Frommer's EasyGuide to Las Vegas 2017 (Easy Guides) (2016)
SUGGESTED LAS VEGAS ITINERARIES
The Strip alone has hundreds of restaurants, dozens of shows, and more attractions, sights, and sounds than can easily be catalogued, much less visited. So yes, when you come to Las Vegas, you certainly won’t be lacking in things to do. But the sheer enormity of the city and its laundry list of items to add to your daily to-do list could leave even the most intrepid traveler feeling a little overwhelmed.
The itineraries in this chapter are designed to help narrow down the big list a little while maximizing your time. This way you can spend less energy planning and more having fun. Each itinerary has a theme, but you can always mix and match to create your perfect Las Vegas getaway.
Instead of a step-by-step tour, the itineraries are broken down by morning, afternoon, and nighttime activities with multiple suggestions for each, again allowing you to customize your vacation in a way that makes sense for you.
ICONIC LAS VEGAS
There are many things with which Las Vegas has become synonymous: gambling and all things excess are probably at the top of the list, but there’s also the dancing waters, the dolphins, the buffets, the Cirque du Soleil shows, the steakhouses, the offbeat museums, the wild nightlife, and much more. This itinerary will guide you to the must-see and must-do, all of which are fun for first-timers or repeat offenders. Have your cameras ready!
Start your day with a photo opportunity at the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas Sign, perhaps the city’s most iconic symbol. Then keep your “say cheese” smile in place as you take a driving tour past the only-in-Vegas, postcard-worthy exteriors of hotels like the pyramid-shaped Luxor, the castle-themed Excalibur, the Gotham re-creation of New York-New York, the modern wonder of CityCenter, the Italian villa charm of Bellagio, the Gallic splendor of Paris Las Vegas, and the Roman decadence of Caesars Palace.
If you started early enough and still have time before lunch, check out one (or preferably both) of the city’s more colorful attractions with the glorious botanical gardens at the Bellagio Conservatory or the majestic animals at the Mirage Secret Garden & Dolphin Habitat. Both are fun to look at, but more importantly, offer a bit of a peaceful respite from the madness that is Las Vegas. Trust us, you’ll need a break every now and then!
You can go one of two ways for lunch, either with a classic Vegas buffet or a view of the throngs of humanity that crowd the Strip. For the former, check out the Spice Market Buffet at Planet Hollywood or Bellagio Buffet. Both offer a seemingly endless array of well-prepared food; while they may not be the cheapest buffets in town, neither are they the most expensive, so you can have your proverbial—or literal—cake and eat it, too.
The other way to go would be to have a nosh at a Strip-side cafe so you can do some people-watching. The best of the bunch are Mon Ami Gabi for Americanized twists on classic French bistro cuisine at Paris Las Vegas, and Tom’s Urban at New York-New York, which serves up a diverse menu from burgers to steaks with eclectic salads and one giant eggroll.
After you have refueled, head to one of the city’s offbeat, unique museums. Tops on our list are the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement, aka the Mob Museum, which takes a look at the Mafia and its influence on the country and Vegas in particular; or the National Atomic Testing Museum, which explores the history of the nuclear age with a special focus on the nearby Nevada Testing Site.
Close out your afternoon with some shopping, window or otherwise. Even if you can’t afford to buy, a stroll through the highly themed malls like The Forum Shops (ancient Rome) or Grand Canal Shoppes (Venice canals complete with gondoliers) is a hoot.
If you didn’t eat the buffet at lunch you may want to consider one for dinner, but our preference would be to send you to a steakhouse. The best of the bunch are StripSteak at Mandalay Bay, Michael Mina’s version of a modern steakhouse, which not only serves some of the best Japanese beef on the Strip but also has a really exciting non-steak menu; don’t confuse this with Strip House at Planet Hollywood, which has fantastically flavorful cuts of meat and a peek-a-boo bordello theme; and the simply named The Steakhouse at Circus Circus, which has an old-school charm, terrific food, and affordable prices.
Suggested Las Vegas Itineraries
We hope you didn’t eat too much, because your night is just getting started. Next, it’s on to one of the shows by Cirque du Soleil, the French-Canadian circus troupe that reinvented and now rules the Las Vegas entertainment scene. There are many to choose from, but our favorites include the dreamy wonder of Mystère at Treasure Island, the martial arts spectacle of KÀ at MGM Grand, the water ballet of O at Bellagio, or the King of Pop spectacle that is Michael Jackson ONE at Mandalay Bay.
From there it’s on to the truly iconic Las Vegas experiences, which are all best viewed at night. The dancing waters of the Fountains of Bellagio are worth visiting no matter how many times you have seen them; the Mirage Volcano is still a lava-spewing delight; and the Fremont Street Experience in Downtown Las Vegas will immerse you in the neon-lit glory that is Glitter Gulch.
End your day dancing the night away at one of the city’s hot nightclubs like the technologically innovative, LED-laden Light at Mandalay Bay or the world’s largest nightclub Hakkasan at MGM Grand. Or put some money down in the casino. It certainly doesn’t get more iconic Vegas than that.
OVER-THE-TOP LAS VEGAS
Las Vegas was built on the idea that “average” and “normal” were adjectives that should never be used to describe the city. They don’t just build hotels here; they build the biggest hotels in the world. And then they throw a roller coaster, a volcano, a $500-per-person golf course, or a $400-per-meal restaurant into the mix. Vegas is all about extravagance, so this itinerary will help you find the biggest of the big, the wildest of the wild, and the most outrageous, over-the-top experiences the city has to offer.
You’re going to have a busy day of excess, so it’s important to start out with an ample breakfast to keep your energy level high. Room service is always an option—there’s nothing quite as extravagant as having servers bring you food without ever getting out of bed—but if you feel like getting out and about, try the sumptuous brunch buffets at Wynn Las Vegas or Caesars Palace. Both offer a mind-boggling number of food choices (Caesars Bacchanal Buffet claims over 500 individual dishes at any time), all of which are a cut above your standard buffet. Handmade omelets and crepes, freshly baked breads, and heaping mounds of bacon, sausage, and even steak will go well with your unlimited mimosas. At more than $45 per person (for the weekend champagne brunch), the price will remind you that this is no pedestrian all-you-can-eat experience. The Sterling Brunch at BLT at Bally’s will set you back nearly $100 for the weekend meal, but with all-you-can-eat caviar, lobster tails, and free-flowing Perrier-Jouet champagne, it’s worth every penny.
The morning hours are the best time to schedule your outdoor activities. Not only are crowds often lighter, as a lot of people sleep in (it is a vacation, after all), but temperatures are also more moderate. This is especially true in the summer, when an afternoon stroll down the Strip can emulate a trek across the desert. So use this time to catch some rays poolside or, if you are recreationally minded, work up a moderate sweat with a round of golf. If you are a guest of Wynn Las Vegas or Encore, you can play the links at the Wynn Las Vegas Golf Club for a princely sum of $300 per person.
End your morning with a visit to a spa for some pampering and luxuriating. The Qua Baths & Spa at Caesars Palace offers virtually every massage, aromatherapy, skin-care treatment, and relaxation technique known to man—some of which will cost you more per 30-minute session than your hotel room. Soak in the jacuzzi or sit in the unique ice room before heading out for the rest of the day.
You may still be full from breakfast, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a little dessert to tide you over. Stop by Serendipity 3 at Caesars Palace and order the Golden Opulence Sundae, made with rare ice cream and chocolate that’s topped with edible 23-carat gold leaf. It’s only $1,000—so get two!
Then it’s off to the shopping malls, where the true excess can really begin. The Forum Shops at Caesars Palace, the Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian, The LINQ, Grand Bazaar Shops, Crystals at CityCenter, Fashion Show, and the Miracle Mile at Planet Hollywood are all filled with high-end retailers designed to drain your checking account and max out your credit cards. If those are a little out of your price range, consider going the completely opposite direction at the Bonanza Gift and Souvenir Shop. Billed as the largest souvenir shop in the world, this is the place where you can find pretty much anything—from tacky to, well, more tacky—emblazoned with the words “Las Vegas” on it. The kitsch factor here is off the charts.
Finally, experience some of the quintessential, only-in-Vegas attractions, such as riding a gondola through a shopping mall at The Venetian, or watching the water ballet at the Fountains of Bellagio.
Start your evening with a meal at Joël Robuchon, the multi-Michelin-star-winning darling of the foodie world—and with good reason. The degustation menu will only cost you a mere $445 a person (and that’s before wine) to find out why. Or if your extravagance knows no bounds, try the FleurBurger at Fleur by Hubert Keller. Made from Wagyu beef, topped with foie gras truffle and accompanied by a bottle of 1996 Chateau Petrus, it costs a measly $5,000.
Next, you’ll want to see a show, and you should focus on those that can only be seen here. If Mariah Carey or Jerry Seinfeld is in town, you should seize the opportunity to catch one of their performances at Caesars Palace, because these shows are exclusive to Vegas. Or check out any of Cirque du Soleil’s Vegas-only productions, the best of which are O at Bellagio and KÀ at MGM Grand. Each is set in its own multimillion-dollar theater, with stage sets—a giant pool and an enormous revolving platform, respectively—unlike anything you’ve seen before.
Nighttime is the best time for getting the true Strip experience, so how about renting a limousine (maybe one of those superstretch Hummers, if you are feeling really crazy) and instructing the driver to just cruise Las Vegas Boulevard? Hanging out of the sunroof with a cocktail in your hand is discouraged, but people do it anyway.
VEGAS BY AIR
Most people are satisfied with the views of Las Vegas from terra firma. Walking or driving up the Strip, especially at night, is a requirement for the first-time Vegas visitor. But, for some, there is no better way to see Sin City in all its neon glamour than from the air. If you are one of these intrepid souls, then look for a helicopter tour of Las Vegas.
There are more than a dozen competing companies offering tours of the city and surrounding areas, and most offer the same type of services at very similar prices. We’re including a few of the more well-known companies below, but comparison shopping is highly encouraged.
Maverick Helicopters (www.maverickhelicopter.com; 888/261-4414) is one of the most well-known tour operators in Las Vegas. Its large fleet of ECO-Star helicopters has one of the best safety records in the business, and a variety of packages are available, including twilight and night flights over the Strip. If you want to venture farther, Hoover Dam and Grand Canyon packages are available. Rates start at around $119 per person and go up from there, depending on the length and distance of the tour you choose. Most include transportation to and from your hotel.
VegasTours.com (www.vegastours.com; 866/218-6877) features a similar list of air adventures, including a nighttime flight over Vegas and several to the Grand Canyon, while Papillon Tours (www.papillon.com; 888/635-7272) not only offers helicopter tours, but airplane and ground excursions as well.
An after-dark stop at the High Roller is in order to give you a bird’s-eye view of Las Vegas from the top of the world’s tallest observation wheel, and then it’s off to the party spots.
Most of the Vegas club scene starts late (11pm or midnight), so have your driver take you to one of the hip hot spots, such as XS at Encore, Light at Mandalay Bay, or Marquee at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. These are see-and-be-seen places, so dress to impress and be on the lookout for a celebrity or three hanging out in the VIP areas. You can easily drop a grand if you want to sit at a table with bottle service.
If it’s more of the classic Las Vegas vibe you’re looking for, try Peppermill’s, with its retro-’70s/’80s interior. So cheesy—it’s hip again.
Your final destination should be in the spot that makes Vegas tick, the casino. Yes, there are casinos all over the country now, but there’s nothing quite like tossing the dice at a craps table at Caesars Palace or spinning the reels in the high-limit lounge at Wynn Las Vegas.
Not every trip to Vegas with the guys needs to get as crazy as the movie The Hangover, but if you’re looking for a real man’s-man experience, no other city does it quite like this one. Whether it’s a bachelor blowout weekend or just an excuse to blow off steam without your significant other’s disapproving glances, this itinerary is designed to explain why they call this place “Sin City.”
You were probably out late the night before and there may have been alcohol involved, so start your morning with a hearty guy’s breakfast at Hash House a Go Go. Its huge portions of reimagined farm food are chest-poundingly substantial, and there is even a specialty called O’Hare of the Dog—a Budweiser served in a paper bag with a side of bacon.
To get your body in shape for the day ahead, spend the morning taking advantage of the various sports and recreation options available around town. Nearly every hotel has a fitness center, and some, such as Bally’s, offer full tennis courts. If you’re a fan of the fairway, head over to Bali Hai golf course, located conveniently on the Strip, for 18 holes and some wheeling around in their GPS-enabled golf carts. Or, if you need something more extreme, a visit to Red Rock Adventures at Red Rock Resort, where you can arrange everything from rock climbing to horseback riding to river rafting. Need something even more extreme? Take a few laps around the track with the Richard Petty Driving Experience at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, an interactive attraction that puts you behind the wheel of 600 horsepower NASCAR car at speeds of 155 mph.
Continue your guys-gone-wild day with a stop at Gilley’s for some great down-home grub and even a ride on the mechanical bull if you feel like proving your machismo.
Daytime is playtime in Las Vegas, where the big trend is to have nightclub-worthy experiences during the afternoon at some of the hotel pools. DAYLIGHT Beach Club at Mandalay Bay, Wet Republic at MGM Grand, and Encore Beach Club at Encore Las Vegas are all open to the general public (for a cover charge) and include everything from live DJs to fully stocked bars, and certainly a bevy of bikini-wearing partiers. If that’s not enough to appeal to the guy in you, Sapphire Gentleman’s Club now has its own daytime pool party complete with strippers.
Next, head back to the casino for a little sports-book action. You can place a wager on just about any type of sporting event in existence (cricket, anyone?), and depending on the season and the day of the week, you might be able to catch a game in action. The sports books at the Mirage and Caesars Palace are always good options for their huge screens and high energy, but you may want to consider the M Resort, the Venetian, or the Palazzo, which offer in-running betting. Popular in the U.K., this means that you can not only wager on the outcome of the game, but place bets during the action as well.
If that isn’t enough to get your adrenaline flowing, consider one of the serious thrill rides in town, such as the extreme adventures atop the 1,000-foot Stratosphere Tower at the Stratosphere Hotel. You can play a little game and make whichever friend screams the loudest while on Insanity: The Ride or SkyJump buy the first round of drinks later that night. Or take a run at SlotZilla, a zip-line attraction in Downtown Las Vegas that features both seated and superhero flying position rides.
We know. We already sent you to some sports books, but you should go back to the only one that is a real restaurant. The 45,000-square-foot Lagasse’s Stadium at the Venetian is a sports bar on steroids, with 100 flatscreen TVs and a menu crammed with highlights from Emeril’s American and Creole cuisine.
Now for some nighttime entertainment. Topless revues are becoming an endangered species around Vegas—which you can probably blame on the Internet—but there are still a couple left that will allow you to get your (not so cheap) thrills. Sadly, you won’t catch too many of the traditional showgirl headdresses anymore, save for street buskers and the occasional appearances with former Mayor Goodman, but their modern, equally topless counterparts are still shimmying away at Fantasy at Luxor or X Burlesque at Flamingo.
The party gets started late in Vegas, and you might want to start at a bar or two, such as The Commonwealth on Fremont Street or Gold Spike, both in Downtown Las Vegas. Then it’s time to hit the dance floor. Marquee at the Cosmopolitan is an obvious place to start, but give newcomers Jewel at Aria or Intrigue at Wynn a shot.
What’s that? You haven’t had enough gambling? Well, head over to Planet Hollywood’s Passion Pit, complete with lingerie-clad dealers at the blackjack tables and go-go girls.
And if you want more girly action, Vegas has strip clubs aplenty. The best of the best are detailed in chapter 8.
With the plethora of strip clubs and showgirls in this town, you’d think that Vegas is a man’s world. Not so! There are plenty of activities and attractions for the ladies—from wild, bachelorette-style craziness to relaxing, leave-your-cares-at-home-style getaways. Here are just a few suggestions.
If you dream of going to Paris, skip the hotel of the same name and go more or less across the street to Caesars Palace and Payard Patisserie & Bistro for breakfast. The chef is from the City of Lights, and you’ll know it when you taste his croissants. The food is not cheap, but it is high quality, generously portioned, and just plain delightful. (It’s also worth an evening stop for the amazing desserts.)
Vegas is retail heaven, and you could spend your whole day going to branches of pretty much every designer name you can think of in the major hotel malls (Crystals at CityCenter, The Forum Shops at Caesars Palace, The Grand Canal Shoppes at Venetian/Palazzo, Miracle Mile at Planet Hollywood, and shops at Bellagio and Wynn Las Vegas). Bargain shoppers will want to check out the Las Vegas Premium Outlets North near Downtown. Truth be told, there are not a lot of bargains there; but it’s an outlet, so something will turn up.
You can have a fabulous girly lunch at the elegant Bouchon at The Venetian. Thomas Keller’s brasserie is tucked away into a private tower so you don’t have to be inundated with the dinging of the casino floor as you tuck into your eggs Benedict and mimosas.
Okay, it’s time for some serious pampering. You could just stretch out by the pool (didn’t you just buy a new bikini this morning?), but it’s hot outside. So make your way to the spas at Encore, Bellagio, or The Venetian (which is a branch of the Canyon Ranch) for a full menu of massages, facials, weird treatments imported from countries you’ve never heard of, and lots more—all designed to make you feel as relaxed and limp as an al dente noodle.
If your girls’ getaway weekend is of the rowdy bachelorette variety, have dinner at STK at Cosmopolitan. It’s kind of like eating a steak in a loud nightclub, surrounded by really beautiful people. If it’s a more sultry, femme fatale atmosphere you’re after, get a big table at Red Square at Mandalay Bay and drink cold vodka while noshing on upscale Russian fare.
Hey, speaking of getting rowdy, if you’re tired of all those signs with scantily clad women all over Vegas, equal time can be attained at such shows as the male-stripper review Thunder From Down Under, at Excalibur or the tried-and-true Chippendales at Rio. Or, if that’s not risqué enough, try the delightfully profane circus of Absinthe at Caesars Palace. Just don’t allow the host to pull you up on stage for audience participation. You’ll thank us later.
Fizz bar at Caesars Palace is a calm, sophisticated spot to have a tipple to gear up for the rest of your evening. Check out their outlandish champagne cocktails and the art on the wall from Elton John’s private collection (his husband co-created the joint). A somewhat more gearing-up-for-the-clubs atmosphere is across the way at Hyde Bellagio, which in addition to having fun cocktails (is that a Belini cart? Why, yes, it is!) has the best view of the Bellagio Fountains from its lakeside patio.
Finally, strap on that pair of Christian Louboutins you bought earlier today (lucky you), because it’s time to go dancing. If you’re single and looking to mingle (or whatever, we don’t judge), the scenes at Light at Mandalay Bay, XS at Encore Las Vegas, and Omnia at Caesars Palace are such that people will stand in line for hours (and pay outrageous cover charges) just to get inside. We have to admit they are awfully fun.
Wanna just go dance and not be bothered by the meat-market scene? Consider going to gay clubs, such as Piranha or Share, both just off the Strip. They welcome women, but remember that you aren’t going to be the priority.
UNLIKELY LAS VEGAS
It’s really hard to overlook the Strip—after all, a number of people have spent billions and billions of dollars to ensure that you don’t—but there are still some surprisingly unusual and captivating sights to see in and around Las Vegas. This itinerary is designed to help you discover them. You will need a car to do this tour.
Those pricey buffets at the casinos may offer you truckloads of food, but even the ones at the out-of-the-way hotels are the very definition of “discovered.” Instead, go down home for the delightful Southern cooking at M&M Soul Food Café. Chicken and waffles, biscuits and gravy, or anything with grits is a great way to start the day as far as we’re concerned.
Walk off that breakfast by exploring the nearby 18b Arts District, home to a number of art galleries and studios, bravely taking a stance against prefab, soulless Vegas. You might take special note of Retro Vegas, a fun and funky store celebrating Sin City and mid-century modern furnishings (they work remarkably well together). If it’s the first Friday of the month, you could come back and stroll here in the evening, as that’s when the galleries come into the streets for a food, art, and entertainment festival.
Springs Preserve is a remarkable destination, focused on nature and ecological concerns. The interpretive center examines the history of the region as related to water consumption, which sounds “dry” but really isn’t. Need proof? Try the so-real-you-are-there flash flood exhibit or the 3-D movie theater that puts you atop the Hoover Dam being built. Outside are trails through the wetlands, animal habitats, and other exhibition halls dealing with the environment and recycling. The place is informative, entertaining, and absolutely vital in this day and age, and you can’t believe that something of this quality and social significance is anywhere near Vegas.
Although Las Vegas is obviously our favorite city, New York comes in a close second and a lot of that has to do with the food. Downtown is becoming Brooklyn-esque, with great independent restaurants such as F. Pigalle and Glutton becoming the new neighborhood hangouts. Great for the residents of Downtown, even better for you since you get a taste of what you’d be eating if this were your town.
From there, we recommend a duo of only-in-Las Vegas museums. Begin with the National Atomic Testing Museum. It’s about more than just the 5 minutes when the bomb was awesome (apparently people really thought that—they have photos that you won’t believe, like the one of Miss Atomic Bomb), instead tracing the history of the atomic age and focusing specifically on the aboveground nuclear testing that occurred just outside of Las Vegas. It’s a fascinating and sobering experience.
Then you’re off to the Pinball Hall of Fame, where you can not only appreciate, but actually play, classic machines and arcade games from the 1960s to the present day.
If you want to skip the latter, consider taking in the afternoon show by Mac King or Jeff Civillico at Harrah’s Las Vegas and Flamingo, respectively. Both are considered among the best shows in Vegas and are good values for the money. King is an illusionist and comedian of great personal charm who still practices magic that doesn’t require computer technology, while Civillico is a comic-juggler with a family-friendly and very funny patter. You can often get discounted (or even two-for-one) tickets for both shows in local magazines or online.
Now we’ll send you far west to a place only foodies tend to know: Raku Grill, a Japanese robata (charcoal grill) restaurant that is a hangout for many of the chefs in town when they’re off the clock. Alternately, you could try Omae, another off-Strip restaurant that features an all-omakase menu of pristine, Japanese fare touched with French techniques. The chef guides you through the predetermined menu based on what’s best that day.
After dinner, why not do something completely “unlikely,” like perform on the Las Vegas Strip? There are several hotel lounges that offer karaoke, but the sing-along fun at Ellis Island is probably the best. Or, instead of a show in one of the casinos, see what’s playing at The Smith Center for the Performing Arts in Downtown Las Vegas. You might be able to catch a Broadway touring show, a big-name concert, or a jazz set in one of the many theaters at the complex.
End your night exploring the booming bar scene of Downtown’s Fremont East Entertainment District or the Main Street Arts District with funky taverns like Downtown Cocktail Room, The Commonwealth, Vanguard Lounge, and Velveteen Rabbit, Hop Nuts and more, all within steps of each other. Each has its own vibe and is mostly populated by locals, so try each on for style and see what fits.
EATING LAS VEGAS
Las Vegas is a mecca for food lovers, offering endless opportunities to gorge oneself on virtually every type of cuisine, from cheap eats to gourmet meals. This itinerary presumes you are very hungry and want to at least sample as much of it as you can, throwing waistlines, cholesterol counts, and common sense to the wind. You’ll need a car to do this tour, although you may want to consider walking as much of it as you can … to give the illusion that you’re getting a little exercise in between binges.
There are plenty of ways to overdo it from a food perspective first thing in the morning. You could go big with the super decadent and deliriously over-the-top selections at The Pantry at Mirage, or get an entire day’s worth of calories at an inexpensive buffet like the Main Street Garden Court in Downtown Las Vegas—but let’s be reasonable, shall we? After all, you don’t want to get too full before the day has really even started.
So instead, go for something a little lighter but still packed with flavors, like the sumptuous quiche or croque madame at Payard Patisserie. Both come in very satisfying portions, yet they’ll keep you from getting too loaded down.
If you decided to sleep in a bit (and really, who could blame you?), then you could go for brunch at Verandah at Four Seasons, which offers its own crepes and quiches.
Otherwise, the rest of your morning could be spent exploring various sweet shops, so you can stock up on quick hits of sugar to get you through the rest of the day. M&M World allows you to mix and match your own selection of candy, while local favorite Ethel M Chocolates serves a finer brand of confections. Or you could visit the new Hexx Kitchen and Bar, which, in addition to having a full-service restaurant, boasts its own line of chocolate, ice cream, and confections.
For lunch, we’re going to suggest something a little more serious and substantial. The inspired grub at Todd English P.U.B. is a terrific choice, especially if you go for the “carvery” part of the menu, which allows you to mix and match meats, breads, cheeses, and toppings to create a sandwich.
Speaking of sandwiches, we’d be totally remiss if we didn’t mention Capriotti’s as a perfect place to have lunch. Their divine submarine sandwiches (we’re partial to the Bobby, which is like Thanksgiving on a bun) will make you consider getting the epic 20-inch size and calling it a day.
Burgers are another way to go, and there are lots of options in Vegas including the fantastic offerings at Bobbys’ Burger Palace, Gordon Ramsay BurGR, Holstein’s Shakes and Buns, and the nationally beloved Shake Shack.
As you are digesting, take a stroll over to Bellagio to visit the Jean-Philippe Patisserie and sample the finest chocolate available in Las Vegas, or go to Monte Carlo and check out The Cupcakery for their mouth-watering temptations. Regarding the latter, if you can only choose one, go for the Oh My Gosh, Ganache, which has chocolate ganache baked into the cake!
If you’re lucky enough to be visiting on the first Friday of the month, be sure to go to the First Friday street festival in the Arts District, where you’ll find a parking lot’s worth of food trucks and vendors serving everything from pizza to sushi to barbecue and more. Don’t miss the state fair-style selections, including the genius deep-fried chocolate chip cookie dough. Missing this will haunt you—trust us.
Finally, we’re going to go whole hog, or cow as the case may be, by sending you to dinner at one of the city’s steakhouses. The Steakhouse at Circus Circus is a local favorite, offering full meals at the same prices that others charge for an a la carte selection. Strip House at Planet Hollywood puts a modern spin on things with a charming peek-a-boo bordello theme and fantastic cuts of meat. But for our money you can’t beat Old Homestead Steakhouse at Caesars Palace, a sister of the legendary New York City restaurant. The portions here are huge, which is appropriate since this is the restaurant that claims to have invented the doggie bag.
If a steak seems like too much of a commitment to you, you could try one of the growing number of restaurants that serves small bites instead of full meals. Chief among them would be L’Atelier at MGM Grand by master chef Joël Robuchon, where you can get various-size tasting menus or order small plates on your own, each of which will be better than the last. La Cave at the Wynn has fantastic gourmet small plates and a fun environment in which to eat them. Another great choice in this category would be Raku Grill, where you can get fantastic skewers of meat, vegetables, seafood, and more cooked over a Japanese charcoal grill. Just be warned that even though the portions are small, you’ll wind up ordering a lot of them, and it could end up costing you more than just a standard meal.
But wait, we’re not done. This is a 24-hour town, and lots of restaurants are open all night to satisfy those 2am cravings. The Peppermill Lounge is an institution for late night/early morning bites, with a massive menu and fun takes on classic diner food, or you could head back to The Pantry for the 24-hour restaurant’s night shift of food.
Located in the southernmost precincts of a wide, pancake-flat valley, Las Vegas is the biggest city in the state of Nevada. Treeless mountains form a scenic backdrop to hotels awash in neon glitter. Although bursting with residents and visitors, the city is quite compact, geographically speaking.
There are two main areas of Las Vegas: the Strip and Downtown. The former is probably the most famous 4-mile stretch of road in the nation. Officially called Las Vegas Boulevard South, it contains most of the top hotels in town and offers almost all the major showroom entertainment. First-time visitors will, and probably should, spend the bulk of their time on the Strip.
Downtown, meanwhile, is where Vegas started its Glitter Gulch fame, complete with neon ambassadors Vegas Vic and Sassy Sally watching over the action.
Help for Troubled Travelers
The Travelers Aid Society is a social-service organization geared to helping travelers in difficult situations. Its services include reuniting families separated while traveling, feeding people stranded without cash, and even providing emotional counseling. If you’re in trouble, seek them out. In Las Vegas, services are provided by Help of Southern Nevada, 1640 E. Flamingo Rd., Ste. 100, near Maryland Parkway (www.helpsonv.org; 702/369-4357). Hours are Monday through Thursday 7am to 5pm.
For many people, that’s all there is to Las Vegas. But there is actually more to the town than that: Paradise Road, just east of the Strip, and Boulder Highway on the far-east side of town, are home to quite a bit of casino action; Maryland Parkway boasts mainstream shopping; and there are different restaurant options all over the city. Many of the “locals’ hotels,” most of which are off the regular tourist track, offer cheaper gambling limits plus budget food and entertainment options. Confining yourself to the Strip and Downtown is fine for the first-time visitor, but repeat customers (and you will be) should get out there and explore. Las Vegas Boulevard South (the Strip) is the starting point for addresses; any street that crosses it starts with 1 East and 1 West at its intersection with the Strip (and goes up from there).
All major Las Vegas hotels provide comprehensive tourist information at their reception and/or sightseeing and show desks.
Other good information sources are the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, 3150 Paradise Rd. (www.lasvegas.com; 877/847-4858 or 702/892-7575), open Monday through Friday 8am to 5:30pm; the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce, 6671 Las Vegas Blvd. S., Ste. 300 (www.lvchamber.com; 702/735-1616), open Monday through Friday 8am to 5pm; and, for information on all of Nevada, including Las Vegas, the Nevada Commission on Tourism (www.travelnevada.com; 800/638-2328), open 24 hours.
NEIGHBORHOODS IN BRIEF
For the purposes of organizing this book, we’ve divided the Strip into three sections. The South Strip can be roughly defined as the portion of the Strip south of Harmon Avenue, including the MGM Grand, Mandalay Bay, the Monte Carlo, New York-New York, Luxor, CityCenter, and many more hotels and casinos. First-timers should consider staying here or in the Mid-Strip area simply because this is where the bulk of the stuff you’re going to want to see, do, and eat are located.
The Mid-Strip is a long stretch of the Las Vegas Boulevard South between Harmon Avenue and Spring Mountain Road, which includes such big-name casinos as Planet Hollywood, the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, Bellagio, Caesars, the Mirage, Treasure Island, Bally’s, Paris Las Vegas, Flamingo Las Vegas, Harrah’s, and more. As mentioned above, this is a great area for newbies, and it’s also the preferred location for people with mobility issues since fewer steps will get you to more places.
The North Strip stretches north from Spring Mountain Road all the way to the Stratosphere and includes SLS, Wynn/Encore, Stratosphere, and Circus Circus, to name a few. Although there are certainly things to see along this chunk of the Strip, development has mostly stalled, so you’ll see more things closed or partially constructed in this area than you will see open and completed. With the exception of Wynn/Encore SLS, it is the lower-rent part of the Strip, with all of the good and bad that comes along with it.
Also known as “Glitter Gulch” (narrower streets make the neon seem brighter), Downtown Las Vegas, which is centered on Fremont Street between Main and 9th streets, was the first section of the city to develop hotels and casinos. With the exception of the Golden Nugget, which looks like it belongs in Monte Carlo, this area has traditionally been more casual than the Strip. But between the Fremont Street Experience (p. 160), the Fremont East Entertainment District (p. 164), and a general resurgence, Downtown offers a more affordable yet still entertaining alternative to the Strip.
The area between the Strip and Downtown is a seedy stretch dotted with tacky wedding chapels, bail-bond operations, pawnshops, and cheap motels. However, the area known as the 18b Arts District (roughly north and south of Charleston Blvd. to the west of Las Vegas Blvd. S.) is making a name for itself as an artists’ colony. Studios, galleries, antique stores, bars, small cafes, and the fun First Friday Las Vegas festival (p. 164) can be found in the vicinity. Eventually it may warrant its own neighborhood designation, but for now we include it in the Downtown category.
Just Off the Strip
With land directly on the Strip at a premium, it isn’t surprising that a veritable cottage industry of casinos, hotels, restaurants, nightclubs, attractions, and services have taken up residence in the areas immediately surrounding the big megaresorts. Within a mile in any given direction, you’ll find major hotels such as the Rio, the Orleans, the Westgate (formerly the Las Vegas Hilton), and the Hard Rock, to name a few, as well as important visitor destinations such as the Las Vegas Convention Center. You’ll also find many smaller chain/name-brand hotels and motels offering reliable service at rates that are usually cheaper than you’ll pay in a big casino-hotel on the Strip.
South & East of the Strip
Once you get a little bit of distance between you and the Strip, you’ll start getting into the types of neighborhoods that will look much more familiar to you—except, perhaps, with a lot more desert landscaping. Shopping centers and housing tracts dominate the landscape of the bedroom community of Henderson, while lower-priced motels and chain restaurants take up a lot of space along the Boulder Highway corridor on the far-east side of town. In addition to the luxurious Green Valley Ranch Resort, sprinkled throughout are other fun, low-cost casino-hotels, and some out-of-the-way restaurants and attractions worth knowing about.
North & West of the Strip
The communities of Summerlin and North Las Vegas are where many of the people who work on the Strip live, shop, eat, and play. Yes, there are some major casino-hotels in the area, including the stunning Red Rock Resort, and a few notable restaurants, but for the most part what you’ll find here are dependable chain stores and eateries that offer comfort shopping and food at better-than-Strip prices.