by Carmel L. Mooney
Most Northern California traveling families are aware that Carson City is the state capital of Nevada and many Tahoe area visitors have passed through to gamble, golf, or take in the views of the spectacular Carson Valley.
But what most traveling families are not aware of, are the surprising hidden gems of this beautiful high desert locale.
On our recent visit we were completely floored by the spectacular dining, remarkable hospitality, history, and lesser-known family attractions that make this a top-notch destination in and of itself.
Our first delightful taste of Carson City’s gems was an unforgettable dining experience at The Basil Thai Cuisine. This exotic gem is Carson City’s newest downtown restaurant but the owners have been in the restaurant business for decades and marry their culture and talent to create healthy, authentic, and beautifully presented Thai cuisine in an atmosphere of true Thai art and flavor. Every impeccably designed and presented dish is truly a pleasure to behold and tantalizes all the senses. The flavors, colors, aromas, and presentations are all works of art and labors of love. This is a family-owned restaurant and very family-friendly. Many of the dishes are presented to look like birds and animals which is a hit with the kids.
We all enjoyed walking the downtown area together which also included the Kit Carson Trail where more than 60 historical museums, homes, churches, and buildings pepper a fascinating 2.5-mile stretch. The Carson City Convention and Visitor’s Bureau offers a fantastic Talking Houses podcast where the sounds and tales of yesteryear are available for visitors and history buffs to experience the history at their own pace. This is a great way for the kids to feel truly immersed.
David Walley’s Hot Springs Resort and Spa is just outside Carson City in Genoa and offers numerous mineral pools and spas and beautiful views of the meadows, mountains, and valley. The views from the restaurant are magnificent.
Red’s Old 395 Grill is Carson City’s fun and funky local family joint and with 101 beers, 52 on tap, an award-winning wine list, and a tequila selection, mom and dad are bound to find some fun there too. A family-friendly eatery, they are known for their melt-in-your-mouth ribs, gigantic hand-crafted burgers, ginormous salads, and hand-cut steaks. Every nook and cranny is decorated with fun and whimsical conversation pieces, historical artifacts, and silly adornments. Referred to as Carson’s Home for Great Food and Fun, you’ll all have a ball. We did. Be sure to ask for wet hand wipes if you order the ribs! …messy but wonderful.
If you want a thoroughly enjoyable option for walking off some delicious Carson City food, then spend a few hours browsing through the Nevada State Museum. One of the most comprehensive state museums in the county, it’s truly a gem. They guarantee you’ll learn something new and exciting about Nevada and the Great Basin, and we certainly did. Whether art, Native American history, train, and railroad history, mines, mints, or archeology strikes your fancy, you will find something to fascinate you at this impressive museum. Between the USS Nevada Silver Service and the Carson City Mint, you will be impressed. Kids love the dinosaurs.
Food again? You bet! Adeles’ Lounge in Carson City has set the bar high for Northern Nevada’s fine dining. Owners Charlie and Karen Abowd bring a legacy of family traditions and talent to the table with local and sustainable fresh ingredients. The first things you’ll notice at this wonderful establishment are the locals and visitors alike enjoying the friendly and elegant ambiance where countless awards adorn the walls and hallways. Uniquely eclectic dining tables and nooks add to the atmosphere where it will be a toss-up whether the outstanding food or flawless service stands out the most. While many of the dishes are family favorites passed down through the generations, the owners are always striving to bring fresh innovation to the table. Kids will feel welcome there and mom and dad will enjoy the outstanding food.
Diesel or steam? Now your family can choose from the V & T Railroad offers a scenic narrated excursion through the hills and past historic mines and landmarks to Virginia City. This relaxing and educational rail trip offers a relaxing way to see the other side of the valley and to experience a taste of historic Virginia City, Nevada. Once there you can roll back your watch more than a century and a half to enjoy historic mines, tours, restaurants, saloons, museums, and shops before heading back to your home base in Carson City. Kids who love trains will love this opportunity. We took the steam train that was used in Water for Elephants.
Shift gears and explore the other side of Carson Valley by playing one of the Divine Nine golf courses. You can taste one or two or simply go for the “whole 9 yards” by purchasing the Ticket to Paradise where you can play all 9 courses. Each course is beautiful and unique and you may want to try them all. Empire Ranch, Silver Oak, Carson Valley, and Genoa Lakes are just a few favorites among many. We always love golfing as a family and these family-welcoming courses fit the bill.
With so much to see and do in Carson City, you’ll want to fuel your day off to a good start and the Cracker Box is the perfect locals spot to enjoy a community atmosphere and friendly service with huge helpings of all the standard breakfast fare you could want. They have been doing something right for over thirty years, that’s for sure! You’ll be rubbing elbows with the locals but isn’t that half the fun? We enjoyed it.
The votes are in. Heidi’s Pancake House has been voted best country gravy, best breakfast, best waitresses, best small business… you get the point. This local eatery has friendly service, good quality, and prices and it’s not a chain but a locally owned and operated family business. It’s always packed and with good reason. I ate there on my 13th birthday—over thirty years ago and now get to take my kids there to enjoy the fun.
So where do you stay to enjoy all that Carson City has to offer? There are lots of choices but on our last visit, we stayed at the Hardman House in the heart of downtown. Not the fanciest place but with an excellent location and covered parking, this property had convenience nailed with most Carson City attractions all within a short walk. It’s laid back enough that you can relax with the kids there.
The Hardman House is RIGHT next door to the Children’s Museum of Northern Nevada, which adds to the convenience factor. We liked that!
There is a lot more than meets the eye to Carson City. Rich in history and entertainment venues, perhaps its biggest surprise was the spectacular dining and friendliness of the area. Expect to be impressed with Carson City and plan a few days to take in the many facets of this Nevada family vacation destination.
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Carmel L. Mooney is a travel columnist and the editor of Road Trips for Couples.