The city of Sparks, Nevada—Reno’s next-door neighbor—attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year for the meat-tacular Best in the West Nugget Cook-Off, the automobile extravaganza that is Hot August Nights, and big-time biker bashes during Street Vibrations. It’s also home to the Reno-Tahoe area’s premier shopping mall (including plenty of brand-name outlets) and the flagship location of award-winning Great Basin Brewing Company.
The city of Sparks, Nevada is an easygoing town right next door to Reno, but this community of about 100,000 residents certainly knows when to turn up the fun. Originally a swathe of Truckee Meadows ranch lands, Sparks rocks its railroad heritage with its nickname, “Rail City,” and draws visitors with wild annual events, recreation along the Truckee River, and prime shopping, as the outlet capital of Washoe County. Sparks hotels offer magnificent views of the Sierra Nevada mountains and are a great base of operations for your next northern Nevada getaway.
Sparks History & Culture
Sparks, named for Nevada Governor John Sparks, sprang up in 1904 as the site of a major, new Southern Pacific Railroad switch yard, earning it the nickname “Rail City.” In the 1950s, while Reno rose to casino town fame, Sparks remained a quieter neighbor. Get a close-up glimpse of the region’s history and heritage at the Sparks Museum & Cultural Center, where you’ll be greeted by local icon Last Chance Joe, the colorful 32-foot-tall miner dude who stands tall above downtown Sparks.
Things To Do In Sparks, NV
Hot Ribs, Hot Rods, Hot Deals, and More
Sparks knows how to draw itself a crowd. Every Labor Day, Victorian Avenue closes to traffic for hundreds of thousands of barbecue buffs to mow down more than 240,000 pounds of ribs at the famous Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-Off, one of the biggest grilling competitions in the nation. Thousands of classic cars, hot rods, and vintage vehicles of all stripes cruise the streets during Hot August Nights, while thousands of bikers gear up for the Spring and Fall Rallies of Street Vibrations.
Fishermen spin for trout, catfish, and even bass at the Sparks Marina, chase wild browns and rainbows in the Truckee River, and head up to nearby Pyramid Lake to cast flies from submerged ladders for the rare and massive, salmon-sized Lahontan cutthroat trout, Nevada’s official state fish. During holiday season, visitors find plenty of family fun during the annual Hometown Christmas parade and festivities.
Shoppers swoop in from all over and easily fill full days scoring bargains throughout the 51 brand-name stores at The Outlets at Legends Shopping Mall, including Levi’s, Banana Republic, H&M, and Forever 21, between taking in an Imax movie, chowing down at more than a dozen restaurants, and exploring the gargantuan SCHEEL’S sporting good store, complete with an aquarium, hall of wax presidents, and even a Ferris wheel.
It’s hard to imagine now, but there was a dark time when you couldn’t find fresh, delicious craft brew in every town in America. Downtown Sparks was a rare place that you could, thanks to Great Basin Brewing Company, who opened their Sparks ale house back in 1993 and has been serving up award-winning ales—including their flagship “Icky,” short for “ichthyosaur,” in honor of Nevada’s official state fossil—juicy burgers, and their famous beer cheese soup ever since.
Better reserve ahead if you’re after a meal at Reno locals’ annually highest-rated and aptly named steakhouse, The Steak House at Western Village Inn & Casino, home to USDA Certified Angus bone-in ribeyes, cowboy-toppinged tomahawk cuts, top-notch surf dishes, and some of the best martinis around. If you can’t get in, “down-home cooking” awaits at M&M’s Southern Café, Siu Korean BBQ offers traditional tabletop grilled delights, and Mexican-influenced breakfasts abound at the small classic diner counters at Carlillo’s Cocina.
Travel Nevada Pro Tip
Sparks Hotels & Casinos
When you get to Sparks, it’s impossible to miss the two towers of the Nugget Casino Resort rising high above Victorian Square. What began as a small coffee shop in 1955 is now a local landmark offering 1,600 sleek rooms and suites with stunning mountain views, a spectacular year-round indoor atrium pool (and more of those huge, amazing views), lively gaming floor and sports book, and a suite of restaurants adored by visitors and locals alike—especially Anthony’s Chophouse for fine steaks and the Oyster Bar for pan roasts, seafood, and a killer happy hour.
The Western Village Inn & Casino, on the shores of the picturesque Sparks Marina, offers 147 ample rooms and suites, plenty of games and a happening sports book bar, four bars and lounges, and four popular restaurants, including that incredible steakhouse. More Sparks casino action can be had at Rail City Casino, home to the popular Rail City Ale House, and at Baldini’s Casino, where gametime specials delight hungry sports fans.
Whether you’re pilin’ up bones at the rib cook-off, knocking back Ickys, or lounging by the pool, tag your pics with #TravelNevada so we can share them here and help make your Sparks memories fly!