The days of 99-cent shrimp cocktails and midnight shows by the Rat Pack are long gone, but those legendary bits of old-school Sin City have given way to a new era jam-packed with celebrity chefs, adrenaline-boosting rides and enough jaw-dropping sights to keep your Instagram feed stocked for months. Las Vegas has a reputation for glitz, glamour and tons of gambling, but that’s not all you’ll find in this fun-filled desert oasis. From traipsing along the world-famous Strip to breathtaking vistas on this side of the Mississippi, there’s more to Las Vegas than meets the eye.
Iconic, vibrant and immensely popular, this is the sign of all signs in a city filled with them. You can find it right on Las Vegas Boulevard (aka “The Strip”) near Mandalay Bay where it’s been holding court for more than 70 years. Look for the huge crowds lined up on the grassy median, find a place to park and wait for your turn to snap a photo that proves you’ve been to Vegas and lived to tell the tale.
Fremont Street is a pedestrian-only thoroughfare that runs through downtown Vegas. The main drag is bordered by casinos but there are also numerous kiosks, bandstands and street performers providing ample opportunities for shopping and entertainment. Add to that a towering light canopy that uses 12 million embedded LED lights to broadcast themed shows, and it’s hard to look away. The newer Fremont East District is a hipster’s dream come true—record stores, artisanal pizza joints, kitschy lounges, and an outdoor shopping center built entirely out of shipping containers are some of the attractions here.
The Bellagio Casino is an architectural marvel in itself, but there are two bigger attractions in and around its walls. The Fountains of Bellagio are multi-story arches of expertly streamed water swaying to pop hits, Broadway numbers, and classical tunes. The show is free and can be seen from the sidewalk or any one of the Bellagio restaurants with patios jutting out over the water. Afterward, head indoors to the Conservatory & Botanical Gardens. The casino has an entire team dedicated to planting and pruning the 14,000-square-foot horticultural masterpiece that changes with the seasons.
When a casino or other long-standing Vegas enterprise shuts its doors, the retired signs often make their way to this neon repository where the brightest bits of city history find new life. The museum has three sections: The Neon Boneyard, the visitor’s center, and the Neon Boneyard North Gallery. General admission includes rotating exhibits such a Tim Burton’s “Lost Vegas” but it’s just as exciting wandering through the permanent collection to see the light-up relics of Vegas’s past.
Vegas may be known for its high-stake “whales, ” but marine life takes a decidedly more tranquil turn at Mandalay Bay’s Shark Reef. The primary tank is a whopping 1.3 million gallons, one of the largest of its kind in the country, complemented by smaller exhibits organized by themes such as “jungle” and “temple.” All told, the reef holds more than 2,000 animals representing over 100 species including golden crocodiles, sea turtles, freshwater fish, stingrays, tropical fish, sharks, a giant octopus, and a Komodo dragon.
It’s less than a 45-minute drive from the heart of The Strip to Red Rock Canyon, but the trek worth it. Part of the Mojave Desert, Red Rock puts Mother Nature’s endless capacity for beauty on full display with rust-colored rock formations hiding petroglyphs, wildlife, and a few seasonal waterfalls. Take the 13-mile loop through the conservation area, which is easiest to access by car though many choose to bike or hike it. Take advantage of the strategic viewing spots along the way to pull over and drink in the scenery.
Move over London Eye. There’s a new ride taking the title of “tallest observation wheel in the world” and it’s in Las Vegas. Nestled right behind The LINQ and featuring a whopping 28 aerodynamic pods, the High Roller takes a 30-minute loop reaching a grand height of 550 feet while guests ooh and ahh, drink, chat, and, if they buy the right package, even say “I do.”
The history of the Mob and the birth of Las Vegas are known for being closely intertwined, but the connection has never been as expertly illuminated as it is at this smartly designed museum. The thoughtful network of exhibits at the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement, as it’s officially known, brings together real-life artifacts and witness accounts to give visitors a glimpse into everything from Prohibition to the birth of Vegas to how casinos used to skim money.
MGM Resort spent a reported $100 million to build this aptly named urban park near the corner of Las Vegas Boulevard and Tropicana Avenue. The brick-paved expanse slung between the classic skyline of New York-New York Hotel & Casino and Park MGM is home to art installations, restaurants, brewpubs, and T-Mobile Arena, an indoor venue that hosts the Vegas Golden Knights as well as tour dates from world-class acts like George Strait, Bon Jovi, and Michael Bublé.
The top of a 1,149-foot tower may not seem like the most obvious place to put an amusement park, but that’s essentially what has happened at The Strat, formerly known as the Stratosphere. Stroll the observation deck for a free look around the valley or head out on the roof to try out rides with comforting names like X Scream and Insanity. Still not enough? Jump from the 108th floor and race toward the landing pad below at speeds that may well reach a very memorable 40 mph.