Every year our family makes two trips to the Reno/Tahoe area; once in the winter and once in the summer. With each vacation, we discover something new to do and love that these short treks have brought us some great memories. Our last trip a few days after Fourth of July weekend was so amazing that I had to make sure to pass on the info to you all so that you can begin to make these affordable memories with your family as well! Keep reading to see everything from where we like to stay, to what we like to do, and how I like to save along the way.
Where We Stay
The Grand Sierra Resort is hands down our favorite place to stay while in Reno. With so many amenities there have been a few times that we never bothered to leave the resort because we were occupied with activities on the property! A few favorites include;
- Grand Sierra Cinema – Offering $4 movies, GSR’s on-site movie theater is a great way to keep the kids entertained while you warm up from a day of snow or wind down from hours at the pool. While the flicks shown aren’t current movies (in fact you can grab them on RedBox) the kids still enjoy the experience of being in a theater. Plus, nothing beats the popcorn, right?
- Bowling Center – Kids 12 and under can bowl for $3/game and $3/shoes and if you’re into black light bowling the prices start at $6/game $4/shoes. This Mom with horrible eyesight has to opt for the fully lit games (sorry kids).
- The Pool – Recently renovated, the pool at GSR includes a sand area for volleyball and lawn games, a splash pad for younger kids, the main pool and jacuzzi, and a separate area for private cabana rentals complete with an infinity pool. While outside food and beverages aren’t allowed, poolside dining is available at reasonable prices. Our family usually eats before we swim, and if we’re at the pool long enough have found that the personal pizza is big enough to feed 2-3 kids that are eager to get back in the water.
- The Ice Rink – open during the winter months, the ice rink at GSR was way more convenient to visit than the other options around town! Visit the website before you go and check out any specials they may have. We saved $5 off list prices per person and received a free s’ mores kit to enjoy at the fire pits lining the rink and nearby pool.
- Grand Adventure Land – open during the warmer months, walk across the parking lot to enjoy a few outdoor activities that include mini golf and go-kart racing! Check Groupon before you go because there are often deals with significant discounts! On our most recent trip, I stacked a promo code with the Groupon and paid $25 for four people to enjoy two rounds of go-karting each!
- Starbucks – any hotel that offers an in house Starbucks wins in my books! While the prices are slightly higher than Starbucks cafes out in town (gotta pay those hotel licensing taxes) they offer the same promos, you can use your Starbucks card, and you’re able to redeem rewards here.
- Restaurant Row – GSR offers fine dining but knows that families need options! So with a Round Table, Johnny Rockets, California Pizza Kitchen, and Yogurt Beach on site, everybody wins. We recently tried the Grand Buffet and oh.my.goodness. it was pretty impressive.. and that’s coming from someone who doesn’t care for buffets (dare I say it?) including the ones in Las Vegas. I always encourage buffet goers to get in for a late lunch (before 4:30 PM) that can keep you full through dinner, plus it will save you $5-$7 per person. On this most recent trip, we rolled into town late and paid the dinner prices $25/adult $15/children 10 and under. Locals and active duty military discounts are available for those that qualify.
Stay for Free!
GSR has an awesome rewards program called Club Grand that gives you a lot of perks if you enjoy gambling. I signed up for the program for the FREE room offers they send you every month! While you must visit the resort to actually sign up for the program (online registration is currently not an option), once you do GSR emails you an offer code for two comped nights, checking in Sunday through Thursday. Most of the time resort fees are also taken care of, you’re just asked to secure the room with a credit card and $25 daily deposit at check-in, fully refunded at check out.
Our first trip to Reno was booked via Hotwire for $100/night when GSR was in renovations. After that initial trip, we have never paid for our rooms!
Forget something at home? Want to save money on eating out? Skip the hotel convenience store and head over to the WalMart across the street from GSR! We usually pick up water, fruit, and muffins to keep in our hotel room for breakfast or light snacks and save our eating out fund for dinner!
Ever think about having DoorDash sent to your hotel room? It’s fun for the kids and a great way for you to try a local restaurant without the crowd. Simply type in the hotel address to see what is available around you, and don’t forget to include your room number in the delivery notes. Pro Tip: check out the restaurant’s page on YELP to see what to order!
What We Do
The number one question people ask when we tell them where we’re going for our family vacation; what is there TO DO in Reno? Answer: Tons! I think most have the misconception of Reno being a run down version of Las Vegas, and while some neighborhoods remain untouched, a lot of the area is rebuilding! Vacation rule number two is that you can revisit the same city, but never the same activities. Rule number one is to eat like the locals eat, but you knew that right?
- Downtown Reno – I think it’s always more fun to see everything lit up, but being a mom I take my kids here between 630-830PM before the 21 and up crowd start roaming the streets. Every kid loves Circus Circus, taking pictures under the Reno Arch, and taking in the art and sights of the Riverwalk District. Looking for a bite to eat? Downtown is more than buffets and a few major names have taken residency here, including Hash House A Go Go inside Harrah’s.
- Midtown – The most surprisingly dynamic area of Reno with all the best vegetarian/vegan eats! Our family really enjoyed Holey Schmidt Donuts (Tuesdays they have all their vegan options on display) and Great Full Gardens (try their Cham-Bucha). Need a little meat in your life? Midtown hosts wineries, breweries, pizzerias, and a wide variety of local spots to taylor to any palate.
- Sparks – Where the locals live and shop! Only 10 minutes from downtown, Sparks is a suburban community where you’ll find an outlet mall, large chain restaurants (including a Dunkin Donuts), and more importantly… Target.
Unless there is a Groupon for hotel activities, we tend to go out in town to see the sights. Reno is home to The Great Reno Balloon Race in September, plenty of beginner level hiking trails perfect for families, and a lot of local art on display throughout the city. A picnic lunch and a tank of gas are all we need for a day of adventure!
As much as I would love to stay in Lake Tahoe, it is just not as affordable as Reno! Luckily it’s only a short 45-minute drive away, which makes for an easy day trip. Lake Tahoe is like nothing else and a must-see for anyone visiting the area. If you’re a little nervous navigating through winding roads like myself, I recommend taking the drive from Reno that goes through 580 to 395 via Carson City, not Route 431 that is all downhill through the forest.
- Sand Harbor – a very popular family beach located within Nevada State Park, and for good reason! Well maintained, several beach inlets that give you a feeling of privacy, a snack shack/bar, walking trails, and several bathrooms throughout the property. Gates open at 8am and during the busier months the parking lot fills up by 8:30 AM. Entrance is not allowed after the lot fills unless you ride the Express Shuttle, and entrance by foot is never allowed. Tip: Leave Reno by 7am to get there at opening and bring $10 cash for parking in case their credit card readers aren’t working. Set up camp at the locations by the snack shack for easy access to food, bathrooms, walking trails, and water rentals.
Water rentals are run by Sand Harbor Rentals and their booth is located just steps from the Snack Shack. Paddleboarding is available, but recently our family tried Kayaking and loved it. A single kayak is $25/hour while a tandem (two people) runs for $40/hour. While six people would usually require three tandems for $120, my six and ten years old were small enough to ride in the middle, so we only needed two tandems. Each tandem comes with two life jackets, and additional life jackets are $10 each. By combining the small kids we saved $20! Everyone was able to paddle and really enjoyed the experience.
- King’s Beach – if you happen to find Sand Harbor’s parking lot full, fear not, King’s Beach is just a little way down the road. Designated parking is limited, but street parking is available. KB also has plenty of bathrooms and a company that provides water rentals, but what I really enjoy about this location is its close proximity to local restaurants and shops. After spending the morning at the beach, grab a bite to eat, then walk it off with a stroll through the neighborhood.
Note: Many beaches in-between Sand Harbor and King’s Beach are private and only locals are allowed access. Know before you go!
- The Shops at Heavenly – more than just a ski resort, the Heavenly area of Tahoe is a fun place to visit and explore. As the name suggests, its a small outdoor mall with shops, perfect for grabbing non-cheesy souvenirs (we love handcrafted magnets). If you check Yelp, you’ll see there are tons of restaurants to choose from, and down the street is a Hard Rock Cafe!
Skip the overpriced Gondola and drive/walk up to Van Sickle Bi-State Park for Insta-worthy views. “Bi-State” means that this park runs through California and Nevada! Have your very own “A Walk to Remember” moment when you snap pictures on the Stateline. Never read the book? The movie, starring Mandy Moore, isn’t THAT bad.
Travel season for Reno/Tahoe peaks when most people are on break for Christmas and Fourth of July. We have found that traveling the Monday after those holidays have been less crowded and when more money saving deals are available. These trips have easily become our family’s local favorite, especially because we find something new to do each time we go! Have a site you love to visit in the Reno/Tahoe area? Follow me on Instagram and share in the comments! Til then, happy traveling!
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