7 things to do in Vegas BESIDES gamble

The average visitor to Las Vegas blows $500 in a weekend of gambling. Before you’re down to your last dime, consider stepping away from that one-eyed bandit to find out what else Sin City has on tap.

Wet republic / Photo: YoTuT

1. Drink

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.

Love dive bars? The Double Down Saloon, near the airport, is a punk-ass live music joint owned by the genius behind Frankie’s Tiki Room, a kitschy tropical fantasy just off I-15.

2. Dance

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.

3. Jump

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.

Photo: tedkerwin

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.

5. Shop

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.

Miss Atomic Test 1954 / Photo: x-ray delta one

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.

Death Valley is an easy two-hour drive to the east. Even Utah’s Zion and Bryce Canyons and Arizona’s Grand Canyon national parks are just a day trip from the Strip.

Community Connection

For more alternative travel ideas, check out our Green Guide to Las Vegas. Need to find more watering holes in this desert? Browse our locals’ list of The Top Dive Bars in Las Vegas.

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  • http://www.nosinmimochila.com/ No sin mi mochila

    Another thing you can do in Las Vegas is to walk at night and see how the police are looking for drug use among young people who drive convertibles

  • http://www.sierrasurvey.com David Page

    Nice one, Sara! Can’t wait to check out a few of these on my next trip to the other side of Death Valley. Especially the Springs Preserve, the Atomic Testing Museum and some of those vintage shops. I’ll have to pick up your app for some tips on where to find good Thai food, or an Indian lunch buffet.

  • http://www.thejetpacker.com The Jetpacker

    Don’t forget the Pinball Hall of Fame. It’s a nerd’s paradise: there are over 200 pinball machines and old video games like Paperboy.

    By the way, the Double Down Saloon is famous (or infamous?) for its BACON MARTINI.

    Another great thing to do is the ice cream tasting challenge at RM Seafood inside Mandalay Bay. You get to try a bunch of different types of ice cream and guess the taste. But there’s always 1 or 2 landmine flavors thrown in to confuse and possibly sicken you (like fish flavored ice cream).

  • http://vagabonderz.com Carlo Alcos

    Paperboy! Do they have Elevator Action? If so, I’m in.

  • Mark

    Is there anything good to do in Vegas that doesn’t cost money? Beyond people watching of course.

  • http://indietraveler.blogspot.com Sara Benson

    Good question about freebies. On the first Friday evening of every month, downtown Las Vegas’ arts district has an outdoor party, with gallery openings, street performers, live bands and more.

    On and off the Strip, a few casino resorts put on free shows, like the Sirens of TI at Treasure Island, the Bellagio’s fountains, the Mirage’s exploding mock volcano, the Rio’s Show in the Sky…but they’re all pretty cheesy, if fun. Downtown, the outdoor Fremont Street Experience is a free lights ‘n music show.

    Some of the Strip’s casinos also have free, if small attractions. The MGM Grand has a walk-through, glassed-in lion habitat — the lions rotate through, and live on a ranch outside town when they’re not “working”. The Flamingo has an outdoor garden and “wildlife habitat” with penguins, flamingos and more. The Mirage has a tropical fish aquarium in the lobby, while the Bellagio has a free indoor conservatory.

    Last, there are a couple of places to get good free views of the Strip. You don’t have to pay to go up the Stratosphere Tower or Paris’ faux Eiffel Tower. You can take a glass elevator ride up to THEhotel at Mandalay Bay’s Mix Lounge, or escape to CityCenter’s Mandarin Oriental hotel, which has a 23rd-floor sky lobby with great neon lights views after dark.

  • http://www.nileguide.com/destination/las-vegas THMeeks

    I’d also add: eat! Las Vegas is overflowing with restaurants.

  • Geo P.

    Oh, yeah…if you want free, be sure to check out Carl “Safe Sax” Ferris at the Fremont Street. Actually, Fremont Street is awesome all around; there are all sorts of performers, artists and places to hang out there, plus the experience on the awning itself.

    I can’t wait for them to finish Symphony Park!

  • Psychokilla64

    go get a lap dance

  • Brody Bondo

    I would not say the drink was watered down. The one thing I would have to say is limo rides are like taxi cabs here. Your better off taking a limo through down town vegas then sit in a stinky cab for nearly the same price.
    Our company has all the interior parts for limo’s and rv at www. limopartsstore.com