Best Museums in Tahoe

10 Best Museums in Lake Tahoe and Reno

Most people visit the Lake Tahoe and Reno area to experience the great outdoors, but the area has a surprising number of museums–some are even located outdoors. Like the Taylor Creek Visitor Center. This series of trails and interpretive markers profiles Tahoe's wildlife and streams. Two other museums that bring the outside in are the Tahoe Maritime Museum and the beautiful Vikingsholm Castle in Emerald Bay.

If you want a bit of history, head to the Gatekeeper's Museum in Tahoe City or the Emigrant Trail Museum at Donner Lake. Both tell the stories of the people who lived and settled the rough terrain of the Sierra. The wonderful Nevada State Museum in the capital city of Carson City has exhibits that talk about the Silver State's mining, gaming and ancient past. The museum even has an underground mine tour.

For some fun interaction with art and science, take the whole family to The Discovery, an excellent museum that features a giant cloud climber, science experiments and even a place for kids to go mock camping while looking at the stars. At the KidZone in Truckee, children can learn to garden, paint and even play with farm animals. For some actual art exhibits from the likes of Van Gogh and Frida Kahlo, the award-winning Nevada Museum of Art has changing exhibits in a beautiful, contemporary building in downtown Reno.


South Lake Tahoe

The Tallac Historic Site includes several large estates built by the rich during the late 19th and early 20th centuries--the Baldwin Estate, the Pope Estate and Valhalla. The entire site is open daily during the summer months. The Baldwin Museum includes an introductory video, a 1930s kitchen, children's games and toys and a gift shop. The Pope House is a great insight into how the Tahoe rich lived and the rest of the site contains a blacksmith shop, servant's quarters, gardens and workshop areas. Docent and self-guided tours of the properties are available as well as special events such as Tea with Mrs. Tevis and Vintage Vatican with appetizers and champagne.

Recommended for Museums because: The Tallac site has events like plays and performances all summer including the Great Gatsby festival.

Christina's expert tip: The Blacksmith shop makes forged items that can be purchased in the Baldwin House gift shop.

Read more about Tallac Historic Site →

Set in a wooded grove, this gracious log structure replicates the original gatekeeper's house on the Truckee River dam in Tahoe City, which burned down in the early 80s. The gatekeeper's job was to regulate water flow out of the lake, and the museum notes his role, along with many other facets of local history. Artifacts and ephemera relating to logging, geology, skiing, tourism, the railroad, the 1960 Olympics, and boating are displayed, and special attention is given to Native American baskets and dolls. A research library further elucidates Lake Tahoe's past. The Watson Cabin, also located on the property is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Recommended for Museums because: The Gatekeeper's Museum has special exhibits that feature Tahoe wildlife.

Christina's expert tip: The baskets by the famous weaver, Dat-so-la-lee, are amazing.

Read more about Gatekeeper's Museum →

Emerald Bay

Constructed as a vacation home in 1929, Vikingsholm sits at the head of Emerald Bay, a gracious tribute to Scandinavian architecture. Sited picturesquely amid dramatic evergreens, it features building materials harvested largely from the area. Portions of the home boast sod roofs; other details include six fireplaces, carved beams, and period and reproduction furniture. On Fannette Island, in the bay, are remnants of a tea house built for guests. Access to the property is by water; via a steep, mile-long hike from a parking lot off of Highway 89; or via a 1.7-mile hike from Eagle Point State Park. Either route you choose, you'll be rewarded by lovely vistas along the way and a glimpse of life from Tahoe's early days. Tours are about a half-hour long.

Recommended for Museums because: Vikingsholm has its own garden and beach with an incredible view of Emerald Bay.

Christina's expert tip: The 1-mile hike down to Vikingsholm from the parking lot is easy--the hike up is a little steep.

Read more about Vikingsholm →


Originally built in the late 19th century as a US Mint, this museum is a treasure trove of local history. Not only does it showcase how the mint once functioned and stamped coins, but it houses re-creations of a mine and a ghost town. You can also learn about the state's history, trace the Native American experience, and marvel at the skeleton of a mammoth. In addition, geology, native wildlife, and a silver service from the USS Nevada battleship are displayed. The displays on the nuclear and gambling eras of the state are beautifully displayed and very interesting. A gift shop offers books, Native American jewelry, specially-minted coins, and more. The museum cost is $8 for adults and free for children under 17.

Recommended for Museums because: The Nevada State Museum covers everything from mining and native culture to gaming and nuclear history.

Christina's expert tip: The museum is open 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday - Sunday (closed Mondays).

Read more about Nevada State Museum →

The Taylor Creek Visitor Center is located near Camp Richardson on the south shore of Lake Tahoe. It is free to enter and offers both adult and children an up-close view of the local flora and fauna. The paved trails and bridges throughout the marshlands are stroller friendly and there are both guided and self guided interpretive trails, an underground "aquarium" area where you can see an actual part of Taylor Creek. During the fall the Kokanee Salmon are spawning and visitors can watch the process through glass windows. There is also a 180 degree curved diorama that illustrates life above and below the water. Be sure to look for the raccoon, crayfish, bats, frog, Stellar Jay, Bald Eagles, butterflies, and the slug. In winter, the Taylor Creek area becomes a cross-country ski area especially suited to beginners. Using the area is free, but you need to purchase a California SNO-PARK permit for your vehicle. It comes to about $5 a day or $25 for a season.

Recommended for Museums because: One of the best outdoor museums. Taylor Creek shows the life of the creeks of the Sierra. You might even see a bear.

Christina's expert tip: Both the parking and the park entrance fee are free.

Read more about Taylor Creek Visitor Center →

This museum is a celebration of the nature, science and weather of the Silver State. 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. The Museum hours are Tuesday-Saturday, 10:00 am-5:00 pm and Sunday, Noon-5:00 pm. Daily admission is $8 and children under 1 year are free. There is a members program as well as art, history and science classes, birthday party options and corporate and special events. The museum store offers an excellent selection of educational toys, books and puzzles.

Recommended for Museums because: The Discovery is a fun, interactive museum with dozens of exhibits.

Christina's expert tip: The Nevada Discovery Museum even offers special events in the evenings for adults

Read more about The Discovery →

The Tahoe Maritime Museum, located in Homewood on the North Shore takes great pride in preserving Tahoe's maritime traditions. This growing museum displays vessels, engines, photographs, and memorabilia of Tahoe's shipping past and present, some of which date to the late 19th century. Runabouts and sail boats represent the variety of craft, and manufacturers include Gar Wood and Chris-Craft. Other exhibits highlight fishing, steam-powered ferries, water skis, and aquaplanes. Some of the displayed vessels have been retrieved from the lake bottom and restored; others were acquired. A children's room teaches young ones the basics of boating and has some interactive games.

Recommended for Museums because: Not only is the museum beautiful, but it's located in Homewood at the base of a ski resort.

Christina's expert tip: Even if you are not into boats, this museum has something for the whole family.

Read more about Tahoe Maritime Museum →

Now a center for recreation and outdoor fun, this park also holds the memories of pioneer struggles, especially in regard to the Donner Party, who suffered a winter in the area and resorted to cannibalism to survive. Now, the tract of land in the Sierra Nevada range offers a wealth of warm- and cold-weather possibilities, including camping, fishing, hiking, boating, skiing, and more. Plus, the onsite museum charts local history and geology, and a memorial to the Donner party documents the conditions through which the survivors lived. The Emigrant Trail Museum depicts the history of the area and the people who came into this part of the Sierra, including local Native Americans, the Donner Party, and builders of the transcontinental railroad.

Recommended for Museums because: The museum is only a small part of the park, camping, swimming, boating and fishing are also available.

Christina's expert tip: On the north side of Donner Lake are several free public piers for fishing and swimming.

Read more about Donner Memorial State Park →

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 Caf� Mus�e. 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: The Nevada Museum of Art has been rated as one of the best small museums in the country.

Christina's expert tip: The NMA has special music and food events every first Thursday of the month.

Read more about Nevada Museum of Art →

The KidZone Museum in Truckee is an interactive museum for children under the age of 10. Exhibits are designed to provide play that encourages a child's development of social, imaginative, physical and problem solving skills. Specific activity centers include the Baby Zone with a nature themed soft area, an art studio with paper, clay, paint and markers and classes like Messy Art and Messy Science. There is also a Jungle Gym play structure that increases gross motor skills and the Exploration Station where children can do science projects and learn more about the natural world.The Museum has traveling events as well including TakeFlight and summer barn animals. Parents are encouraged to be with their children in the museum. It is closed on Monday, but open Tuesday-Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Admission for children and adults is $8. Infants are free.

Recommended for Museums because: The KidZone Museum is a great place for kids during rainy or snowy weather.

Christina's expert tip: The Museum has free bus pickup from Kings Beach.

Read more about KidZone Museum →


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