Frommer's EasyGuide to Las Vegas 2017 (Easy Guides) (2016)
THE BEST OF LAS VEGAS
The flamboyant showman Liberace once said, “Too much of a good thing is wonderful!” He may very well have been talking about Las Vegas, a city in which he was a frequent headliner and one that has built its reputation on the concept of excess.
There’s too much to look at, too much to do, too much to eat, too much to drink, and certainly too many ways to lose your money. Indulgence is the level at which most people start their visit, and why not? You can run out of room on your memory card trying to snap pictures of all the postcard-worthy sights, from dancing fountains to blasting volcanoes; the hotels are so big that getting from your room to the front door requires rest periods; the dining scene has turned this town into a culinary destination; and the nightclubs have elevated Sin City to the biggest, most successful party spot in the world. And all of that is before you get to the shows, the shopping, and the sheer madness of glittering casinos. Look at the faces of those waiting for their flights out of town: tired, maybe a little hung over still, but then there’s that little smile when they think about one of those “what happens in Vegas …” moments they just had. When it comes to Las Vegas, Liberace may have had a point.
THE BEST AUTHENTIC LAS VEGAS EXPERIENCES
Strolling on the Strip After Dark: You haven’t really seen Las Vegas until you’ve seen it at night. This neon wonderland is the world’s greatest sound-and-light show. Begin at Luxor and work your way past the incredible hotels and their attractions. You’ll probably be exhausted both physically and mentally by the time you get to the halfway mark around Caesars Palace, but forge ahead and you could go all the way to the Stratosphere Tower for a bird’s-eye view of the city from more than 1,000 feet up. Make plenty of stops en route to see the Mirage Volcano erupt, take a photo of the full moon over the Eiffel Tower, and marvel at the choreographed water-fountain ballet at Bellagio.
Las Vegas & Environs
Casino-Hopping on the Strip: The interior of each lavish hotel-casino is more outrageous and giggle-inducing than the last. Just when you think they can’t possibly top themselves, they do. From Venice to Paris, from New York City to the Manhattan-style chic of CityCenter, it is all, completely and uniquely, Las Vegas. See “The Best Las Vegas Casinos” later in this chapter.
Sleeping In: Come on! You’re on vacation! Yes, there are lots of things to see and do in Las Vegas, but with tens of thousands of the most luxurious hotel rooms in the world, don’t you just want to stay in one of those big fluffy beds and maybe order room service? We know we do. See “The Best Las Vegas Hotels” below.
Visiting an Only-in-Vegas Museum: Take a breather from the casino floor and learn something new about Sin City: Go nuclear at the National Atomic Testing Museum (p. 164), get “made” at The Mob Museum (p. 161), or get lit up at The Neon Museum (p. 161).
Spending a Day (and Night) in Downtown: Glitter Gulch is undergoing a renaissance with fun, modern hotels and casinos like The Downtown Grand (p. 73); terrific new and affordable dining options such as Eat (p. 131) and La Comida (p. 128); fun and funky bars like The Commonwealth (p. 222) and Atomic Liquors (p. 219); and must-see attractions like the Fremont Street Experience (p. 160). Oh, and there’s a giant, fire-breathing praying mantis at the Downtown Container Park (p. 198). If that doesn’t make you want to go, nothing will!
Shopping Until You’re Dropping: Take what Napoleon called “the greatest drawing room in Europe,” replicate it, add shops, and you’ve got The Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian (p. 196)—it’s St. Mark’s Square, complete with canals and working gondolas. See chapter 7 for the low-down on the shopping scene.
Dressing Up for a Show: Despite the fact that you’ll see plenty of cats in Bermuda shorts, hoodies, and Hawaiian shirts, there’s something about putting on your best suit or fanciest dress for an evening at the “thea-tuh” that can’t be beat. See chapter 8 for reviews of the major shows and check out “The Best Las Vegas Shows” later in this chapter.
Breaking Some Records: You can find thrills in many parts of the United States, but a few of the adrenaline-pumping attractions here are worthy of spots in The Guinness Book of World Records. High Roller (p. 155) is the world’s tallest observation wheel; the Stratosphere Tower & Thrill Rides (p. 157) are the highest in the United States; and SlotZilla (p. 162) is the world’s tallest “slot machine,” which is the launching platform for zip lines down Fremont Street.
Getting Away from It All: Las Vegas can be overwhelming, so be sure to create some time in your itinerary to find your Zen at such scenic spots as the Valley of Fire State Park or Red Rock Canyon. See chapter 9 for more ideas for day trips from Vegas.
THE BEST LAS VEGAS RESTAURANTS
Best Strip Restaurants: Restaurant Guy Savoy (p. 111) is a legend in Paris and this offshoot is just as stellar. A second choice? Estiatorio Milos (p. 110) which serves impossibly fresh Mediterranean seafood.
Best Downtown Restaurants: The gourmet-yet-cool specialties at Carson Kitchen (p. 130) and the authentic, homemade-style Thai dishes at Le Thai prove that the dining scene in Downtown has arrived.
Best Off-Strip Restaurant: Raku Grill (p. 142) is a 10- to 20-minute drive from the Strip, but the flavorful Japanese grill specialties here make it totally worth the trip.
Best Comfort Food: The heaping portions of classic American comfort food at Tom’s Urban (In New York-New York; p. 54) will satisfy even the most ravenous of eaters, while the funky twists on the genre served at Culinary Dropout (p. 135) will charm the most jaded.
Best Theme Restaurant: Generally speaking, we think theme restaurants are overpriced tourist traps, but Gilley’s (p. 116) has such great down-home cooking that we’re willing to overlook the mechanical bull.
Best Steakhouse: The Vegas staple restaurant is alive and well in the hands of modern chefs like Gordon Ramsay, whose Gordon Ramsay Steak (p. 110) celebrates the one thing that matters in a steakhouse: the meat. One of the stars of the show (in addition to Ramsay, when he’s in the open kitchen) is the multi-tiered, mirrored steak cart that lets you check out all the luscious prime cuts from every angle. The only better look you’d get of that beef is if you were face to face with the cow itself.
Best Cheap Eats: Fat Choy in the Eureka Casino, 595 E. Sahara Ave. (www.fatchoylv.com; 702/794-0829) serves both Asian and American comfort foods—think pork belly bao and short rib grilled cheese sandwiches—at a slots-only locals’ casino just off the Strip.
Best Splurge: Food should not cost as much as it does at Joël Robuchon at the Mansion (p. 97) and its slightly less expensive sibling L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon (p. 98), but a few bites of the exquisite cuisine will make you understand why it does.
Best Buffets: It’s expensive, but the Bacchanal Buffet (p. 145) serves high-quality food worthy of tablecloths and candlelight. Bargain hunters, however, won’t need to sacrifice quality at the Main Street Garden Court Buffet (p. 147).
Best Hamburgers: Holstein’s (p. 117) grinds it out at the Cosmopolitan, putting out really inventive burgers such as the Gold Standard, topped with bacon, goat cheddar cheese and tomato confit. Not into beef? Not to worry, they’ve got pork, turkey, and veggie burgers to suit everyone. Plus some killer milkshakes.
Best Desserts: An off-shoot of the NYC original, Serendipity 3 (p. 119) is known for enormous plates of food, but we think the Frrrozen Hot Chocolate is the best treat on a hot Vegas day.
Best Views: You can see the entire city and big chunks of southern Nevada from the revolving Top of the World (p. 125), situated more than 800 feet up the Stratosphere Tower, while at Alizé (p. 132), at the top of the Palms, you get a virtually unobstructed view of the Strip and delightfully crafted French cuisine that may make you forget the vista entirely.
Best Breakfasts: The home-style fare at The Pantry (In The Mirage; p. 63) features daily pancake specials adorned with expensive chocolate (and sometimes gold leaf, depending on the season), while Eat (p. 131) offers dizzyingly fresh and flavorful choices that have won legions of fans.
THE BEST LAS VEGAS HOTELS
Best Classic Vegas Hotel: Most of historic Las Vegas has been imploded (often spectacularly), but at Caesars Palace (p. 57) you can still get a taste of it as themed Roman decadence meets classic Sin City opulence.
Best Modern Vegas Hotel: The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas (p. 58) offers a blueprint for what the next generation of Las Vegas hotels will be like: as over-the-top visually as any theme hotel, but with a sexy, contemporary edge.
Best for a Romantic Getaway: No, it’s not the real Eiffel Tower, but the one at Paris Las Vegas (p. 65) is almost as charming as the rest of this ooo-la-la themed resort, providing you ample opportunity to re-create a romantic French retreat.
Best for Families: Las Vegas is not a family destination, but if you can’t leave the little ones with Grandma, your choice for a major Vegas hotel is Circus Circus (p. 71), where there are almost as many things for the wee ones to do as there are for adults.
Best for Business Travelers: Westgate Las Vegas’ (p. 82) location next to the Convention Center makes this a no-brainer from a geographical perspective, but the large rooms, classic casino, and raft of restaurants give it a decidedly Vegas spin.
Best Rooms on the Strip: There are less than 200 rooms at The Cromwell (p. 60), and compared to more modern hotels, they can run on the smaller side. But cool design touches (art! real books!) and a prime location center Strip make up what you lack in space.
Best Rooms Downtown: The Downtown Grand (p. 73) took the bones of the old Lady Luck hotel and turned it into a modern yet comfortable resort that ups the ante considerably for this neighborhood.
Best Rooms Off the Strip: Red Rock Resort (p. 90) lives up to the resort part of its name as a true desert retreat, complete with gorgeous, modern rooms that you’ll never want to leave.
Best Bathrooms: This one is a toss-up for us, with the bigger-than-many-apartments-size retreats at The Venetian (p. 60) and the sumptuous luxury fixtures at Wynn Las Vegas (p. 68) both winning our, er, hearts.
Best Bang for Your Buck: Almost everything you can find at a Strip hotel (nice rooms, full casino, multiple restaurants, former Las Vegas mayor/martini aficionado Oscar Goodman!) can be gotten at the Plaza (p. 78) in Downtown Las Vegas for a fraction of the cost.
Best Non-Casino Hotel: They can’t get your money gambling, so they get it through high room rates, but to stay at the Mandarin Oriental (p. 49) is to immerse yourself in luxury.
Best Splurge: Rooms at Wynn/Encore Las Vegas (p. 68) will almost always be among the most expensive in town, but you’ll totally feel like you are getting your money’s worth, especially with the gorgeous spas, pools, casinos, and other amenities at your disposal.
Best Hotels for Spas: The Spa at Encore (p. 191) is a 70,000-square-foot oasis for the mind, body, and spirit, with gorgeous Moroccan-infused design and a full menu of pampering delights. Meanwhile, we only wish our own gym were as handsomely equipped as the one at the Canyon Ranch SpaClub (p. 189) in the Venetian, which also has a number of other high-priced treatments on which you can blow your blackjack winnings. For more great spa options, see p. 189.
THE BEST FREE THINGS TO DO IN LAS VEGAS
Watching the Waters Dance: The intricately choreographed water ballet that is the Fountains at Bellagio (p. 158) would be worth repeated viewings even if they charged to see it. The fact that they don’t makes it an almost perfect Vegas experience.
Enjoying the Changing of the Seasons: There are five seasons in the elaborately designed botanical gardens of the Bellagio Conservatory (p. 158): Winter (holiday), Chinese New Year, Spring, Summer, and Fall. No matter which is on display during your visit, make sure your digital camera has a full battery charge. You’ll want lots of pictures.
Seeing a Volcano Erupt: When the free Mirage Volcano (p. 158) first “erupted” in 1989, shooting flames and faux lava into the sky, it literally stopped traffic on the Strip. That it doesn’t today only means that it has more competition for your attention, not that it is any less fun.
Watching the Sky Light Up: Many people considered it almost sacrilegious to convert the famed Glitter Gulch in Downtown Vegas into a pedestrian mall with a free light-and-sound show broadcast on a massive LED canopy overhead. Now the Fremont Street Experience (p. 160) is considered a must-visit.
Playing a Penny Slot: Yes, in order to win the big bucks—sometimes millions of them—on a modern penny slot you have to bet much more than just one penny. But if you’re okay with smaller rewards and losses, you could stretch a dollar into 100 spins.
Beating the High Score: It’s free to just look at the restored classic machines at the Pinball Hall of Fame (p. 167), and if you want to do more than just look, it’ll only cost you a couple of quarters. What other museum lets you play with its works of art?
Making Your Own Postcard: Just down the road from the southern-most edge of the Strip is one of the most photographed and imitated signs in the world. Get a picture of you at the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas Sign (p. 158), and you’ll have a postcard-worthy souvenir.
THE BEST WAYS TO SEE LAS VEGAS LIKE A LOCAL
Gambling on a Budget: Finding a local at a Strip casino is rare. Why? Because Vegas residents know the limits are lower and the payback is often higher at neighborhood casinos like Red Rock Resort (p. 90) and Green Valley Ranch Resort (p. 86).
Eating off the Strip: Those same locals who don’t gamble on the Strip usually don’t eat on the Strip either, unless they are trying to impress visitors. Instead they dine at the less expensive but still fantastic local eateries such as Carson Kitchen (p. 130) or Made L.V.
Becoming an Arts Lover: Leave the tacky Las Vegas snow globes for the souvenir-hunting tourists and get yourself some unique Vegas keepsakes at one of the arts collectives instead. Emergency Arts (p. 160) and The Arts Factory (p. 159) are leading the charge for the burgeoning arts scene in the city.
Hunting for Treasure: It may be surprising to find out that in a city like Las Vegas, where history is often disposed of with carefully timed implosions, antique shopping is a favored pastime of locals and visitors alike. Check out the fun finds at Retro Vegas (p. 199).
Catching a Broadway Show: The 2012 opening of the stunning (both visually and aurally) Smith Center for the Performing Arts (p. 162) has been a boon to the cultural life of Las Vegas, giving a proper home to everything from the philharmonic and dance troupes to their popular Broadway Series featuring titles like Book of Mormon and Hamilton.
Walking the Streets: No, not that way. Instead, check out the fun First Friday Las Vegas street fair (p. 164), which brings the local (and tourist) community together with live entertainment, art vendors, and lots of state fair-type food. Did we mention deep-fried cookie dough? We thought that would get your attention.
THE BEST LAS VEGAS CASINOS
Best Classic Casinos: On the Strip there is no place that honors its history quite like Caesars Palace (p. 57), where you can still enjoy the classic Roman splendor that has been wowing gamblers since 1966. And though they no longer have the World Series of Poker, serious players still head directly to Binion’s for its swingers vibe and lively table game action.
Best Modern Casinos: When we first saw the contemporary, cutting-edge decor at Aria Las Vegas (p. 45), we thought that nothing could top it in terms of modern casino luxury. But then along came the bold, artistic statement of The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas (p. 58), and we realized we just might have a competition on our hands.
Best Glitter Gulch Casinos: Downtown Las Vegas casinos often have lower limits and friendlier dealers, two things that can make losing money less painful. The best of the breed in the area are the Golden Nugget (p. 73), all warm hues and laid-back fun, and The Downtown Grand (p. 73), which manages to be both modern and charmingly retro at the same time.
Best Local Casinos: Most neighborhood casinos are low-limit, no-frills joints, but the casinos at Red Rock Resort (p. 90), Green Valley Ranch (p. 86), and M Resort (p. 88) are as stylish as many on the Strip. That they can be that visually appealing, and still maintain most of the thrifty attitude that the locals’ casinos are known for, is almost a miracle.
Best Budget Casinos: You won’t find any ostentatious opulence at The Orleans (p. 83), but you will find thousands of low-limit slot and video poker machines and dozens of gaming tables that won’t cost you an arm and a leg to join. Meanwhile the Four Queens (p. 75) in Downtown Las Vegas offers similarly low-priced gambling options in comfortable and friendly surroundings.
Best Splurge Casino: Yes, you can find high-limit slots and table games pretty much anywhere, but why not surround yourself with the opulent decor and high-class furnishings of Wynn/Encore (p. 68)?
Best Blast from the Past Casinos: Both the D Las Vegas (p. 72) and the Eastside Cannery (p. 86) have a selection of “classic” machines that still take and dispense actual coins!
THE BEST LAS VEGAS SHOWS
Best Overall Show: A perfect intersection of music and artistry can be found at Michael Jackson ONE (p. 206), featuring the music and choreography of the King of Pop and the stunning visual theater of Cirque du Soleil.
Best Big Shows: The wow-factor winner is a toss-up between Cirque du Soleil’s KÀ (p. 206) and Mystère (p. 208). The latter is more traditional—if you can call a human circus that mixes dazzling acrobatics with dramatic visuals “traditional”—in that it has only a loose semblance of narrative, whereas KÀ actually has a plot. Both are dazzling and, given the extremely high production values, seem worth the extremely high ticket prices.
Best Small Show: Only the space in which Absinthe (p. 205) is performed can be called small; the over-the-top acrobatics, stunts, dance, comedy, and mind-blowing originality of each certainly can’t be.
Best Classic Show: Fare thee well, big, huge stage sets; pointless production numbers; showgirls; nipples on parade; and Bob Mackie headdresses. If you want more than just a musty blast from the past, check out Vegas! The Show(p. 219), which celebrates multiple eras of classic Sin City entertainment in one spectacular package.
Best Magic Shows: This town isn’t good enough for Penn & Teller (p. 215) and their master class in the art and artifice of illusion taught by guys who will both amuse and amaze. Meanwhile, mixing traditional illusions (big sets and big shocks) with a rock-’n’-roll aesthetic, Criss Angel’s Mindfreak Live! (p. 209) will make you rethink everything you thought about magic shows.
Best Music Shows: Fans of ’80s metal, big hair and all the fun that came with it flock to Rock of Ages (p. 217) for a night of head-banging, hilarious nostalgia, while Human Nature’s Jukebox (p. 212) will shock you with how well four white Australian dudes can sing classic Motown songs, boy-band hits, and pop classics.
Best Daytime Shows: It’s almost as much of a comedy show as it is a magic show, but the set done by Mac King (p. 214) will leave you astounded with some great close-up tricks while laughing your head off at the same time. A similar mix of laughs and gasps can be found at the comedy juggling show done by Jeff Civillico (p. 212).
THE BEST OUTDOOR EXPERIENCES IN LAS VEGAS
Best Pools: There are acres of water park fun at Mandalay Bay (p. 48), including a wave pool, lazy river, beach, regular swimming pools, and even its own open-air casino. Meanwhile, the lush landscaping, fountains, and water slides at The Mirage (p. 63) will make you feel like you’re in a tropical paradise. For more picks for our favorite pools, see p. 64.
Best Golf: The greens fees are outrageously high, but the course at Wynn Las Vegas (p. 189) is one of the most lush in town. “Real” golfers head to TPC Las Vegas (p. 188) for its challenging holes, eye-candy scenery, and occasional Justin Timberlake sightings.
Best Drives: The 13-mile Red Rock Scenic Drive (p. 250) provides a way to enjoy the colorful rocks and canyons without leaving the air-conditioned comfort of your car. On the other hand, you could get a good breeze going at about 140 mph in one of the race or exotic cars you can drive yourself at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway (p. 169).
Best Retreat: If you need a respite from the hustle and bustle of Las Vegas, head north to Mount Charleston (p. 252) for a relaxed mountain retreat, or to work up a sweat while hiking or snowboarding.
Best Man-Made Wonder: One of the greatest engineering feats in history is the 726-foot-tall Hoover Dam (p. 243). You can take tours of the mighty facility and learn how it made Las Vegas (and much of the American Southwest) possible.