Skydiving, kayaking Lake Tahoe in clear kayaks, hiking to waterfalls: these are just some of the epic weekend adventures in store when you visit Carson City, Nevada … so I discovered.
I recently spent a long weekend in Carson City, Nevada for the first time to uncover what this small town destination offers visitors. Hint: it’s epic. If you’re looking to escape the vacation crowds of Reno, but still have the perks of being close to Lake Tahoe this is the place for you. Read on to get my suggestions on things to do in Carson City and beyond.
Where is Carson City Nevada?
Carson City is actually the capital of Nevada. I know, I didn’t know this either (cue blushing). Now that you know, you’ll ace trivia night if they ever ask for the Nevada state capitol name.
Carson City is located 32 miles south of Reno and just 20 minutes east of Lake Tahoe, so it’s central to many local things to do. However, if you take a look at the map of Nevada below, iit’s actually not one of the cities surrounding Las Vegas. The drive from Las Vegas to Carson City is ambitious, yet doable if you design a road trip with stops in places like Death Valley National Park and Yosemite.
In Downtown Carson City, the recently revamped Curry Street and charming McFadden Plaza boast brew pubs, restaurants, and the Third Street Stage, which hosts live music events on cool summer evening nights. As a city person, I really appreciated Carson City’s small town vibe. If you look at Nevada cities by population, Carson City comes in number 10. Las Vegas, Henderson, and Reno come hold down the top three positions as far as population goes. If you must know, the current population of Carson City hovers around 54,000. That might not sound small, but it’s nearly half the population of Santa Monica where I live, so it feels small to me. You could also compare that to the population of Las Vegas metro area at 2,227,053 (wow).
Okay, I’ll stop nerding out and enlighten you more about Carson City instead. It was close enough to Lake Tahoe to enjoy outdoor activities then return home to an everyone-knows-everyone kinda atmosphere that isn’t overrun by tourists. During Capital City Brew Fest — a local beer festival featuring some 30+ regional breweries — someone even offered to get me details on the house for sale right next door to theirs. I’m now contemplating moving to Nevada. I never thought I’d consider Carson City, Nevada real estate, neither did I ever think I’d consider skydiving again … but we’ll get to that later in this post.
Carson City Airport
For this trip, I flew into Reno Tahoe International Airport — 28 miles north of Carson City. Many daily direct flights depart for Reno Tahoe International Airport from cities like Los Angeles. From there, you can either hire a private airport shuttle , or there’s a public bus that will take you from the airport to downtown Reno where you’ll need to catch another bus to Carson City. Your best bet is renting a car, which you can do right at the airport. Keep in mind tourist seasons get busy, so rent your car in advance!
There is a tiny airport in Carson City itself, but there aren’t any commercial airliners that fly in or out of it. However, once you’re in town if you’re looking for a thrill, Hang Gliding Tahoe departs from Carson City Airport as does Carson Aviation Adventures. So there’s that.
Carson City Nevada Weather
Carson City enjoys 265 days of sunshine per year on average, which makes it a great place to escape So Cal’s June Gloom, as I did. As a desert climate, the spring and fall months are characterized by arid, milder temperatures whereas the summer highs can hover in the 90s. Even in June and July, I’d still suggest packing a jacket and pants as it can get as cold as 45 degrees at night.
During winters, temperatures drop and welcome an average of 22 inches of snow-fall per year. It’s the perfect excuse to break out those skis! There are a slew of slopes in the local area around Carson City including Diamond Peak Ski Resort, Heavenly Mountain Resort, and Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe.
Carson City Nevada Restaurants
Quaint and casual pretty much sums up the dining scene. Here are some of my favorite Carson City restaurants I dined at in town:
Comma Coffee Cafe
312 S Carson Street
I could have hung out on the Comma Coffee Cafe’s outdoor patio all day, and I had reason. They not only serve delicious breakfast and lunch options but also host live acoustic music outside in the evenings. Don’t be deceived, it isn’t just a coffee shop, although they do serve a mean brew. I munched on a chicken pesto panini that was so sinfully delicious I promised I’d go to church after.
Battle Born Social
318 N Carson Street
A little bird told me that the chef at Battle Born Social is experimenting with a new menu. Be one of the first to sample new eats! I highly recommend the chicken and waffles.
Side note: Nevada’s nickname (or one at least) is Battle Born, alluding to when Nevada joined the Union during the Civil War. Other Nevada nicknames include the Sagebrush State and the Silver State.
302 N Carson Street
Where casual meets fine dining, one simply must try one of the Union’s fresh, house-made pastas. Also, the ahi appetizer and wood-fired pizzas are simply nom.
Breakfast at Squeeze In
308 N Curry Street
Get ready for a smorgasbord! The gi-normous portions at Squeeze In will keep you feeling full all day. From King Crab Benny to loaded avocado toast you really can’t go wrong with anything on the menu.
Old World Coffee Lab
301 N Curry Street
At Old World Coffee Lab, precision-roasted blends are christened with artisan flavors like fresh lavender (try the lavender vanilla latte). As if the coffee weren’t its only bragging point, the patio is also beautiful. It features a fire pit next to a porch swing and outdoor games like life-sized Jenga.
Karaoke Nights at Westside Pour House
110 W Telegraph Street
Okay so you’ve had your day of adventure and still aren’t ready to turn in. Now what? If it’s Saturday, scurry over to the Westside Pour House for a beer and your favorite tunes. Their weekend (and Wednesday night) karaoke sessions are going down for real. It’s a great place to make besties with the locals.
Things to do in Carson City and Beyond
Visiting Carson City in the Spring and Fall creates a completely different experience than coming to town in the winter when — as you’d probably guess — it’s all about hitting up ski resorts. In the warmer months, there are many things to do in Carson City and beyond. Here are some of my faves:
Kayak Lake Tahoe in Clear Bottom Kayaks
You heard right, I said clear bottom kayaks at Lake Tahoe! The Wild Society rents clear bottom kayaks at North Lake Tahoe on Kings Beach for $50 an hour. You also receive a discount if you book the kayak for a longer period. The clear kayaks navigate with a lighter-weight feel than your standard kayak, so I recommend going earlier in the day before the afternoon winds and waves pick up.
Go Skydiving Over Lake Tahoe
If you are ready to check skydiving off your bucket list, then Skydive Truckee Tahoe, not far from Carson City, is THE place to do it. On the way down, catch epic views of the surrounding Sierra Nevada Mountains and Lake Tahoe. The team is professional and very supportive through the whole experience.
Hike Ash Canyon
Meander the Carson Range just west of Carson City. For ambitious hikers, a moderate 13.4 miles trail will take you along an epic path with expansive views that culminate in a beautifully shaded waterfall. If you went to karaoke the night before and you’re looking to cure your hangover with a simple trek, you can drive 8 minutes from the center of Carson City then park and hike to the falls. This option will lead you to the waterfall in about 15 minutes up an easy sunlit path.
Visiting historic Genoa is a must during your first visit to Carson City. At the base of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Genoa became the first settlement in Nevada in 1851. That’s another Nevada fact you can play during trivia night. Visiting Genoa feels like stepping back in time. The Genoa Bar and Saloon serves up stiff drinks where you’ll also get an ample dose of people watching. Bikers from near and far park their rides out front as do other visitors showing off their antique rides.
Hang Out in McFadden Plaza
The recently updated square is where it’s at for an afternoon chill session between adventures. Pick your favorite restaurant or bar then watch the time go by as you soak up some sun. If anyone reading this dines at Scoups Ice Cream and Soup Bar please let me know, I am so curious about that experience! Why choose between desert and dinner when you can have both!?
Visit Carson City’s Capitol Building
Carson City’s Capitol Building is a quick stop during your tour of town, and it’s a pleasant walk through a very green park to reach it. The building is open to the public daily for self-guided tours, but you can also call two weeks in advance if you’d like to reserve a guided tour.
Special thanks to Visit Carson City for sponsoring this experience. All opinions are my own.