The glitz, the neon, the decadence, the crowds, the lack of clocks, the original CSI, the sophistication, and the smut…we all know Las Vegas. It’s where you go to escape, to party, to get married, to empty your wallet, to reinvent yourself. Las Vegas is constantly growing and perpetually stimulating, but don’t be overwhelmed — here’s our guide for a short trip to Sin City!
What to See
Neon is synonymous with Las Vegas and the neon signs exemplify the evolution of design and technology. Each individual sign tells a unique story about itself, its creators, the time and place in which it was created, and its role in the history of Las Vegas. The Neon Museum — comprised of a visitors’ center in the historic former La Concha Motel lobby, nine restored signs in downtown Las Vegas, and the not to be missed Neon Boneyard (you can even have your Vegas wedding there!) — is the definitive place to learn all about it and see more than 200 iconic signs.
Tip: you can take a tour day or night, but reservations are recommended — the tours fill up quickly!
Dedicated to the history, development, and social context associated with the nuclear bomb, the National Atomic Testing Museum presents a collection of over 12,000 unique items, including photographs, videos, artifacts, scientific and nuclear reports, and one of a kind scientist collections. In addition to the permanent collection focusing on the Atomic Age and the Nevada Test Site, the museum recently unveiled the first exhibit ever on Area 51, exploring both the cultural myths surrounding the highly secretive Air Force facility, and the actual historical records. Be prepared to experience aliens, UFOs, reverse engineering, advanced aviation design, and stealth technology development.
Just west of downtown, you’ll find the true origins of Las Vegas: Springs Preserve, a National Historic Site, built around the Las Vegas Springs, a source of water for Native Americans 5,000 years ago and the gathering place for the early Spanish settlers of the Las Vegas Valley. Today, this 180-acre area features botanical gardens, trails, historical structures, restored wetlands, wildlife exhibits, a child’s play area and an amphitheater. Springs Preserve was the first attraction in the US to receive two LEED Platinum Certifications on one site, and is the perfect place to take a breather from the excitement of the Strip.
What to Do
This is Las Vegas, you’re going to go to the Strip. There are endless ways to do it: gamble your way through the casino hotels, go club hopping, see a show or 20, window shop or splurge on some designer items, or hang out all day at the pool. For some high culture, visit the Gallery of Fine Art at the Bellagio and be sure to look up at the Fiori di Como (a stunning chandelier by world-famous glass sculptor Dale Chihuly) on your way in. For a thrill, head to the Stratosphere Tower at the northern end of the Strip and jump off the tallest freestanding tower in the US.
Vintage Vegas. Photo by Thomas Hawke, Gehry designed, Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health. Photo by odonata98
On the other side of the Stratosphere is downtown “Vintage Vegas.” This is the center of Vegas nostalgia and the heart of Vegas’ cultural revitalization. Take a stroll through the Fremont Street Experience, a five-block pedestrian mall under the world’s largest video screen (or fly over the party Superhero-Style), or check out the more relaxed nightlife scene in the nearby Fremont East District. Don’t miss an open-mic night at Vegas’s best piano bar, Don’t Tell Mama, or the Vegas branch of the Beauty Bar, for music, manicures, and martinis. If you’re in town on the right day, experience Las Vegas’ cultural and community renaissance first hand at the First Friday Art Walk, when a few downtown blocks turn into an arts and crafts fair, with local artists, live music, and street food.
Where to Eat
In the last few decades, Las Vegas has become one of the fine dining capitals of the world, and there’s no shortage of celebrity chefs cooking up fancy meals in designer restaurants. Often credited with establishing the city’s thriving culinary scene, restauranteur Elizabeth Blau has been at the helm of exceptional restaurants all over Las Vegas and the rest of the country. Along with her award-winning chef husband, Kim Canteenwalla, Blau recently opened Made L.V., an American tavern located in Tivoli Village, on the west side of town. Made L.V. serves up a diverse menu of handmade comfort and bar food favorites balanced with a selection of healthier options. The cocktail menu rotates seasonally, as well as the curated draft beer selection. The atmosphere is warm and casual, including a library of classic board games, a mini arcade, private dining for up to 30, outdoor patio and fire pit, and dog-friendly seating.
Before opening Made L.V., Canteenwalla and Blau gave Las Vegas Honey Salt, an inviting and elegantly casual neighborhood restaurant inspired by their love of entertaining at home. A diverse, seasonally inspired menu of contemporary American foods balances indulgent entrees with a wide selection of healthy and vegetarian options. Daily specials feature local farmers and the season’s freshest produce. There are hand-crafted cocktails and a diverse and approachable wine list — but for the true oenophile, a reserve list offers an exclusive selection of premium and rare wines. Be sure to check out the seasonal menu, or reserve your place at the monthly family-style Farm Table dinner.
Photo by Larry
As a Thai-food fanatic, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention what is considered to be one of the best Thai restaurants in North America, hiding in one of Vegas’s many strip malls. Lotus of Siam, once a hole-in-the-wall, now it maintains its purity despite its fame and the two-hour waits (be sure to make a reservation). Take your time deciding between the over 150 menu items, and make sure to flip all the way to the back for the Chef’s Choice menu — this lady knows what she’s doing.
Where to Sleep