Insider Guide: Best of Las Vegas
Las Vegas has two faces.
The first is a carefully manicured, distinctly manufactured, over-the-top playground promising that, no matter the shenanigans undertaken by its visitors, no one beyond the city limits ever needs to know about them.
This is the city of bigger and more extravagant resorts and attractions than have ever been built before. It is the Las Vegas that most people recognize.
But that first face of Las Vegas occupies only a few miles of Las Vegas Boulevard (“the Strip”) and a few blocks of downtown.
Behind the glitz are just less than 600,000 locals who keep that facade alive. This is where you'll find the second face of Las Vegas. As a standard American big city, there are pockets of commerce and creativity that reflect the residents of this outpost in the middle of the desert.
Certainly there's the occasional wart or blemish even on the best of Las Vegas, but take the time to turn the city on its head and you'll discover a Sin City you never knew existed.
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Forget the stuffiness. The Cosmopolitan’s rooms are modern and urban. Most attractive, though, are those commanding views up and down the Strip.
This is the only resort on Las Vegas Boulevard with terraces, which means that staying in for the evening doesn’t equate to being stuck in a stale hotel room. The best of Las Vegas rooms overlooking the Bellagio fountains are worth the splurge.
Though The Cosmopolitan has just about everything on site that visitors will want -- restaurants, nightclub, shopping, gaming -- its location mid-Strip makes it easy to reach other popular resorts in the area.
3708 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; +1 702 698 7000; from US$150 per night; www.cosmopolitanlasvegas.com
Encore Las Vegas
The Wynn gets the lion's share of attention when it comes to luxury properties on the Strip, but its next-door neighbor, Encore Las Vegas, offers both opulence and an intimacy that's absent at more popular properties.
Encore’s suites are roomy with floor-to-ceiling windows and lounger sofas, but there isn’t much reason to stay inside considering the resort's other amenities and attractions.
The classy vibe found in the suites carries over to the lounges (even the lobby bar is attractive), nightclubs and especially the restaurants.
3131 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; +1 702 770 7000; from US$143 per night; www.wynnlasvegas.com
Trump International Hotel
There's nothing distinctly Las Vegas-flavored about Trump International Hotel. In fact, it’s casino-free, which is why it's so appealing to some travelers.
Many people aren’t into the gambling scene and everything that accompanies it -- noise, smoke, lack of clocks. For those people, Trump is ideal.
Without a casino, extensive attractions or shows, Trump focuses on what it’s good at: customer service and quality hotel experiences.
The accommodations are chic, with massive windows offering views of the city or Strip. Given its location just off Las Vegas Boulevard, the southward views down the neon-lit street are arguably the best in the city, so opt for a Strip view.
2000 Fashion Show Dr.; +1 702 982 0000; from US$119 per night; www.trumphotelcollection.com
This all-suite, modern boutique hotel feels designed for relaxation.
Its small size makes it a lot more manageable than many of the massive casino resorts in Las Vegas, and the intimate bar, restaurant and pool are ideal places to unwind. Rooms are decorated in deep colors with the latest design details.
The hotel is known for its pet policy, welcoming critters less than 25 pounds. It hosts yappy hours the third Thursday of each month with cocktail specials, doggy goodie bags and appetizer specials.
455 E. Harmon Ave.; +1 877 997 8667; from US$42 per night; www.rumorvegas.com
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This high-end, best of Las Vegas restaurant offers a warm and inviting atmosphere.
Its extensive menu of Italian favorites includes brick oven pizza, ravioli and spaghetti, all served with a twist. The restaurant is known for its meatballs, which are so large that one can be shared with the entire table.
LAVO also features a lounge and nightclub, so diners can extend their experience into the early morning hours.
In Palazzo Las Vegas, 3325 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; +1 702 791 1800; kitchen hours Sunday-Thursday: 5 p.m.-midnight, Friday: 5 p.m.-1 a.m., Saturday: 6:30 p.m.-1 a.m.; expensive; www.lavolv.com
Simon Restaurant & Lounge
Celebrity chef Simon Kerry doesn’t take himself too seriously.
Though his kitchen emphasizes fresh, seasonal ingredients and high-quality dishes, there’s always a touch of whimsy in what the restaurant serves. Simon’s junk food platter -- a collection of classic desserts including cotton candy, brownies and caramel corn -- is an example of his playfulness.
The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but it’s Sunday brunch for which Simon is known best. A fresh selection of pastries, innovative made-to-order hot dishes, customized smoothies and organic scrambles are among the items available.
In Palms Place; 4381 W. Flamingo Road; +1 702 944 3292; open daily 7 a.m.-11 p.m.; expensive; website
Located on Restaurant Row at The Venetian, Public House boasts a high-end, speakeasy feel with dark colors and deep seats.
The fare is pub grub with a creative touch and lots of drink options. The menu is meat heavy, but there are a few salads available as well.
Public House lays claim to Nevada’s first certified beer cicerone (similar to a wine sommelier), offering more than 200 brews, 24 of which are on tap. A climate-controlled room holds hundreds of bottles of wine.
In The Venetian, 3355 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; +1 702 407 5310; Sunday-Thursday: 11 a.m.-11 p.m., 11 a.m.-midnight; moderate; website
FIREFLY* Tapas Kitchen & Bar
FIREFLY* is a casual joint popular with groups who love its atmosphere.
The menu is comprised entirely of tapas, and while it’s possible to snack on a few as a lone diner, it’s much more fun to pass plates and sample a variety of dishes.
The menu is divided into chilled and hot tapas with a variety of vegetarian- and meat-friendly options. A fan favorite is the stuffed dates dish, which come wrapped in bacon and served with smoked almonds, red wine reduction and blue cheese.
FIREFLY* is also known for its sangrias and mojitos, though many other drinks are available.
3900 Paradise Road, +1 702 369 3971; and 9560 W. Sahara Ave., +1 702 834 3814; hours vary by location; moderate; www.fireflylv.com
Hash House A Go Go
Featuring self-proclaimed “twisted farm food,” this quirky diner serves up meals in mammoth portions.
Flapjacks are larger than the platters they sit on, chicken and waffles are stacked several inches above the plate and coffees overflow onto saucers.
Though it’s open all day long, Hash House’s breakfast menu is most robust, with a variety of hashes, scrambles and farm benedicts. It’s common to find people dining after they’ve left the bar at night or nursing a hangover in the morning.
6800 W. Sahara Ave., +1 702 804 4646; in Plaza Hotel & Casino, 1 S. Main St., +1 702 384 4646; in Imperial Palace, 3535 Las Vegas Blvd. S., +1 702 254 4646; in M Resort, 12300 Las Vegas Blvd. S., Henderson, +1 702 797 1000; hours vary by location; budget; www.hashhouseagogo.com
Las Vegas’ creative crowd hangs out at this downtown coffeehouse and record shop. At any time of day, The Beat is humming with chatter from tech innovators, local artists and passersby as they catch up over a range of coffees, chilled drinks and alcoholic beverages, as well as a small selection of food.
Also noteworthy is the variety of vinyl on sale.
520 Fremont St.; +1 702 385 2328; Monday-Friday: 7 a.m.-midnight, Saturday: 9 a.m.-midnight, Sunday: 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; budget; www.thebeatlv.com
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Sophisticated and tasteful, Hyde Bellagio is one of the higher end nightclubs in Las Vegas.
The grand salon is spacious with ample seating and the fountain terrace looks directly over the lake, offering one of the best views of this popular Strip attraction.
Like many Las Vegas clubs, the DJs at Hyde Bellagio are among the best in the world, and celebrity sightings are always a possibility.
In Bellagio, 3600 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; +1 702 693 8700; expensive; www.hydebellagio.com
This multi-tiered chandelier isn’t just an interesting centerpiece; it’s also The Cosmopolitan’s signature bar.
Each of the three levels in The Chandelier offers a distinct nightlife setting. At the bottom is an energetic atmosphere that radiates from the casino floor. On the second level, you'll find the finest spirits from the resort’s mixologists. A more relaxed lounge sits at the top.
In The Cosmopolitan, 3708 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; hours vary by level; moderate; website
Harrah’s Piano Bar
This popular, casual dueling piano bar is often crowded with visitors engaged in bidding frenzies to hear certain songs.
Dueling twin sisters Kimberley and Tamara Pinegar are crowd favorites, though all of the bar’s pianists actively engage the crowd during their acts. It’s common for everyone in the bar to sing along.
In Harrah’s Las Vegas, 3475 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; +1 702 369 5000; Monday, Tuesday, Thursday: 1 p.m.-2 a.m., Wednesday: 5 p.m.-2 a.m., Friday: 1 p.m.-3 a.m. Saturday-Sunday: 5 p.m.-6 a.m.; budget
McMullan’s Irish Pub
McMullan’s has a large selection of classic pub fare, as well as many Irish specialties and an extensive selection of beers with taps built into every table.
This is more than just a bar, though. There's live music on weekends and quizzes held every Tuesday night.
4650 W. Tropicana; +1 702 247 7000; open 24 hours; budget; www.mcmullansirishpub.com
The Forum Shops at Caesars Palace
With more than 150 shops, this Strip-based mall is always busy with shoppers combing its racks for the perfect purchase.
There are many high-end retailers here, including Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Valentino, as well as standards found at most mainstream malls.
Even those who aren’t into shopping will likely appreciate the opulence of the mall itself. High, arched ceilings, classic columns and the first freestanding spiral escalator of its kind in the United States are a few of the architectural highlights.
3500 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; +1 702 893 3807; Sunday-Thursday: 10 a.m.-11 p.m., Friday-Saturday: 10 a.m.-midnight; moderate-expensive; website
Antique Mall of America
More than 100 antique dealers have rented space to sell art, jewelry, tools, clothing, books and other collectibles in this eclectic mall.
Some booths are well organized and sparse, while others encourage rummaging. Because new items are constantly being added and vendors often change, every visit is unique.
9151 Las Vegas Blvd. S., #344; +1 702 933 2791; open daily 10 a.m.-7 p.m.; moderate; www.antiquemallofamerica.net
The Arts Factory
Las Vegas’ art scene is concentrated downtown -- many local galleries can be found at The Arts Factory.
In an old commercial warehouse, The Arts Factory contains dozens of studios and has hosted hundreds of poetry readings, concerts and performances.
The building is generally open during the day, but it's particularly lively during the monthly First Friday festival and the night before that event, known as Preview Thursday.
107 E. Charleston Blvd.; +1 702 383 3133; open daily 9 a.m.-6 p.m.; www.theartsfactory.com
Pinball Hall of Fame
This quirky non-profit organization was established to house and display the world’s largest pinball collection.
Hundreds of pinball machines designed from the 1950s through the 1990s cover the large space, inviting visitors of all ages to play.
Because this is a non-profit, all extra coinage goes straight to local charities.
1610 E. Tropicana; entrance is free, old games US 25 cents, new games US 50 cents; Sunday-Thursday: 11 a.m.-11 p.m., Friday-Saturday: 11 a.m.-midnight; www.pinballmuseum.org
The Mob Museum
The Mob Museum opened in 2012 to highlight how the Mafia helped shape Las Vegas and how organized crime impacted the United States and the world in a broader sense.
Several exhibits scrutinize the various aspects of organized crime including how it is portrayed in pop culture; the role the mob played in violence, corruption and conspiracy; and profiles of notable mobsters.
Many authentic artifacts such as weapons and wiretapping tools are on display.
300 Stewart Ave.; +1 702 229 2734; Sunday-Thursday: 10 a.m.-7 p.m., Friday-Saturday: 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; adults US$18, children and students US$12; www.themobmuseum.org
This 18-and-up show is part burlesque, part comedy, part variety show and like nothing else in Las Vegas.
Housed in front of Caesars Palace, Absinthe is the delusional dream of a guy who’s dipped into a bottle of the forbidden green drink. It features The Gazillionaire and his sidekick, Penny, who emcee the various acts that take to the small, centrally located stage.
Highlights of Absinthe include tightrope walkers who perform keg stands, a topless tap dancer in a giant balloon and strongmen with one-of-a-kind moves.
Visitors who sit at the end of a row may find themselves on stage.
Corner of Flamingo Road and Las Vegas Boulevard; +1 800 745 3000; performances Wednesday-Sunday at 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.; admission US$84-US$114 plus tax; www.absinthevegas.com
Neon Museum Boneyard
A non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the history of Las Vegas has been collecting the city’s discarded neon signs since 1996. More than 100 signs are on display in the Neon Museum Boneyard including pieces from Aladdin, Caesars Palace and several motels, wedding chapels and other attractions.
The boneyard is only open for daytime visits and advance appointments are required. A new visitor center is currently being built, which will help better address the growing popularity of this attraction.
770 Las Vegas Blvd. N.; +1 702 387 6366; minimum donation of US$15 required; www.neonmuseum.org
Las Vegas for Thrill Seekers
If Las Vegas is meant to be a place for visitors to do things they would never do anywhere else, these places provide ultimate thrills. Though some of these attractions are located away from the Strip, they cater to travelers and some offer transportation to and from hotels on Las Vegas Boulevard.
Pro Gun Club
Spread over more than 65 hectares, Pro Gun Club has a sporting clays course, trap and skeet fields, rifle and pistol bays and an archery stand.
This is one of the only places in Nevada where people can legally fire everything from a German MP40 from World War II to the M2 50-calibre machine gun.
Shooting lessons are available.
12801 US 95, South Boulder City; +1 702 293 2108; hours vary seasonally; range fees US$20; www.deserthillsshootingclub.com
This is one place road where speeding is encouraged.
Located at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the main exotics racing course is 1.3 miles long with 11 turns, and allows drivers to reach speeds topping out at 130 mph, depending on experience and car choice.
Among the car options are a Ferrari, Lamborghini and Porsche.
For those who prefer not to take the wheel, there's a ride-along option.
6925 Speedway Blvd.; +1 702 405 7223; Monday-Friday: 7 a.m.-8 p.m., Saturday-Sunday: 7 a.m.-7 p.m.; from US$199; www.exoticsracing.com
Vegas Indoor Skydiving
Though skydiving near Las Vegas is available, this simulated experience allows people to feel what it’s like to free fall without an airplane or parachute.
Everyone takes a short training class before taking flight, and a mesh trampoline floor as well as padded foam walls offer additional levels of safety for those who fear taking the plunge.
200 Convention Center Drive; +1 877 545 8093; open daily 9:45 a.m.-8 p.m.; from US$85; www.vegasindoorskydiving.com
Stratosphere Thrill Rides
The Stratosphere is the tallest freestanding observation tower in the United States at 217 feet. At the top, there are four attractions for adrenaline junkies.
Big Shot shoots riders 30 feet into the air at 44 mph. For those who have the guts to look around, the views are stellar from this height.
X-Scream is like a giant playground ride, sliding riders 25 feet over the edge of the resort so that they dangle perilously high above the ground.
Insanity is a spinning ride via mechanical arm extending almost 65 feet beyond the edge of the Stratosphere.
The resort’s newest ride, SkyJump, gives people the chance to freefall down a high-speed line from the edge of the resort 108 floors to the ground below.
2000 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; +1 702 380 7777; hours vary by ride; admission plus unlimited rides US$34; www.stratospherehotel.com
Airline Captain for a Day
Not everyone is suited to be an airline pilot, but everyone is welcome to take control of a Boeing 737 full motion flight simulator similar to those used by real pilots for training.
Because these are FAA simulators, they have the same feel and layout of real airplanes. Those in the pilot’s seat will need to control throttles and bump down the runway until safely airborne, and then it’s free flying from there on out.
1771 Whitney Mesa Dr., Henderson; +1 702 529 4806; open daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; 30-minute simulator session US$289; www.airlinecaptainforaday.com
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