My 19 Favorite Things to do Las Vegas
My 19 Favorite Things to do Las Vegas - Understand
Las Vegas does not need explaining; it has managed to carve out a 'come here and burn money like crazy in a few days' niche - something other cities never dared to even strive for. Development near the Las Vegas Strip is quick (and will remind you of Dubai); a plot of land gets a big casino and food chains and from there it is up to the 'marketing geniuses' to bring people inside.
However, Vegas is extremely affordable outside of the Las Vegas Strip and is home to a good number of great places to spend a few days. Vegas also has a number of sights (that do not show up on those casino hotel tour desks) that are very much worth exploring and will make you happy with a big budget.
Vegas can be much more than gambling and drinking (and rarely do both) and offers quality accommodation and food in a region that does not have much of either.
My 19 Favorite Things to do Las Vegas - Safety
Las Vegas is still a frontier town at heart. There are a lot of scary-looking areas, downtown and beyond. Nevertheless, there is usually a large police presence the helps the situation a lot. It's a good idea to know where you are going at night if you leave the Strip area (which is generally super-safe).
My 19 Favorite Things to do Las Vegas - Get Around
Uber and Lyft are in town and have changed the way that you can get around the city (and the Strip). There are usually dedicated drop-off and pick-up areas inside each hotel, though most Strip hotels don't allow ride-sharing services into the lobby directly (as taxis make them more money).
Driving is a good option, since parking is free in many hotels and you get to go to all the areas outside the city.
I haven't been able to make use of the monorail yet, which might also be a good option.
My 19 Favorite Things to do Las Vegas - Sights
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area
Clearly my favorite thing to do in the Las Vegas area was my drive before sunset along the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.
The entrance fee for the scenic drive is $7 per vehicle. There are a number of other red rock sights outside of the pay area, but the scenic drive is so much worth it! It's also usually 10-15 degrees cooler at Red Rock than down at that Strip.
Start the loop 90-120 minutes before sunset to see it in the best light and take it slow (I'm not sure you can go around twice as it is a one-way road). There are various bright red rocks and sandstone formations to see. This desert valley is just so huge and majestic to look at. When we drove through on a Friday there were less than 10 cars the entire time we were there. Incredible!
The Hoover Dam needs no introduction; more than one million visitors come here every year. The huge project dams the Colorado River and created Lake Mead in 1933.
There is a new bridge for the freeway that opened a few years ago, so traffic at the dam itself is now very light. Park on the Arizona side (a bit up the hill) to avoid the $10 parking fee on the lots closest to the dam.
While there are much bigger dams in the world, this is still an engineering marvel and I recommend finding a shaded spot and looking through the lovely Wikipedia article about the Hoover Dam when you are there; it makes it so much more stunning.
The Neon Museum has given a resting place to all those (now rusty) neon signs that many Las Vegas businesses specialize in. It offers day and night guided tours that look really tempting at a fee of ~$20 per person. Unfortunately it was all sold out when I visited.
If you like CSI Las Vegas and all those mob stories, then cool - this museum is for you. It has a huge number of exhibits from curators who know what they are doing. It's expensive at $23.95 per person, but kids under 12 go free and there are usually online coupons to offset the high price tag.
The Venetian, Caesars Palace and The Cosmopolitan
No Vegas trip would be complete without a visit to the huge casino developments, and while touristy and crowded (even in the off-season), these three casino hotels are certainly 'worth it'.
The Venetian has built the Grande Canal Shoppes, which resemble the sunset mood of Venice so much so that you feel like you have been teleported to the Italian city. There is no reason to buy anything there (it's overpriced and has the same chains as many other places), but what an experience it is!
Next door is Caesars, one of Vegas' oldest casinos that has managed to re-invest enough to be as stunning as ever. The pool area (which gets crazy-crowded) could be the Roman Empire's best bathing house; it's that stunning and huge.
The Cosmopolitan is one of the Strip's newest additions. It's not themed and just comes with striking interior design and a number of upscale food and drink options. It's more expensive than off the Strip, but the quality is as good as it gets, even compared to many places in Los Angeles.
Volcano @ The Mirage and the Fountains of Bellagio
These free shows along the Strip for pedestrians used to be casino mainstays, but have since been scaled back. Bellagio still offers a beautiful fountain show and The Mirage has the lovely volcano show. Both are just 5 minutes long and are more fun after dark. They run every 30 minutes (or every 15 minutes at the busiest times).
My 19 Favorite Things to do Las Vegas - Eat & Drink
Compared to other major US cities like Chicago or New York, Las Vegas isn't a food lover's heaven. However, considering its location in the middle of the desert (and with some much more boring places around it), it's actually exciting!
Sunrise Coffee is hidden in a small strip mall near the airport. But what a find it is, with fantastic coffee creations, great staff and a lovely little patio area that allows you to see the approaching planes. The coffee beans come from Mothership Coffee Roasters (see the next entry below).
Mothership Coffee Roasters
This is the original location of Mothership Coffee Roasters, but while featuring a better design, it did not feel as 'warm' or welcoming as Sunrise Coffee. It is still a wonderful place to spend an hour or two, though.
Lotus of Siam
Another fantastic find, tucked away in a (downright scary) strip mall. It is said to be run by one of the best Thai chefs in the US. Every dish we tried was outstanding and it was very moderately priced too.
Jinya Ramen Bar
Hidden in another Taco Bell/McDonald's fast food mall, you can find this fantastic little ramen place that would do well anywhere in the world. I loved their chicken ramen that was a huge portion for under $11. The service is exceptionally friendly as well.
Viva Las Arepas
I admit this was my first try at ever eating Venezuelan food. What I had was basically a taco, but instead of the tortilla, you get a bun - 'think inside the bun'! You'll need strong nerves in this neighborhood at night and the food wasn't as exciting in taste as I hoped, but I was still glad we tried it!
Luv-It Frozen Custard
Right next to Viva Las Arepas, you can find Luv-It Frozen Custard - clearly one of Las Vegas' best places for ice cream. Their smallest portion is $5.75 and it's easily enough for a whole family. On offer is pretty much any variation of frozen custard you can come up with. Great little place - just don't expect any seating areas, as it's takeaway only!
Makers & Finders Coffee
Just south of old downtown Las Vegas is the Arts District, which is, well, artsy (and scary at night). Makers & Finders Coffee is excellent, albeit pricey and is more a restaurant than what its coffee name suggests. However, my favorite espresso drink 'cortado' comes in three different variations on the menu here. Wow!
Leoné Café is part of Tivoli Village, a Mediterranean-style development (think Santana Row in San Jose, CA) on the western edge of Las Vegas. It's the development's 'cafe anchor', but it convinced me with great food, surprisingly good coffee and super-friendly staff. It's worth the trip from the Strip....
Hidden inside The Cosmopolitan (it has no door or sign, so you will need to ask several times) is this uber-original-looking NY-style pizza place. It sells pizza by the slice. So far so good - however, I found the pizza bland and $5 for a mini slice is too much.
You should also drop by Casa Don Juan, Velveteen Rabbit and Hop Nuts Brewing.
VegeNation and Hofbräuhaus Las Vegas
VegeNation and Hofbräuhaus Las Vegas were two more places on my list that I did not have enough time for. The former is said to impress with healthy food made to taste well and the latter specializes in German Beer Haus atmosphere.