Get to know Las Vegas like a local, from downtown to Chinatown, Red Rock Canyon to Hoover Dam.
Though Las Vegas goes to outlandish lengths to welcome visitors, it can be hard for out-of-towners to get to know it. The casinos, shows, and buffets grab the attention, but there’s more to the city than those neon billboards lining the Strip will tell you.
Culinary Hot Spot
The most authentic dining experiences are downtown, and Esther’s Kitchen, an “Italian soul food” restaurant in the Arts District, leads the way using many ingredients from the valley. Chef James Trees—a Vegas native—serves up a melt-in-your-mouth porchetta, tender meatballs, and sourdough-crust pizzas with ample helpings of fresh toppings, such as asparagus, cauliflower, and truffle cheese.
Nearly every resort has a pool scene—with entertainment, bottle service, and cabanas—but none is as lively as the Pool District at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. It boasts three different venues: the Marquee Dayclub Pool, run like an outdoor nightclub under the bright desert sun; the Chelsea Pool, quieter and more private; and the Boulevard Pool, overlooking the Strip and offering foosball.
Insider's Tip: Be sure to catch a movie from one of the chaise lounges or daybeds at the Boulevard Pool; films are shown Monday evenings from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Vegas has dozens of rides, but the scariest are accessed from atop the 1,149-foot-tall Stratosphere Tower, the highest point in town. There are four attractions in all, including X-Scream, a roller coaster that hurtles passengers over the tower’s edge. If that’s not thrilling enough, there’s SkyJump, a bungee-style plunge that sends jumpers 829 feet streetward in a matter of seconds.
It’s no secret that this town has had connections with organized crime over the years, but a stop by the Mob Museum will help you understand how deep those ties truly run. A new exhibit spotlighting Prohibition doubles as a speakeasy, where visitors can order cocktails with house-made moonshine.
This year marks Cirque du Soleil’s 25th anniversary in Las Vegas, and—with six shows in production—the franchise shows no sign of losing its magic. Mystère, the original, is still running at Treasure Island, plus there are free behind-the-scenes demos of Love at the Mirage on Friday afternoons.
The best outdoor adventures near the city are at the western edge of the valley around Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. Drive the 13-mile scenic route for access to a variety of hiking trails. Outside the park boundaries, a half-day guided horseback tour with Cowboy Trail Rides will have you climbing past Joshua trees to a ridge with views of the skyline.
Insider's Tip: Don't miss the desert wildflowers inside the park come spring.
In Vegas, Chinatown is just a half-mile stretch of Spring Mountain Road, but for anyone seeking genuine Asian food, this is the place to be. Hong Kong Garden Seafood & BBQ Cafe serves the finest dim sum and crispy Peking duck in town. Top it off with a refreshing cup of sweet boba tea from one of the many shops that line the street.
End with a Bang
The National Atomic Testing Museum near University of Nevada, Las Vegas spotlights the history of nuclear weapons testing in the Vegas Valley, and features a 4-D simulation of what it would be like to live through an atomic bomb blast.
When the heat lets up, head to the Park, a public space between New York–New York and Park MGM, for fresh air and a quiet moment in the heart of the Strip. Visitors can bliss out to water features or catch up with friends over a draft brew and a game of giant Jenga at Beerhaus.
Insider's Tip: Sneak away to one of the best spas in Vegas for a break from the noise of the casino floor and much-deserved pampering.
Vegas rose from pioneer outpost to bustling city thanks to the Hoover Dam—a deservedly popular destination. Instead of driving the whole way there, stop 30 minutes east in Boulder City and rent a bike. Then pedal the River Mountains Loop Trail to the Historic Railroad Trail, a path that runs through tunnels used to haul away rock during construction. Stop at the Lake Mead Overlook before the trail ends near the dam parking garage. Following the 10-mile path will give you more insight into Las Vegas than sitting in front of a slot machine ever will.
Nearby Places to Explore
Less-crowded Laughlin, Nevada.
Don't-miss classic Las Vegas Haunts.
The colorful Seven Magic Mountains 30 minutes outside the city.
Speed around the track and push the limits on an exotic sports car with a Vegas-flavored driving experience.
Delight in a treat from Donut Bar in downtown.
Still hungry? Try one of these restaurants on and off the Strip.
If you're planning on traveling to Las Vegas, talk to the Vacation Experts for free at AAA Travel.
This article was first published in Fall 2018. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.