growing pains, but it is the best spot in town for folks looking for a high concentration of interesting, locally owned stores and restaurants in an enclosed, heated space. Whether you want to pick up some pastries at the the Brickhouse bakery or buy a unique souvenir at Reno Envy, this is the place.
5. Drown your sorrows
Bar culture is as much a part of Reno as casinos. Assuming you're responsible about it, a bleak winter day can be the perfect time to stake out a spot at one of the area's quirky taverns and see what develops. Strega (310 S Arlington Ave.), a relaxed, eccentric venue built into a 100-year-old house, is a good choice for visitors looking for some regional character without the "locals only" stigma or rowdy fraternity crowd.
6. Stay in
If you're determined to avoid the cold entirely, live performances abound at the Bruka Theatre (99 N. Virginia St.), the Pioneer Center (100 S. Virginia St.) and the Nevada Museum of Art (160 W. Liberty Street). There are also numerous Century movie theaters (various locations including 11 N. Sierra St. and The Summit mall, No. 2 above) and a second-run cinema inside the Grand Sierra Resort (2500 E. 2nd St.) where admission is only $3.
If you're used to the cold or just ready to try something new, the Rink on the River (near First and Virginia Streets, http://tinyurl.com/78wxhg) offers ice skating in the proverbial heart of downtown. Once you do a few laps in your coat and hat, you may discover it is not as cold as you thought it was. Be sure to confirm the rink's status before showing up, as unseasonable weather can affect its hours.
8. Sit by the fire
Although most large casinos are designed to be self-contained, there's still something pleasing about sitting by a roaring fire while a storm rages outside. The Fireside in the Peppermill casino (2707 S. Virginia St.) is an entire lounge built around this idea. Warm your bones by the fire pit or snuggle up in a booth while enjoying specialty drinks and free appetizers.
9. Gear up
Calling the Scheels complex (near the Sparks Marina, 1200 Scheels Dr., Sparks) a sporting goods store is like calling New York a town where some people live. Essentially a mall in and of itself, it is technically located in the city of Sparks, about six miles east of downtown Reno on Interstate 80. You can buy a new pair of gloves along with virtually any other athletic equipment or hobby accessory known to man, or you can visit the in-store restaurants and full-size Ferris wheel.
10. Play in the snow
While Reno certainly gets chilly in the winter, it's not the Yukon. If you're from a warmer area and especially if you have kids who are unfamiliar with cold and snow, bundle up as best you can and go for a walk. Stop at a park. Have a snowball fight. It may be cold, but it's free, you can do it within sight of your hotel and everyone will remember it longer than any movie or meal.
Article written by Matt Farley. Farley is a Nevada native who has worked for the Reno Gazette-Journal and Nevada Magazine and been syndicated by The Associated Press, Gannett News Service and the Las Vegas Review Journal.