There is only one town that can cram all aspects of the Wild West within a span of a few blocks. Virginia City, once a place of hustle and bustle of everyday life for Nevadans, is now a tourist trap for visitors all over the world. Museums and train rides and souvenir shops, oh my! There is much to see and do in this mining town, catering to visitors ranging from history buffs to paranormal enthusiasts.
My husband and I chose to visit Virginia City during its busiest season, summer. It was late August, school was almost in session, so families were taking advantage of last minute summer fun in this rootin’, tootin’ town. We were no exception. Besides shopping and sampling a bite or two at the restaurants and candy factories, we also took a trolley tour, browsed the historic hotels, and explored an underground mine. This is only a fraction of the fun that can be experienced in Virginia City. Each visit is unique to each guest and can be as simplistic (cheap) or elaborate (expensive) as one makes it.
Where is Virginia City?
Virginia City is located approximately 25 miles southwest of Reno-Sparks area. First travel southbound on Interstate 580, loop onto Old U.S. 395 South, and finally climb the the windy roads of Nevada State 341 to the heart of Virginia City. NV-341 runs through the main drag of Virginia City showcasing a slew of restored casinos, restaurants, bars, shops, and hotels. This main road is referred to as C Street. The city sits at a little over 6000 feet in elevation. Be prepared for steep uphill and downhill traveling.
What’s the story behind Virginia City?
The history of Virginia City is one of discovery, boom, tragedy, desertion, and eventual restoration. The birth of this small town was in the late 1850s when the first significant amount of deposits
of silver were discovered in the entire country. This infamous discovery is referred to as Comstock Lode.
Thousands flocked to this site and the city was created atop the many mines, seemingly overnight. Mining was the center of Virginia City’s economy till the early 1900s. It was the driving force in all aspects of everyday life, from business to politics.
At its peak, Virginia City was nicknamed the “richest city in America” with the copious amounts of gold and silver ore retrieved on a regular basis. During this period, noteworthy advancements in mining technology and techniques were developed to improve efficiency and safety.
Every good thing must come to an end and Virginia City was high on the list. Fires plagued the city throughout the late 1800s and the mining industry slowed down to a crawl. The city is now thriving on tourism with its many historical features and community events. One particular famous face that was once a resident of old Virginia City was Mark Twain. He made a living (in the early part of his writing profession) reporting for one of three newspapers circulating throughout the once ever increasing population.
What can visitors to Virginia City expect to see and do?
Virginia City celebrates its history through the city’s many sites, attractions, shops, hotel/casinos, and unique community events. It is simply impossible to fit everything Virginia City has to showcase in one day. This is a truly one-of-a-kind vacation spot that will leave visitors wanting more.
Before venturing into town, make sure to stop by the Visitor’s Center located on the corner of C Street and Taylor Street. The staff has plenty of information to familiarize guests with everything the city has to offer, including prices and package deals on tours and museums. Your stay can be as customized to your interests as you desire.
A slew of shops line C Street among the hotels and casinos. Pick your passion and there is a shop for it. Antique shops are cluttered with knick knacks from decades ago. Clothing and accessories advertising Virginia City and its many facets are for sale in the souvenir shops. Old fashion photos can be captured of you with your family and friends wearing Old West attire. Rock and metal shops bargain with customers on select gems, minerals, and collector coins from around the globe. Young and young-at-heart can satisfy their sweet tooth in the fudge and ice cream parlors. The name of the game is “Shop till you drop!”
Each museum in Virginia City exhibits a significant aspect of the city’s development during the mid to late 1800s. The Way It Was Museumdisplays information and artifacts of the Comstock period. St Mary’s in the Mountains Church, the first catholic church in Nevada, holds mass regularly. They offer tours and invite guests to shop in the souvenir store. Pipers Opera House is a vintage theater that has entertained people from all over the U.S. and Europe.The Washoe Club Haunted Museumis known throughout the paranormal society as being one of the most haunted locations in the western portion of America. It has been highly publicized. Mark Twain even has his own museum describing his career as a journalist for the local paper, Territorial Enterprise.
Something to keep in mind, the first Friday of every month from May through October is known as “Flashback Friday Museum Days.” All museum entrance fees are waived and guests can peruse the establishments for free!
For those that want to view Virginia City in its historical entirety, informational tours are offered via trolley or carriage. The V & T Railroad tour is a scenic ride from Virginia City to locations as far as Carson City. In its heyday this short line railroad carried tremendous loads of gold and silver ore from the mining camps into neighboring cities for distribution.
Of course Virginia City would not have its roots if it wasn’t for mining. Several guided walking tours are provided in preserved mines. Spectators can locate mining equipment and experience some of the conditions miners underwent on the job.
Dining, Lodging, and Casinos
There are a number of restaurants sprinkled throughout the main drag, each serving their own flavor of the west. Visitors looking to stay for more than a day can find refuge in the many hotels that line the main drag. Bed and breakfasts are another option.
We browsed many of the hotels/casinos on our day visit as they have interesting exhibits. The Silver Queen has a magnificent painting of a woman whose dress is donned with Morgan silver dollars, 3,261 to be exact. The famous “Suicide Table” located in the rear corner of the Delta Saloon is an old game table that once had three separate owners. Coincidence or not, all three owners died.
The icing on the cake for this city is its outlandish but always engaging community events held throughout the year. Aside from Virginia City parades and cook-offs, eager participants can sign up for events like International Camel Races, World Champion Outhouse Races, or Zombie Runs.
My husband and I experienced only a handful of the many exhibits and activities that Virginia City has to offer. We have since made future trips to this quaint town to browse shops for Christmas gifts and enjoyed a drink or two at the saloons. Have you visited Virginia City, Nevada? What adventures did you have in the Old West?