The typical “Vegas first-timer bucket list” is one we all know: selfies in front of the Bellagio, gorging on the country’s best buffets, letting loose on the dance floor. But for second-timers (and the selfie-opposed), the entire city is on the table.
Take a deep dive into neon, mobsters, and cowboy culture; a journey through world-renowned art, music, and architecture. Nowhere else but Las Vegas can you find such a fantastic, eclectic combination of cultural attractions, and nowhere else but Las Vegas should you expect experiences like these.
1. The Mob Museum
Before you (literally) zipline over Fremont Street, check out the nearby Mob Museum — it’s housed in the fully restored 1930s-era courthouse building where 3rd St runs into Stewart Ave. The museum provides a crazy-intense overview of local and national mob history, spanning from the early 1900s through today. It’s official name is the National Museum of Organized Crime & Law Enforcement, so expect something bold and honest, not dramatized and glorified.
You’ll explore artifacts from Al Capone’s enterprise, try out your detective skills in interactive crime lab exhibits, and get a look at how some of the most horrifying events have influenced modern criminal investigation techniques the world over. Save time for the onsite gift shop — where you’ll find actually one-of-a-kind souvenirs to take home.
2. The Neon Museum
The “boneyard” at the Neon Museum, just north of Downtown, is an absolute must for vintage lovers, history buffs, Vegas aficionados, and fans of all things weird. Here, you’re basically strolling through an illuminated history of the city and its treasure trove of iconic businesses.
On the one-hour tour, your guide will lead you between larger-than-life neon signs and architectural features, detailing the stories and intricate restoration efforts most have gone through. You’ll see old-school signage from notable motels, resorts, and gambling halls of the Vegas of yore, and you’ll definitely have time to pose for some only-in-Vegas photos (note that cameras aren’t allowed, but phones are). If you can, visit during the evening to see the restored signs lit up.
3. Area 15
Area 15 is a space the likes of which you’ve never seen before — in Las Vegas, or anywhere. This multipurpose creative complex just west of The Strip (with tons of free parking) promises a whole new level of retail, art, and entertainment options — we’re talking interactive art installations, music festivals, and immersive food and drink experiences. After all, why shouldn’t you be able to shop next to a forest?
The opening is slated for later in 2019. Once the doors start swinging, dress up, grab a cocktail, and get ready to — among other things — enter a world created by legendary multimedia artists Meow Wolf. They’ve chosen Las Vegas as the home of their second surreal and utterly unique universe.
4. The Smith Center
Names come so big in Vegas, they need two syllables max — Cher, Celine, Britney. But away from the hu-u-u-ge auditoriums and glitter, there’s likely a different kind of live performance happening at The Smith Center for the Performing Arts. Resident companies include the Nevada Ballet and the Las Vegas Philharmonic, and award-winning artists and Broadway productions routinely grace the stage.
And we mean routinely. The 2019-2020 Broadway list reads like the first row at the Tonys: Sing along to Fiddler on the Roof. Snag tickets for Wicked or Mean Girls. Go to the show that everyone says is ridiculously, ridiculously amazing: The Spongebob Musical. (Seriously, have you read the reviews?) And if spectacle isn’t your bag, spend a cool night out by grabbing a few cocktails and a classy bite at Myron’s Cabaret Jazz, a 240-seat cabaret-style venue located inside The Smith Center.
5. LOVE (art installation at The Venetian)
Here’s a hot tip: Plan to check out the LOVE installation during off-hours to avoid waiting in line to snap your selfie. Laura Kimpton’s work of art is hugely popular, and no wonder. It’s absolutely gorgeous, with its sparkly ruby red presence and oversized sense of joy — and it’s totally free to visit at the Waterfall Atrium in The Venetian Resort Las Vegas.
These four magical letters are a monumental 12 feet tall and spread out to 36 feet in width. Go in the wee hours, cross your heart, and make a wish that all your romantic dreams come true.
6. 18b, the Las Vegas Arts District
Let yourself be drawn in by the neon lights of 18b (aka the Las Vegas Arts District, just south of Downtown), and you’ll enter an imaginative neighborhood full of galleries, boutiques, and ultra-local eateries. Grab a drink and watch area artists do their thing during an Art Battle, wander resale shops to score fabulous vintage fashion finds, follow the sounds of live music, pop by for a First Friday block party, and tour the Burlesque Hall of Fame. All kinds of artists flock to Vegas for its uniquely weird personality, and nowhere is it more evident than right here.
Oh, and if you’re wondering, “Why the the heck is it called 18b?” The Las Vegas Arts District was originally 18 blocks — nowadays it’s bigger, but it remains an easy stroll over from Fremont Street.
7. Smiling King Bear at Wynn
On your way to see Le Rêve – The Dream at Wynn Las Vegas (a show that comes highly recommended), take some time to explore the resort’s art collection spread throughout its atriums and hallways. One of the newest and most impressive additions is Smiling King Bear by renowned artist Okuda San Miguel. This 16-foot-tall sculpture combines pop art and surrealism in a prismatic, colorful pattern. It’s hard not to grin back at the joyous work and the smiley-faced ball held in the bear’s lap. It’s child-like glee captured in an abstract, rainbow statue — a fun kind of metaphor for Las Vegas itself.