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Mark Twain once opined that “to obtain the air that angels breathe, you must go to Lake Tahoe.” The stunning Alpine lake and nature lover’s paradise (straddling both California and Nevada) strangely enough pairs well with a few days in neon-tinged gambler’s paradise Reno, a mere 45 minutes away (hey, if maple and bacon can go together). Here are 8 cheap and awesome things to do in the region.

ALSO: 11 hotels that will blow up your Instagram feed

Shout BINGO!

These days, bingo is mostly a game played ironically at dive bars and earnestly at churches (for fundraising purposes). That’s because bingo halls take up a lot of space that casinos would rather fill with lucrative slot machines. But a cheap way to gamble wisely in Reno is to hit up downtown Reno’s Sands Regency Casino Hotel for a rousing afternoon of bingo. To be clear, you probably won’t win, but approximately $20 gets you a couple hours of solid thrills, one free cocktail and all the adorable seniors you could ever want to meet.

Get panned and roasted

If you’re a Vegas insider, you’ve probably already waited hours for the legendary pan roasts at Oyster Bar at Palace Station. To the unfamiliar, pan roasts are a spicy seafood stew that if prepared right, will make you sweat bullets while filling your belly for days to come. Reno has them, too. Head to Pearl Oyster Bar & Grill at Silver Legacy Resort Casino and order the Ultimate Pan Roast. For $22 you get a creamy and tasty seafood stew with a slab of bread on the side. Don’t bother with booze—you can get that on the casino floor for free.

Sand Harbor Beach

Dip into the blue

Tahoe is famous for its crystal clear water and indeed it’s so blue you will constantly hear comparisons to the Caribbean. For an ideal day, make a beeline for Nevada’s bohemian east side and plunk down at beaches like Sand Harbor, Whale Beach or Secret Cove (which is clothing optional). At each location you will be rewarded with large, granite boulders, snow-capped mountains and chilly, but refreshing turquoise blue water as far as the eye can see.

Drift away

Beware that South Lake Tahoe bursts at the seams with visitors much of the year (and especially in ski season), but it’s also a solid hub for accommodations, nightlife, restaurants and stocking up on sundries. One diamond in this tourist rough is the laid-back Driftwood Cafe. Rise and shine before everybody else does and come here for outrageous omelets (their words, not ours), loaded waffles and house specialties like potato pancakes topped with ham, eggs and country gravy. You won’t need another meal all day.

ALSO: Stake your fortunes in big savings by signing up for CheapCash today!

Trover photo by Ardilla Mexicano

Lose your Virginia-tity

The aptly named Silver State is not lacking in turn-of-the-century mining towns where prospectors once staked their fortunes. Many dried up long ago, but one fascinating (if touristy) town is Virginia City, which sits on a sloping hillside about 45 minutes southeast of Reno. C Street boasts about six blocks of refurbished storefronts, which these days are mostly tacky souvenir shops where you and your crew can dress like homesteaders and get a photo printed in sepia tones. But a sense of the Wild West lingers for sure and the Suicide Table at the Delta Saloon is worth checking out.

Trover photo by Stuart Jamieson

Make the fest of it

The Reno Arch may not replicate the glamour of the Las Vegas Strip, but Sin City could stand to take a cue from the ebullient celebrations happening right under Reno’s welcoming sign. Street Vibrations (a motorcycle parade), Biggest Little City Wing Fest, Northern Nevada Pride, Eldorado Great Italian Festival, Biggest Little Street Faire and many others happen right along Virginia Street and under the Arch. The crowds are often so intense that the clanging slot machines on the casino floor provide quiet sanctuary by comparison.

Lake before you leap

You came all this way to see the Lake, you better not just snap a selfie in front of it and call it a day. There are plenty of pricey ways to get out on Lake Tahoe, including jet ski tours, private charters and even photo tours, but it’s perfectly doable on the cheap. Consider old-fashioned paddleboarding for $44/person; a hearty workout via stand-up paddleboard rentals for as little as $28/person; or even a group kayak tour for a only $19/person. The lake is stunning and you’ll want to stare at it from as many vantage points as possible.

National Bowling Stadium | Trover photo by Bill Dillard

Have a bowl

If you expect Reno to be a city of slightly offbeat treasures, you are exactly right. Enter the National Bowling Stadium, a 363,000-square-foot stadium whose domed exterior resembles a giant bowling ball. We’ll—ahem—spare you the details, but suffice it to say this 78-lane, state-of-the-art alley (and only stadium of its kind in the world) is a must for pros and novices alike. It’s completely walkable from downtown (but not in bowling shoes).

Tagged: California, Destinations

Jason Heidemann

Jason Heidemann

Jason Heidemann

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