Las Vegas! I think the first trip to Las Vegas leaves a lasting impression on anyone and no matter how many times you visit you will always see something new! I have made several trips both for work and play – so here are my tip to help you get the most out of this great city! On a side note, Las Vegas is not only a great destination for fun, but it’s also a great hub for exploring destinations out West.
Most people arrive in the the very busy McCarran Airport (LAS) which is very close to the Las Vegas strip and about 8 miles from downtown Las Vegas. You can take a shuttle from the airport to your hotel or a taxi (I find a taxi is a bit quicker). If you are not planning to venture beyond Las Vegas strip and downtown I do not recommend renting a car, the traffic on the strip during peak times (which is most of the time) can be frustrating.
If you are planning to stay in the Strip/Downtown area of Las Vegas then you can get around very easily by walking or using the Deuce bus which runs up and down the strip. I think for a first trip to Las Vegas the Deuce bus is a great way to see the entire strip (it’s a double decker and makes stops along the way), but it can be fun to ride the bus all the way up and down especially at night when everything is lit up.
If you are planning some side trips then you will want to rent a car and most of the rental agencies allow you to drive in Utah, Arizona, California, and Nevada for no extra charge.
There are some many options for hotels and you can typically get a very nice hotel room for much less than many other cities such as New York or San Francisco. The main considerations on hotel are:
On the Strip: The Las Vegas Strip is about a 4 miles of Las Vegas Boulevard from Mandalay Bay to the Stratosphere. The largest concentration of hotels and resorts is from Mandalay Bay to Encore. Rates are anywhere from $100 to $300 per night depending on time of year, rates are much less during the week.
I have stayed at the Venetian, Mandalay Bay, Luxor, Treasure Island, NewYork NewYork, Paris, and Bellagio. The only one of these I would not recommend is the Luxor, it is a bit dated although a great place to take pictures outside of! Mandalay Bay is a great resort and also getting some age on it, but it is as the very end of the strip and a little quieter, so if you want be right in the heart of the strip I would choose a resort between NYNY and Venetian. You can typically get good rates booking directly with the resorts, but also look at Kayak and Hotwire if you aren’t set on a particular resort. You can typically get really great rates at Bally’s, Luxor, and Planet Hollywood (as low as $50 per night).
Off the Strip: There are some very nice resorts off the strip The Palms, Red Rock, Westin, and Marriott properties as well as really discounted hotel rooms a decent hotels like Hard Rock and Hooters for less than $50 per night. I have only stayed off the strip once, it was at a Bluegreen Resort and I would not recommend this hotel it is very close to the airport with airport noise.
Downtown Las Vegas: The “original” Las Vegas and the area known as Fremont Street, this is where you will still see all the neon signs including the famous Vegas Vic Cowboy. I have never stayed in this area, but many people really enjoy this 2 mile section that is much more walk able and has some nice hotels including The Golden Nugget and D Hotel. This is the area where you will also find some of the famous “cheap eats” such as Hash House a Go Go and Garden Court Buffet at Main Street Station. It really is a must see at night and for the daring you can even go ziplining!
If you visit Fremont be sure to stop by Container Park, this quirky shopping center/recreation area is built from recycled shipping containers, with great stores, galleries, and even a playground with huge slide for kids! If you have some time, stop by Oak & Ivy for amazing signature cocktails at pretty affordable prices, $8-$10 a Vegas bargain!
There are so many great restaurants in Las Vegas, from chains to unique dining experiences. I will list some of my favorites, but there are so many options to chose from you can’t go wrong, but be prepared many are and can be overpriced!
Le Thai/Best Thai I have ever had! Roy’s/All I can say is butterfish!! Tao/Hip with excellent food! Fleur/Aspargas omelet! AquaKnox/Excellent seafood. There are really too many steak places to name and they are all pretty amazing from Craft to Delmonico’s, but hands down best meal I have ever had in Vegas was at Gordon Ramsay Steak in the Paris hotel. It’s $$$, but hands down service, food, wine, it’s the whole package from appetizers, entree, to dessert (still dream about the sticky toffee pudding!).
I don’t gamble so I can’t recommend where the loosest slots or best tables are although I am told downtown Vegas is your best bet. I do recommend trying to see at least one Cirque show while you are in town (“O” and “Love” are my favorites). I have also seen some great magic and comedy shows as well, and often there are excellent concerts in town as well. There are so many “free” shows as well including watching the performers at CircusCircus, watching fountains at Bellagio (nighttime is best), watching volcanoes erupt at Mirage (at night), and so many more. The best entertainment is simply walking through many of the resorts, the Venetian has gondola rides ($) and shopping galore and Bally’s Grand Bazaar has shopping and dining as well.
Beyond Las Vegas: Here are some great sights and destinations relatively close to Las Vegas
Hoover Dam: This area is just beautiful offering amazing views of the Colorado River and Lake Mead from the Hoover Dam. It seems a world away from Las Vegas but it’s just a 45 minute drive. There is a nice tour offered, but you can walk from Nevada to Arizona for free!
Los Angeles: Beware of peak traffic times around the weekends, but otherwise this is a quick 4 hours from Las Vegas. There is not much to see, mostly dessert but the huge solar farm and wind farms in the mountains are entertaining for first time visitors out west.
Joshua Tree National Forest: Around 3 hours driving from Las Vegas you can spend a day hitting the highlights (Arch rock, Skull Rock and the Cholla Cactus Gardens) which you can drive, hop out of the car for a quick hike. You can also spend much longer and camp/spend the night. Seeing a Joshua Tree is a must.
Zion National Park: Around 2-1/2 hours from Las Vegas and located in Southwest Utah Zion is famous for it’s steep red cliffs. You can drive or hike this gorgeous park or for the more adventurous there are many options for Rock Climbing and Canyoneering.