Sure, we appreciate those watered-down cocktails served up free and easy while we feed dollar bills into casino slot machines. But mixology as an art form survives in Vegas. So kick back with an authentic muddled mojito at the Mirage’s Strip-side Rhumbar, with its open-air patio for people-watching, or get away from the tourist crowds at the speakeasy-style Downtown Cocktail Room.
Like any 24/7/365 city, Vegas thrives on nightlife. Powerhouse clubbing on the Strip gets all the attention, especially at Encore’s XS and the Venetian’s Tao. But you don’t have to wait in line for hours and pay $50/head just to get your groove on.
Harrah’s outdoor Carnaval Court, smack bang mid-Strip, is usually a no-cover bar with DJs or live bands. Or explore downtown’s cooler local scene on Fremont St., east of Las Vegas Blvd. Start at the Beauty Bar, where live indie bands alternate with eclectic DJs from LA, San Francisco, Portland, and beyond.
Into the pool, that is. Summertime in Vegas means one thing: pool season. Yeah, you can just hang out by your own hotel pool — Mandalay Bay’s artificial beach and wave pool, for example, is like an amusement park — but that’s probably not where the party’s really at. Vegas’ pool clubs are a hotter, hipper, crazier scene, especially on the weekends.
Order up a pitcher of frozen lemonade at the MGM Grand’s mammoth Wet Republic or Wynn’s more sophisticated Encore Beach Club, or join the madness at the Hard Rock’s Sunday Rehab, where you might be required to act nonchalant when you see a rock star like Courtney Love knocking back too many margaritas, then falling in the pool.
4. Dive, Spin & Roll
While most hotels prohibit you from diving headfirst into their relatively shallow pools, you can take a header off the Stratosphere Tower, the tallest building of its kind in the American West.
The tower’s brand-new SkyJump lets you experience free-fall (safely strapped into a harness) from 108 stories above the Strip.
Or brave Insanity, a thrill ride that dangles you over the tower’s edge then spins you around like a centrifuge. Nearby at the old-school Sahara casino hotel, the Speed – The Ride roller coaster bullets through the vintage camel marquee to a 224-foot-high tower, then makes your guts churn as it roars backward along the same looping track.
Let the Strip have its megamalls, where big-name designers have million-dollar showrooms. Elsewhere in the city, you can hunt down vintage, antique, and other unique, only-in-Vegas shops. Downtown, the Gambler’s General Store sells decks of souvenir cards once used in Vegas casinos, as well as full-sized roulette wheels and customizable poker chips.
Retro Vegas collects hard-to-find Mid-Century Modern pieces dating back to Vegas’ Fabulous Fifties and the Rat Pack days. Gold & Silver Pawn, made famous by the History Channel’s Pawn Stars reality TV series, also has Old Vegas memorabilia in spades. Hankering for a real showgirl’s boa? Find one at Rainbow Feather Co.
6. Get Smart
Few travelers know about it, but Vegas is home to some surprisingly worthy museums. At the Atomic Testing Museum, relive the Atomic Era, when mushroom clouds exploded over the desert horizon and Las Vegas crowned a Miss Atomic Bomb.
At the Springs Preserve, learn how Vegas came to be (think: water, silver mines, and the railroad), then consider the future sustainability of this artificial playground as you wander the xeriscaped gardens and desert trails.
7. Get Out of Town
Eventually the canned air and the ding-ding-ding of slot machines will drive you crazy. That’s when it’s time to rent a car, hit the road, and find some solitude in the Mojave Desert.
Red Rock Canyon is a popular destination for rock climbers and mountain bikers, while Valley of Fire has bizarre-looking red rock formations with names like the Beehives and Duck Rock that you can scramble around; both places are great for scenic drives or road cycling. (Tip: Go early or late in the day, because summer temperatures can be dangerously hot.)
Mount Charleston, in the Spring Mountains, is a cooler summertime escape for hiking to waterfalls and peak views, and snowboarding and skiing in winter. Or zoom down a zipline in Bootleg Canyon, then go land sailing around a desert dry lake near the California state line.
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Sara Benson is a travel guidebook writer and photographer who loves road tripping around the USA. She detours to Las Vegas every chance she gets, and not just because she’s a poker fiend. She’s also the author of Sutro Media’s Viva Las Vegas, Baby! iPhone and iPod Touch app. Keep up with Sara’s latest adventures on Twitter and her blog, The Indie Traveler.
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