All photos: Author
1. Shake hands with the mob.
Okay, so maybe not actually shake hands with the mob, but you can sit in an electric chair, hear a mobster court case, and try on a pair of brass knuckles at The Mob Museum in downtown Las Vegas. This modern Las Vegas museum, formerly an old federal courthouse (as well as a post office), provides an interactive history of the mob and the role it had in Las Vegas.
2. Drive a bulldozer.
And get this, you don’t even have to know your way around heavy machinery. At Dig This, you can get behind the controls of a bulldozer or excavator with the backdrop of the Las Vegas Strip. After a short safety and equipment demonstration, visitors go behind the wheel and get to play in an adult sandbox.
3. See the first phone in Las Vegas.
Yes, Las Vegas does have history, and it doesn’t just involve gambling and g-strings. At the Golden Gate Hotel and Casino downtown, guests can see some of the first pieces of evidence of life in Las Vegas, such as the first phone, dating back to 1905. It’s only natural that these items would be housed at the Golden Gate Hotel and Casino, since it was the first Vegas hotel, opening in 1906 as the Hotel Nevada.
4. Stroll the Neon Boneyard.
Where else did you think all those glitzy Vegas signs go after their hotels and other locales are no more? Here you’ll find tons of retired legendary signs, many from businesses that are no more, while others were replaced by more modern signs. Tours are offered daily, although I recommend doing an evening tour of the Neon Museum and Boneyard.
5. Eat from a food truck.
There are food trucks in Las Vegas, but you aren’t likely to find them on the Strip. Your best chance of catching Las Vegas’ best food trucks is on the second Saturday of every month for Vegas StrEATS, which is a street festival with live music, art, and of course food trucks. There’s also a new food truck program in which food trucks rotate between three different downtown Las Vegas locations.
6. Fly a plane.
But not just any plane, an aerobatic plane. I recently had the pleasure of getting behind the controls at Sky Combat Ace to fly an aerobatic plane, and while I may have lost my breakfast, it got high marks as an item on my 30 at 30 list. It’s not every day you can get behind the controls of an airplane, especially when it involves doing loops and barrel rolls through the sky.
7. Tour a shark tank.
While the Golden Nugget has long called downtown Las Vegas home, it’s only been recently that visitors have been able to tour the shark tank. After your tour, take a slide down the three-story water slide.
8. Play 1980s classic arcade games…while boozing.
There’s something timeless about 1980s arcade games, yet if you’re around my age, it isn’t likely you had the chance to play them while getting a little tipsy back in the ’80s. Fret no more. At downtown Las Vegas’ Insert Coin(s), part bar and part arcade, patrons can have their whiskey and drink it too while playing their favorite arcade games from the ’80s, such as Donkey Kong, Galaga, Frogger, and Tron.
9. Drive an exotic car.
This is one activity you can do through a couple different companies in Las Vegas. Simply pick your experience and whether you want the backdrop of a race track or rugged mountains of the Nevada desert. Places you can do this include Exotics Racing and World Class Driving.
10. Drive a muscle car.
Similar to driving an exotic car, you can also drive a muscle car in Las Vegas. Offered by World Class Driving, you’ll get behind the wheel of a few different muscle cars as you wind your way through Red Rock Canyon.
11. Be a pinball wizard at the Pinball Hall of Fame.
My work is done here if you now have “Pinball Wizard” stuck in your head. You’ll find a mix of both pinball machines and classy arcade games at the Pinball Hall of Fame, each of which just require a couple quarters to start reliving your glory days. Who said gaming in Vegas had to be expensive?
12. Climb Red Rock Canyon.
Red Rock Canyon is one of the most renowned climbing spots in the Southwest US, known for its ominous and unique rock formations and vivid colors. There are also hiking trails for the less adventurous (or more hungover). It’s just a half-hour from the strip, and just a few miles down the road if staying at Red Rock Casino Resort & Spa.
13. Go to a baseball game.
So maybe you won’t be watching the MLB stars of today hitting the diamond, but you may be watching the stars of tomorrow. Cashman Field, located in downtown Las Vegas, is home to the Las Vegas 51s, a Triple-A baseball team. Formerly of the Toronto Blue Jays, they’re now affiliated with the New York Mets. Try catching a game at the beginning of the season in April, or mid-July if you like outdoor saunas.
14. Drive a dune buggy.
Desert dunes, not like beach dunes. There are a few different dune buggy outfitters, including Sun Buggy & ATV Fun Rentals, which does a variety of different tours. The crowd favorite is the Vegas Mini Baja Chase, which is just that, an off-road chase across 15,000 acres with the Las Vegas Strip in sight.
15. Kick it old school at a speakeasy.
While I’ll happily do the Vegas Strip bar scene, I really like the more unique, offbeat locales, like the Laundry Room in downtown Las Vegas. There’s no website, signs, or directions for it, but merely a number you have to text, and if they have availability on the night you want to visit, you MAY be admitted. Tip: Head to Commonwealth in downtown Las Vegas and you’ll likely get the necessary clues to get a reservation.
16. Go boating on Lake Mead.
Las Vegas may be in the middle of the desert, but there’s an oasis just outside of it, called Lake Mead, which is the largest reservoir in America. It was formed by a dam you may have heard of, going by the name of Hoover Dam. If you need a break from the heat of Vegas’ concrete jungle, Lake Mead has wakeboard and pontoon boat rentals, as well as jet skis and other water sports equipment.
17. Go ziplining.
Until recently, visitors to downtown Las Vegas could zipline over the Fremont Street Experience. However, a new and improved zipline experience, called SlotZilla, is currently being constructed over Fremont Street. The Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino is also adding its own zipline, one which will zip guests from atop the 50-story Masquerade Tower at the VooDoo Lounge more than 800 feet to the top of the 20-story Ipanema Tower.
18. Visit the Atomic Testing Museum.
An affiliate of the Smithsonian Institute, the National Atomic Testing Museum isn’t detonating anything, but rather documenting the history of nuclear testing at the Nevada Test Site in the desert north of Las Vegas. Located just east of the Las Vegas Strip, the museum is open daily for guided or self-guided tours.
19. Explore Hoover Dam.
So maybe you’ve heard of the Hoover Dam, located on the border of Arizona and Nevada, standing at over 700 feet tall and over 1,200 feet long. While you’ll need a car for the drive that typically takes 45 minutes to an hour, there are also numerous Las Vegas outfitters that do tours, including some tours by air, either in a helicopter or plane.
20. Go to Chinatown.
So maybe it doesn’t possess the stature or charm of other Chinatowns around the world, but it can offer a break from the Vegas Strip (and satisfy a dim sum craving). Chinatown Plaza, located on Spring Mountain Road, is less residential (like most Chinatowns around the world), and more of a shopping strip with Asian restaurants.
21. Check out hot springs.
There are numerous hot springs surrounding Las Vegas, some of the closest being near the Hoover Dam along the Colorado River, including Gold Strike Canyon. During the summer months, the National Park Service recommends against visiting many of the hot springs near Hoover Dam because of the high temperatures.
22. Go pawning.
Is visiting a pawn shop not on your to-do list when traveling? Maybe it should be in Las Vegas, where Gold and Silver Pawn Shop is front and center of the History Channel’s Pawn Stars, a reality television show that’s been televised for seven seasons. However, if you want to see the stars from the show it can be hit or miss, with there often being a line to get in on days the stars are at the shop.
23. See a free concert.
Sure, there are plenty of bars and venues where you’ll find the usual rock cover band, but I’m talking about legit concerts, such as this year’s Rock of Vegas Summer Concert Series at the Fremont Street Experience, which featured Fuel, Hinder, Three Days Grace, Sister Hazel, and Third Eye Blind. Each summer sees a different series of renowned bands taking the stage at Fremont Street. Other local free concerts of note include Friday classic rock and Saturday jazz nights at Lake Las Vegas (running until November).
24. Have a vegan doughnut.
A vegan doughnut in Vegas. You got it. I know you may not go out searching for vegan sweets, but a visit to Ronald’s Donuts on Spring Mountain Road (near Chinatown) may just change your mind. Walk in and pick your poison, be it an apple fritter, bear claw, chocolate wheel, glazed, chocolate cinnamon twist, devil’s food, maple, or cream filled.
25. Have a cocktail…for less than $10.
BREAKING: You can have a cocktail in Las Vegas for less than $10. I’m not talking about a vodka and soda, but a legit cocktail. However, to do so, I recommend going to my favorite nightlife area in all of Las Vegas, called Fremont East, located just steps from the Fremont Street Experience. You can find several bars and restaurants that’ll serve you real good with drinks that won’t break the wallet. Some of my faves include Commonwealth and Le Thai (go for the food, stay for the drinks).
26. Go to the shooting range.
If shooting craps just isn’t doing it for you, hit one of the numerous shooting ranges in the Las Vegas area. Located a half hour from the Vegas Strip is a more unique shooting range experience, called Desert Hills Shooting Club, which offers numerous options, including a 21-station sporting clay course.
27. Ride a roller coaster.
While you can ride a roller coaster on the Las Vegas Strip at New York-New York, if you need a break from the Strip but still want a thrill ride, take the short drive out to Primm, Nevada to ride Desperado, located at Buffalo Bill’s Hotel and Casino. Back in the early 1990s when it was being built, Desperado was one of the tallest roller coasters in the world.
28. Eat at an Old Vegas restaurant.
If you want an Old Vegas experience, look no further than Hugo’s Cellar. Located in the Four Queens Resort and Casino in downtown Las Vegas, Hugo’s Cellar is what I like to call the Cirque du Soleil of dining experiences off the Strip. During the course of your meal you can have your salad made table-side, your steak, chicken, and ahi tuna appetizer cooked right on your table on a sizzling granite slab, and your dessert, Bananas Foster, flambéed with fire shooting up from your table.
29. Experience the Fremont Street Experience.
The Fremont Street Experience is downtown Las Vegas to most people. Visitors wanting a break from the Vegas Strip usually come here, whether it’s to see the light show in action, grab a cheaper drink, hit the tables for a cheaper price, or just people watch.
30. Visit botanical gardens.
Gardens in the desert? In Las Vegas? Crazy talk, I know, but yes, if you want to stop and smell the roses, then head west of downtown to the Springs Preserve. One of the more family-friendly Vegas attractions, the Springs Preserve is home to a collection of different animals, a narrated train ride, and botanical gardens, which have the largest collection of Mojave Desert cacti and succulent plants.
31. Go horse racing.
While I might not exactly be a horse connoisseur or participate in horse racing, one of my favorite games of all-time is the horse racing game that can be found at carnivals and fairs around the world (see the below scene from one of my favorite movies, Adventureland). At the The D Hotel and Casino in downtown Las Vegas, you can play old-school Vegas games, including my favorite, Sigma Derby, an electro-mechanical take on the carnival game (I may or may not have been approached by security for getting a little too into the game).
32. Tour Ethel M Chocolates.
Listen, Willy Wonka isn’t the only chocophile with a chocolate factory. At Ethel M Chocolates in Henderson (a Las Vegas suburb), visitors can take a self-guided tour of both the chocolate factory and the botanical cactus garden, which is one of Nevada’s largest collections of cacti. I don’t know about you, but when I take a bite into gourmet chocolate, I think cactus!
33. Get a sex education at the Erotic Heritage Museum.
So maybe you don’t have to go to a museum to get schooled in sex in Las Vegas, but as someone in a drunken stupor on the Strip has probably said, “When in Vegas…” In all seriousness, how could you resist the Erotic Heritage Museum when it was created through a partnership between a preacher and a pornographer? Museums like this are hard to come by.
34. Go to an indoor trampoline park.
For those eager to relive their trampolining glory days, I give you Sky Zone Indoor Trampoline Park, which is just that. Located just south of the Las Vegas Strip, Sky Zone is something of an indoor, walled, all-trampoline court, also featuring 3-D dodgeball, SkySlam basketball court, and the Foam Zone.
35. Eat some of the best Thai food this side of the Pacific Ocean.
If you go to any of these Thai restaurants and don’t have a good meal, I’ll buy you a spring roll. The first recommendation, Le Thai, is a Thai joint that resonates more with locals, located just down from the Fremont Street Experience at Fremont East. Belly up to the bar and order from the small menu that includes classic curries and noodle dishes, while also enjoying a cocktail that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. The second spot, Lotus of Siam, is located just northeast of the Las Vegas Strip, and is considered one of the best Thai restaurants in America. Did I mention it’s a James Beard award winner?
36. Eat some snow cream.
When you have a string of 110-degree days like I recently did in Vegas, you’ll want to plant your face in something frozen. Let me introduce you to Kuma Snow Cream, located on Spring Mountain Road, just a few miles from the Vegas Strip, which, upon entering, almost makes you feel like you’ve walked into an anime film. Here you’ll find an experience much like modern yogurt shops, but featuring a light, creamy, flavorful frozen dessert.
37. Have a cuppa joe while perusing vinyls.
Located in downtown Las Vegas, The Beat is everything you may want from a coffeeshop, but rarely find in a coffeeshop. This independent cafe doubles as a record store and includes handcrafted food, beer, wine, and open mic nights.
38. Go to the happiest place on Earth.
With psychedelic murals that do a doozy on the mind and drink names such as “Ass Juice,” you may be wondering why Double Down Saloon (just east of the Vegas Strip) is considered the “happiest place on Earth.” I don’t know, but I do know you can’t get much divier than this bar.
39. Ski the snowy slopes of Mt. Charleston.
Did I just blow your mind by mentioning “snow” and “Las Vegas” in the same blog post twice? Now, don’t expect the same ski conditions you’d find in Colorado, but you can ski, snowboard, and sled at Mt. Charleston, located just 40 miles from Las Vegas. During the warmer months, hit the trails of the highest peak in Southern Nevada, standing at nearly 12,000 feet tall.
40. See art at First Friday.
First Friday Las Vegas takes place monthly downtown, featuring local artwork, special art installations, food trucks, and live music. The best part, it’s free — that is, unless you intend on chowing down from food trucks or taking some art home with you.
This post was originally published at The Traveling Philosopher and is reprinted here with permission.