Frommer's EasyGuide to Las Vegas 2017 (Easy Guides) (2016)

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LAS VEGAS IN CONTEXT

The global recession hit Vegas hard, but like the rest of the world, Sin City is recovering with improved visitation numbers, the most new development projects in years, and a little bit less red on the balance sheets at the major casino corporations. That recovery, though, is creating a Las Vegas that looks different than it used to, with more of a focus on value and a renewed sensibility that the city is open to more than just the traveler willing to blow $400 per night on a hotel room.

LAS VEGAS TODAY

No major city in America has reinvented itself as many times, especially in such a short period, as Las Vegas. Just look at the recent decades. In the ’80s, it was a discount afterthought. In the ’90s, it was family and theme heaven. The new millennium brought in ultra-luxury and sky-high prices on everything from rooms to shampoo in the sundry stores.

For the better part of the new millennium, the watchword was “expensive.” The average room rate soared to over $200 a night, significantly higher than what visitors, once lulled by lower double-digit bargains, were used to paying. It was not unusual for the high-end hotels to charge $400 or even $500 for a standard room.

And why not? The crowds kept coming. Occupancy rates in Vegas were well over 90%, nearly 30% higher than the national average. Flush with big returns on their stock investments, equity in their home, or simply easy-flowing credit, those who could afford it flocked to the city in record numbers, generating record profit for the casinos. Vegas became hip, drawing a younger, more affluent demographic that lined up to pay for the fancy hotel rooms, the exclusive nightclubs, the celebrity-chef restaurants, and the high-limit gaming tables.

The Average Joe, on the other hand, got priced right out of town. For a lot of people—the people whose money helped build those massive hotels and casinos—the idea of a Vegas vacation became cost-prohibitive.

But then came the global economic meltdown and Vegas was hit hard. The number of visitors coming to the city dropped dramatically, and those who came spent a lot less money in the casinos. By 2010, the average room rate plunged to the lowest level in nearly a decade and more rooms were going empty, with occupancy rates in the low 80% range—still good when compared to the national average, but scary for a city that depends on filling those rooms to keep its economy going.

Many gaming companies fell into bankruptcy, and while their casinos have remained open, their bank accounts have slammed shut. Just like many Americans who ran up too much credit-card debt, the gaming companies are operating under obligations that run into the billions, and they are having a hard time paying the bills.

As the national economy improved and we moved into the second decade of the new millennium, so did the Las Vegas economy. Visitation and occupancy rates perked up, and people seemed to be willing to spend money again. As importantly, Vegas reinvented itself once again, becoming a major venue for music festivals, and drawing younger crowds than it had in decades.

In the long run, this could wind up being good news for the Average Joe tourist and the music lover. Room rates have remained lower, and most of the new stuff planned for the city—attractions, shows, concert venues, restaurants, and so on—is aimed squarely at the midmarket crowd. While rates will certainly go up as the economy improves, the hotel companies are skittish about the idea of returning them to their sky-high levels because they are worried that the national mood of extravagant spending has changed.

Welcome back, Joe. Las Vegas has missed you.

Adapting to Las Vegas

Las Vegas is, for the most part, a very casual city. Although there are a few restaurants that have a restrictive dress code, most of them—and all of the showrooms, casinos, and attractions—are pretty much come as you are. Some people still choose to dress up for their night on the town, resulting in a strange dichotomy where you might see a couple in a suit and evening gown sitting next to a couple in shorts and sandals at a show or in a nice restaurant.

Generally speaking, spiffy-casual (slacks or nice jeans, button-up shirts or blouses, or a simple skirt or dress) is the best way to go in terms of what to wear, allowing you to be comfortable in just about any situation. Go too far to one extreme or the other and you’re bound to feel out of place somewhere.

The only exception to this rule is the nightclubs, which often have very strict policies on what you can and cannot wear. They vary from club to club, but, as a general rule, sandals or flip-flops, shorts, and baseball caps are frowned upon. Think “business casual,” but your business is getting into the club: that nice pair of jeans or slacks, a collared, pressed shirt, and leather dress shoes will get you in the door; fancier clothes (jackets, cocktail dresses) may get you past the velvet rope a little faster.

Yes, it does get hot in Las Vegas, so you really should factor that in when you’re planning your wardrobe for your trip. It’s important to note that every enclosed space (casino, showroom, restaurant, nightclub, and so on) is heavily air-conditioned, so it can actually be chilly once you get inside. Think light layers and you should be okay.

Las Vegas is a 24-hour town, so you can find something to eat or drink all the time; but many of the nicer restaurants open only for dinner, with 5 or 6pm to 10 or 11pm the standard operating hours. Nightclubs usually open around 10pm and go until dawn, with the bulk of the crowds not showing up until midnight at the earliest. There are a few afternoon shows, but most are in the evenings and often run two shows a night with start times that range from 7 until 10:30pm. Casinos and most regular bars are open 24 hours a day.

LOOKING BACK: LAS VEGAS HISTORY

The Early 1900s: Las Vegas Takes Shape

For many years after its creation via a land auction in 1905, Las Vegas was a mere whistle-stop town. That all changed in 1928 when Congress authorized the building of nearby Boulder Dam (later renamed Hoover Dam), bringing thousands of workers to the area. Although gambling still happened in the backrooms of saloons after it became illegal in 1909, the lifting of those prohibitions in 1931 is what set the stage for the first of the city’s many booms. Fremont Street’s gaming emporiums and speakeasies attracted dam workers and, upon the dam’s completion, were replaced by hordes of tourists who came to see the engineering marvel (it was called “the Eighth Wonder of the World”). But it wasn’t until the early years of World War II that visionary entrepreneurs began to plan for the city’s glittering future.

The 1940s: The Strip Is Born

Contrary to popular lore, developer Bugsy Siegel didn’t actually stake a claim in the middle of nowhere—his Flamingo opened in 1946 just a few blocks south of already-existing properties.

The true beginnings of what would eventually become the Las Vegas Strip started years earlier. According to lore, Thomas Hull was driving toward Downtown’s already-booming Fremont Street area when his car broke down just outside of the city limits. As he stood there sweating in the desert heat, he envisioned, or perhaps just wished for, a cool swimming pool in the scrub brush next to the highway. Luckily, Hull was a hotel magnate, and he put his money where his mirage was. El Rancho Vegas, ultraluxurious for its time and complete with a sparkling pool facing the highway, opened in 1941 across the street from where the upcoming SLS Las Vegas (formerly the Sahara) now stands. Scores of Hollywood stars were invited to the grand opening, and El Rancho Vegas soon became the hotel of choice for visiting film stars.

Beginning a trend that continues today, each new property tried to outdo existing hotels in luxurious amenities and thematic splendor. Las Vegas was on its way to becoming America’s playground.

Las Vegas promoted itself in the 1940s as a town that combined Wild West frontier friendliness with glamour and excitement. Throughout the decade, the city was Hollywood’s celebrity retreat. The Hollywood connection gave the town glamour in the public’s mind—as did the mob connection, which became clear when notorious underworld gangster Bugsy Siegel built the fabulous Flamingo, a tropical paradise and “a real class joint.”

While the Strip was expanding with major resorts like the Frontier, Bugsy’s Flamingo, and the Thunderbird, Downtown kept pace with new hotels such as the El Cortez and casinos like the Golden Nugget. By the end of the decade, Fremont Street was known as “Glitter Gulch,” its profusion of neon signs proclaiming round-the-clock gaming and entertainment.

The 1950s: Building Booms & A-Bombs

Las Vegas entered the new decade as a city (no longer a frontier town), with a population of about 50,000. Hotel growth was phenomenal, with legendary names like the Sahara, the Dunes, the Sands, and the Tropicana all gaining neon-lit fame.

The Desert Inn, which opened in 1950 with headliners Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, brought country-club elegance (including an 18-hole golf course and tennis courts) to the Strip.

In 1951, the Eldorado Club Downtown became Benny Binion’s Horseshoe Club, which would gain fame as the home of the annual World Series of Poker.

In 1955, the Côte d’Azur–themed Riviera became the ninth big hotel to open on the Strip. Breaking the ranch-style mode, it was, at nine stories, the Strip’s first high-rise. Liberace, one of the hottest names in show business, was paid the unprecedented sum of $50,000 a week to dazzle audiences in the Riviera’s posh Clover Room.

Elvis appeared at the New Frontier in 1956 but wasn’t a huge success; his fans were too young to fit the Las Vegas tourist mold.

In 1958, the $10-million, 1,065-room Stardust upped the stakes by importing the famed Lido de Paris spectacle from the French capital. It became one of the longest-running shows ever to play Las Vegas. Two performers whose names have been linked to Las Vegas ever since—Frank Sinatra and Wayne Newton—made their debuts there.

Mae West not only performed in Las Vegas, but also cleverly bought up a half-mile of desolate Strip frontage between the Dunes and the Tropicana.

In the 1950s, the wedding industry helped make Las Vegas one of the nation’s most popular venues for “goin’ to the chapel.” Celebrity weddings of the 1950s that sparked the trend included singer Dick Haymes and Rita Hayworth, Joan Crawford and Pepsi chairman Alfred Steele, Carol Channing and TV exec Charles Lowe, and Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward.

On a grimmer note, the ’50s also heralded the atomic age in Nevada, with nuclear testing taking place just 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas. A chilling 1951 photograph shows a mushroom-shaped cloud from an atomic bomb test visible over the Fremont Street horizon. Throughout the decade, about one bomb a month was detonated in the nearby desert (an event, interestingly enough, that often attracted loads of tourists).

The 1960s: The Rat Pack & the King

The very first month of the new decade made entertainment history when the Sands hosted a 3-week “Summit Meeting” in the Copa Room that was presided over by “Chairman of the Board” Frank Sinatra, with Rat Pack cronies Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop (all of whom happened to be in town filming Ocean’s Eleven). The series of shows helped to form the Rat Pack legend in Vegas and, in many ways vice versa, making the town hip and cool—the ultimate ’60s swinging retreat.

It needed the help. After nearly a decade of almost constant building and expansion (no fewer than 10 major resorts opened in the 1950s), a crackdown on the Mafia and its money, which had fueled the city’s development, brought construction to a halt. Only two major properties opened during the decade—the Road to Morocco–themed Aladdin in 1963 and the Roman Empire bacchanalia that was Caesars Palace in 1966. Perhaps trying to prove that the mob was gone for good, Las Vegas became a family destination in 1968, when Circus Circus burst onto the scene with the world’s largest permanent circus and a “junior casino” featuring dozens of carnival midway games on its mezzanine level.

Elvis officially became part of the Vegas legend with the release of the film Viva Las Vegas in 1964, which not only furthered the city’s “cool” quotient but also gave it an enduring theme song that remains a part of the city’s identity more than 60 years later. But it was not until 1969 that the King’s place in Sin City history would be cemented with his triumphant return to Las Vegas at the International’s showroom with a series of concerts that made him one of the city’s all-time legendary performers. His fans had come of age.

The 1970s: The Glamour Fades

The image of Las Vegas that emerged in the 1970s was one that would take decades to shed: a tacky tourist trap with aging casinos, cheap restaurants, and showrooms filled with performers whose careers were on their last legs. With a few exceptions, investment had slowed to a crawl and Vegas didn’t seem as exciting anymore, especially when it was forced to compete with the sparkling newness of Atlantic City, where gambling was legalized in 1976.

There were some bright spots. In 1971, the 500-room Union Plaza opened at the head of Fremont Street on the site of the old Union Pacific Station. It had what was, at the time, the world’s largest casino, and its showroom specialized in Broadway productions.

THE MOB IN LAS VEGAS

The role of the Mafia in the creation of Las Vegas is little more than a footnote these days, but it isn’t too bold of a statement to suggest that without organized crime, the city would not have developed in the ways that it did and its past would have certainly been less colorful.

Meyer Lansky was a big name in the New York crime syndicate in the 1930s, and it was largely his decision to send Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel west to expand their empire. Although the Strip had already begun to form with the opening of El Rancho in 1941 and the Frontier in 1942, it was Bugsy’s sparkling Flamingo of 1946 that began a Mafia-influenced building boom and era of control that would last for decades. Famous marquees, such as the Desert Inn, the Riviera, and the Stardust, were all built, either in part or in whole, from funding sources that were less than reputable.

During the ’60s, negative attention focused on mob influence in Las Vegas. Of the 11 major casino hotels that had opened in the previous decade, 10 were believed to have been financed with mob money. Then, like a knight in shining armor, Howard Hughes rode into town and embarked on a $300-million hotel and property-buying spree, which included the Desert Inn itself (in 1967). Hughes was as “Bugsy” as Benjamin Siegel any day, but his pristine reputation helped bring respectability to the desert city and lessen its gangland stigma.

During the 1970s and 1980s, the government got involved, embarking on a series of criminal prosecutions across the country to try to break the back of the Mafia. Although not completely successful, it did manage to wrest major control of Las Vegas away from organized crime, aided by new legislation that allowed corporations to own casinos. By the time Steve Wynn built the Mirage in 1989, the Mafia’s role was reduced to the point where the most it could control were the city’s innumerable strip clubs.

These days, strict regulation and billions of dollars of corporate money keep things on the up and up, but the mob’s influence can still be felt even at the highest levels of Las Vegas government. Former Mayor Oscar B. Goodman, first elected in 1999, was a lawyer for the Mafia in the 1960s and 1970s, defending such famed gangsters as Meyer Lanksy and Anthony “Tony the Ant” Spilotro. The popular and colorful Goodman cheerfully refers to his Mafia-related past often, joking about his desire to settle conflicts in the desert at night with a baseball bat like “in the good old days.”

As if to bring things full circle, Goodman championed The Mob Museum (p. 161), a stunning facility that examines the history and influence of the Mafia in America and Las Vegas in particular. It is located in a former courthouse that was the site of the Mafia-related Kefauver hearings of the 1950s.

The year 1973 was eventful: Over at the Tropicana, illusionists extraordinaire Siegfried & Roy began turning women into tigers and themselves into legends in the Folies Bergere. Meanwhile, just up the street, the original MGM Grand (now Bally’s) trumped the Plaza as the largest hotel and casino in the world, with Dean Martin as the opening evening’s host.

Las Vegas made its way into America’s living rooms with two very different television programs. Merv Griffin began taping his daytime talkfest in 1971 at Caesars Palace, taking advantage of a ready supply of local headliner guests. Then, in 1978, Vega$ debuted, instantly emblazoning the image of star Robert Urich cruising down the Strip in his red Thunderbird convertible on the minds of TV viewers everywhere.

As the decade drew to a close, an international arrivals building opened and turned McCarran Field into McCarran International Airport, and dollar slot machines caused a sensation in the casinos.

The 1980s: The City Erupts

As the ’80s began, Las Vegas was suffering an identity crisis. The departure of the mob and its money, combined with a struggling economy and Reagan-era conservatism, put a damper on the shining star of the desert. There was little new development, and a lot of the “classic” hotels became rundown shadows of their former selves.

A devastating fire in 1980 at the original MGM Grand killed more than 80 people, and just a few months later a fire at the Las Vegas Hilton killed eight more. In some ways these tragedies helped to further the transformation of the public’s view of the entire city. Las Vegas became tacky, desperate, and possibly unsafe.

Even the showrooms, once the magnificent Elvis/Sinatra klieg light that lured people from around the world, had become something of a joke. For entertainers, Vegas was where you played when your career was over, not when you were on top.

What Las Vegas really needed was a white knight, and they got one in the form of Golden Nugget owner Steve Wynn and his $630-million gamble on the Mirage. Financed mostly through the sale of junk bonds, the hotel’s construction would eventually change the course of Las Vegas history.

The hotel opened in 1989, fronted by five-story waterfalls, lagoons, and lush tropical foliage—not to mention a 50-foot volcano that dramatically erupted regularly! Wynn gave world-renowned illusionists Siegfried & Roy carte blanche (and more than $30 million) to create the most spellbinding show Las Vegas had ever seen, and he brought in world-class chefs to banish the idea that all you could eat in the town were all-you-can-eat spreads and $4.99 prime rib.

It was an immediate success; financially, of course, but more importantly as a matter of perception. Almost overnight, Las Vegas became cool again and everyone wanted to go there.

The 1990s: King Arthur Meets King Tut

The 1990s began with a blare of trumpets heralding the rise of a turreted medieval castle, fronted by a moated drawbridge and staffed by jousting knights and fair damsels. Excalibur reflected the ’90s marketing trend to promote Las Vegas as a family-vacation destination.

Was that trend successful? Well, Chevy Chase did take his family on a Vegas Vacation in 1997, but the city kept the Sin part of its name alive, at least in popular culture, with Robert Redford making an Indecent Proposal (1993); Nicholas Cage hitting rock bottom in Leaving Las Vegas (1995); and Elizabeth Berkley strutting her stuff in the widely derided Showgirls (1995).

Canadian circus/theater group Cirque du Soleil transformed the entertainment scene in Las Vegas with the 1993 debut of Mystére at the newly opened Treasure Island. It would be the first of no fewer than eight Cirque shows that would launch over the next 2 decades.

The era of megahotels continued on the Strip, including the new MGM Grand hotel, backed by a full theme park (it ended Excalibur’s brief reign as the world’s largest resort), Luxor Las Vegas, and Steve Wynn’s Treasure Island.

In 1993, a unique pink-domed 5-acre indoor amusement park, Grand Slam Canyon (later known as Adventuredome), became part of the Circus Circus hotel. In 1995, the Fremont Street Experience was completed, revitalizing Downtown Las Vegas. Closer to the Strip, rock restaurant magnate Peter Morton opened the Hard Rock Hotel, billed as “the world’s first rock-’n’-roll hotel and casino.” The year 1996 saw the advent of the French Riviera–themed Monte Carlo and the Stratosphere Las Vegas Hotel & Casino—its 1,149-foot tower makes it the highest building west of the Mississippi. The unbelievable New York–New York arrived in 1997.

But it all paled compared with 1998 to 1999. As Vegas hastily repositioned itself from “family destination” to “luxury resort,” several new hotels opened, once again eclipsing anything that had come before. Bellagio was the latest from Vegas visionary Steve Wynn, an attempt to bring grand European-style to the desert, while at the far southern end of the Strip, Mandalay Bay charmed. As if this weren’t enough, the Venetian’s ambitiously detailed re-creation of everyone’s favorite Italian city came along in May 1999 and was followed in short order by the opening of Paris Las Vegas in the fall of 1999.

The 2000s: The Lap of Luxury

The 21st century opened with a bang as the Aladdin blew itself up and gave itself a from-the-ground-up makeover (which in turn only lasted for a handful of years before Planet Hollywood took it over and changed it entirely), while Steve Wynn blew up the Desert Inn and built a new showstopper named for himself. Along the way, everyone expanded, and then expanded some more, ultimately adding thousands of new rooms. The goal became “luxury,” with a secondary emphasis on “adult.” Little by little, wacky, eye-catching themes were phased out (as much as one can when one’s hotel looks like a castle), and generic sophistication took its place. Gaming was still number one, but the newer hotels were trying to top each other in terms of other recreations—decadent nightclubs, celebrity chef–backed restaurants, fancy spas, and superstar shows.

“More is more” seemed to be the motto, and its embodiment was the massive CityCenter, perhaps the most ambitious project in Las Vegas yet. Composed of a 4,000-room megaresort, two 400-room boutique hotels, condos, shopping, dining, clubs, and more, it covers more than 60 acres and, as such, is a city-within-the-city. Gone are the outrageous themes, replaced by cutting-edge modernism—all sleek lines of glass and metal designed with the future in mind, not only from an architectural standpoint but from an ecological one as well. Sure, building the massive CityCenter probably made the earth shudder a bit, but its advanced green building and sustainable operating systems helped to ensure that the planet didn’t just collapse in on itself from the weight of it all.

The excess of Vegas was spotlighted in popular culture as well. Ocean’s Eleven got a new millennium makeover in 2001 with a cast of superstars like George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Julia Roberts. Then in 2009, The Hangover took it all to a new level with a raunchy morality tale of a Vegas bachelor party gone horribly awry. The 2013 Hangover 3 brought the action back to Vegas to close out the trilogy.

Even the city’s motto, which became a popular part of the American lexicon, was a winking nod to the seemingly endless ways to satisfy the id: “What happens in Las Vegas, stays in Las Vegas.”

Once known solely as an outpost of all-you-can-eat buffets and $4.99 prime rib specials, Las Vegas became one of the top dining destinations in the world. Every celebrity chef worth his or her sea salt had a restaurant here, and the level of culinary quality rose almost as fast as the prices. Take a look at some of the famous names attached to Vegas restaurants: Emeril Lagasse, Wolfgang Puck, Gordon Ramsay, Bobby Flay, Todd English, Hubert Keller, Mario Batali, Joël Robuchon, Thomas Keller, and Julian Serrano. It’s a veritable who’s who of the culinary world. Dining in Las Vegas has become one of the top reasons people want to visit the city.

And proving that Las Vegas really is a 24-hour town, the nightlife scene exploded in Vegas. Megaclubs such as XS (p. 233) at Encore Las Vegas, Marquee (p. 231) at the Cosmopolitan, and Hakkasan (p. 230) at MGM Grand (billed as the largest nightclub in the world) pull in droves of the young and beautiful (or people who think they are, or who just want to be around them) who do not seem to be deterred by the eye-popping high prices ($20–$50 cover, $10–$15 drinks), long lines (expect to wait at least an hour), and lack of personal space. It’s a see-and-be-seen scene, where you better dress to impress or expect to be relegated to the darker corners.

Céline Dion made it safe to be a Vegas headliner again as she kicked off a 5-year residency at Caesars Palace in 2003 (and came back in 2011). She would be followed by big-ticket names like Elton John, Bette Midler, Cher, and Garth Brooks, all of whom made Vegas their performing home for a while.

Clearly, no one can rest on their laurels in Vegas, for this is not only a town that never sleeps, but also one in which progress never stops moving, even for a heartbeat.

WHEN TO GO

Most of a Las Vegas vacation is usually spent indoors, so you can have a good time here year-round. The most pleasant seasons are spring and fall, especially if you want to experience the great outdoors.

Weekdays are slightly less crowded than weekends. Holidays are always a mob scene and come accompanied by high hotel prices. Hotel prices also skyrocket when big conventions and special events are taking place. The slowest times of year are parts of January and February; late June through August; the week before Christmas; and the week after New Year’s.

If a major convention is to be held during your trip, you might want to change your date. Check the box on p. 38 for convention dates.

Climate & Current Weather Conditions

First of all, Vegas isn’t always hot, but when it is, it’s really hot. One thing you’ll hear again and again is that even though Las Vegas gets very hot, the dry desert heat is not unbearable. We know this is true because we spent a couple of days there in 104°F (40°C) weather and lived to say, “It wasn’t all that bad, not really.” The humidity averages a low 22%, and even on very hot days, there’s apt to be a breeze. Having said that, once the temperature gets into triple digits, it is wise to limit the amount of time you spend outdoors, and to make sure you are drinking plenty of water even while you are inside enjoying the blessed air-conditioning (which is omnipresent). Dehydration and heatstroke are two of the most common ailments that affect tourists—don’t be a victim of one of them. Also, except on the hottest summer days, there’s relief at night, when temperatures often drop by as much as 20 degrees.

Las Vegas’ Average Temperatures (°F & °C) & Rainfall

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WILD WEATHER

Las Vegas rests in the middle of a desert, so how wacky can the weather possibly get? A lot crazier than you think. Although Las Vegas’s location results in broiling-hot temperatures in the summer, many people tend to forget that deserts get cold and rainy, while wind is also a potential hazard.

Winter temperatures in Las Vegas have been known to dip below 30°F (–1°C), and when you toss in 40 mph winds, that adds up to a very chilly stroll on the Strip. And snow is not an unheard-of occurrence. Most years see a flurry or two falling on Las Vegas, and since 1949, a total of 12 “storms” have resulted in accumulations of 2 inches or greater, with the largest storm dropping 9 inches on the Strip in January 1949. In December 2003, parts of Las Vegas got 6 inches of the white stuff, and although it didn’t stick around too long on the Strip, the sight of the famous “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign in the middle of a driving blizzard was quite a spectacle. And more recently (the winter of 2008–09), Vegas received nearly 3 inches of snow on the Strip itself, with nearly 10 inches accumulating in other areas of town. Locals usually find the snow a charming addition to the city (and the stuff melts completely in a day or two, so they don’t have to shovel it—lucky them).

Though snow is a novel quirk that many Vegas residents and visitors welcome, rain isn’t always as well received. The soil in Las Vegas is parched most of the year, making it difficult for the land to absorb large amounts of water coming down in a short time. Between June and August, when most of the area’s rainfall takes place due to the Southwest’s monsoon season, there is a good possibility of flash flooding.

At times, the skies just open up, resulting in flooding that wreaks havoc on Sin City. On July 9, 1999, Mother Nature unleashed more than 3 inches of rain in just a few hours on a city that averages about 4 inches of rain a year. The deluge killed two people, swamped hundreds of cars, and destroyed millions of dollars in property. A 2013 storm caused havoc up and down the Strip with collapsed ceilings in the Mirage, a flooded casino at Caesars Palace, and a waterfall inside Gilley’s at Treasure Island (go look it up on YouTube). This kind of storm (and rain in general) is rare, but even a light shower can make things treacherous on the roads, the sidewalks, and the slippery marble walkways that front almost every casino in town.

The topography of the Las Vegas region also makes it prone to high, often damaging winds. Situated at the bottom of a bowl ringed by mountains, 15 to 20 mph steady winds are not uncommon, and gusts of 70 to 80 mph have been recorded. In 1994, a brief windstorm knocked down the massive sign at the Las Vegas Hilton, and in 2010 a storm tore apart the Cloud 9 balloon, billed as the largest tethered helium balloon in the world.

But this is the desert, and it’s not hot year-round. It can get quite cold, especially in the winter, when at night it can drop to 30°F (–1°C) and lower. Although rare, it does snow occasionally in Las Vegas. The winter of 2008 to 2009 dropped nearly 3 inches of snow on the Strip. There’s nothing quite like the sight of Luxor’s Sphinx covered in snow. The breeze can also become a cold, biting wind of up to 40 mph or more. And so there are entire portions of the year when you won’t be using that hotel pool at all (even if you want to; most of the hotels close huge chunks of those pool areas for “the season,” which can be as long as the period from Labor Day to Memorial Day). If you aren’t traveling in the height of summer, bring a jacket. Also, remember sunscreen and a hat—even if it’s not all that hot, you can burn very easily and very fast.

MAJOR CONVENTION DATES FOR 2017

Listed below are Las Vegas’s major annual conventions, with projected attendance figures for 2017; believe us, unless you’re coming for one of them, you probably want to avoid the biggies. Because convention schedules frequently change, contact the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (www.vegasmeansbusiness.com) to double-check the latest info before you commit to your travel dates.

Event Attendance

Dates

Expected

Consumer Electronics Show

Jan 5–8

176,000

Shooting, Hunting & Outdoor Trade Show

Jan 17–20

61,000

World of Concrete

Jan 17–20

48,000

Adult Entertainment Expo

Jan 18–21

50,000

Las Vegas Market Furniture Show

Jan 22–26

50,000

Int’l Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigerating Expo

Jan 30–Feb 1

60,000

Safari Club International

Feb 1–4

21,000

National Association of Broadcasters

Apr 22–27

96,000

National Hardware Show

May 3–5

32,000

Int’l Esthetics Cosmetic and Spa Conference

Jun 24–26

25,000

Las Vegas Market Furniture Show

July 30–Aug 3

750,000

SEMA/Automotive Aftermarket Industry Week

Oct 31–Nov 3

130,000

Holidays

Banks, government offices, post offices, and many stores, restaurants, and museums are closed on the following legal national holidays: January 1 (New Year’s Day), the third Monday in January (Martin Luther King, Jr., Day), the third Monday in February (Presidents’ Day), the last Monday in May (Memorial Day), July 4 (Independence Day), the first Monday in September (Labor Day), the second Monday in October (Columbus Day), November 11 (Veterans Day/Armistice Day), the fourth Thursday in November (Thanksgiving Day), and December 25 (Christmas).

Any holiday, especially ones that involve a day off work for most people, will mean big crowds in Vegas. This includes “holidays” like St. Patrick’s Day, Cinco de Mayo, and Spring Break.

Las Vegas Calendar of Events

You may be surprised that Las Vegas does not offer as many annual events as most other tourist cities. The reason is Las Vegas’s very raison d’être: the gaming industry. This town wants its visitors spending their money in the casinos, not at Renaissance fairs and parades.

When in town, check the local paper and contact the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (www.lasvegas.com; Black-Phone_bphone 877/847-4858 or 702/892-7575) or the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce (www.lvchamber.com; Black-Phone_bphone 702/735-1616) to find out about other events scheduled during your visit.

FEBRUARY

The Super Bowl. Granted, the actual game is not held in Las Vegas, but the numbers of people it brings to the city rival those that go to wherever the big game is being held. Sports fans and sports bettors come out in droves to watch the action on the big screens around town and to lay down a wager or two on the outcome. It usually takes place on the first Sunday in February.

Valentine’s Day. This is the marriage (and possibly divorce) capital of the world, so the betrothed line up to exchange their vows all across town on Cupid’s day. As on other days of the year, the city’s Marriage Bureau stays open until midnight, and some chapels perform dozens of weddings. February 14.

MARCH

USA Sevens. Not a rugby fan? No matter, a day at the Sevens tourney is an experience. The largest attended rugby event in the country welcomes some 75,000 visitors to the Sam Boyd Stadium, 7000 E. Russell Rd. (samboydstadium.com; Black-Phone_bphone 702/895-3761), located about 20 minutes from the Strip. Teams from 16 countries compete in some 45 matches and fans travel from all around the world to cheer on their home countries or teams, dressed in jerseys, war paint, and outlandish costumes. Though the games are on the weekend, leading up to the tournament is a full week of events, including pep rallies, a beer festival, and a Parade of Nations. Held in early March. For more information, visit www.usasevens.com.

NASCAR. The Las Vegas Motor Speedway, 7000 Las Vegas Blvd. N. (www.lvms.com; Black-Phone_bphone 800/644-4444), has become one of the premier facilities in the country, attracting races and racers of all stripes and colors. The biggest races of the year are the Boyd Gaming 300 and the Kobalt Tools 400, held in early March.

March Madness. Remember everything we just said about the Super Bowl? Apply it here for the NCAA college basketball championships throughout the second half of the month.

MAY

Rock in Rio USA. The hugely popular music concert with roots in Brazil, Spain, and Portugal held its inaugural Las Vegas fest in May 2015. The events are a partnership between Rock in Rio, MGM Resorts, and Cirque du Soleil, and take place every other year at its permanent festival ground on the North Strip (across from the former Sahara hotel, now SLS). It features five stages, a cityscape, carnival rides, and more. The first year featured performances by Taylor Swift, Bruno Mars, Metallica and No Doubt, and concerts in other cities have drawn the likes of Beyoncé, Justin Timberlake, and Stevie Wonder, to name a few, and have drawn upwards of 700,000 people. For more information, visit www.rockinrio.com. May 2017.

JUNE

World Series of Poker. When Harrah’s Entertainment bought the legendary Binion’s Horseshoe in Downtown Vegas out of bankruptcy, it quickly turned around and sold the hotel, but kept the hosting rights to this famed event, moving its location and place on the calendar. Now held at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino, 3700 W. Flamingo Rd. (Black-Phone_bphone 800/752-9746), in June and July (with the final table held in November for some incomprehensible reason), the event features high-stakes gamblers and showbiz personalities competing for six-figure purses. There are daily events, with entry stakes ranging from $125 to $5,000. To enter the World Championship Event, players must pony up $10,000 but could win a fortune (the 2013 top prize was $8.3 million). It costs nothing to crowd around the tables and watch the action, but if you want to avoid the throngs, you can catch a lot of it on TV. For more information, visit www.wsop.com.

Electric Daisy Carnival. One of the biggest annual Electronic Dance Music (EDM) events in the world draws upwards of 400,000 people to the city with a multi-day series of concerts from the biggest DJs and club music stars in the business. Past festivals saw EDM megastars like Tiesto, Avicii, Afrojack, Eric Prydz, Richie Hawtin, Carl Cox, and Adam Beyer in front of the dancing mobs. If you don’t know who any of those acts are, it’s probably best to consider a different weekend, as rooms are scarce. Usually held the third weekend in June at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. For more information, visit www.electricdaisycarnival.com.

SEPTEMBER

Life is Beautiful Festival. Started in 2013, this festival takes over a huge chunk of Downtown Las Vegas with music from bands both big (Beck, Imagine Dragons, Janelle Monae) and small; food and cooking demonstrations from celebrity chefs; art projects and displays; a speaker series; performances from Vegas shows including Cirque du Soleil; and more. The friendly neighborhood vibe, terrific organization (at least so far), and endless array of things to see, do, and eat make this a favorite for more than 65,000 people.

OCTOBER

Halloween. Las Vegas gets even scarier than normal on and around Halloween, with “spooky” twists to many of the major attractions (Adventuredome becomes “Fright Dome,” with haunted houses and more), debaucherous costume parties at the nightclubs, and a parade and festivities in Downtown Las Vegas. October 31.

DECEMBER

National Finals Rodeo. This is the Super Bowl of rodeos, attended by about 200,000 people each year and offering more than $6 million in prize money. Male and female rodeo stars compete in everything from calf roping to steer wrestling, bull riding, team roping, saddle bronc riding, bareback riding, and barrel racing. In connection with this event, hotels book country stars into their showrooms, and a cowboy shopping spree—the NFR Cowboy Christmas Gift Show, a trade show for Western gear—is held at the convention center. The NFR runs for 10 days, during the first 2 weeks of December, at the 17,000-seat Thomas & Mack Center of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV). Order tickets as far in advance as possible (Black-Phone_bphone 866/388-3267). For more information, see www.nfrexperience.com.

New Year’s Eve. Between 300,000 and 400,000 people descend on Las Vegas to ring in the New Year, making it one of the largest gatherings for the holiday outside of New York’s Times Square. Fireworks are the dominant entertainment, with pyrotechnics launched from the roofs of many hotels on the Strip and under the canopy at Fremont Street in Downtown Las Vegas. The Strip is closed to vehicles for the night, so traffic and parking are a nightmare, as is booking a room (expect to pay a hefty premium), which should be done well in advance. December 31.