Sin City tantalizes every taste
Love it or hate it, there’s never a dull moment in Sin City. Las Vegas exists outside of time and space. You can dress to the nines for gourmet cuisine, take a gondola ride through Venice, dance with Elvis, gaze at the Manhattan skyline, ride to the top of the Eiffel Tower, explore the relics of ancient Rome, watch the fountains at the Bellagio and then feast on an epic brunch at the Wynn. In the space of a minute, you can become rich or poor, a winner or a loser, a buffet-bound nosher or a strip superstar. The glittering city is a sensory playground that caters to everyone’s desire to fully inhabit the moment and then leave it all behind.
For years, there were few blank slates quite ripe for transformation like Downtown Vegas. The former desert outpost has undergone a major overhaul. Along with a slew of boutiques, restaurants and cocktail bars, popular culture finds expression in places like the city’s Mob Museum. Located in a historic federal courthouse and helmed by a former FBI special agent, the museum features a series of well-curated, interactive exhibits related to the history of organized crime in America. You can even simulate firing your own tommy gun.
Along the dazzling five-block stretch that makes up the Fremont Strip Experience, outdoor snack shops, vendors and kiosks jockey for business beneath a 90-foot-high steel-mesh canopy studded with, literally, millions of lights. This vast screen conveys the extravagant Viva Vision, a high-tech video-and-sound show that displays everything from fireworks to psychedelic flowers.
If that’s not enough, you can also take it all in from the Slotzilla Zip Line, a 10-story-high, slot machine-inspired zip line that transports flyers (you can fly prone or “superhero” style) for 1,750 feet to a landing platform at the historic Golden Gate Hotel and Casino.
Into the Valley of Fire
Just 58 miles north of the city, stunning landscapes and stellar opportunities for outdoor recreation provide a perfect antidote to Vegas’s neon kitsch. The red rocks, serrated peaks, enigmatic petroglyphs and surreal sandstone formations of the Mojave Desert are gloriously accessible at the Valley of Fire State Park. The 46,000-acre park’s vibrant red geology, formed from shifting sand dunes over 150 million years ago, displays shapes that seem to twist, contort and swirl. The effect is almost hallucinogenic. After taking photos of Elephant Rock, Fire Wave and Balancing Rock, it’s easy to see why the area was once deemed sacred by the ancient Anasazi Indians.
The advertising world has taken notice; the area frequently forms a fantastical backdrop for commercials and movies. Animal sightings rival the spectacular stone, as the park’s denizens include lizards, snakes, coyote, bobcat, kit fox, skunk, jackrabbit, antelope and the rare desert tortoise.
Far from the Maddening Crowds
For more green and pleasant pleasures, Clark County Wetlands Park, just outside of town, is a hidden treasure of rivers and lakes fringed with cottonwood trees, where a profusion of birds, mammals, bats and insects find refuge. The source of the city’s water, the wetlands are naturally formed from six natural washes that flow from the west to the east of the Las Vegas Valley before eventually washing into Lake Mead.
As well as an extensive network of novice, paved trails (with designated biking and horse-riding trails), there’s a fine visitor’s center (terrific for kids) that features several interactive displays that relate the site’s environment and water management history and role.
For even more insights into the vast desert ecosystem, check out the Origen Museum at the Springs Preserve, with compelling displays along with a variety of biomes.
Eat, Drink and Be Merry
Las Vegas’s culture of excess manifests itself in the famously outrageous hotel and restaurant buffet fare. Over the last 20 years, Vegas’s standard-issue café buffet has evolved into an epic feast that combines tremendous variety, quality and (in some cases) value in a distinctly Vegas experience. With interactive cooking stations, flamboyant settings and a fabulous array of local, regional and ethnic cuisine, it’s an experience not to be missed. Where else can you combine super fresh breakfast sushi or caviar with curry, pancakes and lava cake, all washed down with champagne?
For pure excess (with a price tag to match), the Bellagio, one of the city’s most luxurious hotels, is hard to beat. The menu caters to exotic palates with a stellar inventory of fresh seafood (including shark, crab legs and ceviche) and experimental cocktails. One of the most popular buffets on the strip, the Rio Hotel is known for its breakfast extravaganza, which, alongside Thai and Vietnamese classics, features a more affordable and kid-friendly selection including hot dogs, pizza and mac ’n’ cheese. The Rio’s epic Carnival World Buffet serves 100 sweet treat iterations, including cakes, cookies, pies and even a gelato bar. Nowadays, gourmet buffets are something of a Vegas ritual, and since reservations are not generally accepted, lines can be very long at peak times.
Don’t limit your adventures to Vegas. Take a 33-mile side trip east to Hoover Dam, deemed one of the seven wonders of the industrial world and one of the greatest engineering feats in history. There’s no shortage of superlatives to describe the iconic, art deco-style Hoover Dam that harnesses the current of the Colorado River. When it was completed in 1936 to supply electricity and water to Arizona and California, it was world’s highest and most powerful dam.
Standing at 726 feet tall (that’s roughly the same as a 70-story building), the dam must be seen to be appreciated. There are two guided tours available: the 30-minute Powerplant Tour (every 15 minutes) includes terrific views of the dam, interactive museum exhibits and then an elevator ride to stand on top of one of the 30-foot pipes, where you can experience the primal potency of water surging through to the generators. Visitors get an appreciation of the 90,000 gallons of water that flow through here per second, along with the 4 billion kilowatt-hours generated every year. The longer and more extensive Hoover Dam Tour allows for more detail-oriented exploration at a leisurely pace and features all of the above, as well as a peak inside the air vents. Standard tours can also be combined with a cruise down the Colorado River, boat tours of nearby Lake Mead and thrilling helicopter rides over the dam.
In the 1930s, Boulder City came into being as a logistics hub for the construction of the Boulder Dam 7 miles to the east (it was controversially renamed Hoover Dam in 1947 following a joint resolution of Congress). Certainly, the town has come a long way since it went by the moniker of “Ragtown,” so called for the ramshackle riverside dwellings that housed workers contracted to build the dam.
Nowadays, if gambling is your thing, you’ll need to go elsewhere (it’s prohibited in Boulder City), but for active families, the town is a great base for exploring the region’s natural attractions, including Lake Mead National Recreation Area and, of course, the Hoover Dam.
Boulder City’s charm resides in its historic district with streets dotted with 1930s buildings. For train lovers, the Nevada State Railroad Museum is a showcase for locomotives, train cars and train-themed memorabilia. The interactive Boulder City/Hoover Dam Museum is a fascinating glimpse into the hardships faced by workers and families involved in building the dam. Well-conceived exhibits relate the social and economic impact of the dam’s construction. There’s also a clutch of antique and craft boutique shopping opportunities, including one of the largest Alapaca Imports stores in the nation and the extraterrestrial-themed Flying Saucer (Area 52), where you can graze on light meals, beer and wine before shopping for off-beat, alien paraphernalia.
The 1930s-era Boulder City Theatre is a local institution, having provided much needed entertainment to the Hoover Dam workers. Now, the venue has found a new vocation as host to the acclaimed annual Dam Short Film Festival. For letting off steam, there’s no shortage of green space within Boulder City’s limits. Broadbent Park’s five acres include horseshoe pits, a pool, a children’s playground and racquetball and tennis courts, while the lush Hemenway Valley Park is famed for its flocks of big horn sheep and fine views of Lake Mead.
Lake Mead National Recreation Area
If you prefer recreation on the water, you’ll find an ample supply both upstream and downstream from Hoover Dam. Straddling the border between Arizona and Nevada, the Lake Mead National Recreation Area comprises Lake Mead, Lake Mohave and a picturesque section of the Colorado River.
With more than 500 miles of shoreline combined, Lake Mead and Lake Mohave constitute a mecca for water sports enthusiasts. As well as boating, kayaking and jet ski tours — which include photo stops at the Hoover Dam — there’s superb fishing for striped bass, rainbow trout and sport fish. While most active travelers flock here for the water, more than 87 percent of the park protects a huge swathe of the eastern Mojave Desert, where vast, surreal, multi-hued expanses of rock can be explored along scenic trails.
For More Information
Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority