Vegas is a love-it-or-hate-it proposition. And what’s always astounded me is how the dividing issue so often is gambling. “Oh, I love to play the slots!” or “I’m a craps man, myself!” will put you in the “love it” camp. “I don’t gamble at all” or “I work too hard for my money to waste it at a casino” usually puts you in the “hate it” camp. And “you have to walk too far” or “too many kids running around” puts you in the Mature camp!
WAKE UP, PEOPLE! Vegas has SO MANY MORE THINGS to do than sit in a casino all day and night. I can fill a couple of days just people watching! I kid you not, last time I was there at a Stripside outdoor restaurant, I looked up and saw an Elvis impersonator (the old, large Elvis) riding up the sidewalk on a Hoveround scooter. You just don’t see that in LA or NYC. I nearly choked on my nachos!
It’s easy to find cheap travel options (land *or* air) to Las Vegas, so it’s worth a trip. Airport transit is either rental car, cabs, or a transit service (like Bell Transit). Once you get to your resort, especially if you’re on the Strip, don’t bother with the monorail (expensive and inconvenient). Many hotels are connected by their own monorails which are free, the bus is inexpensive, and you can always walk (note: wear comfortable walking shoes!)
Here are some great ideas of what to do in Vegas that doesn’t involve gambling. And if you like to gamble, to quote Effie from “Hunger Games”—“May the odds ever be in your favor!”
- The Pools. Most all of the huge resorts have amazing pools, from the tropical paradise pool at Mandalay Bay to the sand-bottom pool at the Rio to the Roman pool experience at Caesar, and everything in-between. You can find Lazy Rivers, wave pools, or —you can find a pool more shallow “splash” pools—so any taste can be satisfied. And let’s not forget downtown, where the Golden Nugget has a glass-enclosed water slide that actually shoots you safely through a real shark tank (and I’m not talking Mr. Wonderful or Mark Cuban here!). Some of the more upscale resorts that cater to a younger crowd throw bona-fide pool parties, complete with DJ’s, during peak periods. But if you’re a sun-seeker and it’s pool season (which in Vegas can range from March through October), grab the sunscreen and head down for some water-borne fun.
- The Shows. I’ve seen everyone from Cher to Elton to Celine to Rod in Vegas. World-class staging and music. But other shows cater to any interest—Comedy, Stage Hypnotism, Musicals, the traditional Vegas-style review, and the famous Cirque-style shows. But not all shows cost, and that’s one of the recurring themes in Vegas. If you just want a drink or several while listening to some good live music, you can find that in nearly every resort by just walking around and following the sound of the tunes. The best shows and bands tend to perform later in the evening, but you can find it almost anytime—and if you’re there for a special event (i.e., Rodeo in December), they adjust the performers accordingly. In every way possible, Las Vegas has your number.
- The Shopping. Vegas used to have shopping limited to schlocky evening-wear for ladies in the high-price resort shops accompanied by endless t-shirt and curio shops. Not anymore. Resorts like Caesar’s, Planet Hollywood, and the Venetian/Palazzo have world-class and architecturally awesome malls right in the resorts. But if you want bargains, head to the far South of the Strip (take your car or just the bus) just south of Sunset you’ll find great outlet and discount shopping of every variety, on both sides of I-15. And if you’re going to hunt bargains, make sure to either leave room, or plan to ship your new treasures home!
- Get out of town. Vegas sits right near some AMAZING sights. Thirty minutes out of town is Hoover Dam—one of the technical wonders of the world—and you can spend a lot of time just touring and exploring the dam. But if you’re not wanting to follow the herd, rent a boat at one of the many marinas on the shores of Lake Mead and spend a day gliding on the surface of a lapis-blue 700-foot-deep lake! Pack a lunch, set sail, pull up into a canyon and enjoy a little lunch with your solitude. And if you really want a lake adventure, grab some friends and share a houseboat on the lake for a few days. It’ll change your perspective of Southern Nevada!
- Get out of town, part II. The Grand Canyon is about 250 miles from Las Vegas, making a day trip a little extreme. However, there are tons of air and helicopter tours that will whisk you down, fly you through the canyon, and bring you back to McCarran by dinnertime. Some offer ground transport around the canyon, others offer lunch, but all have the beauty of the Grand Canyon to offer. Check with your hotel, or just look at one of the dozens of “what to do” magazines available. However, be warned: use your phone, tablet or computer to check the safety record of whichever company you choose for this.
- Get out of town, part III. If you want some mountain beauty that’s really close, head just northwest of Las Vegas and wind your way up the roads to Mt. Charleston. Incredible views, great hiking, and best of all it’s about 20 to 30 degrees cooler that it is on the Strip. Best of all it’s an inexpensive use of your rental car!
- Thrill yourself. Vegas has no shortage of ways to get that heart rate up. If you’re a roller-coaster fan, there is an awesome one at the New York New York that takes you Stripside and then turns you upside down at blinding speeds. Two others are in the Adventuredome, the pink-glass-covered adventure park behind the Circus Circus on the North end of the Strip. The top of the Stratosphere tower has several thrill rides which, at nearly 1,000 feet above Las Vegas Blvd. are *guaranteed* to give you your aerobic burst of the day. Or, get off the strip for numerous Bungee Towers or Zip Lines from which to get your hollers in. These are all guaranteed to get you to scream louder than a high-stakes Craps game!
- THE FOOD. Las Vegas food is no longer an endless stream of all-you-can-eat buffets. Almost every major chef and upscale restaurant in America, and increasingly the world, has an outlet in Vegas. Bobby Flay, Emeril, Morimoto, Wolfgang Puck, Giada DeLaurentis, Gordon Ramsay, they’re all represented here, as well as are East Coast stallwarts like Carmine’s, Rao’s, even the venerable and recently departed Manhattan restaurant Le Cirque. But Las Vegas restaurants on the Strip and off the Strip are awesome, unique, and worth a visit. You can get food from anywhere in the world in in this city—the hard part is deciding where to eat! Here are a few of my favorites:
- Mon Ami Gabi (Paris Hotel)—excellent French bistro food. Prices are not cheap for dinner but French food is seldom inexpensive! However, to lower the bill a bit, arrive and order from the lunch menu before 5pm (when the menu, and prices, change to dinner). The selection is basically the same and it’s about one-third less expensive. If the weather is nice (meaning under 100 degrees in Vegas!), sit outside and enjoy the view of the Strip walkers and the Bellagio across the street.
- Canaletto (Venetian Hotel)—wonderful Italian with a view of the inside “canal.” Killer smoked swordfish carpaccio and the Zuppa di Pesci (which would be Cioppino in San Francisco) was one of the best I’ve ever had!
- LobsterME (locations in Shops at Miracle Mile in the Planet Hollywood and in the Venetian)—this place is just so unexpectedly good. The star here is the lobster, and if you want the best lobster roll this side of the Pine Tree State, pay LobsterME a visit!
- The Buffet at Wynn (Wynn Resort and Casino)—if you absolutely must have a Vegas buffet, this one is the best. Opulent setting, and surprisingly good food, await. The brunch on Saturdays and Sundays is astounding as well (although I ate so much smoked salmon I’m not sure I’ll be allowed back!). This one is not cheap but you pay for what you get, and what you get here—be sides quantity—is quality.
- Nightlife. Some of the hottest nightspots in the world are in Las Vegas. Most all of the larger resorts on the Strip have one, from the Marquee at the Cosmopolitan, Omnia at Caesar’s, XS at the Wynn, or Tao at the Venetian. Shades of Studio 54! Get your bling on and dance, dance, dance, dance!
- The People. Just walk around. LOOK around. You can see people from all over the world in lots of cities in this country but nowhere are they all unified a plan to have a “what happens here, stays here” time like in Las Vegas. Get out and just enjoy!
Vegas has something for everyone, for sure. They’ve gotten away from the 90’s focus on the family, but there is MORE than enough to keep a family with kids of any age occupied. Adults? OH wow do they have us covered. Luxury or budget? No problem on either end. Visit! It’s like nowhere else on our planet!