Best Museums in Reno

10Best Museums in Reno, Virginia City and Beyond

For a small area, Reno has a wide variety of museums that can rival any larger city. Spread from Reno to Sparks to Carson City and up into Virginia City, these 10Best museums will give you a better insight into the history of this Wild West area. Starting in Downtown Reno, visit the contemporary and award-winning Nevada Museum of Art. This stylish museum features various art and interactive exhibits from world renowned artists. You can get some of the best views of the city from the the top of the NMA as well. If you have children with you, be sure to take them to The Discovery (Terry Lee Wells Discovery Museum), also in Downtown Reno. The interactive exhibits and three-story cloud climber will keep them busy for hours. For some out of the city trips, visit the Fourth Ward School in Virginia City and fun and interactive Nevada State Museum in Carson City.


The history of Sparks (the city right next to Reno) revolves around mining and railroads, and this museum provides great insight into the history of these two important resources, along with a fascinating collection of related artifacts and memorabilia. The museum houses a vintage steam locomotive, cupola caboose and Pullman executive car as well as a one room schoolhouse and a monument to the Chinese rail workers. The beautiful Cultural Center can be rented and has various special music and Young Chautauqua performances during the year. A variety of educational programs for adults and families are also offered throughout the year.

Recommended for Museums because: The Sparks Museum and Cultural Center offers a unique view into the railroad town of Sparks.

Christina's expert tip: Download the Sparks Historic Tours app for a guided tour of the museum on your phone.

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Nevada Historical Society
Photo courtesy of NHS

Founded in 1904, this facility ranks as Nevada's oldest museum. Its impressive collection of artifacts represents prehistoric times to the present, showcasing the state's role as a passageway to the west and as a locus of gold and silver mining and wealth. The museum profiles the people of The Great Basin, the desert stretches of the Immigrant Trail, the Comstock era, the effects of Nevada's liberal marriage and divorce laws, and the rise of the gambling industry. Temporary exhibitions are short term displays exploring topics relating to Nevada History. The museum's store features books on Nevada, Historical Society publications, t-shirts, Nevada turquoise jewelry, children's toys, Made in Nevada gifts and pieces by local artists.

Recommended for Museums because: The Nevada Historical Society is the state's oldest museum.

Christina's expert tip: The Nevada Historical Society is located on the north end of the University of Nevada, Reno campus.

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This beautifully restored 1876 Victorian school building is located in the foothills above Reno in Virginia City. The museum is a peak into the life of the young students of the Comstock and Virginia City life. Sit in the same wooden desks, learn about Virginia City resident Mark Twain's, letter press printing, alumni's lives, Comstock mining, abandoned mines and new exhibits in the other classrooms. Research family genealogy in the archives and pull the rope to hear the original school bell. The museum is very large and will take a few hours to get through, so give yourself some time.

Recommended for Museums because: The Fourth Ward School is the only Second Empire style four-storied, wooden school building still standing in the U.S.

Christina's expert tip: The top floor of the Fourth Ward School has some of the best views of Virginia City and the mountains.

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The W.M. Keck Museum, housed in the Mackay School of Mines Building on the University of Nevada, Reno campus is home to the impressive Mackay silver collection. The museum also includes extensive exhibits of mining artifacts, rocks, fossils, geodes, gold, silver and other minerals. Some of which you have probably never heard of. Wakabayashilite? Mackayite? The museum also features various fossils including the fossilized remains of a 3 million year old mastodon that was found in northern Nevada. Free to the public (donations are accepted) this small, but excellent museum is worth a stop if you are on the UNR campus.

Recommended for Museums because: The second oldest museum in Nevada is housed in a wonderful building from the late 1800s.

Christina's expert tip: The W.M. Keck Museum is free to the public.

Read more about W. M. Keck Earth Science and Mineral Engineering Museum →

This fascinating museum houses the personal collection of Wilbur D. May, department store magnate, rancher, and world traveler–it's been said that Mr. May traveled around the world 40 times. Collections include Tang Dynasty pottery from China, a shrunken head from South America, African artwork and instruments, Eskimo scrimshaws, Egyptian scarabs, Greek icons, and Italian amulets that pre-date the birth of Jesus. Changing exhibits include photography, watercolors and oils and special traveling exhibits. The May Museum's indoor garden houses ponds, waterfalls and a a variety of plants and flowers. The museum is located in the beautiful Rancho San Rafael Arboretum near Downtown Reno.

Recommended for Museums because: The Wilbur D. May Museum features special events like scavenger hunts for both children and adults.

Christina's expert tip: Check out the Wilbur D. May Museum store for many certified fair trade items.

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Fleischmann Planetarium

It's hard to miss this futuristic and interesting building on the north part of the University of Nevada, Reno campus. The Fleischmann Planetarium soars out of a lush garden like a spaceship ready to take off and hosts a variety of astronomy exhibits and seminars, and is the only planetarium to show "full-dome" IMAX movies. The science museum exhibits a one-ton meteorite, a solar system model, weather instruments, interactive science exhibits and more. The Exhibit Space is free to visit and the Planetarium shows, like Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, are only $7.50 for adults and $5 for children.

Recommended for Museums because: The Fleischmann Planetarium's shows are not free, but its space and geology exhibits are.

Christina's expert tip: The Planetarium Science Store sells wonderful science and space inspired toys and gifts

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The Nevada State Museum is located in the state's capital of Carson City. This historical building houses a wide variety of historical and contemporary exhibits on the history of the Silver State. Exhibits include the former Carson City Mint, Nevada's Changing Earth Exhibit which explores the state's geologic history, Under One Sky, a Native American exhibit from their perspective and in their own words, and America's largest exhibited Columbian mammoth found in Nevada's Black Rock Desert. The museum offers various tours for groups as well as special events. Older children will get a kick out of the underground mine tour.

Recommended for Museums because: The Nevada State Museum has a wide range of exhibits from Nevada's history from fossils to gaming.

Christina's expert tip: The underground mine tour with spooky sounds is fun for older children, but might be too scary for the little ones.

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National Automobile Museum
Photo courtesy of Christina Nellemann

Even if classic cars are not your passion this 100,000-square-foot museum is still a great place to view some of the most beautiful and unusual cars you will ever see. The museum houses one of the largest collections of antique automobiles to be found anywhere and it has been voted one of the top ten automobile museums in the country and one of the best 16 museums in the world. The cars are grouped by age in street settings appropriate to their time. These real-life backdrops include everything from Burma Shave signs to old gas pumps. See the cars that were originally a part of the Harrah collection including a Cadillac that belonged to Elvis Presley, a gold Delorean, the car belonging to Alice Ramsey (the first woman to drive across the U.S.) and the Thomas Flyer. There is also a copper Rolls Royce, a Phantom Corsair and s few horseless carriages.

Recommended for Museums because: The National Automobile Museum features some of the most unique vehicles in the world.

Christina's expert tip: The 1936 silver Mercedes Benz is one of only 3 made (they are all in Reno).

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This museum is a celebration of the nature, science and weather of the Silver State. Both adults and children can visit a Native American tule house, learn about the early Pioneers, work on their own farm or ranch and study archeology. They can also climb around on a three-story-tall cloud climbing structure, get wet while learning about local water resources, or build structures and art while learning more about Leonardo Da Vinci. Older children can visit the Under the Stars exhibit where they can go fishing, go on a camping trip and meet Northern Nevada's wildlife. There is also an area for babies and toddlers with a tree house and slide, a mine elevator and tunnel and a place for nursing mothers.

Recommended for Museums because: The Discovery is not just for kids. Adults can also have fun in this interactive space.

Christina's expert tip: The museum is very popular on the weekends, get there early for parking space.

Read more about The Discovery →

Nevada Museum of Art
Photo courtesy of Christina Nellemann

This award-winning museum is just south of downtown Reno and features permanent and traveling exhibits from various artists. This excellent museum is small, but packs in a wonderful selection of contemporary and traditional art, sculptures interactive exhibits, shows, and a rooftop sculpture with a view of all of Reno and the surrounding mountains. The outside area of the museum has several permanent exhibits including several pieces from the nearby Burning Man festival. Current and past exhibitions have included: To Live Forever: Egyptian Treasures from the Brooklyn Museum, Leo Villareal: Animating Light, Explorer, Naturalist, Artist John James Audubon and The Birds of America and the Baroque World of Fernando Botero. Experienced docent tours are available at the NMA as are special events, a Museum school for children, regular art classes and a cafe named Café Musée. The museum gift shop is a real delight. Numerous items based on current and past exhibits are available as well as learning toys for children, jewelry and art from local artists and a nice selection of books.

Recommended for Museums because: While this museum is smaller than most in larger cities, it features some excellent exhibits.

Christina's expert tip: Every third Saturday admission to the museum is free.

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Meet Christina Nellemann

Christina has lived in the Reno/Lake Tahoe area since she was a baby. A first-generation Nevadan, her Danish parents instilled in her an intense love of travel and the wild, rugged outdoors...  More About Christina