What happens in Vegas when we stay in Vegas (January 2013)
I’ve been to Sin City at least once a year for the last few years. Why? It’s definitely not the gambling. Sure, I’ve thrown away a few bucks in the hopes I’d win big, but I’ve never been very lucky on games of chance and when I’m losing I lose interest. For me, the adult playground offers other draws. First off, the stay is definitely affordable—the most recent 5-day, 5-night Southwest vacation was $600 per person including airfare and a luxury hotel stay at Vdara Hotel & Spa. Secondly, I’m a fan of overkill and, from bright neon lights to insanely talented acrobats, excess of all kinds is the name of the game in Vegas. Finally, for those restless sorts with short attention spans, there’s never a shortage of things to do at any time on any day.
So, what fun awaits outside the temperature-controlled casinos and endless buffets? Plenty.
History. From mobsters to mushroom clouds, Greater Las Vegas has a colorful history that’s well worth exploration. Here’s where we’d start:
- The Neon Museum of Las Vegas – Where do iconic neon signs go when the attractions they once boldly announced vanish from the skyline? If they’re lucky, to The Neon Museum to detail the past and await future restoration for display as public art. Once only a collection of artifacts in what has been dubbed the “Neon Boneyard,” the nonprofit museum recently restored the historic La Concha Motel and opened it as a visitor’s center. Tours are only available with advance reservation, so put your request in early. www.neonmuseum.org
- National Museum of Organized Crime & Law Enforcement (better known as “The Mob Museum”) – Designed under the direction of Dennis Barrie, co-creator of the International Spy Museum and the Rock, and located in a historic post office and courthouse in old downtown and just steps away from Fremont Street, The Mob Museum chronicles mafia families across the country, the struggles between gangsters and government and the portrayal of these outlaws in the movies. It’s well worth the visit, but budget enough time because there’s so much packed into this place it’s criminal. www.themobmuseum.org
- National Atomic Testing Museum – People actually use to make an effort to see nuclear bombs detonate in the desert (just like they used to smoke on airplanes and let their kids lie in the back window of a moving car), celebrating the mushroom clouds it produced with everything from parade floats to atomic martinis. Learn about the history of the Nevada testing site and “experience science and history by the megaton” at this Smithsonian-affiliated museum. (But hitch a ride there, the walk is just a little too much from The Strip.) www.nationalatomictestingmuseum.org
- Hoover Dam – This was our first trip to see the massive arch-gravity dam less than an hour away from The Strip. Not unlike other architectural wonders like, say, the pyramids, it’s amazing to see such an impressive and complex structure created when its builders didn’t really have the right tools to do it. While there is plenty to see outside, we took the power plant tour and thought it was well worth our $11. Stop in Boulder City on your way and grab a peanut butter waffle, a breakfast burrito or a beer at the World Famous Coffee Cup. The eclectically outfitted eatery featured on Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives proved to be a filling stop. http://www.usbr.gov/lc/hooverdam
The Great Outdoors. You’re in the desert and minutes away from The Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. There’s hiking and biking, rock climbing, Pink Jeep Tours and other an array of other ways to appreciate the “natural side” of Nevada. This visit, two members of our group headed out early one morn to rent mountain bikes at McGhies Bike Outpost (which they highly recommended) and hit the rocky trails.
Big Production Numbers. Whether you want to see a Sinatra impersonator or Cocco Austin’s bare bazoombas, there’s a show for you.
- Cirque du Soleil – There’s an array of Cirque and Cirque-like productions in Vegas. Based at major hotels, unlike their world-traveling counterparts these imaginative and athletic performances have permanent, elaborate stages. We’ve seen all but one (Zarkana was dark during our most recent trip) and our favorites , in order, are Le Rêve (not a Cirque show, but it might as well be), The Beatles LOVE and KÀ.
- Penn & Teller – Penn & Teller have been performing in Vegas for 12 years, but even going into an illusion I’ve seen before, I can’t figure out how the trick works. And what makes the irreverent duo that much cooler is that they head out to the hallway to meet each and every ticket-buyer who wants to make their acquaintance following every performance.
- Comedy – We’ve been to the Riviera Comedy Club and Tropicana’s Laugh Factory, but for the best atmosphere and consistently funny jokers, we’ve had the best luck (and best laughs) at Brad Garrett’s Comedy Club at MGM. (The drinks are really expensive though and tip is included, so don’t make our rookie mistake and tip twice on an already-inflated bill.)
- Cross-dressing Divas – One trip, we spent every night watching female impersonators pay tribute to female entertainers ranging from Joan Rivers to Britney Spears proving that Vegas can be a real drag.
Local Favorites. Last year, we did a tour of outlying casinos like Sam’s Town, The Cannery and Red Rock. This time around, we were a little more cultured. We trekked to the Downtown Arts District for First Friday. This celebration of, for and by natives creatives included live music, food, fire dancers, blocks of gallery open houses and an impressive number of artists displaying their talents under tents. Everyone we talked to was excited that tourists were discovering a city special event. www.firstfridaylasvegas.com