Roughly 20 miles southeast of Reno lies a little nugget of history in Virginia City, Nevada. The minute you step out of your car, you will immediately be transported back to the 1800s. On our last road trip to Lake Tahoe and Reno, we made a stop in VC and were marveled by how the town oozed old-west vibes!
Before we dive in, let’s start from the beginning. Virginia City is a historic town with a population of just under 1,000 people, known for its charming Victorian buildings that were built during the 19th-century mining boom.
Home of the Comstock Lode, Virginia City is located just 40 minutes from Reno yet feels worlds away. I was actually shocked when I witnessed with my own eyes how many activities this town offered on a typical weekend.
Virginia City by itself could easily eat up 5-6 hours of your day, so you’ll definitely want to allocate enough time to explore if you’re visiting the town as part of a longer road trip! So without further ado, let’s get into the best things to do in Virginia City, Nevada!
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WHERE IS VIRGINIA CITY, NEVADA?
Virginia City is a town located at the cusp of California, in Nevada. It sits just southeast of Reno, making it a really easily accessible stop before or after you visit Reno/Lake Tahoe.
The closest major city to Virginia City is Reno, Nevada. The drive from Reno to Virginia City takes 35 minutes via NV-341 W and I-580. If you don’t plan on completely road-tripping to the area, you could fly directly into Reno–Tahoe International Airport (RNO).
From there, rent a car and drive the rest of the way to Virginia City.
Need a rental car for your trip? To find cheap rental cars, I recommend using Rentalcars.com. Their search tool is one of the best I’ve found!
HISTORY OF VIRGINIA CITY, NEVADA
Back in the day, the land in this region of Nevada was quite rich in silver. Virginia City developed almost overnight as miners flocked to take part in the silver strike at Comstock Lode in 1859.
Named after American miner Henry Comstock, Comstock Lode was a silver ore lode located on a peak in the Virginia Range in Virginia City.
The discovery of the lode created a booming metropolis of more than 25,000 residents. It was truly a booming town, and you’ll be able to see that as soon as you drive into town–Virginia City has one of the longest historic main streets I’ve ever witnessed!
Since then, this Virginia City has been revamped into a fun, tourist destination reminiscent of its past. Among the many historic buildings and churches, you’ll find more old-west saloons than you can count, various museums and mine tours, a steam train ride, and plenty of gift shops.
WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO VISIT VIRGINIA CITY?
The best time to visit Virginia City is during the summer months, from June to August, when the weather is warm and sunny, and the town is bustling with activity and excitement! During this time, visitors can enjoy a variety of outdoor activities, such as hiking, biking, and exploring the town’s historic sites and attractions.
Additionally, many events and festivals take place during the summer months, such as the Virginia City Rodeo, the Fourth of July Parade, and the Virginia City Hill Climb.
However, if you prefer cooler temperatures and smaller crowds, the fall months, from September to November, can also be a great time to visit Virginia City. During this time, the trees begin to change colors, and the town takes on a peaceful, quiet atmosphere.
Visitors can enjoy the fall foliage, as well as the town’s many historic sites and attractions without the crowds of the summer months.
It’s worth noting that Virginia City can get quite busy during peak tourism season, so visitors may want to plan their trip in advance and book accommodations early to ensure availability.
18+ BEST THINGS TO DO IN VIRGINIA CITY, NEVADA
WALK DOWN C STREET
There is probably nothing more iconic about Virginia City than its wood-planked sidewalks on C Street, the main road through town. C Street is where most of the historic buildings are located, and in fact, is continually rated as one of the Top 10 Historic Main Streets in America.
During a stroll down C Street (and it’s a long street), you’ll find many restaurants, saloons, casinos, antique shops, jewelry stores, mercantile shops, museums, and even an outdoor theater that hosts gunfight shows. C Street is a very long street and it’s so incredibly fun to explore, especially for the kids!
Sure the shops are touristy, but it’s hard not to pop into the quirky shops while enjoying the old architecture of the buildings. For a sweet snack, don’t miss Red’s Old Fashioned Candies or Grandma’s Fudge Factory.
VIRGINIA & TRUCKEE RAILROAD
Get that quintessential old-west experience by catching a steam train ride with the Virginia & Truckee Railroad! As soon as you arrive in Virginia City and hear it chugging along in the distance, you’re going to want to experience it for yourself.
Constructed back in 1869, the Virginia and Truckee Railroad enabled the transportation of goods from place to place. At its peak, as many as 45 trains arrived and departed Virginia City daily. Today, you can ride the train from Virginia City to Gold Hill and back. There’s also an extended route that runs from Virginia City to Carson City on weekends.
The train runs daily from May through October. If you happen to be visiting on special days, you’ll be able to catch themed/festive rides. For example, the Pumpkin Patch train runs during pumpkin season, the V & T Candy Cane Express runs in November, and a Civil War Battle Train runs on Labor Day weekend. Get the latest ticketing information here.
WAY IT WAS MUSEUM
To view the largest collection of Comstock mining artifacts, visit The Way It Was Museum. This museum is centrally located and packs a strong punch despite its small size.
It effectively showcases the region’s rich Western heritage, through its collection of rare photographs, mining artifacts, vintage maps, lithographs, and other American West antiques.
Not only will you get to see the layout of the hundreds of miles of underground mining tunnels, but you’ll also get to experience how people lived and worked back in the day, through the well-preserved historic photography and vintage costumes displays.
Admission to The Way It Was Museum is $4 and can be purchased at the museum itself or as part of the Comstock Adventure Pass.
The Mackay Mansion, now a National Historic Landmark, is one the Comstock Lode’s oldest and best-preserved buildings. Built in 1860, the mansion was originally the offices of the Gould and Curry Mining Company. It also served as housing for the mine superintendent.
John Mackay, for which the mansion is named after, became incredibly wealthy as a Comstock mine owner. He lived in the mansion with his family and filled the home with opulent decor, furniture, and fine art.
If you’re looking to better understand how the wealthy lived during this time period, the Mackay Mansion is a great place to start. A tour of the mansion will not only offer you views of century-old decor/ambiance but will also offer an authentic look into Nevada’s past.
On a tour of the Mackay Mansion, you’ll get to see Grand Parlor, the large reception area, in all its glory, as well as other spots of the house like John Mackay’s bedroom, the children’s bedrooms, the dining room, and the mansion grounds.
Fun Fact: Believe it or not, but the Mackay Mansion is reportedly haunted and is popular among paranormal enthusiasts. Johnny Depp even stayed in the mansion for a week while filming the 1995 film Dead Man!
TAKE A MINE TOUR
With Virginia City being the home of the largest recorded silver strike in the United States, no trip to VC would be complete without a mine tour! While there used to be many mines back in the day, very few of them can be visited today. Your best options are the Chollar Mine and the Ponderosa Mine.
On the 30-minute Chollar Mine Tour, visitors can visit a 400-foot underground mine and learn all about the mining life. Tours are available from the end of May through the beginning of October.
Visitors on the Ponderosa Mine Tour are in for a treat. You’ll head inside a historic saloon in order to access the mine! That’s right, the underground mine is located right in the back of the saloon! On this 25-minute guided tour, visitors will get to see over 300 pieces of equipment on display. The Ponderosa Saloon & Guided Mine Tours are open year-round, seven days a week.
TAKE A GHOST TOUR
Apparently, Virginia City is a very haunted place. If you’re into ghost tours and paranormal things, head to The Washoe Club and Gold Hill Hotel.
The Gold Hill Hotel, featured on Ghost Adventures, offers historical ghost tours once per month during the wintertime. These dinner tours are hosted by the Northern Nevada Ghost Hunters (NNGH). You’ll start with a gourmet dinner in the Crown Point restaurant, then follow it up with stories from history as well as a ghost hunting adventure with ghost hunting tools and all.
The Old Washoe Club is another option. Built in 1870 as a luxury bar called the “Millionaire’s Club,” the venue served as an exclusive meeting place for the men in Virginia City that were too good to hang out at the typical brothels. And you guessed it, a lot of people died here. In 1873, an explosion killed 12 people. In addition to that, there were several suicides here. Today, you can take a guided tour of the building and learn all about its haunted history.
WATCH THE VIRGINIA CITY OUTLAWS COMEDY SHOW
The Virginia City Outlaws Comedy Show is an hour-long gunfight and stunts show that’s held multiple times a day in an outdoor theater. If you have the time to spare, get tickets to the show!
You’ll have a good laugh or two, and it’s especially fun for young family members. Audience participation is most definitely encouraged!
Pro Tip: Arrive a bit before the show starts. If you’re early enough, you’ll get to sit at the top of the bleachers, completely in the shade.
GET THE COMSTOCK ADVENTURE PASS
If you wanted to partake in a few of these activities (which I highly recommend you do), you can actually save money by picking up a Comstock Adventure Pass at the Visitor Center. They have a few different passes to choose from, and each pass gives you a combo of mine tours, mansions tours, train rides, museums, and more!
Check out a few of these example itineraries if you’d like more guidance.
As we left Reno a little later than anticipated during our last road trip, we didn’t get the chance to take advantage of the Comstock Adventure Pass. However we did promise ourselves that the next time we head back to Virginia City, we were going to get the pass in order to explore the Way It Was Museum, take the steam train, and catch the Virginia City Outlaws Outdoor Comedy Show!
GET A DRINK AT BUCKET OF BLOOD SALOON
The Bucket Of Blood Saloon is a fully functioning bar, saloon, and music venue that has been in existence since 1876! They have awesome live music events and make a mean guava daiquiri.
We could have stayed there all day listing to rag-time piano tunes by Squeak Steele (she holds the Guinness World Record for playing more pieces of music on the piano from memory than anyone else out there–over 1,900 songs! And she’s our new celebrity crush). She plays there every weekend, so be sure to catch her from 12-2pm before David John & The Comstock Cowboys come on to perform.
Fun Fact: No other type of business dominates the landscape of VC as the saloons, where during the town’s heyday there once were as many as 115 bars and saloons! Many saloons have maintained their 19th-century appearance, and stepping through their doors is like stepping through a time machine.
VISIT THE MARK TWAIN MUSEUM
Samuel Clemens, better known today as Mark Twain, worked at the Territorial Enterprise in Virginia City, the most notable of the 17 newspapers published in the Comstock.
Inside the historic Territorial Enterprise Building sits Mark Twain’s old desk, chair, books, and original furnishings of his pressroom. Yes, this is the actual place where Mark Twain spent most of his Virginia City days writing for the Territorial Enterprise newspaper!
VISIT A FEW MORE MUSEUMS
Virginia City has no shortage of museums. If you’re a history buff, be sure to check out as many of them as possible. There are museums showcasing a variety of historical topics, including firemen, gold, money, trains, music, mining life, and more.
Highlights include The Marshall Mint Museum, Piper’s Opera House, The Fourth Ward School, Comstock Gold Mill, and Liberty Engine Company No. 1.
Given Virginia City’s unfortunate history with fire (the most devastating being the Great Fire of 1875), we especially enjoyed learning about the town’s fire history and seeing the old fire engines at Liberty Engine Company No. 1 Comstock Firemen’s Museum.
VISIT THE VIRGINIA CITY JERKY COMPANY
Well, well, well, let me tell you about the Virginia City Jerky Company! This place is a meat lover’s paradise, where you can find some of the most delicious beef and venison jerky you’ll ever taste. Founded in the late 90s by Bob Williamson, who was tired of people begging him for his famous jerky recipe, this company has become a local legend in Reno and Carson City, Nevada.
But wait, there’s more! The Virginia City Jerky Company is not just any old jerky joint. Oh no… they also have a smokehouse and BBQ joint, where you can sink your teeth into some mouth-watering hot pastrami sandwiches and other tasty treats.
And if you’re feeling adventurous, you can even try their “wild game” jerky, made from exotic meats like elk and buffalo.
COOL DOWN WITH SOME ICE CREAM
During the summertime, it can get pretty darn hot in Virginia City. Take a break from all that exploration with a classic old-fashioned ice cream cone!
The best place to grab ice cream is Firehouse Creamery, but you can also opt for Red’s Old Fashioned Candies or Grandma’s Fudge Factory.
VISIT ST. MARY IN THE MOUNTAINS CHURCH
St. Mary in the Mountains Catholic Church is a historic church located in Virginia City that is sure to take your breath away. Built in 1868, this magnificent church is the oldest active Catholic church in Nevada and is a testament to the rich history of the area!
The church’s architecture is a stunning example of Gothic Revival style, featuring intricate stained glass windows, soaring arches, and a beautiful bell tower that can be seen from miles away. Inside, the church is just as impressive, with a stunning altar and intricate woodwork that has been beautifully preserved over the years.
And if you’re looking to learn more about the history of the church and the area, be sure to visit the church’s museum, which is filled with fascinating exhibits and artifacts that tell the story of St. Mary in the Mountains and the people who have worshipped there over the years.
ATTEND A SUMMER EVENT
During the summer months, Virginia City, Nevada hosts a variety of events and festivals that attract visitors from all over the region. Here are some of the most popular events that take place during the summer in Virginia City:
- Civil War Days: This annual event takes place in early June and features reenactments of Civil War battles, as well as living history demonstrations and other educational activities.
- Rocky Mountain Oyster Fry: This unique event takes place in March, but it’s worth mentioning because it’s one of Virginia City’s most popular events. The festival features a cook-off competition for the best Rocky Mountain oysters, as well as live music and other entertainment.
- Virginia City Art Show: This annual event takes place in late August and features works of art from local and regional artists, as well as live music and other entertainment.
- Virginia City Ghost Tours: These tours take place throughout the summer months and offer visitors a chance to explore the town’s haunted history with knowledgeable guides.
- Virginia City Beer Festival: This annual event takes place in early June and features craft beer from local and regional breweries, as well as live music and other entertainment.
- Virginia City Farmers Market: This weekly event takes place on Saturdays throughout the summer and offers visitors a chance to buy fresh produce, baked goods, and other local products.
- International Camel & Ostrich Races: This wacky event takes place in early September and features camel and ostrich races, as well as other fun activities like live music and food vendors.
- Virginia City Chili on the Comstock: This annual event takes place in late August and features a chili cook-off, live music, and other family-friendly activities.
These are just a few of the many events and festivals that take place in Virginia City during the summer months!
VISIT SOUTH LAKE TAHOE
Nearby South Lake Tahoe provides travelers with a completely different experience compared to Virginia City. Along with access to the great outdoors and miles of beaches, South Lake Tahoe offers casinos, late-night dining, and festive nightlife options. No matter the time of day, South Lake Tahoe is always buzzing with energy.
If you want to try the local brews, head to South Lake Brewing Company, Stateline Brewery, or the Brewery at Lake Tahoe. If you’re limited on time, take a stroll around Stateline (where the resorts/casinos are located) and around Heavenly Village, making sure to check out the many gift shops and retailers in the area.
GO HIKING IN SOUTH LAKE TAHOE
In terms of hiking, one of the best options here is the Rubicon Trail (not to be confused with the other 22-mile long, four-wheel-drive Rubicon Trail west of the lake). The Rubicon Trail in South Lake Tahoe connects two of the most beautiful state parks in all of California, D.L. Bliss SP and Emerald Bay SP.
The Rubicon Trail is a 6.5-mile one-way trail, and the best way to hike it is with 2 cars (one parked at each state park). This method allows you to hike the trail as a 6.5-mile one-way instead of a 13-mile out and back. Don’t feel like doing an intense 13-mile hike? Don’t worry, you can also shorten it by turning around at any time.
Another shorter but equally as great of a hike is the 1.5-mile roundtrip Cascade Falls Trail. This beautiful trail leads to a gorgeous waterfall within Emerald Lake State Park on the southwest shore of Lake Tahoe.
WHERE TO STAY IN VIRGINIA CITY, NEVADA
Unless you want to be potentially living out a real-life episode of Ghost Adventures, I would avoid staying in Virginia City. You know, just in case!
Here are a few nearby hotels you can consider for your visit to Virginia City, NV:
- Peppermill Resort Spa Casino (Reno, NV) – 30 minutes from Virginia City, NV. We personally think this is the best hotel to stay at in Reno!
- Atlantis Casino Resort Spa (Reno, NV) – 30 minutes from Virginia City, NV.
- SpringHill Suites by Marriott Reno (Reno, NV) – 25 minutes from Virginia City, NV.
HOW FAR IS VIRGINIA CITY FROM SOUTH LAKE TAHOE?
The driving distance between South Lake Tahoe to Virginia City is 44 miles. It takes approximately 1 hour to drive from South Lake Tahoe to Virginia City.
HOW FAR IS VIRGINIA CITY FROM SOUTH LAKE TAHOE?
The driving distance between Reno to Virginia City is 25 miles. It takes approximately 35 minutes to drive from Reno to Virginia City.
If you’re wondering, whether Virginia City is worth a stop along your drive, it absolutely is!
IS VIRGINIA CITY, NV HAUNTED?
Virginia City has been noted as one of the most haunted towns in the United States. But if you’re not into paranormal things (we are definitely not interested in that stuff at all), that shouldn’t stop you from visiting! During the day at least, Virginia City is a totally normal old western town bustling with visitors just looking to explore and learn some history.
If you are looking for those paranormal “experiences”, check out a few of the supposedly haunted landmarks and buildings listed here. The one that takes the cake is The Washoe Club, having been repeatedly featured on ghost-hunting television shows.