Art looks good on every state... but in Nevada, it just fits.
Nevada is full of talented traditional artists, with a long list of galleries and museums to show for it. But for some reason, on Highway 95 in Nevada between Las Vegas and Reno, there's a lot of stuff that's just plain “out there”—in more ways than one—which is exactly why we dig it.
From colorful murals livening up entire neighborhoods, galleries filled with all manner of media and kinetic public sculptures, our kids (OK, and plenty of us adults, too) can climb onto oddball objects rising from the desert floor. Out here, there’s art that any enthusiast can relate to. From eye-catching, camera-hogging art that graces Nevada’s urban districts, to small towns and even natural spaces with an exciting extra layer of flavor, art is everywhere in Nevada. You just need to know where to look.
So whether you’re gearing up for a Las Vegas to Tonopah run, a complete cross-state trek from Reno to Vegas, or treating your “palate” to an abstract adventure on Nevada’s Highway 95, get ready to encounter some of the most unique, unrestrained—or as we like to say, “free-range”—art you’ve probably ever seen.
Start your trip in the heart of downtown Las Vegas. Thanks to the arts and music festival, Life is Beautiful, in downtown Las Vegas, there is now an open-air art gallery. Murals and sculptures are scattered along Fremont East and adjoining neighborhoods. One of the most eye-catching pieces is the 40-foot praying mantis sculpture at Container Park. This towering insect, created by artist and former aerospace engineer Kirk Jellum, originally made its appearance at Burning Man. If you catch it at night, it periodically breathes fire.
From here, head south to a flourishing Las Vegas Arts District—AKA "18b"— the 18-block neighborhood that’s shaping the city's character with its self-described “cultural explosion” of art galleries, funky antique shops and boutiques, chic cafes and bars, and a totally fresh, locally-driven vibe.
When you're finally ready to head out for your road trip, what better way to kick it off than with the now-famous Seven Magic Mountains, a colorful large-scale public artwork featuring seven 30-to 35-foot-high fluorescent totems comprised of brightly painted, locally-sourced boulders? To find them, hit Interstate 15 south to Sloan Road (exit 25) and turn left onto Las Vegas Boulevard. From here, it will be about eight miles south on Las Vegas Boulevard before you’ll notice these wild technicolor boulder towers on the east (left!) side of the highway.
After leaving the bright lights of Las Vegas, you’ll drive toward the small town of Beatty along U.S. Highway 95. Beatty is about 120 miles from Las Vegas, making it about a two-hour drive. Before retiring the car for the day you’ll want to take a quick detour to the Goldwell Open Air Museum and Rhyolite Ghost Town.
When you arrive at Beatty, turn left (east) on State Route 374 toward Death Valley National Park (Getting ideas for your next Nevada Road Trip already? Check out The Death Drive!) Follow the signs for Rhyolite ghost town (six miles from Beatty). Adjacent to Rhyolite is the Goldwell Open Air Museum, home of seven large-scale sculptures created in the 1980s. You can’t miss it.
Once you’re in Beatty, walk among larger-than-life sculptures and explore the well-preserved ruins of Nevada’s most photographed ghost town, Rhyolite. Stick around for golden hour to catch some incredible sunset photos or into the evening hours for some seriously unmatched astro-timelapses. Beatty is known as the gateway to Death Valley, but there’s more to this little town than meets the eye.
First, let's talk food. Order the world-famous chili at the Happy Burro and, while you’re there, be sure to check out the men's restroom. (Don’t worry, ladies; it sounds a little odd, but they’re used to us asking and you’ll see why!) Keep an eye out for the Beatty Cowboys: they like to hang out around Happy Burro -- but be careful, they might mix you up with a wily prospector and throw you in (temporary) jail. Don't be afraid to ask a local or five for their favorite secret spots in Beatty, either.
From Beatty, it’s 67 miles to Goldfield, a once-booming mining community (and one-time biggest city in the state!) that is now a living ghost town. Here you’ll find the International Car Forest of the Last Church, a sprawling artistic junkyard of cars, trucks, vans, and buses tipped on their noses or stacked on top of each other. Each spray-painted junked car serves as an ever-changing canvas for artists and other guest “contributors”—so come prepared to leave your mark!
Back in Goldfield, grab a cold one and rub elbows with “Nevada’s Meanest Bartender” at the Santa Fe Saloon. Tour the historic (and allegedly haunted) Goldfield Hotel and Goldfield High School, peruse the lasting elegance of the Esmeralda County Courthouse or take a stroll through the unforgettable Goldfield Historic Cemetery. Lined with rows of headstones of Goldfield's first residents, zero in on some colorful epitaphs to learn more about the melting pot of cultures drawn to "The World's Greatest Gold Camp," and even cause of death. Before hitting the road, tune into Goldfield Radio at KGFN 89.1 and check out the natural flora and fauna in the region as you make your way to the Florence Mine—an unchanged fixture on the Goldfield skyline since gold was first discovered here in the early 1900s.
Like Goldfield, Tonopah is a great town to explore. Tonopah is 27 miles north of Goldfield, or about a half-hour drive. Grab lunch at the Pittman Cafe inside the masterfully preserved and painstakingly restored Mizpah Hotel, where they serve delicious soups daily along with traditional American cuisine. Or head up the road for some house-smoked meats, barbeque and brews at the Tonopah Brewing Company. We definitely recommend the beer sampler flight (as long as you’re not the one driving!). It’s a great way to taste all the brewery's excellent craft beers.
Next, check out the Tonopah Historic Mining Park on the site of the original mining claims that started the rush to Tonopah, making it the “Queen of the Silver Camps.” The Central Nevada Museum is also a place where you can step into the past and explore the rich and colorful history of central Nevada and early boomtowns of the West.
Tonopah is home to some of the darkest night skies in the country. After nightfall, head out to the Crescent Sand Dunes just outside of town for spectacular stargazing, or stay in town and immerse yourself in your own galaxy at the Tonopah Stargazing Park.
Oh, and don’t miss (like you could if you tried) Tonopah’s infamous Clown Motel. Exactly what it sounds like, this clown-themed motel boasts what’s got to be the largest private collection of clown figurines and memorabilia under the sun, plus a few resident ghosts rumored to have moved in from the miner’s cemetery next door. Many of the clowns were donated or even mailed from around the world, so don’t be shy about bringing a gift!
Las Vegas to Tonopah, Tonopah to Reno—we don’t want it to become a blur, we want it to be an adventure you’ll remember for a lifetime. Worthy pit stops include one of Nevada’s most famous burgers at S’Socorro’s Burger Hut (really, it’s a hut), the Hawthorne Ordnance Museum (that’s ordnance like bombs and such… not ordinance like town curfews), and picturesque Walker Lake.
On the way, you’ll cruise through Yerington, home of the Yerington Theater for the Arts & Jeanne Dini Cultural Center, HQ to a rural collective that houses dozens of performances, gallery exhibits, and even a cute breakfast cafe in a re-envisioned grammar school building.
Towards the end of your Tonopah to Reno leg, you’ll have the chance to swing through the farming community of Fallon, home to the incredible you-never-dreamed-this-would-be-here Oats Park Art Center. Up the road is Fernley and its Main Street Art Park, the retirement digs of a couple of post-Playa Burning Man installations.
From Fernley, Reno is only about 37 miles (60 kilometers), which translates to maybe 30 minutes, but typically a little less. Once you arrive in Reno, drive right on past that In-n-Out; far more impressive options await in Midtown Reno.
The budding MidTown Reno scene offers bars, breweries, and a burgeoning art scene on par with many big cities. After you grab a bite, take a stroll along the Reno Riverwalk to check out even more free public artworks along the river, which include a number of interactive pieces that originally debuted at Burning Man.
From the Playa Art Park, located in the heart of downtown Reno, Nevada, to the Believe sign and the Space Whale in Reno’s City Plaza, to the Morris Burner Hostel, Reno might be one of the funkiest places you’ll find on your trip from Las Vegas to Reno.
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