Visitors flock to northern Nevada in winter for snow sports, but some would argue that summer brings out the best of Reno and Tahoe. As Las Vegas has become the undisputed king of casino towns, Reno has reinvented itself as an adventure and culture destination with a summer festival series that rivals any major metropolis. Nearby Tahoe offers area visitors even more outdoor recreational opportunities and warm-weather events. Since summer offers better prices than the winter high season, it’s a more affordable time to visit. In July and all summer long, Reno and Tahoe mix small town events with nationally recognized festivals.
Festival season kicks into high gear with arts, music, food, and cultural festivals throughout July. It’s a great month to reap maximum value from a vacation, as many of the festivals and events are free or cost very little. July also draws adventure seekers and outdoor enthusiasts to the white-water kayak park in downtown Reno, and to the trails, parks, beaches, and waters of Lake Tahoe. Enjoying the outdoors will cost only parking or park entry fees and the occasional equipment rental costs.
July is the month that Reno transforms into Artown. Recognized as one of the largest events of its kind in the country, the month-long Artown festival brings 300 events—three-quarters of them free—to 90 venues around the city. Events include music, dance, theater, movies in the park, cowboy poetry, and visual arts exhibitions. It’s the only time of year to catch musical performances and outdoor adventure along the river; in one afternoon you can catch an Opera in Blue Jeans performance in the Truckee River Arts District, watch kayakers tackling the white-water course while kids play in the shallows, and enjoy a picnic in the grass before an evening concert at Wingfield Park, the amphitheater tucked in between two arms of the Truckee.
From July 16 to 20, the Great Basin Chautauqua Festival brings historical figures to life at Rancho San Rafael Park in Reno. Tickets are $15, and evenings include music and two performances on a theme by humanities scholars portraying figures such as Thomas Jefferson and Malcolm X (though not in the same night).
The Lake Tahoe Music Festival takes place on Thursday and Saturday nights starting on July 20. Performances range from classical to pop and bluegrass at venues around the north shore. Tickets cost $35 for most performances, but youth rates, family nights, and series tickets are available for less.
The lineup at this year’s Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival is Twelfth Night, Othello, and the fast-paced and fun The Compleat Wrks of Wllm Shkspr (abridged). The plays are performed in the sand amphitheater that overlooks the lake. Food is available, but picnics are also encouraged. Performances start on July 13 and run through August 20. Ticket prices range from $22 to $72, depending on seats and day of the week.
If it’s cooked outdoors and tastes good on a hot day, it is probably celebrated this month in Reno. At the Great Eldorado BBQ, Brews and Blues Festival on July 8, food, drinks, and entertainment are on the menu. On the weekend of the 15, the New Orleans-style Big Easy street festival brings Cajun cuisine, live blues and Zydeco, and a parade to Victorian Square. And, at the Great International Chicken Wing Society Cook-Off from July 1 to 3, wing experts from around the country will battle it out for top honors.
Two free cultural festivals celebrate the food and traditions of different parts of Europe. At the Basque Festival on July 15, food, dancing, and competitions like tug-of-war and wood chopping take center stage. On July 23 and 24, the Celtic Celebration features bagpipe bands, dancing, Celtic crafts, and traditional highland game athletic events.
Sports competitions during the month draw all kinds of athletes to the area. The two-day Reno-Tahoe Odyssey Relay Run Adventure on July 7 and 8 may not be everyone’s idea of fun, but it offers relay teams the chance to race across the mountains, around the lake, and through the high desert. The Celebrity Golf Championship from the 11 to the 16, and the John Ascuaga’s Nugget Amateur Challenge from the 16 to the 20, cater to both golfers who prefer to watch and those who want to compete. At the Mastercraft Pro Wakeboard Tour Finals from the 28 to the 30, the world’s best wakeboarders compete.
Those who consider waxing cars a sport in itself will find plenty of action at a very popular nostalgia and car event. Though the name indicates otherwise, Hot August Nights actually begins in July. This vintage car show brings together thousands of classic cars, music from the 50s and 60s, and the people who love the whole scene.
Where to stay
Reno-Tahoe has summer packages that combine individual interests such as golf, kayaking, and rafting with accommodations. At ski resorts in Tahoe, rates tend to be much cheaper in summer. For instance, at Squaw Valley, the rack rate for a one-bedroom suite midweek in summer is $159 per night, compared to a midweek rate of $279 in winter. Resorts also run smaller festivals and events to keep people visiting during months without snow. Squaw Valley hosts an Art, Wine, and Music Fest on July 22 and 23, and Northstar Tahoe has periodic astronomer-hosted stargazing evenings.
The Reno/Tahoe airport in Reno is served by 11 airlines, including Alaska, Southwest, and United. The region is about 3½ hours by car from San Francisco, and many people from the Bay Area choose to make it a weekend trip. However, driving back to the Bay Area on Sunday afternoons can take longer because of traffic, so it’s best to drive back early or late to avoid delays.