7 Gems in Virginia City
Virginia City, Nevada, is rich in history, silver and good old-fashioned family fun
From a small-town jokester becoming one of the most storied writers of all time, to world-famous gunslingers and ladies of the night, and the first black-owned saloon in the West, there is no limit to the rich history found only in Virginia City, Nevada. It’s where poor miners became millionaires, business tycoons became even richer and the most skilled miners on the planet changed the industry forever.
In what was first described as a mysterious bluish clay that only got in the way as California-bound prospectors searched for gold, the world’s largest silver discovery was realized. The rest is what legends are made of. Named after Henry Comstock, a Canadian prospector who helped unearth this fabulous claim, this 1859 silver strike heard around the world brought in all walks of life from all corners of the globe to Virginia City’s rugged, high desert hills to find their own American Dream.
There are plenty of ways to be part of the Comstock’s sterling story. While the silver strike bonanza days are long gone, here’s seven Virginia City gems not to miss.
Seven Virginia City Gems You Can't Miss
Find more fun things about Virginia City in our other articles HERE and HERE.
1. A Historic District So Big It Blankets the Whole Darn Town
There are only eight National Historic Districts in Nevada, and Virginia City’s designation is unquestionably the largest and most prolific. A program that’s spearheaded by the National Parks Service, there are more than 2,600 National Historic Landmarks in America that range from as little as a historic object or structure, site, or building to entire towns. As long as the landmark in question represents an exceptional aspect of American history and culture, it can be considered for this esteemed designation. In Virginia City, the National Historic District designation protects so many sites and structures it spans nearly the entire town, protecting more than 400 buildings.
It showcases the Silver State’s most intact frontier silver mining town including all the mine shafts that propelled it there. From the “most beautiful main streets in America,” to the “most beautiful towns in America,” Virginia City’s Historic C Street is praised as one of the most stunning street scenes thanks to its Victorian-era buildings – each having changed so very little throughout the years and many today operating as they have including the Storey County Courthouse, Silver Queen Hotel, Bucket of Blood Saloon, and Piper’s Opera House—which beholds the stage where Mark Twain’s very first live performance went down.
2. Go Below the Surface at Unforgettable Museums and History Centers
Get to know historic C Street one fascinating edifice at a time at more than a dozen museums and history centers across town. But unlike most other historic mining towns, Virginia City has no freshly built museums retelling its story. Instead, discover histories so alive they never even left the building they were born from.
To get the full picture head for the Courthouse Slammer and County Museum, located inside the original 1875 Storey County Courthouse featuring a complete Virginia City historical rundown told through fascinating exhibits from inside historic jail cells.
Head across town to the towering four-story Historic Fourth Ward School & Archives to admire one of the last standing examples of 1876 Second Empire architecture in the country. The school was built to accommodate the thousands of children who grew up on the Comstock and today visitors explore the original classrooms with original desks, maps, and books, and exhibits filled with stories of teachers, alumni, and more.
A trip to Virginia City wouldn’t be complete without learning the dangers of fighting fires from a town filled with gas lamps, crude liquor-making setups, and more. At the free Comstock Firemen’s Museum, explore antique fire engines, old-school firefighting equipment, and endless tales of the men who spent their lives protecting the community from ravaging fires.
3. Experience Old World Artistry All Over Town
Skilled artistry and western tradition of the past lives on in art galleries and maker’s shops. These are art galleries focused on uncommon craftsmanship and true old-world artistry not often found in the modern world. Contemporary and fine Western arts like oil-painted canvases depicting everything from wild horses to Old West bar scenes at Virginia City Gallery of the West, along with personalized custom hats and boots from the Virginia City Hat Maker and Houston Boot Co. at the Pioneer Emporium.
The largest and most impressive gallery, which contains art forms of all different mediums, is the St. Mary’s Art Center on the southeastern slope of town. St. Mary’s Art Center stands out thanks to its longstanding place in the Virginia City history books. This four-story Victorian structure originally opened as the hospital to serve the community. Today, St. Mary’s Art Center is a thriving artists center, offering artists of all kinds a retreat to come stay and work. The Center invites guests of all kinds to stop by and peruse multiple galleries across its four floors and participate in frequent workshops and classes.
4. Dig Into Rock Shops, Nevada Turquoise Shopping, and Authentic Mine Tours
As expected there are shops with rocks and other places dedicated to the town’s mining history including gems. New and collector-style Nevada turquoise is found at the Jewelry House, Silver Stope, and Turquoise Kiva to name a few. Stone Age Quarry and Comstock Rock Shop offer many kinds of rings, bracelets, earrings, talismans and crystals.
Keep Virginia City’s riches flowing by touring an old mine. The Ponderosa Saloon & Mine Tour has a real mine adit, or tunnel, in the back of the bar that burrows through the tunnels of what was a real mine back in the day – the Best & Belcher Mine. Or crank up the adventure with a Chollar Mine tour stepping into one of the most famously profitable mines in all of Virginia City. Listen as tour guides explain how these world-famous mines were constructed and their geological significance. Cap it off with a living piece of history – the last operational two-stamp mill in the U.S., the Comstock Gold Mill.
5. Follow in the Footsteps of Mark Twain and Knock One Back at Historic Saloons
Back during the height of the Comstock Lode knocking back a few cold ones was just about all of Virginia City’s 25,000 residents had to look forward to. As one of the richest boomtowns in the world, the town boasted 115 lavishly appointed western saloons at its height. More than 15 of these old bars remain active in all their glory today and are one of the most authentic ways of engaging with the past.
Whether drinking or not, there is always plenty of action at the Corner Bar, part of Piper’s Opera House, and where Mark Twain was said to have enjoyed a few cold ones, the Pioneer Saloon, and Delta Saloon. And don’t miss out on experiencing the Bucket of Blood, typically the most lively of the bunch offering up Blood Mary’s and live entertainment from the locally beloved Comstock Cowboys most weekends.
6. Embrace Virginia City’s Paranormal Prowess at the Best Ghost Tours in Nevada
Speaking of historic saloons, be sure to add the Washoe Club & Saloon to the list—but for far more than its pub prowess. The Washoe Club looks pretty much as it did in the late 1800s, but promises access to one of the most reportedly haunted places in Nevada, the west and the world. This exclusive club hosted all kinds of famous silver barons and prominent businessmen. The club was so opulent that the wallpaper was made of gold – patches of which can still be seen on a tour. Today, the second and third floors are famously haunted by the spirits of those millionaires, along with a few other famous ghosts like Lena, who is said to haunt the spiral staircase on the property (featured on Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, and Zak Bagans’ Ghost Adventures). The tour also features the famous Washoe Club crypt, where the deceased were temporarily stored during the winter months when the ground was too solidly frozen to lay the bodies to rest.
There’s plenty of other paranormal activity all over town. See the Gold Hill Hotel, where dozens of miners were killed in a tragic mining accident at the Yellowjacket Mine located behind the property, and the Mackay Mansion, where Johnny Depp stayed the night and reported his own paranormal experiences. Other ghost tours that explore more than one property are the Bats in the Belfry ghost tour along with tours and investigations led by Northern Nevada Ghost Hunters.
7. Cozy into Retrofitted Train Cabooses, Comstock Mansions, Haunted Hotels, the Oldest Hotel in Nevada and other Bucket-List Stays
Stay the night in the world’s richest place. The Gold Hill Hotel dating back to 1859 is the oldest continuously operating hotel in Nevada. Then there’s the Cobb Mansion providing access to an immaculately preserved Comstock millionaire’s three-story mansion with a grand parlor and dining room, guest suites furnished with antiques of the time and a delicious breakfast in the morning. Or, honor Virginia City’s locomotive legacies with a stay at Ruby the Red Caboose—a real caboose car that’s been retrofitted into the loveliest ways to spend the night on the Comstock, with a cozy bedroom, full kitchen, restroom, and easy access to board the V&T Railroad.
More unique lodging options include the Tahoe House Hotel, and Sugarloaf Mountain Inn, which each promise cozy accommodations in original, exposed brick rooms, great conversation with local proprietors and other guests, and the type of enchantment that can only be felt in a place like Virginia City. For more lodging options visit online.
Plan and book a room in one of the town’s quaint and historic lodging properties. For a listing of properties or for more information about Virginia City, call 775-847-7500 or go online at VisitVirginiaCityNV.com.
A short 30-minute drive from the Reno-Tahoe International Airport takes visitors to one of the largest historic districts in the state of Nevada, West, and the country at Virginia City, Nevada. Discover the Comstock Lode, the world’s largest recorded silver discovery, and the Old West boomtown that supported it, which remains not much different today than when it originally boomed in the 1850s. Step back in time while exploring dozens of historic buildings, saloons, churches, and museums, or take a mine tour, ride a real steam train, and more. The Comstock Adventure Passes offer the best value with discounted attraction packages, suited to cater to the interests of history lovers, silver and gold mines and museums, paranormal enthusiasts, providing the easiest and most enjoyable access to Virginia City in every season.