The first thing you need to understand about Las Vegas is that just because it’s in the desert does not mean it’s hot year-round. If you want a fairly temperate year-round climate, you need to look towards Southern California. In Vegas, we don’t have an issue with extreme weather events, but we do have extreme weather: in the summer, 115 degrees is not uncommon in July and August, with triple-digit heat being the norm pretty much from June 1 to October 1. October is usually nice enough, then Halloween hits and the temperatures plummet to the 50s and 60s.
“But the 60s are nice!” Nay, 60 degrees in Vegas is winter territory because the wind can feel as bone-chilling cold as a winter day in Chicago.
If summers are too hot and winters are too cold, when should I visit?
The good news is winter usually starts to turn back into summer shortly after the first of the year. The bad news is, that’s not always reliable, so don’t go booking your January getaway just yet.
The best time to visit Las Vegas is in the spring — March to May. This is also when all of the flowering plants are in full bloom, and there are a lot more than you would expect! Spring in Vegas is quite lovely, and the temperatures are just right: usually in the 80s, give or take. And pool season officially starts March 31!
For those who like the heat, summer isn’t really so bad (and, again, it’s pool season). But if you’re coming from a cold-weather climate, the heat might be a bit too intense. If you’re from the swampy South, though, 115 degrees of dry heat may be a welcome relief.
Is Vegas a good place to spend the holidays?
Yes! In fact, it’s arguably one of the best. Most cities might just have one main Christmas tree on display in their town’s main public square; in Vegas, there are multiple Christmas trees on display inside every single hotel and casino property. You can also see some quirky displays, like Scuba Santa at the Silverton aquarium swimming with the mermaids, or another Scuba Santa at the Shark Reef Aquarium swimming with the sharks and Santa Jaws. Or how about one million lights illuminating one of the world’s largest collections of drought-tolerant cacti and ornamental plants? You can find that at Ethel M Chocolates, a chocolate-making factory that also offers tours and chocolate tasting classes. There are also nightly holiday performances complete with “live snow” at The LINQ in front of its 30-foot Christmas tree with the High Roller providing a very Vegas backdrop, a 60-foot tree and holiday market at The Park, a nightly holiday parade and massive Christmas tree at Downtown Summerlin, and, of course, the wonderful holiday display inside the Bellagio Botanical Gardens and Conservatory.
In addition to all of the holiday displays, there are holiday-themed shows from some of the Strip’s favorite performers, including Piff the Magic Dragon‘s annual Piff’s Piffmas Pifftacular and holiday-themed Legends in Concert, Tournament of Kings, and Blue Man Group shows. You can also get holiday discounts to many of the Strip’s most popular shows (including Cirque shows!), holiday-themed menus and drinks, and more ice skating rinks than you ever thought possible at The Cosmopolitan, Green Valley Ranch, Downtown Summerlin, The Park, and Ethel M’s. Then there are walk-through holiday lights displays with holiday-themed activities at Opportunity Village’s Magical Forest, the Las Vegas Christmas Town at Wet ‘n’ Wild, and the Silverton’s Winter Wonderland. Plus, about a 20- to 30-minute drive from the Strip at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, you can check out the uniquely Vegas Glittering Lights display, the largest drive-through holidays lights display in the state of Nevada with over 2.5 miles of lights in dozens of themed displays including pirates, movie monsters, and Fabulous Las Vegas itself.
The big events
Plenty of people just come to Vegas for a long weekend escape regardless of the season, but many people also come to Vegas for a specific event or festival. We’ve got a ton of huge annual events every year that draw in hundreds of thousands of visitors, from major music festivals to big-ticket boxing matches. Here are some of the big events that people plan their vacation time around.
NASCAR Weekend Las Vegas Motor Speedway
One of the biggest auto-racing weekends of the year, the Vegas leg of NASCAR’s appearance sees 70,000 people at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway to watch cars drive some 400 miles around and around and around and around. Loudly.
Monster Jam World Finals
The grown-up version of the demolition derbies you saw at your local county fairs as a kid, the Monster Jam World Finals is a bunch of big trucks bashing the crap out of each other. Spend a little extra for tickets that include exclusive and early access to the Pit Party — you don’t want to miss out on that.
Boulder City Beerfest
It’s not the biggest beer fest in Vegas, but it’s one of the most fun. Located in the beautiful Wilbur Square Park in historic downtown Boulder City, the crowd at Boulder City Beerfest is less bro-fest than family-friendly beer fest where people will spread blankets out beneath the shade of the many mature trees and enjoy the beer, food, and live music with their kids (and dogs!) in tow.
Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekender
Easter weekend (March/April)
For an alternative kind of Easter Weekend, hit up Viva Las Vegas at the Orleans, a rockabilly + hot rod + burlesque weekend that’s the largest and most respected rockabilly festival in the world, drawing in about 20,000 folks annually. Each event during the weekend is ticketed and many sell out, so plan this one in advance.
This fundraiser for UNLV is held over three days, each with its own culinary theme with beer, wine, and spirits from hundreds of producers and food from dozens of local restaurants. The Grand Tasting is the biggest event of them all, but the smaller Sake Fever is also a lot of fun and the opening Bubble-Licious champagne night is not to be missed.
Great Vegas Festival of Beer
April & October
Motley Brews puts two of these events on each year, one in the spring and one in the fall, and each year this event gets bigger and bigger. While not quite the stuff of Brewers’ Association beer fests in more beer-centric states, Nevada breweries join regional breweries (mostly from Arizona, Utah, and big boys out of California like Stone and Green Flash) in pouring samples of their staple beers, with the occasional rare beer or one-off, at this now two-day event. There’s also live music and gastropub food from several local restaurants.
The main event at Vegas Uncork’d is an absolute shitshow, and at $150+ per ticket, you could spend the same amount of money on a baller-ass meal anywhere on the Strip rather than dealing with the asses-to-elbows crowds and the less-than-impressive culinary offerings. BUT. There are a lot of other, smaller, coordinating events that are scheduled over the four-day run, including exclusive meals and private cooking and cocktail classes with celebrity chefs and mixologists. These are also expensive tickets, but you get much more bang for your buck with them, especially if you geek out over exclusive culinary experiences. These events do sell out, so get your tickets early.
Dating back to 1934, Helldorado Days is an annual festival with a Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association rodeo, parade, and carnival celebrating Las Vegas’s Western roots. The festival also includes shooting contests and golf and poker tournaments, because it’s Vegas after all.
Electric Daisy Carnival
Memorial Day Weekend
EDC is probably the biggest EDM + MDMA festival in the country. It will now be held over Memorial Day weekend, moving up a few weeks from its original date in late June in the hopes that the stifling heat won’t be quite so… hot. There are lots and lots and lots of pretty flashing lights and fuzzy neon boots, and also DJs hitting buttons on MacBooks.
World Series of Poker
The World Series of Poker is a serious thing around here, with some 7,000 players competing annually. The Main Event Final Table is the WSOP’s golden goose, with a $10,000 buy-in and around $10 million on the line for one very lucky winner.
Life Is Beautiful Festival
If you failed to make it to Coachella or Lollapalooza or Bonaroo, you’ll find a mix of all the bands that played at one or many of these at Life is Beautiful. The lineup is a mix of every damn thing — because why wouldn’t a Lorde fan also want to pay to see Chance the Rapper? — but one of the most unique things about LIB is the art component. Each year, some of the top street and installation artists from around the world — including Shepard Fairey and Meow Wolf — paint the town, and their works have completely changed the look of DTLV these last four years. The food gets a lot of buzz too, with some of the biggest culinary names in Vegas (and the world) having a presence here.
Route 91 Harvest Festival
The Route 91 Harvest Festival will, unfortunately, always have a dark shadow cast over it after the tragic shooting on October 1, 2017 that took 58 lives and left hundreds of others injured. Despite that horrifying end to an otherwise successful three-day event, organizers have said they will “try to move forward” and have not made any intentions to cancel the festival in 2018 known. Most likely it will go on, though whether it will be at the same location is to be determined.
Boulder City’s Art in the Park
Dating back to 1963, Art in the Park, presented by the Boulder City Hospital Foundation, is one of the world’s largest outdoor art fairs, attracting more than 100,000 attendees annually.
Halloween in Las Vegas is a spectacle unto itself, with a host of world-renowned haunted houses, costume contests and themed parties, club events, parades, and fun runs held over the weekend leading up to October 31. Check out the “Very Vegas Halloween” list on TravelStoke for a number of different Halloween-themed events and activities, but if you’re going to do Halloween in Vegas, there are two events you must check out that are unique to Las Vegas.
- Fetish and Fantasy Halloween Ball
It’s sponsored by sex toy and porn companies and is basically a swingers party that’s open to the public. You might not see such activities taking place (it’s still held in a casino, and believe it or not there are strictly-enforced rules inside every casino), but you just know. It’s been named “One of the Top 10 Events in the World” by the Travel Channel, “One of 5 Top Events to see before you die” by Maxim, and “The World’s Wildest Halloween Party” by Bizarre Magazine.
- Fright Dome
If there is another place in the world that features an indoor amusement park complete with two kick-ass rollercoasters and several other fun thrill rides underneath a giant dome that transforms into a large-scale haunted attraction filled with fog and creepy costumed characters, as well as five excellent haunted houses within, I know not of it.
PBR World Finals Week
Late October/early November
Not to be confused with hipsters’ cheap beer of choice, the Professional Bull Riders World Finals is held in Vegas over a week each year.
Atomic Liquor’s Sour Saturday
There aren’t many beer festivals in Vegas that really cater to the craft beer aficionados, which makes Atomic Liquor’s Sour Saturday all the more exciting. Not just a craft beer festival, but one that focuses exclusively on sour beers, Sour Saturday brings in some exceedingly rare bottles for sampling, as well as product from breweries not otherwise available in the state of Nevada. You don’t have to know your gose from your gueuze, but you should probably have a palate that likes to pucker. Tums are helpfully provided free of charge.
Rock ’n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon
Participants can run a 5k, 10k, half, or full marathon, but regardless of the length of your run you’ll get to enjoy running down the iconic Las Vegas Strip at night, surrounded by the neon lights of all the famous hotel-casinos, while getting entertained by live rock bands along the way and some pyrotechnics at the finish line. Sign up here.
National Finals Rodeo
Also known as “Cowboy Christmas,” everyone in Vegas knows when the National Finals Rodeo is in town because the Strip becomes a sea of 10-gallon hats for 10 days. This is the final event of the professional rodeo circuit and is also known as the “Super Bowl of Rodeo.” There are a ton of events during the competition as well as a coordinating exhibitor expo, so saddle up and get ready for all the cowboy life your country-western heart can handle.
New Year’s Eve — America’s Party
There’s a reason Las Vegas is home to AMERICA’S Party: this is the biggest night of the year on the Strip, when over 300,000 people come into town to celebrate and see some fireworks on the Strip. If $800+/night hotel rooms for the privilege of elbowing your way through an endless crush of bodies is a little steep for your party budget and personal threshold, hit Downtown Vegas (rooms can be had for a slightly more reasonable $200-300/night) for America’s Party on Fremont Street, where live bands on each of the three stages will entertain you with hits from the last several decades, the crowds aren’t quite as claustrophobia-inducing, and the drinks are way cheaper.