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With its neon flashin' and one-armed bandits crashin', this bright light city is bound to set your soul on fire. Gambling. Glitter. Sexy entertainment. Gourmet restaurants. Swanky shops. Nightclubs galore. It's all here in a 24/7 desert bacchanalia that on occasion makes Dionysus and his pals come off like amateurs. And when the tumblin' dice reward you with stacks of chips that are oh so nice, you'll sing “Viva Las Vegas!”
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Prior to "The Riv" biting the dust a different approach was taken with the legendary Sahara hotel, shuttered in 2011. Instead of a date with dynamite, the old girl's bones were dolled-up and reanimated as the glitzy SLS Las Vegas resort. Unlike the 1990s when old casinos were being demolished left and right, remodeling and repurposing make financial sense in today's tough economy.
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Diana Beyer / AAA
Between the New York-New York and Monte Carlo resorts, the Park is an outdoor shopping/dining/entertainment plaza that includes T-Mobile Arena, a new 20,000-seat indoor concert and sports venue, as its centerpiece.
Diana Beyer / AAA
Diana Beyer / AAA
In Depth“Buy the ticket. Take the ride.” These words of wisdom are courtesy of gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, who came to Las Vegas in search of the American Dream. Welcome to a place where sensory stimulation trumps a meaningful travel experience—and a royal flush beats all. Like the four dudes in the raunchy comedy “The Hangover,” you're here to have fun, plain and simple. And don't try to analyze it because there simply is no rational explanation for a faux pyramid visible from outer space.
Over-the-top eye candy is Vegas' stock in trade. The world-famous Strip, a mere 4-mile stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard, is a glittery make-believe mini universe replete with a replica Brooklyn Bridge, dancing Italian fountains, a lava-spewing volcano and an Arthurian castle.
Colorful enough by day, the Strip becomes a phantasmagoria of blazing neon and LED signage once the sun goes down. A constant cross-section of humanity shuffles up and down the sidewalks, wandering (and often stumbling) in and out of casinos where dice tumble and wheels 'n reels spin to a soundtrack of joyous victory shouts, gone-bust groans and a background cacophony of slot machine beeps, blips and pings.
Although children and non-gamblers will find plenty of fun, it is the over-21 visitor—preferably with money to burn at the blackjack table—Vegas seeks to attract. The “City Without Clocks” tends to throw the body's natural rhythms for a loop; you may find yourself doubling down at 4 a.m., crashing hard at noon and eating pancakes for dinner. That's OK. Vegas doesn't judge. For a few days it allows you to escape the boss and the bills and be whomever you want to be.
Was it always this way? Hardly. “The Strip” was born with the opening of the El Rancho Vegas hotel in 1941. Things really took off when Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel's Pink Flamingo Hotel & Casino opened its doors 5 years later. Strip resorts—in contrast to downtown casinos like Binion's Horseshoe and the Four Queens—were more like stylish Hollywood clubs than rough-and-tumble gambling halls. Tourists arrived in droves to pull the slots and see the Chairman of the Board at the Sands.
Of course the swinging '60s Rat Pack era is long gone as are the days when the Mafia pulled strings. It was developer extraordinaire Steve Wynn who paved the way for the corporations that control the city to this day. In 1989 The Mirage set a new standard for lavishness and swept away the '80s doldrums while ushering in an age of contemporary megaresorts. Along with sleek towers, cartoonish architecture began springing up along the Strip. Exit Liberace. Enter Cirque du Soleil.
In 2015, another vestige of Vegas' past bit the dust when the circa 1955 Riviera Hotel closed to make way for a major expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center. City boosters hope it will help reenergize the struggling North Strip area, which recently saw the opening of the swank SLS Las Vegas (formerly the Sahara hotel), the City of Rock outdoor concert venue and the groundbreaking on Asian-themed Resorts World Las Vegas, a $4-billion hotel/casino slated to open in 2020.
In 2016 a new South Strip entertainment/dining promenade between the New York-New York and Monte Carlo resorts opened—its centerpiece a 20,000-seat indoor arena for concerts, sports and other events. Only time will tell if these projects become long-term success stories.
By CarThe major route into Las Vegas is I-15, which passes through the city from southern California to Arizona and Utah. On Fridays and Sundays, traffic on I-15 between southern California and Vegas can be downright maddening; it's best to hit the road early. Other routes are US 95 from the northwest, which becomes the Las Vegas Expressway in the downtown area, and US 93/95 from the southeast.
Travelers from California should be prepared for desert driving, regardless of their departure point. Basic precautions include making certain that the car's engine and cooling system are working well, tires are inflated properly and the gas tank is filled adequately. It always is prudent to carry extra coolant or water in case of overheating.
Air TravelMcCarran International Airport (LAS) is about 5 miles south of downtown Las Vegas via Las Vegas Boulevard and 3.5 miles south of the Las Vegas Convention Center via Paradise Road, just a few minutes' drive from the Strip's southern end.
Vegas can't wait to make you rich, evidenced by the host of slots and poker machines scattered throughout two terminals. On the west side of the airport is the older of the two terminals, T1. On McCarran's eastern side is the spacious, new T3, added in 2012 at a cost of $2.4 billion.
T1 handles most domestic flights, while T3 hosts all international carriers and a handful of domestic airlines, notably JetBlue, United and Virgin.
Exiting either T1 or T3, you'll see the taxi stands. During prime arrival times (Thursday evenings and all day Friday) the wait for a cab can be painfully long, especially at the busier T1. If you're the impatient type, it's best to book private transportation in advance. And if you're carrying a serious wad of cash there are town cars and limos for hire ready to whisk you away without delay.
Lucky for you, McCarran has a separate, dedicated Rent-a-Car Center. Not so much fun: the off-site center is 3 miles from the airport. Upon exiting the baggage claim doors, any of the blue-and-white Rent-a-Car Center shuttles, which run every 5 minutes, will take you there (check airport signs for exact boarding locations).
Entering the rental center, to your immediate right is the Hertz desk. Most of the other companies are along the back wall. Driving out of the center, you'll find easy access to I-215, I-15 and Las Vegas Boulevard.
Upon departure, return your wheels to the Rent-a-Car Center, 7135 Gilespie St., where you'll hop a shuttle back to the airport. Don't forget to factor in the extra time when deciding what time to leave your hotel.
Cab fare to the Strip hotels varies depending on traffic, route taken and which terminal you're departing from (T3 departures cost a few dollars more than T1), but in general, plan on $20-$25 to Tropicana Avenue (Mandalay Bay, Luxor Hotel and Casino, MGM Grand, Excalibur, the Tropicana and New York-New York); $22-$30 between Flamingo Road and Sahara Avenue (Bellagio, The Cosmopolitan, CityCenter, Caesars Palace, The Mirage, The Palazzo, Encore Las Vegas, the Venetian, the Stratosphere); and $35 and up to the downtown area. Signs posted at all airport taxi stands provide estimated fares and trip times to individual hotels.
The airport's primary, ground transportation contractor is Airline Shuttle Corp., which has booths outside both T1 and T3. One-way, shared shuttle transportation to Strip hotels is $9 per person; $10 to reach downtown properties. The company also offers private transportation via town cars, SUVs and limos starting at $80. Reservations for shuttles are not necessary. But if you're interested in a private luxury ride, it's wise to book in advance; phone (702) 444-1234.
Offering similar service and rates is Bell Trans, located just outside T3's Door 9; phone (702) 739-7990 or (800) 274-7433.
Hertz offers discounts to AAA members; phone (702) 262-7700 for the airport, (800) 654-3131 for the Strip.
Street SystemLas Vegas is fairly compact, and even first-time visitors will have no trouble finding their way around. The two main areas of interest for visitors are the Strip and downtown (also known as Glitter Gulch and Casino Center).
Las Vegas Boulevard parallels I-15 and is the main north-south thoroughfare. Fremont Street downtown is the dividing line for Las Vegas Boulevard North and Las Vegas Boulevard South addresses. The part of the boulevard constituting the Strip extends from Sahara Avenue south to Hacienda Avenue. All of the big resort hotels are along this 4-mile stretch.
Downtown, anchored by Fremont Street, is the original hotel/casino area. Almost everything tourist oriented is located along Fremont between Main Street and Las Vegas Boulevard, or a few blocks to the north or south.
Paradise Road and Maryland Parkway are major north-south arteries east of the Strip. The area around the Las Vegas Convention Center, at Paradise and Desert Inn roads, is the location of the Las Vegas Country Club and several big hotels, notably The Las Vegas Hotel & Casino (formerly the Las Vegas Hilton). The University of Nevada Las Vegas campus sits between Paradise Road and Maryland Parkway, a short distance north of the airport.
The main east-west thoroughfares south of Fremont Street (in geographic order from north to south) are Charleston Boulevard, Sahara Avenue, Desert Inn Road, Spring Mountain Road/Sands Avenue, Flamingo Road and Tropicana Avenue. Residential subdivisions spread east, west and north of Las Vegas' core commercial area, bounded roughly east and west by Maryland Parkway and the Strip and north and south by SR 93/95/I-515 and the airport.
Although distances are fairly short between any two points in greater Las Vegas, traffic is often heavy on I-15, Flamingo Road, Tropicana Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard. The Strip is frequently bumper to bumper—especially at night—and crawling with pedestrians. Avoid driving on the Strip if possible; Frank Sinatra Drive, Koval Lane and Paradise Road are good alternatives.
Note: Just when locals and tourists thought years of I-15 freeway construction were nearing an end, mid-2016 ushered in the first phases of “Project Neon.” The initial phase, expected to take at least 3 years, will widen I-15 between Sahara Ave. and downtown's I-15/US 95 "Spaghetti Bowl" interchange, and also add new express lanes and on/off ramps. Construction-related traffic and detours will impact those traveling the freeway between downtown and the north Strip. Unfortunately, the alternate surface street situation won't be much better as a Main Street construction project is expected to continue through the end of 2018. In the interim, your best bet for travel between the north Strip and downtown is Las Vegas Boulevard.
ParkingParking is rarely a problem in Las Vegas, as many of the hotels provide free guest, valet and customer parking. Valet parking is a boon in a city where temperatures routinely top 100 F in the summer and the walk from an outer parking lot to the hotel's front door can take 10 minutes. The standard valet tip is $4 or $5; add a buck or two at high-end properties. You will incur daily parking fees, however, at MGM Resorts facilities: $7-$12 (self-parking 1-4 hours); $15 (self-parking 4-24 hours); $20 (valet parking up to 4 hours); $25 (valet parking 4-24 hours). If you have restaurant or show reservations, keep in mind that valet parking lots sometimes fill up.
Several downtown hotel and commercial garages are open 24 hours; rates average from $2-$4 per hour, usually with a maximum charge of $10-$12 for the entire day. Check hours of operation, as some of the smaller independent lots close at midnight. Parking meters are available for on-street parking downtown. Just look for the Pay-to-Park machines, which accept coins as well as debit and credit cards. Rates and the maximum time to park are posted on each machine. If you're staying on the Strip and want to visit the downtown area, it's much easier to use public transportation to get there.
Public TransportationThe Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada (RTC) provides bus service to most parts of the city. The most useful to visitors are the Deuce double-decker buses serving the Strip (Las Vegas Boulevard). The buses operate 24 hours daily, run every 7-10 minutes and stop at nearly every Strip hotel property. The fare is $6 for a 2-hour pass or $8 for a 24-hour unlimited on/off access pass. Exact change is required when paying your fare aboard the bus. A handful of stops along the Strip offer curbside, self-serve ticket kiosks that accept credit and debit cards as well as cash (no change is provided).
Buses serve many other Las Vegas routes from roughly 5 a.m.-1:30 a.m.; one-way fares are $2-$5. For schedule, route and detailed fare information phone (702) 228-7433 or (800) 228-3911.
The RTC also has a bike share program. Unlimited 30-minute rides in a 24-hour period is $4.
The Las Vegas Monorail operates Mon. 7 a.m.-midnight, Tues.-Thurs. 7 a.m.-2 a.m., Fri.-Sun. 7 a.m.-3 a.m., serving a 4-mile stretch of the Strip from the MGM Grand to the SLS Las Vegas Hotel & Casino (formerly the Sahara hotel) as well as the convention center.
Be aware that most of the monorail stations are located at the very rear of the hotel properties and riders must often walk long distances to reach the various front-of-house casino floors, restaurants and entertainment venues. If you're running late for dinner or a show, a taxi is usually faster. The monorail fare is $5 per single ride, $12 for a 1-day pass, $22 for a 2-day pass or $28 for a 3-day pass; self-serve ticket kiosks accept cash and credit cards. Phone (702) 699-8200 for general information.
Three trams provide free transportation on the west side of the Strip. An elevated train operates daily 8 a.m.-4 a.m. between the Monte Carlo and Bellagio, with a stop in between at CityCenter. Farther north, The Mirage-Treasure Island tram operates Sun.-Thurs. 7 a.m.-2 a.m. Linking Excalibur, Luxor and Mandalay Bay, the third tram operates daily 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Note: Southbound trams do not stop at the Luxor.
About the City
Sales TaxClark County's sales tax is 8.15 percent. The county also imposes a 12 percent tax on lodgings, with an additional 1 percent tax for properties within the city of Las Vegas boundaries.
Whom To Call
Police (non-emergency)311, or (702) 828-3111 (also valid for TTY)
Fire (non-emergency)(702) 383-2888
HospitalsDesert Springs Hospital Medical Center, (702) 733-8800; Mountain View Hospital, (702) 255-5000; Spring Valley Hospital Medical Center, (702) 853-3000; Sunrise Hospital & Medical Center, (702) 731-8000; University Medical Center, (702) 383-2000; Valley Hospital Medical Center, (702) 388-4000.
Where To Look and Listen
NewspapersLas Vegas has two daily newspapers, the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the Las Vegas Sun, which have independent staffs but are distributed together. Check the daily events section for current entertainment offerings.
RadioLas Vegas radio station KDWN (720 AM) is an all-news/weather station; KNPR (88.9 FM) is a member of National Public Radio.
Visitor InformationLas Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority 3150 Paradise Rd. LAS VEGAS, NV 89109. Phone:(702)892-0711 or (877)847-4858
Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce 575 Symphony Park Ave. Suite 100 LAS VEGAS, NV 89106. Phone:(702)641-5822
Air TravelMcCarran International Airport (LAS) is about 5 miles south of downtown Las Vegas via Las Vegas Boulevard and 3.5 miles south of the Las Vegas Convention Center via Paradise Road, just a few minutes' drive from the Strip's southern end. One of the nation's busiest airports, it serves most major airlines.
Rental CarsHertz offers discounts to AAA members; phone (702) 262-7700 for the airport, (800) 654-3131 for the Strip.
BusesGreyhound Lines Inc., 200 S. Main St., is the major bus company serving Las Vegas; phone (702) 384-9561.
TaxisMajor cab companies include Ace, (702) 888-4888; Checker/Yellow Cab/Star, (702) 873-8012; and Whittlesea Blue Cab, (702) 384-6111. Base activation fee is $3.50 and $2.88 for each mile, plus 54 cents for every minute the cab is waiting or traveling under 8 to 12 mph. Trips to the airport incur a $2 surcharge. Payment by credit card incurs a fee of $3.
Limousine service averages $45-$125 per hour; other fees may include an airport pick-up charge and/or a fuel surcharge. Licensed limousine services include AWG Ambassador, (702) 740-3434; Bell Trans, (702) 739-7990; and Presidential Limousine, (702) 438-5466.
Public TransportationThe Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada (RTC) provides bus service to most parts of the city. The most useful to visitors are the Deuce double-decker buses serving the Strip. The buses operate 24 hours daily, run every 7-10 minutes and stop at nearly every Strip hotel property.
The Las Vegas Monorail operates Mon. 7 a.m.-12 a.m., Tues.-Thurs. 7 a.m.-2 a.m., Fri.-Sun. 7 a.m.-3 a.m., serving a 4-mile stretch of the Strip as well as the convention center.
Diana Beyer / AAA
EssentialsThe massive Vegas Strip hotels look positively Lilliputian from the top of the Stratosphere Tower (2000 Las Vegas Blvd. S.), the tallest freestanding tower in the U.S. If your stomach's made of steel, take a spin on the tower-top Insanity—The Ride.
Vegas also has the tallest observation wheel in the world. Spend a half-hour riding the High Roller (3545 Las Vegas Blvd. S.).
Inspector 511 / AAA
Diana Beyer / AAA
Everything from all-you-can-eat crab legs to Middle Eastern barbecue to cheesecake will threaten that taut belly at a Vegas buffet. At the gourmet high end ($40 and up) are the super spreads at the Wynn Las Vegas (3131 Las Vegas Blvd. S.), Caesars Palace and Bellagio.
Diana Beyer / AAA
Comaniciu Dan / 123RF.com
Diana Beyer / AAA
Tour Wayne Newton's Casa de Shenandoah (3310 E. Sunset Rd.) to see the opulent estate that was this Vegas icon's home for many years.
Diana Beyer / AAA
Check out the Strip's free entertainment. The 50-foot-high faux volcano in front of The Mirage erupts nightly at 8 and 9 (also Fri.-Sat. at 10).
Perhaps the most essential of all Sin City experiences is simply walking down the Las Vegas Strip at night and feasting your eyes on what is arguably the most dazzling display of neon and LED lights on the planet.
Tim Johnson / AAA
Top Picks for Kids
Under 13Not far from the Strip, The Springs Preserve (333 S. Valley View Blvd.) keeps young hands and minds busy at its excellent Origen Museum, packed with interactive exhibits that help little ones better understand desert ecosystems. Behind the museum is a “bat cave” with live animal exhibits. The preserve's Desert Living Center has a play area, plus classroom and lab programs. For lunch, the Divine Café offers a children's menu with cheese pizza and other kiddie-friendly bites.
Turn your tykes loose at the DISCOVERY Children's Museum (360 Promenade Pl.), located in Symphony Park. With nine exhibition galleries, including Water World, Toddler Town and Young At Art, the three-story facility is full to the gills with hands-on displays and exhibits that are both educational and entertaining.
TeensFor teens, few things top shopping malls. Hanging out. Texting. Flirting with hotties. Texting. Hitting the food court. Texting. And oh yeah, there's shopping, too. At Fashion Show (3200 Las Vegas Blvd. S.), the Strip's flagship retail realm, stores like Hollister, Wet Seal and True Religion will put a dent in their allowance. The Forum Shops at Caesars Palace (3500 Las Vegas Blvd. S.) also offer a True Religion store along with teen-fave GUESS.
Merry-go-rounds and choo-choo trains? Totally lame! Teens want big thrill rides, and they don't get any crazier than the hair-raisers atop the 1,149-foot-high Stratosphere Tower (2000 Las Vegas Blvd. S.). Big Shot, a free-fall type ride, shoots you to the tippy-top of the tower mast. Insanity—The Ride, a gnarly-looking claw-like contraption, swings and spins riders out beyond the tower's edge—a dizzying 900 feet above the Vegas Strip.
Photo submitted by Denise Campbell / AAA
Mikko Lemola / Shutterstock.com
Diana Beyer / AAA
Diana Beyer / AAA
Adventuredome , an indoor theme park in a pink glass dome at Circus Circus, offers rides for all ages, from kindergartners (a junior mine train, Dora & Diego's 4-D Adventure) to grade-schoolers (bumper cars, a swinging pirate ship) to teens (the El Loco roller coaster).
An ocean of family fun in the middle of the desert, Shark Reef Aquarium at Mandalay Bay (3950 Las Vegas Blvd. S.) rounds up creatures ranging from Komodo dragons and crocodiles to sea turtles and giant octopuses and displays them in a top-notch facility with an Indiana Jones-style adventure theme. Young'uns can handle anemones, starfish and other critters at the tide pool touch-tank. Fearsome sharks, graceful rays and evil-eyed barracuda swim in a 1.3-million gallon tank featuring a walk-through tunnel.
iStockphoto.com / Mitshu
ShoppingFor decades, Sin City shopping meant shot glasses, ashtrays, snow globes, dice clocks, back scratchers and “I Lost My A** in Las Vegas” T-shirts. Fear not, tacky souvenir fans. You can still find toy slot machines and fuzzy dice just about any place in town. But over the past few decades the resorts wised up and realized that high-end designer shops could rake in any leftover cash not left behind at the high-stakes Pai Gao table. Today nearly every major hotel casino on the Strip has an upscale shopping arcade with tenants like Dior, Manolo Blahnik, Jimmy Choo and Ralph Lauren. Not only does Vegas re-create New York and Paris; the shopping opportunities now rival what you’ll find in the real cities.
If you’ve come to Vegas expecting to find unique independent shops and boutiques they’re certainly out there, although not on the Strip. To reach the burgeoning downtown Arts District and points east and west of Las Vegas Boulevard you’ll need to drive or hail a cab.
Finally, if you forgot to pack the sunblock, avoid resort gift shops like the outrageously overpriced plague they are. Just a few blocks from the Strip, in any direction, you’ll find plenty of grocery and convenience stores just like the ones back home. On the Strip, there's a CVS Pharmacy between the CityCenter and Monte Carlo resorts.
MallsFashion Show , in the heart of the Strip at 3200 Las Vegas Blvd. S., is Las Vegas' flagship mall. An impressive set of anchors—Dillard's, Forever 21, Macy's, Macy's Men's Store, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue—is accompanied by a 5,400-square-foot Disney Store selling exclusive Vegas-themed items, a super-busy Apple Store (if your iPhone's on the fritz, definitely make a service appointment), smaller national chains like Lucky Brand Jeans and Wet Seal, a sprinkling of upscale retailers and a fine selection of restaurants. Some weekends in the mall's center court, models strut the latest fashions during Live Runway Shows; phone (702) 369-8382 for show schedule.
The Boulevard , at 3528 S. Maryland Pkwy., a few blocks east of the Strip, is the city's oldest mall. The newly renovated facility is anchored by Macy's and JCPenney and has shops ranging from Old Navy to Victoria's Secret.
Town Square Las Vegas , just south of the Strip near the I-15/I-215 freeway interchange at 6605 Las Vegas Blvd. S., is an outdoor mall that counts Abercrombie & Fitch, Apple Store, H&M and a GameWorks arcade among its tenants. When the desert heat doesn't confine you to air-conditioned indoor spaces, take your tykes to Children's Park at Town Square (in the center of the mall), where you'll find a playground, a pint-size hedge maze and a treehouse. Kids and grown-ups are welcome to cool off in the 35-jet fountain.
Opened in early 2015, Downtown Summerlin mall at the intersection of Sahara Ave. and the CR-215 beltway (behind the Red Rock Casino Resort & Spa) is most convenient to those staying in the West Vegas area. Anchored by Macy's and Dillard's, the open-air center includes more than 125 retailers and eateries, a luxe cinema and a Saturday farmers market.
OutletsThe Las Vegas South Premium Outlets , 7400 Las Vegas Blvd. S., is an indoor mall a few miles past the south end of the Strip. It offers more than 140 outlets, including Aeropostale, Coach, DKNY and True Religion.
iStockphoto.com / narvikk
Diana Beyer / AAA
Diana Beyer / AAA
The open-air Grand Bazaar Shops , the newest major arrival on the Strip shopping scene, front the Bally's hotel, 3635 Las Vegas Blvd. S. The 2-acre mall hosts nearly 70 retailers and eateries occupying lengthy rows of tiny, uniformly industrial-type storefronts. And if you're expecting the usual line-up of high-end, brand-name boutiques like Prada and Louis Vuitton, think again. The bazaar is more akin to an upscale swap meet; think cellphone accessories, cosmetics, temporary tattoos, sunglasses and pro sports caps. Among the exceptions are a Swatch outlet, the Disney Fine Art gallery and a Swarovski boutique topped with a giant crystal starburst sculpture that displays a 3-minute light-and-sound show nightly at 9 p.m. and midnight.
The Forum Shops at Caesars Palace , 3500 Las Vegas Blvd. S., is an upscale complex with more than 160 specialty shops and restaurants meant to evoke a winding street in Italy. Fronting the Strip, a three-level entryway building decked out with marbled pillars and statues ushers you into this Roman-themed retail realm. In the Forum Shops proper, boutiques like Versace sell $200 sunglasses under a cloud-flecked, domed ceiling that gradually changes from cerulean blue to deep twilight and back again, giving the mall its own version of night and day.
Storefronts are clustered under portals and arches. Among the tony names at the Forum are Alfred Dunhill, Christian Dior, Fendi, Gucci and Louis Vuitton. There also are clothing, jewelry and specialty gift shops, art galleries and stores catering to kids. A central piazza is dominated by the dramatic Fountain of the Gods, which has statues of Neptune, winged stallions and two spear-bearing warriors.
Anchoring the mall's west wing, the enormous Fall of Atlantis fountain features creepily lifelike animatronic figures who star in a 10-minute, pyrotechnics-packed show about the mythical island city. Shows begin on the hour from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily; admission is free. The fountain stands in the Roman Great Hall, a rotunda that also touts a wraparound video screen and a 50,000-gallon aquarium filled with tropical fish and rays. Need to kill time before the Atlantis show? Browse the hall's Martin Lawrence Galleries, where you'll covet Dalí lithographs, Warhol screen prints and plenty of other fine art you can't afford.
Also within Caesars Palace are the Appian Way Shops , a much smaller but no less exclusive arcade of shops and galleries that includes King Baby and Olive & Beauty, reliable spots to score a gift for friends or just yourself. They carry clothes, items for the home and gourmet products.
The Shoppes at Mandalay Place , on a sky bridge connecting Mandalay Bay and the Luxor, offers restaurants and an assortment of shops. Fans of pop culture memorabilia will love browsing The Art of Music gallery, which deals in autographed movie posters, album covers and sports collectibles. The store has a branch at The Mirage as well.
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Linking Wynn Las Vegas with Encore Las Vegas, the Wynn and Encore Esplanades are the go-to places if you have the money for exclusive boutiques like Alexander McQueen, Chanel and Wynn & Co. Watches. The rest of us will have to settle for window-shopping while sipping a $5 bottled water (from the Encore hotel gift shop).
You say you want a shopping revolution? Across the Strip and south of the Wynn are the shops at The Mirage, among them the LOVE Boutique , a groovy Beatles-themed gift shop next to the Cirque du Soleil show celebrating the Fab Four. Looking for a Sgt. Pepper lunchbox or a Yellow Submarine necktie? This is the place. Money can't buy you love, but it can buy a whole lotta “Beatles LOVE” swag.
The Bellagio (3600 Las Vegas Blvd. S.) has a handful of ritzy shopping promenades. The largest is Via Bellagio , located at the north entrance near the corner of Las Vegas Boulevard and Flamingo Road. If you enter Bellagio from either the Caesars' or Bally’s pedestrian bridges, you’ll cruise directly into an air-conditioned, marble-columned arcade marked by names like Prada, Armani, Tiffany and Fendi.
Across the street at Paris Las Vegas (3665 Las Vegas Blvd. S.), high-end fashion boutiques and fancy wine and cheese shops line Le Boulevard , a modest-size shopping promenade that's easily navigable when compared to the maze next door at Planet Hollywood.
The Miracle Mile Shops at the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino (3663 Las Vegas Blvd. S.) is an extensive shopping promenade (more than 200 stores and nearly 20 restaurants at last count) named for the famed “Miracle Mile” stretch of L.A.’s Wilshire Blvd. As you stroll and stroll and stroll past stores like French Connection, H&M, Sephora and Urban Outfitters, you’ll wonder why they didn’t pluralize the word “Mile.” Some cool Middle Eastern theme elements are visible here and there (leftovers from the mall's defunct Aladdin Hotel-adjacent days), and the setting is quite nice—people movers, crystal chandeliers and a backlit sidewalk water feature, along with a laser show, an indoor rainstorm and dancing water fountains (all shows are free and scheduled throughout the day). But when all is said and done it's still a mall.
Diana Beyer / AAA
The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas (3708 Las Vegas Blvd. S.) has an eclectic collection of a dozen or so trendy shops, including the CRSVR Sneaker Boutique, vintage eyewear dealer RetroSpecs & Co. and the quirky Kidrobot, featuring artist-designed toys for kids and grown-ups. For apparel with hipster appeal check out the Vegas outpost of British clothing label AllSaints Spitalfields or DNA2050, purveyors of premium designer denim.
You’ll find more retail areas, all interchangeable, at Excalibur, the Flamingo, the MGM Grand, the Luxor, Monte Carlo, the Stratosphere and the Rio hotel’s Masquerade Village.
Downtown at the Fremont Street Experience (Fremont Street between Main Street and Las Vegas Boulevard) vendors set up carts in the middle of the pedestrian-only casino promenade. Novelty gifts, cheap souvenirs and T-shirts are the norm, but look closely and you may spot quality merch. If not, there are plenty of caricature artists, henna tattoo booths and street performers ready to divest you of a few bucks.
The Fremont East District is home to Emergency Arts (across from the El Cortez casino at 520 Fremont St.), an artists' co-op housed in an old medical building.
The Fremont East District's latest revitalization project, the Downtown Container Park , is an open-air shopping/dining/entertainment complex located at the corner of Fremont and 7th streets (707 Fremont St.). A 40-foot-tall, fire-spewing praying mantis welcomes you to this funky park, where independent boutiques, galleries and cafés are housed in metal cargo-shipping containers, some of them stacked three stories high. Among the more intriguing shops, BluMarble repurposes beer and liquor bottles into ingenious items; San Miguel Collection deals in Latin American art and crafts; 702DTLV traffics in trendy accessories and gifts; and Kappa Toys has play things that range from kitschy to educational.
The Container Park also hosts a handful of eateries and bars; try the cozy Bin 702 for pricey yet potent craft cocktails. Backing the complex is an outdoor live music stage. The central children's play area—boasting a climbable treehouse and 33-foot-high slide—buzzes with happy kids as long as the Vegas heat's not pushing 110-degrees. Note: Only ages 21 and older are permitted in the park after 9 p.m.; security guards at the entrance check everyone's I.D.
Near the park is The Market (611 Fremont St.), a small gourmet grocery store offering fresh produce, a deli counter, a Stumptown coffee bar and a decent selection of craft beer. If you're looking to pick up snacks and drinks for the hotel room, it certainly beats Budweiser and Cheetos from the Fremont Street liquor stores.
Just south of downtown, the Arts District (also known as “18B”) is bounded by Commerce Street, Hoover Avenue, Las Vegas Boulevard and Colorado Avenue, encompassing some 18 blocks. Art galleries, antique dealers and one-of-a-kind boutiques are sprinkled among run-of-the-mill furniture stores, auto parts shops and bail bondsmen.
One way to explore the Arts District is to visit on First Fridays (held the first Friday of every month). The area is closed to vehicular traffic for an evening street festival with live music, street performers, art and craft booths and food vendors. Parking ($3) is available at Symphony Park (intersection of W. Park Avenue and Promenade Place, next to the Smith Center for the Performing Arts), where a free shuttle departs for two stops near shops and galleries that stay open late. Recently, the First Fridays event expanded to include the Fremont East District. A free shuttle runs between the two districts and can be boarded in front of the Downtown Container Park.
If you do the Arts District on your own, check out these worthwhile destinations. A hot pink storefront announces Retro Vegas (1131 S. Main St.), an intriguing antiques emporium filled with kitschy furniture (think amoeba-shaped coffee tables and retro dinette sets), artwork and all sorts of vintage odds and ends. You'll find a similar inventory and slightly cheaper prices down the street at Vintage Vegas Antiques (1227 S. Main St.). The Funk House (1228 S. Casino Center Blvd.) is covered in murals and loaded with 1950s and '60s antiques, art glass, old advertising signs and folk art.
Specialty StoresNo Vegas visit is complete without a spin through the mother of all junk souvenir emporiums, Bonanza Gift & Souvenir Shops (2440 Las Vegas Blvd. S.). The Elvis aviator shades and fake sideburns you’ve been searching for? They’re here. So is the classic green dealer’s visor, the highly sought-after dice clock and the miniature “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” light-up sign for your mantle. Need a water-squirting slot machine or a rubber tomahawk? Welcome to a 40,000-square-foot paradise perpetually packed with fellow kitsch-lovers.
Roulette wheels. Craps tables. Slot machines. Dice. Chips. Cards. You could open your very own casino with the merchandise for sale at the Gamblers General Store (800 S. Main St.), which also carries a nice selection of books and gambling-themed souvenirs.
Digital downloads and iPods are all well and good, but for those who love album cover art, liner notes and the crackle 'n pop of vinyl there’s Record City (300 E. Sahara Ave.), a used record and CD treasure trove housed in a purple brick-and-mortar bunker near the north end of the Strip. Even better, though a bit out of the way, is Zia Records (4225 S. Eastern Ave.). A new magnet for turntable nerds, tidy 11th Street Records (1023 Fremont St., between 10th and 11th streets) carries a nice, well-organized selection of used vinyl purveyed by a knowledgeable staff.
Ambling down the Strip, odds are excellent you'll spy fellow tourists toting bright yellow shopping bags from M&M's World (near MGM, fronting the Showcase Mall, 3785 Las Vegas Blvd. S.). Who among us can resist gobbling obscene amounts of the melt-in-your-mouth, not-in-your-hand treats? Judging by the crowd swarming all four floors of this super store, the answer is no one. Logo-emblazoned clothing, toys, housewares, souvenirs of every kind—they're all here. So are self-serve candy-by-the-pound dispensers and a free, 3-D animated movie that screens every 30 minutes.
Want more sugar? Your dentist will be horrified to learn that a few doors away you can wash down that chocolate with a soda from the Coca-Cola Store (fronting the Showcase Mall, 3785 Las Vegas Blvd. S.). All things branded Coke—from coffee mugs to Christmas ornaments—occupy two floors of retail space. You can even belly-up to a full-service soda fountain counter on the second level.
Fresh on the sweets superstore scene, Hershey's Chocolate World (in front of New York-New York, 3790 Las Vegas Blvd. S.) tests the willpower of Hershey's and Reese's fans with two floors full of temptations ranging from mammoth peanut butter cups to fresh-baked treats (think chocolate chip scones and Reese's cookie sandwiches). Be sure to check out the Statue of Liberty replica carved from 800-pounds of milk chocolate. The sight of it alone is enough to trigger a toothache.
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Adjacent to the pawn shop's south parking lot is Pawn Plaza . A small complex of metal “cube” modules reminiscent of Vegas' Downtown Container Park, the 12,000-square-foot plaza houses several retailers, plus a few eateries to feed hungry “Pawn Stars” pilgrims.
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For a sweet treat, swing by Luv-it Frozen Custard (505 E. Oakley Blvd., just off the Strip near the Stratosphere). Since 1973 this tiny family-run stand has been cooling off overheated Las Vegans with frozen custard fabulousness. Try the Western Special, covered in hot fudge and caramel and topped with salted pecans.
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Nightlife“The City That Never Sleeps” lives up to its nickname in the velvet rope nightclubs and ultra-sleek lounges that are a fixture in nearly every hotel-casino on the Strip. The Vegas club scene is littered with celebrity names—tabloid and otherwise—but the insanely long lines outside the hippest hot spots means there are still lots of regular folks who want to boogie with the beautiful people and are willing to pay a $30 (and up) cover charge to do so.
If you're itchin’ to hit the clubs, here are a few tips on getting past the bouncers. Ladies, dress to impress. The higher the heel and the shorter the skirt, the better your chance of getting inside before 2 a.m. Gentlemen, no backwards baseball caps, baggy pants or sneaks; the standard nightclub uniform is a button-down shirt (usually expensive, and always one size too small) and either dress pants or a $150 pair of jeans. Most clubs don’t heat up until 11 p.m. or midnight. If you’re not on “the list,” line up by 10 p.m.
Many clubs set aside tables for the extortionate practice known as “bottle service.” Reserving a table usually requires that you buy several bottles of booze at sky-high mark-ups. If your wallet’s fat, this is the fast track into nearly every club. Phone ahead or talk to the doorman when you arrive. Note: It's not a good idea to purchase so-called “VIP” nightclub passes from freelance hawkers on the Strip. Though the passes are usually legit, the promise of VIP treatment is almost always a scam. At the club you'll wait in line just like everyone else.
The chic indoor/outdoor poolside patio and top-drawer DJs at XS (in the Encore Las Vegas, 3121 Las Vegas Blvd. S.) draw an exclusive A-list crowd that doesn’t sweat the stratospheric bar tabs; phone (702) 770-0097. Next door at Wynn Las Vegas (3131 Las Vegas Blvd. S.) is Intrigue . If you tire of the DJ inside, head outdoors and enjoy the waterfall and pyrotechnics; phone (702) 770-7070.
Celeb sightings abound at Tao (in The Venetian, 3377 Las Vegas Blvd. S.), an Asian temple-themed swankatorium with high-energy dance floors, VIP sky boxes and an outdoor terrace overlooking the Strip; phone (702) 388-8588.
Omnia (in Caesars Palace, 3570 Las Vegas Blvd. S.) occupies the three-level venue formerly inhabited by the infamous PURE nightclub. Under the main room's massive, UFO-like chandelier, a mass of sweaty bodies grooves to EDM beats spun by big-name DJs; phone (702) 785-6200.
Marquee Nightclub (in The Cosmopolitan, 3708 Las Vegas Blvd. S.) offers the requisite luxury atmosphere (with eye-popping drink prices to match) and is one of the Strip's foremost miniskirt magnets; phone (702) 333-9000.
Five-level Hakkasan (in MGM Grand, 3799 Las Vegas Blvd. S.) has a high-end restaurant, chill-out lounge and massive, state-of-the-art nightclub boasting superstar DJs; phone (702) 891-3838. Down the street at Mandalay Bay (3950 Las Vegas Blvd. S.), LIGHT Nightclub features aerialists performing above the gyrating crowd; phone (702) 632-4700 for table reservations.
For years, rock and pop bands scratched Vegas off their tour itinerary because the city lacked decent mid-size concert halls. That has changed with the opening of more intimate live music venues. Rocker dudes and chicks pack The Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel (4455 Paradise Rd.) and the high-tech Hard Rock Cafe on the Strip (at 3771 S. Las Vegas Blvd., in the Showcase Mall); phone (702) 693-5000 for The Joint or (702) 733-7625 for the Hard Rock Cafe. There's a House of Blues at Mandalay Bay (3950 Las Vegas Blvd. S.); phone (702) 632-7600. Mega-successful musician Carlos Santana performs as the venue's resident headliner (shows are scheduled for November in 2017; January, early February and May 2018). Billy Idol also will be performing in October 2017. Pearl Concert Theater (in Palms Casino Resort, 4321 W. Flamingo Rd.) features top-notch touring acts; phone (702) 944-3200. The Chelsea (in The Cosmopolitan, 3708 Las Vegas Blvd. S.) has a capacity of about 3,000 and regularly books big names (Bruno Mars headlined the venue's inaugural 2013 shows); phone (702) 698-7000.
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If high-decibel hip-hop or screaming guitars aren’t your thing, Vegas has several bars and lounges more suited to cocktails and conversation. 107 SkyLounge , an elegant cocktail bar on the (you guessed it) 107th floor of the Stratosphere (2000 Las Vegas Blvd. S.), mixes sophistication with lofty views of the glittering Strip, setting a seductive mood. The small reception booth and free elevator that provides access to the bar are just beyond the paid-ticket line and elevator that goes to the hotel's top-of-tower observation deck and thrill rides; phone (702) 380-7777.
Napoleon’s (in Paris Las Vegas, 3655 Las Vegas Blvd. S.) ditches thumping dance beats and Jägermeister shots in favor of champagne toasts, live jazz and dueling piano performances; phone (702) 946-7000.
CityCenter's ARIA Resort (3730 Las Vegas Blvd. S.) has a nice mix of refined bars and lounges. Two worth checking out are Lift Bar and the super-swank ALIBI Cocktail Lounge . In The Shops at Crystals mall, Todd English P.U.B. has a clubby East Coast bar feel and 30 premium beers on tap. Phone (702) 590-7111 for general ARIA Resort information or (702) 489-8080 for Todd English P.U.B.
Ring-a-ding-ding. Old-school Vegas lives at the Fireside Lounge at the Peppermill (inside the Peppermill coffee shop, 2985 Las Vegas Blvd. S.), a dimly lit early '70s throwback decked out with velvety couches, pink neon, mirrored ceilings and a magic water-and-fire pit. Sexy servers in black gowns sit beside male patrons, take their drink order and treat them like the big shots they're not. Some of the vintage cool has been spoiled by the addition of flat-screen TVs, but after downing a few of the seriously stiff tropical cocktails it doesn't really matter. Phone (702) 735-4177.
If all this sounds too highfalutin, pull on the Tony Lamas and go to town at Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill (in Harrah’s, 3475 Las Vegas Blvd. S.). The bartenders are jovial, the pours generous, and live country music kicks off every night at 9 p.m.; phone (702) 369-5000.
Gilley's Saloon, Dance Hall & Bar-B-Que (in Treasure Island, 3300 Las Vegas Blvd. S.) has live country bands (or DJs), line dancing, Southern barbecue, sexy cowgirl waitresses and of course a mechanical bull ($10 per ride). Try not to let the high drink prices get you riled; phone (702) 894-7111.
Another fave with the Stetson set is PBR Rock Bar and Grill (at Planet Hollywood's Miracle Mile Shops, 3663 Las Vegas Blvd. S., #730), where you can tip back an ice-cold Bud on the Strip-side patio, or hang inside and laugh at booze-emboldened daredevils getting thrown by the mechanical bull (FYI, city slickers: PBR stands for Professional Bull Riding); phone (702) 750-1685.
Tired and thirsty from wandering the Strip? Budweiser Beer Park offers the namesake beverage along with an impressive selection of other frosty brews. This rooftop covered patio at Paris Las Vegas (3655 S. Las Vegas Blvd.) is a great spot to kick back and people-watch or catch a game on one of the big screens; phone (702) 444-4500. Tip: If you haven’t made it to the Bellagio yet to view the fountain show, grab one of the terrace tables for a prime position from which to observe the dancing waters.
In front of Harrah's (3475 Las Vegas Blvd. S.), the outdoor Carnaval Court Bar & Grill has “flair” bartenders (think Tom Cruise in “Cocktail”) and rock and funk cover bands that play to raucous crowds not interested in the velvet rope scene. There's usually a cover charge on weekends; phone (702) 693-6138.
Several establishments add grub to the partying. Margaritaville (in the Flamingo Hotel, 3555 Las Vegas Blvd. S.) is the Vegas outpost of Jimmy Buffett’s wildly successful restaurant/bar chain. There's plenty of tequila on hand for thirsty Parrotheads. The “Cheeseburger in Paradise” and fries will set you back $15 or so; Buffett tunes and classic rock blast from the sound system. Phone (702) 733-3302.
The Park is new on the scene. This outdoor space connects New York-New York, Monte Carlo Resort & Casino and the new T-Mobile Arena, so it's great for pre-event mingling. Enjoy patio seating at casual restaurants and take pictures by a water wall and massive shade structures that look more like works of art. Along with brews, the brand-new Beerhaus (3782 S. Las Vegas Blvd.) serves up entertainment in the form of bar games. The giant Jenga set is impressive. Phone (702) 692-2337.
It always feels like St. Paddy's Day at Nine Fine Irishmen (in New York-New York, 3790 Las Vegas Blvd. S.), where bangers and mash, Jameson shots and a wide selection of stouts fuel the party. Sip a pint on the casual Strip-front patio that has a view of the faux Brooklyn Bridge. Live Irish music begins nightly at 9; phone (702) 740-6463.
Double Barrel Roadhouse (next to the Monte Carlo hotel entrance, 3770 Las Vegas Blvd. S.) dishes up solid pub grub, pours strong drinks and usually blasts classic rock; phone (702) 222-7735.
Diana Beyer / AAA
Nearby, anything goes at Hogs & Heifers Saloon (201 N. 3rd St.), a self-styled dive bar with boisterous, sexy cowgirl bartenders and live music some nights; phone (702) 676-1457. Hells Angels bonus: There's free motorcycle parking directly out front.
Hops hounds head for Banger Brewing (at the east end of the Fremont Street Experience at 450 Fremont St., #135), a craft brewery and relaxed bar that offers its tasty beers by the pint, growler or in tasting flights (be sure to sample the jalapeno-infused Hefeweizen). Free brewery tours are given several times daily; phone (702) 456-2739.
A crop of hipster-geared cocktail bars inhabits the Fremont East District. At the Downtown Cocktail Room (a few steps south of Fremont at 111 Las Vegas Blvd. S.) you can sip retro cocktails in a dark, speakeasy-meets-bohemia atmosphere; phone (702) 880-3696. The Griffin (511 Fremont St.), a very un-Vegas lounge, draws a young crowd with red leather booths, cozy fireplaces and a jukebox heavy on indie rock; phone (702) 382-0577.
Commonwealth bar (525 E. Fremont St.) sports a 1920s Jazz Age decor and has a rooftop patio (live DJs on weekends) overlooking the Fremont East action below; phone (702) 445-6400. Across the street, catch a live band or DJ while channeling your inner Minnesota Fats at Backstage Bar & Billiards (601 E. Fremont St.). Pool tables run $10 per hour. There's a cover charge for live music; phone (702) 382-2227.
A blast from the past, Atomic Liquors (917 Fremont St.) opened in 1945 as Virginia's Cafe but for most of its history has been a bar, saucing everyone from movie stars (the Rat Pack and Barbra Streisand were regulars) to destitute drunks. In the '50s, crowds gathered here to watch nuclear bomb tests in the distant Nevada desert. Nowadays the only thing getting bombed is you, thanks to a nice list of specialty cocktails and draft beers. Have a drink inside the bar (complete with vintage jukebox, pressed-tin ceilings and old-school “Danger: Radiation” signs), or chill on the patio fronting Fremont; phone (702) 982-3000. Note: Though the bar is only three walkable blocks from the Fremont East District, after dark it is best to take a cab.
Staying downtown? Want to go on a South Seas liquid vacation? Take a quick cab ride to Frankie's Tiki Room (1712 W. Charleston Blvd., just west of I-15) or The Golden Tiki (3939 Spring Mountain Rd., in Chinatown). These are must-visits for fans of classic tiki-bar kitsch and rum-loaded tropical drinks; phone (702) 385-3110 or (702) 222-3196, respectively.
Off-Strip, across from the Hard Rock Hotel, party like it's Oktoberfest at Hofbrauhaus Las Vegas (4510 Paradise Rd.), a boisterous German beer hall/restaurant specializing in the requisite schnitzel, steins of brew and live oompah bands; phone (702) 853-2337.
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Performing ArtsPopular images of Las Vegas lean more toward the spangled theatrics of razzle-dazzle showmanship than they do the rarified heights of serious theater. That does not mean, however, that the fine arts receive short shrift. Plays, concerts and dance performances are presented at several area locations. Neon magazine, the entertainment guide included with the Friday edition of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, carries listings of cultural events.
DanceThe Nevada Ballet Theatre presents both classical and contemporary works at The Smith Center, 361 Symphony Park Ave., a gorgeous $470 million performing arts center that opened just west of downtown in 2012. City officials are wagering that tourists, as well as an increasingly urban and artsy local population, will embrace the new facility's high-brow offerings—everything from concerts to touring Broadway plays.
Free guided walking tours of the 5-acre Art Deco-style complex are given on Wednesday and Saturday mornings at 10:30; reservations are required. For Smith Center performance schedules, tickets and tour information, phone (702) 749-2000.
FilmRepertory film series, as well as musical performances and art exhibits, are presented at the Winchester Cultural Center at 3130 S. McLeod Dr.; for schedule information, phone (702) 455-7340.
The Clark County Library, 1401 E. Flamingo Rd., screens classic films and documentaries; phone (702) 507-3400.
Several off-Strip casinos and shopping malls have multiplex theaters. Check the Las Vegas Review-Journal entertainment section.
MusicThe 20,000-seat T-Mobile Arena is in its inaugural season, drawing big acts like Coldplay, Billy Joel, The Killers, Nicki Minaj and Keith Urban.
The Smith Center's main venue is Reynolds Hall, a state-of-the-art 2,050-seat theater that has hosted concerts by stars ranging from comedian/musician Steve Martin to jazz chanteuse Diana Krall. The hall also is the home of the Las Vegas Philharmonic. Cabaret Jazz, the center's intimate 244-seat, supper club-style room, lets you get an up-close look at live jazz jams; phone (702) 749-2000.
Symphony, jazz and chamber music performances, including concerts by internationally recognized musicians, are presented at the UNLV Performing Arts Center's Artemus W. Ham Concert Hall just a few miles from the Strip; phone (702) 895-2787.
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The small Troesh Studio Theater at The Smith Center stages plays and also presents film screenings; phone (702) 749-2000 for more information.
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Sports & RecThe biggest games in this town are played at green felt tables, not sports arenas. Yet despite more money being bet on sports in Las Vegas than is ever taken in at the turnstiles, the city nevertheless presents a fine selection of spectator sports. College basketball, especially, has a rich local tradition.
Las Vegas and its environs also offer a royal flush of recreational pursuits that include golf, tennis, racquetball and swimming. The desert climate, despite scalding summer days, invites outdoor recreation all year.
The T-Mobile Arena, 3780 Las Vegas Blvd. S. between New York-New York and Monte Carlo Resort & Casino, presents sporting events and concerts at this new 20,000-seat venue. Phone (702) 692-1300.
Auto RacingFans of automobile racing will find plenty of company at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, 7000 Las Vegas Blvd. N., 17 miles northeast of Las Vegas off the I-15 Speedway Boulevard exit. The complex hosts NASCAR Monster Energy Cup and XFINITY Series and NHRA events; phone (800) 644-4444 for information.
Nearby, The Carroll Shelby Heritage Center, 6405 Ensworth St. houses the Carroll Shelby Museum and displays performance cars, including Shelby Cobras. Tours of the manufacturing facility are available; phone (702) 942-7325.
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The Rebels of UNLV play at the on-campus Earl E. Wilson Baseball Stadium during the college season. Phone (702) 739-3267 for ticket and schedule information.
BasketballThe Runnin' Rebels of UNLV hope to one day live down an outlaw image that's swirled like an Old West legend around the team for years—often overshadowing enormous success with a truly exciting style of basketball.
The basketball program came to national prominence under former coach Jerry “Tark the Shark” Tarkanian, who first took the Rebels to the NCAA Final Four in 1977 and led them to a national championship in 1990. Tarkanian built the program into a perennial powerhouse and an object of local idolatry. The Rebels play on the UNLV campus at the Thomas & Mack Center between November and March; phone (702) 739-3267.
Boxing & MMAVegas and professional boxing have had a close relationship for more than 55 years. Despite a rocky history—government scrutiny, a confusing mishmash of championship titles (IBF, WBA and WBC) and the scurrilous out-of-ring antics of a few of the sport's biggest names—title fights have always captured the public interest. The absurdly high purses, flamboyant promoters, glamorous ringside spectators and attendant media hoopla all seem appropriate against a Sin City backdrop.
Some of the sport's most memorable bouts have taken place here: Muhammad Ali vs. Floyd Patterson, Ali vs. Leon Spinks, Sugar Ray Leonard vs. Marvin Hagler. George Foreman shocked Vegas and the boxing world by winning the heavyweight title at age 45 with his knockout of Michael Moorer in 1994. Mike Tyson infamously bit off a piece of Evander Holyfield's ear in the ring at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in 1997.
Most big fights now take place at the MGM; phone (702) 891-7777 or (877) 880-0880 for event information. Mandalay Bay sees its fair share of super-hyped bouts as well. The Hard Rock Hotel, The Orleans, Texas Station Gambling Hall & Hotel (all off-Strip) and The Cosmopolitan (on the Strip) are among a handful of venues that regularly present mid-level fight cards.
Longtime fans of “the sweet science” begrudgingly admit that MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) is now as popular as boxing—perhaps even more so. The big UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) events usually go down at MGM or Mandalay Bay.
FootballUNLV also supplies the city's big-time gridiron action, with the football Rebels scrapping in the Mountain West Conference against the likes of Air Force, BYU and Wyoming. The Rebels' home games are September through December at Sam Boyd Stadium east of campus; phone (702) 739-3267.
GolfLas Vegas' desert climate offers golfers excellent playing conditions, although the summer heat is formidable. Numerous championship and less demanding courses are open to the public.
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Snow Mountain, Sun Mountain and Wolf are the three 18-hole courses at the Las Vegas Paiute Golf Resort, (800) 711-2833, 23 miles northwest of the city via US 95 at 10325 Nu-Wav Kaiv Blvd.
Bali Hai Golf Club is located near Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino and the airport at 5160 Las Vegas Blvd. S. The South Pacific-themed, par-71 course has fairways bordered by towering palms and exotic plants. Phone (888) 427-6678.
In the past, Wynn Golf Club, a gorgeous par-70 course behind the Wynn resorts, was only available to hotel guests. But now, $500 and a tee-time reservation within 30 days (90 days for hotel guests) gets you a caddie, a cart, club rental and a crack at this Tom Fazio/Steve Wynn-designed course. Phone (702) 770-4653.
Each of these courses includes a clubhouse, golf shop, equipment rental and some food service. They are not lighted for night play. Early starts are recommended during the summer months.
The four-level Topgolf at the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino is a high-tech driving range/sports bar that also features golf-themed games and a concert stage. Phone (702) 963-0000.
HockeyThe NHL expanded their number of teams with the addition of the Vegas Golden Knights in 2017. Watch this fledgling team fight it out on the ice at the T-Mobile Arena, 3780 Las Vegas Blvd. S., from early October to early April.
Diana Beyer / AAA
Jogging and WalkingHead out of the city to public land trails, drive a few blocks to a city park or to the university track, or just step outside your hotel door and pound the Strip. Serious runners will find the nearby mountain trails a tempting respite from summer's oven-like heat. Realize, however, that elevations above 3,000 feet present different challenges.
Bob Baskin Park, 2801 W. Oakey Blvd., is nestled in a quiet residential area, and the park's walking path is cushioned. Pueblo Park, at Buffalo Drive and Lake Mead Boulevard west of the Strip, has a delightfully undeveloped feeling, while Sunset Park, 2601 E. Sunset Rd., is bustling and urban.
Diana Beyer / AAA
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Many resort hotels and private clubs have tennis courts that visitors are allowed to use, but it is always a good idea to confirm the hotel's current visitor policy by phone. Hotels with tennis facilities include Bally's Las Vegas, (702) 967-4598, and Westgate Las Vegas, (702) 732-5009.
The Frank and Vicki Fertitta Tennis Complex on the UNLV campus requires reservations and charges a fee, but it is considered the city's finest tennis facility; phone (702) 895-4489.
Water SportsMany swimming pools are open daily Memorial Day through Labor Day. Contact the Las Vegas Parks and Recreation Department for information about pools and their schedules; phone (702) 229-7529.
The 1.5 million acres comprising Lake Mead National Recreation Area, which is twice the size of Rhode Island, hold nearly limitless outdoor recreation opportunities—all just 35 miles east of the neon Strip. Lake Mead and Lake Mohave serve up great sport fishing for rainbow trout, striped bass, channel catfish, crappie and blue gill. Steady breezes and large expanses of open water lure board and boat sailors as well as powered watercraft. Annual passes are available; phone (702) 293-8990.
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Other DiversionsGet a thrill from a 15-minute simulated sky-diving experience in a 21-foot vertical wind tunnel at Vegas Indoor Skydiving, 200 Convention Center Dr. Phone (702) 731-4768 or (877) 588-2359.
Close to the Strip at 3060 S. Highland Dr., Las Vegas Table Tennis provides top-of-the-line tables, coaching and even a training robot for Ping-Pong devotees; phone (702) 360-5888.
SightseeingThere are other ways to spend time and money in Las Vegas than inside a casino. A daylong sightseeing tour of the city and nearby attractions can be a relaxing intermission from a hectic agenda of casino hopping and shows.
Aerial ToursAir tours of the Grand Canyon or Lake Mead area are available from Las Vegas or Boulder City. The following list represents a sampling of companies available and is provided for information only: Grand Canyon Airlines , (702) 835-8484 or (866) 235-9422; Maverick Helicopters, (702) 261-0007 or (888) 261-4414; and Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters , (702) 736-7243 or (888) 635-7272.
Boat ToursA combination tour of Hoover Dam and a cruise on Lake Mead is offered by Lake Mead Cruises; phone (702) 293-6180.
Bus, 4WD and Van Tours
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Diana Beyer / AAA
Las Vegas in 3 DaysThree days is barely enough time to get to know any major destination. But AAA travel editors suggest these activities to make the most of your time in Las Vegas.
Day 1: MorningFuel up for the day at Mon Ami Gabi at Paris Las Vegas . While the rest of town is reaching for Alka-Seltzer and trying to remember how many drinks they downed at the blackjack table last night, you'll be pulling up a chair at one of the restaurant's highly coveted Strip-front patio tables (tough to get at lunch and dinner). Feast on a croissant breakfast sandwich or perhaps a ham-and-egg crepe as you watch the Strip rise and shine.
While at Paris Las Vegas, hit the slots or play some table games in a casino decked out like “Gay Paree.” After cashing out, head up. The hotel's Eiffel Tower Experience elevator opens at 9:30 a.m., and you'll soon be taking in dizzying views of the Strip from the 541-foot-high replica tower's observation deck. For photography, mid-morning light is topped only by dusk and after dark, when the neon comes out in full force.
Day 1: AfternoonGo next door to Bally's, do some browsing at the hotel's new Strip-front Grand Bazaar Shops, hike to the back of the property and hop aboard the Las Vegas Monorail. The 4-mile north-south route stretches from the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino to the SLS Las Vegas hotel (formerly the Sahara hotel); there are five stops in between.
Another handy public transportation option is the double-decker Deuce bus, which runs up and down the Strip 24/7.
Take the northbound monorail to the end of the line (SLS Station). To reach the Strip, stroll through the city's newest casino, the hip SLS Las Vegas. Nearby, reaching 1,149 feet above terra firma, is the Stratosphere Tower . Take the elevator to the observation decks, summon up your best James Cagney impression and shout “Made it, Ma! Top of the world!” as you take in the panorama of Vegas and the surrounding desert. If you're game for a high-altitude adrenaline rush, try one of the tower-top thrill rides. Skip the pricey swag in the Stratosphere gift shop and head back down Las Vegas Boulevard to Bonanza Gift & Souvenir Shops, the mother of all bargain-priced, gloriously tacky souvenir emporiums.
Day 1: Evening
Diana Beyer / AAA
The classy European milieu brought to life at Bellagio makes for a romantic evening. Watch the Fountains of Bellagio do their dreamlike dance, then have dinner at Le Cirque , one of the resort's many upscale restaurants. Ooh and aah in amazement as the incredibly agile acrobats and contortionists of Cirque du Soleil's “O” perform in, on and above a 1.5 million-gallon tank of water. Don't leave Bellagio without wandering through the whimsically beautiful Conservatory & Botanical Gardens or the main lobby, with its totally cool, ceiling-mounted, blown-glass sculpture by mind-bending artist Dale Chihuly.
Day 2: MorningAfter your first night in Vegas, recuperate with a monster breakfast at Hash House A Go Go , in LINQ Hotel & Casino (formerly Imperial Palace). Come hungry. You'll need a ravenous appetite to polish-off the mammoth portions of biscuits and country gravy, Frisbee-size hotcakes and signature, belt-busting chicken and waffles.
Emerged from your food coma, head next door to the rear of The LINQ shopping/entertainment promenade to ride the city's newest attraction, the High Roller . Soaring 550 feet into the Vegas sky, this mega Ferris wheel is the world's tallest. And while the glittering city views are best after dark, you'll save a few bucks riding during the day (the admission price goes up $10 after 5 p.m.).
Next, stroll through the Wynn Las Vegas and Encore Las Vegas , the twin ultra-luxury resorts built by Vegas mogul Steve Wynn. The casino floors at both hotels are top-of-the-line classy, but we're partial to the more intimate space at Encore Las Vegas. Unless your gambling budget's super tight (or perhaps already depleted?), don't let the high table minimums deter you from playing a few hands or rolling the dice. This is a nice place to experience that one-of-a-kind Vegas casino ambiance.
Day 2: AfternoonZZ Top once sagely observed that “every girl's crazy for a sharp dressed man” (and vice versa, actually). Shop for new threads at the upscale Fashion Show Mall on the Strip. Downtown on S. Main Street, Gambler's General Store stocks practically every item you'd need (roulette wheels, craps tables, slots, chips, cards) to open your very own casino, plus a selection of unique Vegas souvenirs and books.
Or, if you're addicted to History Channel's “Pawn Stars” reality TV show, join the estimated 3,000 visitors per day at what has become the city's number one shopping stop: the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop. Shuffling past the pawn counters, fans will recognize rare for-sale items procured by Rick Harrison, “Big Hoss” and the gang. Too rich for your blood? There's a gift shop section selling show-related souvenirs. “I ♥ Chumlee” bumper sticker, anyone?
Have lunch at the outstanding Lotus of Siam , one of the city's top Thai restaurants. Then, if you have time, you can explore Vegas' natural history at The Springs Preserve , a top-notch cultural facility and educational center covering 180 acres. There are two museums here (the kid-geared Origen Museum and the excellent Nevada State Museum, Las Vegas ), plus a lovely desert garden laced with walking trails.
Day 2: EveningThe more of its old-school roots Vegas sheds, the more you'll want to relive those glory days. So order the osso buco at Piero's , a seriously Italian restaurant, and imagine an era when Mafia lieutenants ruled Vegas by night and appeared in Clark County Courthouse the following morning. Martin Scorsese shot scenes for his mob epic “Casino” at classy Piero's; you definitely don't want to come dressed in shorts and a grubby T-shirt.
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Day 3: MorningGrab a quick breakfast at your hotel and then hit the road for an escape from Strip excess. A one-way, 13-mile road with numerous pull-offs leads through Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area , beloved by hikers, mountain bikers, rock climbers and seekers of serenity (at least on weekdays). There are plenty of marked trails to explore; head out on one of the less-traveled ones and marvel at the Mojave Desert scenery, which has an austere beauty, and the backdrop of mountains that present a visual feast of ruddy reds, oranges and pinks banded against softer creams and grays.
If you don't have a car, skip Red Rock Canyon and spend the morning sleeping in. Then laze around your hotel pool—most of the big resorts have luxe pool complexes—or treat yourself to a massage or facial. The Canyon Ranch SpaClub at The Venetian Las Vegas , one of the Strip's top-rated spas, offers everything from Mango Sugar Glo body scrubs to yoga classes.
Day 3: AfternoonIf you opted to spend the morning at Red Rock Canyon, take your hungry hiker appetite to Capriotti's Sandwich Shop and order the famous “Bobbie” sub, a cold turkey sandwich loaded with stuffing and cranberry sauce; it's Thanksgiving leftovers on a roll. Capriotti's has several Vegas locations and is in the process of expanding nationwide, but the original shop on Sahara Avenue is still the best.
Walk off the excess calories at CityCenter Las Vegas , a seriously upscale megaresort, casino and shopping complex. Check out the sleek ARIA Resort & Casino's collection of outdoor sculptures, ranging in style from pop art to Henry Moore abstraction. Take a spin through Aria's elegant casino, then cruise next door to The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas , which is guaranteed to wow you with its swank casino pit and three-story, chandelier-veiled bar.
Day 3: EveningIt's your last chance to hit that elusive progressive slot jackpot. Go mano-a-mano with the one-armed bandits in the Mandalay Bay casino.
Head next door to the soaring black pyramid housing the Luxor Hotel and Casino. Take the enclosed sky bridge, which is home to the shops and restaurants of Mandalay Place, and do a little last-minute shopping along the way. Have dinner at Burger Bar , where you can construct your own gourmet burger.
Finally, raise a glass and make a toast to Sin City at New York-New York casino's Bar at Times Square, a jumpin' nightspot with a dueling pianos show. Too tame? Board the hotel's roller coaster and cap off the evening with a loop-de-loop and views of the glittery nighttime Strip—a knockout finale to your Vegas adventure.
AttractionsIn a city with dozens of attractions, you may have trouble deciding where to spend your time. Here are the highlights for this destination, as chosen by AAA editors. GEMs are “Great Experiences for Members.”
In most cities hotels are where you get some shut-eye after a day of visiting attractions. In Vegas, the hotels are attractions and contain everything from shark aquariums to wax museums. So in addition to gambling (Sin City's primary reason for being) you'll find plenty to keep you busy while away from the slots, and all under one roof. Have fun sightseeing, but do hurry back to the casino. Oh, and management thanks you.
In this town, highbrow culture is about as popular as a blackjack dealer on a hot streak. That didn't deter Steve Wynn from opening the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art in 1998. The Vegas mogul took his art collection with him when he sold the hotel in 2000. But the museum marches on, drawing surprisingly big crowds with top-notch rotating exhibits that feature masters from Pierre-Auguste Renoir to Roy Lichtenstein.
If you're not into 19th-century impressionism, head on over to The Venetian Las Vegas and take a gander at the incredibly lifelike wax figures of George Clooney, J.Lo, Rihanna and more than 100 other celebrities at Madame Tussauds Las Vegas. The art of wax sculpture is taken above and beyond the usual “Who is that supposed to be?” mannequins at this highly entertaining museum.
It won't be long before there's a CSI spinoff for every city on the planet (“CSI: Mumbai” has a nice ring to it). The MGM Grand Hotel & Casino brings the mega-popular TV franchise to Vegas and turns you into a homicide detective at the interactive museum CSI: The Experience. Become an amateur sleuth and try to solve one of three murders in a re-created high-tech crime lab. You're practically spoon-fed the important clues, but fans of the show should check it out.
Revisit the city's organized crime days—from whackings and FBI wiretaps to the casino “skim” and all sorts of racketeering fun—at downtown's The Mob Museum, National Museum of Organized Crime & Law Enforcement. Capone, Luciano, Giancana, Gotti—all the East Coast heavies are here, too, on three levels of exhibits. See a section of the actual St. Valentine's Day Massacre brick wall, recoil at the sight of gruesome crime scene photos (aka “The Mob's Greatest Hits”), then spend the rest of the day doing your terrible Joe Pesci impression. “Funny, how?”
Those who miss the Vegas of the '60s and '70s (when the Mob pulled the strings and the valet remembered your name) often lament that the town has turned into Disneyland. They're largely right, of course. And if you live for thrill rides and roller coasters, you're in luck. The roller coaster cars at New York-New York are painted to look like Manhattan taxi cabs. The ride isn't as hair-raising as a mad dash through Midtown, but a 144-foot drop at 67 mph comes close.
Circus Circus Las Vegas Hotel and Casino gets a bad rap for its stuck-in-1982 casino and aging midway games (think Skee-Ball and ring toss). But behind the hotel is Adventuredome, a 5-acre indoor amusement park encased in pink-tinted glass. There are loads of up-to-date rides and games here to keep the kiddies busy. The co-starring attractions are the Canyon Blaster and El Loco roller coasters. The latter, opened in 2014, features a 90-degree "beyond vertical" drop that will make those with weak stomachs want to double back to the casino.
A short-track, teeter totter-style coaster sounds tame, but place it atop the 1,149-foot-high Stratosphere Tower and you've suddenly got a doozy. X-Scream launches riders 27 feet past the edge of the tower's observation deck, headfirst. Dangling that high above the Strip will earn you daredevil points for sure. But why stop there? Strap on a harness and SkyJump off the edge of the hotel for an 855-foot controlled free fall. Those who don't have nerves of steel (that would be most of us) can enjoy panoramic views of the Strip from the comfort of this AAA GEM attraction's indoor observation deck.
Things are decidedly more tranquille at Paris Las Vegas and its half-scale replica of the Eiffel Tower. The Eiffel Tower Experience whisks you up to a caged observation deck offering a nice bird's-eye view of Caesars Palace, Bellagio, The Cosmopolitan and CityCenter. Nighttime is the right time to take in views of the Strip's neon light show. Be aware that the price for an elevator ticket goes up after 7:15 p.m.
Aiming for an even higher vantage point? Take a spin on the world's tallest observation wheel, the 550-foot tall High Roller. Opened in 2014 at the Strip's LINQ shopping/entertainment promenade, this mega Ferris wheel offers a smooth, 30-minute ride (one complete wheel revolution) aboard glass-walled passenger pods. At the wheel's apex, feast your eyes on a fantastic 360-degree panorama that's best after dark when the city lights are ablaze.
From this new Vegas landmark, head to one that's been burning bright since 1959. At the south end of the Strip, the neon Googie-style “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” Sign has served as a backdrop for countless photos of giddy newlyweds, tipsy conventioneers and generations of tourists.
Downtown, fly like a superhero over the Fremont Street Experience masses on the SlotZilla zipline, which launches you from a mammoth, 12-story-high slot machine.
The Neon Museum displays glowing reminders of the city's neon heyday in an outdoor gallery on Fremont Street. There also are several more vintage signs, fully restored and functional, between 3rd Street and Las Vegas Boulevard. The glittery Hacienda horse and rider sign is especially evocative of old Vegas. Want to see more? The museum's nearby Neon Boneyard offers 1-hour guided tours of its vast collection of non-refurbished signs. The visitor center is housed in the original clam-shaped lobby of the historic La Concha Motel, which Vegas old-timers will recall once sat next door to the Riviera Hotel.
Want more history? AAA GEM attraction The Springs Preserve has you covered with a pair of impressive museums. Geared toward kids, the interactive Origen Museum relates the area's natural history in imaginative ways. Meanwhile, the GEM Rated Nevada State Museum, Las Vegas, traces the story of the Silver State—from the prehistoric age to modern Las Vegas—using hands-on exhibits, audio stations, computer touch screens and even holograms. Your head full of knowledge, hit the preserve's 3.65-mile network of desert nature trails.
The cougars prowling swanky Vegas cocktail lounges have nothing on the genuine man-eaters at the Shark Reef Aquarium at Mandalay Bay, billed as North America's only predator-based aquarium. From fearsomely toothed piranhas and barracuda to Komodo dragons and 15 species of shark, view more than 2,000 animals in tanks and habitats amid a setting reminiscent of an ancient jungle temple.
Gearheads who never tire of ogling classic cars should burn rubber to The Auto Collections at LINQ Hotel & Casino . From vintage Rolls-Royces and 1960s muscle cars to JFK's presidential limo and Johnny Carson's Chrysler, this expansive showroom makes for a nice pit stop on your trip down the Strip.
Relive the days of mushroom clouds and duck-and-cover drills at the National Atomic Testing Museum. It has fascinating exhibits detailing the history of the Nevada Test Site, a swath of desert north of Las Vegas used to test nuclear bombs from 1951 until 1992.
The Atomic Age inspired the kitschy artwork on several of the vintage 1950s and '60s pinball machines at the Pinball Hall of Fame. The collection includes classic video games and plenty of old favorites as well as many you've probably never seen. All the machines are playable; carry plenty of coin.
Want to hear the song “Rock and Roll All Nite” for the thousandth time while putt-putting an 18-hole round at a glow-in-the-dark, KISS-themed miniature golf course? Of course you do. Par for cheesy good fun is KISS By Monster Mini Golf, located at 3700 W. Flamingo Rd. in Rio Casino .
Suffering from Vegas sensory overload? Get away from it all on a peaceful hike at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, only a 30-minute drive from the Strip. The park's trails wind past outstanding red rock formations, a geological result of the Keystone Thrust Fault, and through starkly beautiful desert landscapes. To attain the aforementioned peace, avoid visiting this AAA GEM attraction on busy weekends or during school holiday weeks.
Farther away (about a 1-hour drive) but arguably more impressive is Valley of Fire State Park. At this AAA GEM attraction, the fiery-hued rocks are more abundant, and you'll also encounter other geological wonders—a handful of small arches, beehive formations, some well-preserved petroglyphs and an oft-photographed park icon, Elephant Rock.
It takes an estimated 5,600 megawatts (an enormous amount of electricity) to juice Las Vegas on a typical day. To see where some of that power is generated, drive 45 minutes southeast to Hoover Dam, a AAA GEM attraction. The 726-foot-high engineering marvel was built during the Great Depression. Allow time to take either the 30-minute or 1-hour guided tour of the dam's power plant.
Even non-acrophobes may get stomach butterflies while strolling across the Mike O'Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge , the highest (840 feet) and longest (1,900 feet) arched, concrete-steel composite span in the Western Hemisphere. Located about a quarter-mile downstream from Hoover Dam, and linking Nevada with Arizona, this bypass bridge, which opened in 2010, eliminates the traffic congestion that used to be an often-unavoidable part of a dam visit. From the span's Nevada side, you'll climb a short switchback trail to the bridge walkway, where you're treated to lofty views of rugged Black Canyon, the dam and the turquoise Colorado River far below.
See all the AAA recommended attractions for this destination.
RestaurantsOur favorites include some of this destination's best restaurants—from fine dining to simple fare.
Las Vegas has come a long, long way from the heyday of bargain shrimp cocktails and all-you-can-eat buffets. While those fabled buffets will always be around—and they remain justifiably popular—more than ever the city is a hot spot for global cuisine and the cutting-edge talents of world-renowned chefs. It's heaven for foodies as well as those with money to burn. And not surprisingly, the Strip is the heart of this sophisticated dining scene.
If you happen to get really lucky at the gaming tables, take our advice: Quit while you're ahead, cash out, dress to the nines (you did pack at least one dressy outfit, didn't you?) and repair to Joël Robuchon for a sumptuous celebration. The French restaurant at the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino is traditional in every way. Robuchon, anointed France's “chef of the century” by none other than the esteemed Gault Millau restaurant guide, came out of retirement to open his first restaurant in the United States. One taste of specialties like Le Caviar—a trio of couscous and Oscetra caviar, cauliflower cream and a king crab and crustacean gelée—and you know you're not eating in a casino coffee shop. You could order a la carte, but one of the multi-course tasting menus is the best way to savor creations like truffle langoustine ravioli or French hen with roasted foie gras and confit potatoes. Seating is limited, and reservations are strongly recommended.
Long a standard for Big Apple fine dining, Le Cirque also pitches its vibrantly colorful, swooping silk-dome tent at the Bellagio , The Maccioni family's attention to detail is what allows this sophisticated restaurant to push the sensory envelope, and it doesn't hurt that diners also have a prime view of Lago di Bellagio's lovely dancing fountains.
Fine dining with an American accent prevails at Aureole, in the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino . The Vegas outpost of critically acclaimed chef Charlie Palmer's New York restaurant upholds the same high standards. The decor has a theatrical flair: swans, gorgeous flower arrangements and “angels” flying through the restaurant's wine tower. Aureole's onion soup is deliciously on point—beef consommé with onions, foie gras and truffles topped with Gruyère cheese puff pastry. Main courses like a simply rare Ahi tuna with diver sea scallops or roasted Jidori chicken are gussied up with exquisite sides. For dessert, you'd be crazy to pass on the orange cream semi-freddo flambé.
Ensconced on the 51st floor of the Fantasy Tower at Palms Casino Resort, Nove Italiano blends classic Italian cuisine with an ultra-contemporary design. The restaurant's sexy lounge has a curtain of hand-strung crystals, while the dining room, illuminated by Swarovski chandeliers, features white plasma TV screens in gilded frames that display electronic art. But the food is comfortingly familiar. Antipasti selections include ribeye beef carpaccio and shrimp Francaise touted as “the best you've ever had.” Veal Nove is simply prepared with prosciutto, arugula and lemon and grilled fish is served whole with salsa verde.
Picasso , named for the artist's original paintings and ceramic pieces that grace this charming restaurant in Bellagio, has the feel of an outdoor market: lakeside location, abundance of fresh flowers and view of the hotel's signature fountain. Executive chef Julian Serrano's cuisine is inspired by the regional dishes of both France and Spain, and it changes daily depending on what's seasonally available. Choose from either a five-course degustation or a four-course prix fixe menu. Serrano's deft hand is evident in such dishes as warm quail salad with artichokes and pine nuts and a tournedo loin of lamb with pisto, tempura zucchini flowers and mint aioli. Even cheesecake is elevated to lofty culinary heights, adorned with blackberry and Earl Grey latte sherbet and bergamot pate de fruit. In a word, yum.
If you can use some exotic booze, slip into the bar at Sinatra , in the Encore Las Vegas , and order the signature Sinatra Smash cocktail-a “koo-koo” concoction of Gentleman Jack, muddled blackberries and vanilla syrup over crushed ice. Sliding over to the classy restaurant, the best is yet to come. Chef Theo Schoenegger flies you to the moon with knock-out appetizers (Frank's clams Posillipo) and mains like osso buco “My Way.” The menu prices wouldn't faze Ol' Blue Eyes, but some of us “bums” will go into cardiac arrest at the sight of $50 entrees. Don't miss the Chairman's genuine “From Here to Eternity” Oscar trophy, on display near the hostess stand.
The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas houses an enviable collection of restaurants. Among the dozen or so establishments you'll find a hip sushi bar, the requisite high-end steakhouse and the gourmet burger restaurant Holsteins . But one eatery you won't see on the casino directory is what's known as the “Secret Pizzeria.” To find it, head up to Cosmo's third level. Directly across from the escalators is what appears to be an employee service hallway. The unsigned passageway, lined with old Italian record album covers, leads to a tiny, brightly lit pizza joint with a half-dozen stools, a pinball machine and blasting rock music. Tasty, thin-crust slices go for $5 to $6. Wash a couple down with a soda or beer and you're out the door for under $15—a relative Strip bargain.
Nowadays it's no secret Vegas has become a magnet for celebrity TV chefs. In the mid-90s, Emeril Lagasse opened his first Sin City restaurant at MGM Grand, paving the way for a host of TV cooks looking to capitalize on their household names. "Iron Chef" Bobby Flay has two restaurants on the Strip. Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill (in Caesars Palace) serves chichi Southwestern cuisine at sky-high prices, while casual Bobby's Burger Palace (next to the CityCenter complex) does excellent gourmet hamburgers that won't bust your budget. Not to be outdone, Gordon Ramsay Burger finds the foul-mouthed British chef grilling top-notch patties at Planet Hollywood. Ramsay's name also draws fans to Gordon Ramsay Steak at Paris Las Vegas and English-style pub at Caesars Palace. New to town, Italian cuisine queen Giada De Laurentiis recently opened GIADA , her first-ever restaurant, at The Cromwell (formerly Bill's Gamblin' Hall). A few doors down at The LINQ hotel, Guy Fieri's Vegas Kitchen & Bar is banking his Food Network fame translates into beaucoup business. As for Lagasse, he's still king of the Strip with a total of four eateries. You can't go wrong with his Delmonico Steakhouse at the Venetian.
HEXX Kitchen + Bar , in front of Paris Las Vegas, is a café, chocolate lounge and candy store all rolled into one. Always open, the restaurant serves up comfort food for breakfast, lunch and dinner well enough, but the real stars here are the desserts. Appease your sweet tooth with a visit to the chocolate mousse bar, a red velvet sundae or perhaps a pound of retro candies from the bulk candy bins. This also is the spot to indulge in chocolate, specifically the "bean-to-bar" chocolate made on-site.
Vegas hasn't completely forsaken its cheap steak dinner, 24-hour coffee shop roots in pursuit of celebrity chefs and glittering elegance. Schlep on over to the Coffee Pub , which—unlike many of the hotel restaurants that are only open for dinner—serves only breakfast and lunch. This casual, California-style cafe has a basic menu of salads, sandwiches, wraps and breakfast items that are decent enough to draw a regular crowd. Along with that all-important morning jolt of java, the Big Wally omelet—stuffed with cream cheese, sundried tomatoes and scallions—will (depending on the circumstance) help cure a hangover or get your day off to a well-fueled start. Also earning high marks are the smoothies (Peach Pizazz, Strawberry Bear and other refreshing flavors) and the frozen coffee drinks, just the thing to take with you if the weather's sizzling.
Although old Vegas is rapidly disappearing, some outposts remain. Battista's Hole in the Wall is one of them. Celebrity photos plastering the walls tell the story—Betty Grable, Johnny Weissmuller, Clint Eastwood, Ed Sullivan and Robert Redford are just a few of the stars who have broken bread here. This family owned and operated joint is old school all the way, right down to the roving accordion player. And dinner is a deal; it includes minestrone soup or an Italian salad, garlic bread, a side of pasta, a homemade cappuccino and all the red or white house wine you can handle. You can't really go wrong with something like cheese manicotti, sausage cacciatore or steak pizzaiola; pony up a few more bucks and dig into veal piccante or garlic butter shrimp. Is Battista's a fun place? Fahgeddaboutit.
Another longtime watering hole (it's been around since 1958) is the Golden Steer Steakhouse . The wood-paneled walls, red leather booths, waiters in formal wear and fishbowl-size martinis epitomize old-school Vegas, and indeed this was a Rat Pack hangout. It's a steakhouse that also serves Italian mainstays like chicken parmigiana and veal Francaise (dipped in egg batter and then sautéed in butter with artichokes and lemon). The steaks—from a petite filet mignon to the 24-ounce prime rib—aren't the best in Vegas, but they're still darn good. Finish in grand style with bananas Foster, prepared tableside. Some of the servers have been here for decades, and their polish and professionalism shows.
Vegas buffets are the stuff of gluttonous legend. And if you only have the stomach space to try one, get your grub on at Bacchanal Buffet, a Caesars Palace mega spread that's top of the line in both quality and price (dinner runs north of $50). Plate in hand, you'll belly-up to hot food stations dishing up outrageously tender brisket, prime rib, red velvet pancakes, sausage, slabs of bacon, fried chicken and waffles, lasagna, Wagyu beef sliders, pizza, tacos, burritos, chile verde stew, burgers, Japanese curry, dim sum, lobster chowder and even Chicago-style mini hot dogs. On the cold side you'll find a salad bar, chilled king crab legs, oyster shooters, sushi and a bounty of Italian antipasti. The only spot where Bacchanal could stand improvement is the dessert island. Everything—from a rainbow of ice cream flavors to an avalanche of cakes, pies and cookies—looks fantastic. But we've been less than impressed; at these prices, bone-dry carrot cake is unforgivable. Tip: Try to visit at off-peak times. The line for this feast can be insane.
Don't let the location—an industrial park in Summerlin, a West Las Vegas neighborhood—fool you; the Vintner Grill is seriously chic. The focal point of this casually elegant American bistro is a strikingly designed outdoor patio sheltered by two large canopies and furnished with custom-made couches and drapery. It's a setting in which to savor executive chef Matthew Silverman's menu, which features killer appetizers like white bean hummus with a spicy olive relish and a rotating selection of entrees that take full advantage of seasonal ingredients. Chocolatier Vosges Haut-Chocolat provides the divine and decadent desserts, and they are not to be missed. No less an authority than the Food Network's Rachael Ray gives this place a rave.
Thai lovers can thank Lady Luck, because Lotus of Siam has what many consider to be the best Thai food in Las Vegas. It doesn't look like much from the outside—an unassuming strip center storefront along a stretch of Sahara Avenue littered with commercial sprawl—and the interior is an odd combination of upscale wine bar and down-home Asian restaurant. It's the food that takes center stage here. The menu is huge but dishes are numbered, so first-timers can point to what they want. Tom kha kai is a richly flavored soup full of tender chicken, vegetables and herbs in a coconut-laced broth. Papaya salad has a fiery chile kick. Garlic prawns, duck curry and mango sticky rice are all savory examples of Thai cookery. Be forewarned that spice levels (which range from 1 to 10) are incendiary at the upper end, so order accordingly or you might find yourself repeatedly draining your water glass.
In the mood for more familiar Asian food? Judging by all the $25 Kung Pao chicken and $35 Mongolian beef entrées you'll find on the Strip, there must be an unwritten Vegas law requiring every major casino resort have an ultra-chic Chinese restaurant. Fear not, penny-pinching wonton fanatics, here are a few tasty exceptions. Ping Pang Pong , in the off-Strip Gold Coast Hotel & Casino (across the street from the Palms Casino Resort), may have a silly name, but the standards (pot stickers, tiger prawns, gobo beef, etc.) are done well, and the dim sum is some of the city's best. Another good sign this wallet-friendly grub is worthy? For the most part, you'll be dining alongside local Asian families. Over on the Strip at The Venetian Las Vegas , leave the excellent yet pricey Tao-Asian Bistro to the nightclubbing crowd and head for Noodle Asia , a casual spot next to the casino's sports book. Order the scrumptious spring rolls, a steaming bowl of Szechwan beef soup and a frosty Tsingtao beer, and you'll still have coin left over for the blackjack tables.
Year after year, local newspapers polls rank Lindo Michoacán the best sit-down Mexican restaurant in Vegas. Family recipes fill the huge menu, which has everything from burritos and tacos (the al pastor is very good) to south-of-the-border seafood specialties and dishes incorporating lengua (beef tongue). The tortillas are freshly made, the margaritas pack a nice punch and there's a wicked-hot salsa for heat freaks. Prices aren't dirt cheap, but still a welcome relief from the high meal tabs at the resorts. The original Lindo is on Desert Inn Road a few miles east of the Strip (free shuttle service is provided if you make reservations). For a knockout view to go along with your carne asada nachos try the La Loma location, high on a hilltop in the suburb of Henderson.
Downtown on Fremont Street, duck into the historic Golden Gate Hotel & Casino , birthplace of a Vegas classic: the 99-cent shrimp cocktail. Though the price of “The Best Tail in Town” has shot up from 99 cents to $3.99, some things never change. It's still served in a “tulip” sundae glass, swimming in a secret recipe cocktail sauce and garnished with a wedge of lemon. While the casino's original Shrimp Bar & Deli disappeared during a recent renovation, the cheapskate treat is still available at the hotel's Du-Par's Restaurant and Bakery . Light, fluffy hot-off-the-griddle pancakes are the specialty at the Vegas branch of this longtime Los Angeles breakfast favorite. The scene is pure old-school coffee shop: red Naugahyde booths, black-and-white checkered floor tiles and waitresses who call you “sugar.”
Across the street at downtown's Plaza Las Vegas hotel, former city mayor and once-upon-a-time Mafia attorney Oscar Goodman won't win any feminist fans with the name of his pricey steakhouse, Oscar's Beef-Booze-Broads . Despite the gimmicky name, Oscar's boasts what is arguably the best dining view in downtown (its only real competition is the Top of Binion's Steakhouse). In a classy, glass-dome dining room fronting the hotel, you'll feast on primo steak (the filet mignon and New York strip are tops) as you gaze at the glittering lights of Fremont Street. As for the "broads," they're dolled-up hostesses who make the table rounds and ask if you're enjoying the evening. Which, of course, you are.
See all the AAA Diamond Rated restaurants for this destination.
EventsIn addition to its many cultural and historic landmarks, this destination hosts a number of outstanding festivals and events that may coincide with your visit.
The Pennzoil 400 Weekend event, which includes Monster Energy Cup and XFINITY Series races, brings racing fans to Las Vegas Motor Speedway in early March. Prize livestock are proudly exhibited during the 5-day Clark County Fair & Rodeo in Logandale, also held in April. Talented musicians from across the country perform at the Las Vegas City of Lights Jazz and Rhythm and Blues Festival , held at the Clark County Government Center Amphitheater in mid-April.
Relive the Old West during May's Helldorado Days , which features Western get-ups, parades and a championship rodeo. During Memorial Day weekend, the Las Vegas Paiute Snow Mountain Indian Reservation, about a 20-minute drive north of downtown Vegas, hosts the Snow Mountain Pow Wow , where you can shop for Southwestern pottery or cheer on the participants of a spirited drum competition. Italian heritage is the focus of another cultural event, the San Gennaro Feast , which is held in mid-May and offers ethnic food, live entertainment and a variety of family-friendly activities.
If the betting strategies of Texas Hold 'Em, Omaha, Lowball and Hi-Low intrigue you, then check out the World Series of Poker , the gaming world's largest, richest and highest-profile event. It begins in late May and continues through mid-July at the Rio Casino. Anyone who meets the age and buy-in requirements is eligible to enter and win. As a Poker Hall of Fame member once observed, “All you need is a chip and a chair.”
In June, the Electric Daisy Carnival draws hundreds of thousands of electronic dance music fans to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway for three days of superstar DJ sets.
The city's Spanish heritage is celebrated in mid-September during the Mexican Independence Day event, a day of music and cultural enlightenment. Bite of Las Vegas , also in mid-September, features concerts and some 30 restaurants.
In late October to early November, golf enthusiasts flock to watch the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open . The 3-day Age of Chivalry Renaissance Festival , held at Sunset Park in mid-October, features everything from jousting demonstrations to an interactive dinner theater show.
Salute America's military achievements at Nellis Air Show and Open House in November. The 2-day event highlights the aerial maneuvers of U.S. Airmen. Thousands of runners from around the globe compete in the annual Rock 'n' Roll Las Vegas Marathon and Half Marathon in November.
The desert floor rumbles in early December when cowboys invade Las Vegas for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo . The Las Vegas Bowl , a post-season college football bowl game, is played at Sam Boyd Stadium in late December. The year wraps up with New Year's Eve , a typically lively Vegas-style celebration with big-name entertainers.
See all the AAA recommended events for this destination.
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Explorer PassThe Las Vegas Explorer Pass is an all-access digital attractions pass that allows visitors to save on admission to more than 30 top area attractions. The pass is purchased by the days and saves travelers up to 55 percent off the combined admission price. Available attractions include Madame Tussauds Las Vegas, High Roller observation wheel, a hop-on hop-off bus tour, a variety of shows and performances, and several other popular activities. The Las Vegas Explorer Pass is available online or over the phone at (800) 887-9103.
Las Vegas BuffetsGambling, big-name entertainers and over-the-top casinos have always lured visitors to Las Vegas. But for those with hearty appetites there is no bigger attraction than the buffets. They’re a Vegas tradition, the gustatory pillars of a “City That Never Sleeps” and apparently can never get enough to eat. Mountains of shrimp. Piles of golden fried chicken. Monster prime rib. Row after row of sushi rolls. An avalanche of crab legs. Desserts in every color of the rainbow. Just one meal at a Vegas buffet has the potential to put new stretch marks on your stomach.
The father of the Vegas “all you can eat” affair was Herb McDonald, a casino publicist who reasoned that if you felt like you got a bargain meal, the more willing you’d be to part with money in the casino. The Strip’s first buffet was the El Rancho Vegas hotel’s Chuck Wagon. When it opened in 1946, dinner cost a dollar. Today there are more than 60 hotel buffets in the greater Vegas area, from perfunctory spreads to the new breed of super buffet. That’s a lot of bloated bellies.
There was a time when the low-priced buffet was the only game in town. Not today. Food quality has improved, the selection is wider, and of course prices have shot higher. You can still find dirt-cheap smorgasbords (mostly in the off-Strip casinos frequented by locals), but at the megaresorts dinner prices average around $35 per adult and climb as high as $55 for the gourmet chow at current hot spot, Bacchanal Buffet at Caesars Palace. Keep in mind that breakfast (excluding Sunday brunches) and lunch prices at all buffets are always a few dollars cheaper.
Penny-pinchers looking to gorge themselves for less than $17 will need to head off-Strip. Gold Coast, (702) 367-7111, has a decent supper spread, plus classic carving stations (prime rib and turkey) just like its pricier brethren. Downtown, try the Garden Court Buffet at Main Street Station, (702) 387-1896.
In the $18 to $25 range quality gets better, and at this price tier you’ll usually find all-you-can-eat shrimp. The buffet at the Westgate (formerly the LVH), (800) 732-7117, offers a made-to-order pasta station and beats most of the mid-range offerings over on the Strip.
North of $25 you find the good stuff. Spice Market Buffet at Planet Hollywood, (702) 785-5555, has nine food stations (including an excellent Middle Eastern counter) that dish up grub a cut above your typical steam table fare. The Cravings buffet at Mirage, (702) 791-7111, lays out something for every taste, including bloat-worthy Mexican and Asian stations. The Cosmopolitan's Wicked Spoon buffet, (702) 698-7000, does a nice daily brunch. The Buffet at ARIA, (702) 590-7111, has a tandoor oven, meaty crab legs and an all-you-can-drink alcoholic beverage deal. Rio’s Carnival World & Seafood Buffet, (702) 777-7777, whips up a huge international feast that devotees swear is the best in town.
Bellagio, (702) 693-7111; Caesars Palace, (702) 731-7110; and Wynn Las Vegas, (702) 770-7000, are the top of the line both in taste and price. These are bounteous spreads with an array of quality meats, plenty of made-to-order stations and outrageous dessert selections.
Want to worship at multiple temples of gluttony for a single, discounted price? Look into the Buffet of Buffets deal. For a 24-hour period, a wristband grants you unlimited access to six buffets at Vegas hotels owned by Caesars Entertainment. If your stomach can handle it, phone (702) 862-3530 for details.
Vegas buffets are hugely popular and don’t accept reservations. For dinner, arrive before 6:00 or after 9:00 to avoid long lines.
Long HaulingSome cabbies (especially departing the airport) like to practice the despicable art of "long hauling," in which they'll drive those unfamiliar with Vegas a circuitous route in order to boost the fare. McCarran International Airport posts approximate rate information on doors 1 and 4 of Terminal 1 as well as at Terminal 3's taxi stands, so be aware. With Strip- and downtown-bound passengers aboard, a favorite trick is driving south from the airport through the tunnel under the runways, then taking the I-215 and I-15 freeways to your hotel. This route is almost always a long haul, which can inflate the fare $8-$12. The only instances in which the tunnel and/or freeways might constitute a legitimate route are if you're destined for South Vegas, Henderson or far West Vegas. Also, if surface street traffic is particularly heavy, a reasonable case can be made for reaching downtown via I-15 by way of Tropicana Ave. (though never the tunnel).
Otherwise, rides from the airport to major Strip and downtown hotels should always be via north-south streets Swenson/Paradise Rd., Koval Ln., Las Vegas Blvd. (the Strip) or Frank Sinatra Dr./Industrial Rd. When you hop in the cab, politely tell the driver “Please don't take the tunnel and freeway.” He may argue it'll be faster. Stand firm, especially if your hotel is on the Strip. If you suspect you're being long-hauled, inform the driver you're hip to the scam and will report him to the Nevada Taxicab Authority (phone 702-668-4000), which in an effort to combat the long-hauling epidemic sometimes operates a taxi checkpoint at the airport's south tunnel entrance.
Benny BinionAmerica's 21st century poker fascination owes a huge debt to Benny Binion, a Texas gambler and for more than 50 years a casino pioneer—when he wasn't behind bars. The demise of his family-run landmark Binion's Horseshoe slammed the door on another Western era, giving way to the big-business casino ownership model of modern Las Vegas. The legend goes something like this.
Born near Dallas, Binion learned gambling as a lad at the feet of horse traders like his father. Not all of them played by the rules, and the action Binion went on to provide was as illegal as his Prohibition bootlegging. The would-be cowboy routinely packed pistols. He was convicted of gunning down a competitor but got off easy because the corpse was nefarious. More deaths followed in Texas gambling circles. Binion never went to jail for any of them.
Diminishing tolerance for vice in Texas pushed Binion to Las Vegas, where he opened the gambling hall bearing his name in 1951. Benny had a knack for marketing gimmicks. He is credited for first putting carpet on a downtown casino floor—a quaint upgrade by today's mega-resort standards. He reputedly also started the system of picking up customers with airport limousines and providing free booze to gamblers.
More importantly, though, Binion raised the limits a gambler could bet to 10 times the craps wagers at other casinos. He continued such stunts and profitably packed the joint. Running Binion's was a family matter: Two sons had key management roles and his wife, Teddy Jane, kept the books. Binion finally went to jail for tax evasion, back in Texas. By 1970 he had recovered possession of the Horseshoe.
That same year the Horseshoe first hosted the World Series of Poker, which became an annual event. Poker was not regarded as a respectable game at the time, but Benny promoted it and devised rules that made it interesting for spectators. Television began to broadcast the event. There were fewer than 20 players at the early tournaments; today there are thousands.
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It was the beginning of the end for Binion's Horseshoe. Under her control, the casino lost money. Harrah's Entertainment purchased the property in March 2004 and promptly sold it to MTR Gaming Group, renaming it Binion's Gambling Hall & Hotel. But, in 2009, the hotel shut down. Today only the gritty old-school casino remains.
Despite Benny Binion's shady past, there's no denying the Texan who also helped bring the National Finals Rodeo to town was instrumental in shaping Vegas. Benny and his way of life are gone. But a bronze statue at Second Street and Ogden Avenue, of Binion on horseback, wearing his signature Stetson, attests to his legacy.
Travel TipsLas Vegas has four distinct seasons defined by the thermometer rather than by precipitation. Winter days are mild and usually sunny, and evenings are cool to chilly, with a fair number of nights below freezing. Summers are infamous for furnace-like heat, which can be punishing despite the very low humidity. Even on the hottest days (which can be 110 F and up), evenings are cooler in comparison—although don't be surprised if the overnight temp doesn't dip below 85. In summer your best bet is to head inside; Vegas interiors are universally air conditioned.
Spring and fall offer the most pleasant weather for outdoor activity—dry, warm and sunny. April, May and October are the nicest months. But whenever you visit, leave the umbrella at home; Las Vegas receives an average of just 4 inches of rain a year.
Most vacationers wear casual clothing around the clock, and the casinos do not enforce any sort of dress code. However, dressing up for a nice dinner, a nightclub or to take in a high-priced show is expected. A sweater or jacket will come in handy during the winter; sunglasses are a must regardless of the time of year.
CasinosARIA Resort & Casino
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GamblingThe rattle of the “bones,” then a sigh of disappointment or a cry of exultation—such are the sounds of Vegas, where gambling is by no means limited to the craps table. Slot machines, “21” or blackjack, keno, bingo, poker, baccarat, roulette and more all await the hopeful.
Gambling is easier than buying toothpaste, since casinos never close and most drugstores do. Rows of slots stand like sentries in most establishments—restaurants, gas station mini-marts, supermarkets, even Laundromats. From the airport baggage carousel area to your hotel lobby, the lure of potential fortune is omnipresent.
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In terms of betting and playing strategies, poker in all of its permutations is the most complex. Baccarat requires a high stake to be successful, though “mini-baccarat,” in which the dealer keeps the bank, provides cheaper play. The many ways of playing number combinations, the difficulty in understanding the payoffs and the speed at which it's played make craps the most challenging game of all. It also is difficult for dealers to learn. But while not for novice players, craps can be mesmerizing to watch as a spectator.
Almost every casino has a race and sports book. Here you can wager on practically any horse race, boxing or UFC match, or professional or collegiate event. Currently popular at the sports books is “In-Running” wagering, betting on sporting events already in progress. Among the sports books offering the service are those at The Cosmopolitan, Hard Rock Hotel, the Tropicana and The Venetian.
If you're a first-timer or haven't been to Vegas in ages, get your feet wet with slots or video poker machines. Though a few antiquated slots at a couple of the older downtown casinos still deal in coins, today's machines traffic in paper only. Instead of the sweet clang-clang-clang sound of your jackpot coins dropping into the metal tray, you'll feed bills into the machine's maw. When it's time to “cash out,” the machine will spit out a little paper ticket with your winnings (hopefully) printed on it. You can either take the bar-coded ticket to the cashier's window (“the cage”) or use one of the casino's ATM-style redemption kiosks.
Picking a potentially lucky poker machine can be tricky business. The most common machines are named “Game King” or something similar, and they let you choose from a variety of poker games (Jacks or Better, Double Bonus Poker, etc.), all with varying strategies. Before putting your money on the line, a video poker vet would advise taking a look at the machine's pay-out schedules, as some machines offer better returns than others. Complimentary cocktail in hand, we like Deuces Wild Poker. At a 25-cent machine, always bet the maximum per hand—$1.25—and always go for four or five of a kind or a royal flush. If the machine's not dealing a lot of deuces (wild), get up and walk away, fast.
Aware that some gamblers are shy and intimidated by surly dealers or fellow blackjack players behaving boorishly, the video gaming companies have rolled out machines that provide a virtual reality table game experience. Players sit around a big console similar to a regular 21 table, only the dealer is likely to be a buxom beauty projected on a video screen. Also gaining popularity are virtual craps tables, where you'll place bets on a personal touch screen and press a button to shoot jumbo-sized dice housed in a Plexiglass-domed hopper. The best part? You can typically bet as little as $1 per hand.
Production ShowsCasino venues are technically showrooms, but hardly anyone calls them that anymore; these days the emphasis is on state-of-the-art extravaganzas and extended residencies by show business superstars. Of course, every show eventually runs its course and gets replaced by what the casino is betting will be the next hot ticket.
For show tickets at discounts of up to half off, try Tix4Tonight, a ticket discounter with nine locations on the Strip (including the Fashion Show Mall and Bally's Grand Bazaar) and one booth downtown at the Four Queens. Production shows release unsold seats for that night's performances to Tix4Tonight, which then sells those tickets to customers on a first-come, first-serve basis. Discounts range from about 25 to 50 percent off. Tickets are typically released in mid- or late afternoon; on weekends lines begin forming as early as 9:30 a.m. Phone (877) 849-4868 for general inquiries. Information on specific ticket availability can be obtained only at the ticket booths.
Promotional tourist magazines—found in your hotel room and taxi backseat pockets—are another good source for show ticket discounts. Though you'll never see a half-off coupon for, say, Celine Dion, the mags are flush with admission deals for mid-tier shows (think Divas Las Vegas and Legends in Concert).
Following is a representative sampling of current production shows that are scheduled to run for the foreseeable future. For show times, ticket prices, reservations, venue policies and other information, contact the hotel box office.
“Absinthe” (Spiegeltent, Caesars Palace). Risque. Raunchy. Ribald. Like the show's opening acrobatic act featuring a tower of precariously balanced chairs, Absinthe teeters on the edge of seriously bad taste. And if you're easily offended, stop reading now and go see Donny and Marie instead. Since 2011, well over a million guests have been alternately shocked and amazed by this wonderfully demented Cirque du Soleil parody staged in an intimate European-style circus tent fronting Caesars. From tightrope walkers and strong men to burlesque dancers and an explicitly sensual trapeze act, the performers are introduced by a rude, tuxedoed MC named The Gazillionaire, who rattles off crude one-liners and often makes audience members the butt of his off-color jokes. Put simply, you'll either love this show or walk out early. Seating is in the round on cramped metal folding chairs; reserve a back-row table for leg room and a comfortable buffer zone between you and The Gazillionaire. You've been warned. Note: Due to strong adult language and partial nudity, ages 17 and under are not permitted. Phone (800) 745-3000.
“The Beatles LOVE” (The Mirage) combines the innovative performances of world-class Cirque du Soleil artists with the timeless songs of the Beatles. The band's lyrics are interpreted through a series of scenes involving aerial acts, extreme sports and urban dance. The production's original score was created by using the master tapes at Abbey Road Studios, creating some ingenious song mash-ups in the process (imagine a fusion of “What You're Doing” and “The Word” for starters). You'll experience the Fab Four in a whole new way in a custom-built theater that features in-the-round seating and high-definition video projections. Phone (702) 791-7416.
“Blue Man Group” (Luxor Hotel and Casino) is a wild and weird combination of performance art, highbrow humor and percussive music centered around three bald men in blue greasepaint. The trio silently creates a theater experience that is, despite the lack of dialogue, quite loud, thanks to their homemade instruments and a 16-piece band. Phone (702) 262-4400.
“Britney: Piece of Me” (The AXIS, Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino) finds teen pop princess Britney Spears reviving her career with a high-energy song and dance spectacle that packs some two-dozen Brit-Brit hits, a slew of special effects and at least six costume changes into 90 beat-pulsing minutes. Does Spears lip-synch her songs? You better believe it. Do her longtime Britney Army fans care? Not one bit. Spears will be a resident performer through 2017. Phone (855) 234-7469.
“Celine Dion” (The Colosseum, Caesars Palace) holds court at Caesars for a second extended residency. The five-time Grammy Award winner's current extravaganza features 31 musicians and includes her massive hit “My Heart Will Go On.” Celine worshipers will be in heaven. Phone (877) 423-5463. Note: At press time, shows were scheduled through January 2018. Check with the venue for further updates.
“Divas Las Vegas” (The LINQ Theater, LINQ Hotel & Casino) is a sequel of sorts to the female impersonator revue “An Evening at La Cage” that enjoyed a long run at the Riviera. Frank Marino enters as Joan Rivers, tells some very blue jokes and then introduces the performers. What you get are amazingly spot-on impersonations of divas old (Liza, Cher, Bette, Whitney) and new (Beyoncé, Britney, Lady Gaga). If you love drag, outrageously bawdy humor and slick entertainment Vegas style, this show delivers. Phone (702) 777-2782 or (855) 234-7469.
“Donny and Marie” (Donny & Marie Showroom, Flamingo Las Vegas) are a little bit country, a little bit rock 'n roll and a long way from their wholesome Utah upbringing, hit 1970s variety show and (in Marie's case especially) years spent on the front page of supermarket tabloids. Their high-energy show is packed with singing and dancing and spiced with a liberal helping of old-fashioned Vegas cheese, with grandfather Donny busting some serious dance moves. Note: The duo is under contract through late November 2017. Phone (855) 234-7469.
“Jabbawockeez” (MGM Grand Hotel & Casino) showcases the talents of an eight-man, hip-hop dance crew. Jabbawockeez won the first season of the MTV reality show “America's Best Dance Crew” and ever since have been busting their choreographed moves around the globe. Sporting their signature white masks and gloves, the Jabbas dance and pantomime to tunes by the likes of LMFAO, Chris Brown and Bruno Mars—all amid colorful lighting and special effects. Phone (702) 531-3826.
“Jennifer Lopez” (The Axis, Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino), fresh off the final season of “American Idol,” has hit the Vegas stage for a residency that was originally expected to run through at least mid-2016. Her high-energy song and dance spectacle will feature all the chart toppers, including “Waiting For Tonight” and “If You Had My Love,” and naturally lots of booty shaking. Phone (835) 234-7469. Note: Lopez has shows scheduled through early June 2018.
“KÀ” (KÀ Theatre, MGM Grand) is storytelling at its best. The show combines martial arts, acrobatics, puppetry, multimedia and pyrotechnics to chronicle the adventurous but perilous journey of separated twins—a boy and a girl—to fulfill their destinies. Ages 5-16 must be with an adult; under 5 are not permitted. Phone (702) 531-3826.
“Legends in Concert” (Donny & Marie Showroom, Flamingo Las Vegas) has been wowing Vegas audiences since 1983, first at the Imperial Palace (now LINQ Hotel & Casino), then at Harrah's and now at the Flamingo. Celebrity impersonators offer remarkable imitations (singing, not lip-syncing) of Lady Gaga, Rod Stewart, Michael Jackson and a host of others, backed by a live band in a full-stage production. The lineup changes every few months, although you can count on Elvis making an appearance. Phone (702) 777-7776 or (855) 234-7469.
“Le Rêve” (Wynn Theater, Wynn Las Vegas) features aerialists, gymnasts and synchronized swimmers in a breathtaking show with bold music, lighting and water effects. A circular theater around a pool gives guests a great view no matter where they're seated. Le Rêve, which means “the dream,” maintains an otherworldly quality. Phone (702) 770-9966 or (888) 320-7110.
“Michael Jackson ONE” (Michael Jackson Theatre, Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino) is Cirque du Soleil's tribute to the King of Pop. Packed with music, dance, pyrotechnics and acrobatics galore, the 90-minute, state-of-the-art extravaganza spotlights MJ's biggest '80s and '90s hits (“Billie Jean,” “Bad,” “I Just Can't Stop Loving You,” etc.), and interprets them for a 21st-century audience. During the “Thriller” number, zombies run amok through the audience. And for “Man In The Mirror” there's even a hologram of a dancing/singing Jackson performing with the Cirque troupe. Since the moonwalk made its Vegas debut in July 2013, the show has become one of the hottest Cirque tickets on the Strip. Beat it to the box office as soon as you get to town. Phone (877) 632-7400 or (800) 745-3000.
“Mystère” (Mystère Theatre, Treasure Island) is still one of the most distinctive shows in town. Although it takes place within a single ring, “Mystère” in no way resembles a traditional three-ring circus. For one thing, the audience becomes intimately involved with this show. The music and lighting effects are ethereally beautiful, and the international cast of acrobats, clowns, jugglers, trapeze artists, dancers and musicians are uniformly superb. Suitable for all ages, this is a must-see. Phone (702) 894-7722 or (800) 392-1999.
“O” (“O” Theatre, Bellagio) is Cirque du Soleil's venture into aquatic theater. An international cast of 81 performs in, on and above a 1.5-million-gallon tank of water. By combining circus art, drama, choreography, aerial acrobatics and synchronized swimming, this innovative show pays tribute to the age-old magic of theater. International music performed by a 10-piece orchestra accompanies the 90-minute show. Phone (702) 693-8866 or (888) 488-7111.
“Penn & Teller” (Penn & Teller Theater, Rio Hotel) have been staging their bad-boys-of-magic act at the Rio since the early years of this century and show no sign of letting up anytime soon. If you enjoy optical illusions with a generous side of acerbic wit and biting social commentary, this is the show for you; the easily offended should stay away. Phone (855) 234-7469.
“V—The Ultimate Variety Show” (V Theater, Planet Hollywood) incorporates a broad range of entertaining talents, ranging from aerialists, acrobats and gymnasts who do amazing thing with their bodies to magicians who do amazing things with their minds (and some sleight of hand). Also entertaining are masters of percussion, comedians, and a fun and fascinating juggler who slings one-liners almost as quickly as juggling pins. Phone (702) 260-7200 or (866) 932-1818.
“Zumanity” (Zumanity Theatre, New York-New York ), known as “The Human Zoo,” is Cirque's creative approach to desire, love, passion and a celebration of the human body. Eclectic performers from around the world wrap delight, excitement and surprise into 90 minutes of acrobatics, dance and uninhibited costumes. Due to the mature nature of the show, those under 18 are not permitted. Phone (866) 606-7111.
Other Shows: The hotel showrooms that don't feature ongoing productions continue the Vegas tradition of presenting celebrity headliners, along with rock concerts and occasional sporting events. The David Copperfield Theater at the MGM Grand regularly presents its namesake illusionist and rounds out its events calendar with musical acts. The Planet Hollywood Showroom at Planet Hollywood primarily books comedians and magicians. At the Tropicana, the Laugh Factory is an intimate spot to catch stand-up comics nightly.
Lighting up downtown's Fremont Street—in addition to the gaudy neon displays of the casinos—are classic signs from the 1940s, '50s and '60s that have been restored and installed at various locations through the efforts of the Neon Museum, which is dedicated to preserving Las Vegas' high-wattage history. Placards provide a brief description of each sign.
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