You might approach the idea of a Las Vegas trip with great excitement, or you might feel intimidated or even annoyed at the prospect of a trip to the Nevada desert's city of debauchery. No matter your position on Vegas — and whether you booked it for a vacation or you are being dragged there for business — you can find things to do that speak to you!
See an Amazing Show on the Cheap
Las Vegas is known for its live shows. Any given night, you can see a broad range of styles and themes. On the Strip, there must be 38 different Cirque du Soleil productions going every night. (Don't quote me on that number. I lost count!)
Easily, and this is not an exaggeration, there are over 100 live stage acts ranging across the performance spectrum happening in Las Vegas every night. And you can catch many at a discount.
While some shows are too popular to need to give price breaks, tickets to others can be had for deep discounts. There are two ways to save on show tickets in Las Vegas.
One of them is universally annoying, so let's cover that rich hell first! Due to Las Vegas being packed with timeshare units, purveyors of that type of real estate have set up shop on what feels like every corner of Fremont Street and the Strip.
Near the entrance of many casinos on the Strip, travelers encounter stands where free and deeply discounted show tickets are advertised. You have likely already guessed the catch, which is sitting through a 90-minute presentation for a timeshare membership.
What are those presentations like? Well, I have never sat through one, so I can only guess utter purgatory!
The second option for cheap show tickets — and the one most likely to help you keep your sanity intact — is visiting a same-day ticket discounter. Booths for these companies dot Fremont Street and the Strip, and they carry names like Tix4Tonight.
Getting tickets via one of those booths involves standing in line, often in the Las Vegas heat, but there are a couple of indoor locations, so look for those! Spending a little time in line could save you $60 per ticket, depending upon the type of show you want to see.
Go for a Desert Drive
Some folks are completely out of tune with pretty much everything for which Las Vegas stands. If you find yourself headed to Sin City because your work demands it, you can easily escape from the glitz and the noise, if you rent a car. In every direction from Las Vegas, you can find natural beauty.
People often travel to Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area when visiting Las Vegas. It is very close! Indeed, Spring Valley, which is part of Greater Las Vegas, now abuts the conservation area.
I like the idea of hidden gems and going opposite of crowds sometimes, so on a recent Las Vegas vacation, I drove my traveling companions out to Valley of Fire State Park. While Red Rock sits west of Las Vegas, Valley of Fire is to its northeast, and it takes about an hour to drive there from the strip.
Hiking at Valley of Fire, you get to see ancient petroglyphs, jack rabbits, lizards, and mountain goats. In fact, you will encounter mountain goats if you simply drive through and never get out of your car! We were there in summer, so we had to drive out pre-dawn to beat the heat -- and it was still 95 degrees at sunrise! It was sweat inducing but worth it for the experience!
Much of what can be encountered at Valley of Fire is available at Red Rock, which is practically in Las Vegas, so choose Red Rock for proximity or Valley of Fire if you want to get away from large groups of people.
Additionally, you can make day trips from Las Vegas to the Hoover Dam, Lake Mead, the Grand Canyon, and the outskirts of the infamous Area 51.
Eat Pretty Much Anything You Can Imagine
You have probably heard about Las Vegas's buffets, but the city also has cosmopolitan cuisine, to say the least!
Foodies who have never been to Las Vegas need to put it on their bucket lists. In the casino resorts, everything from gourmet dining to cheep eats can be had.
Also, the city offers diverse local eats to those willing to venture away from the tourist spots. I am particularly fond of Tacos El Gordo and a sushi buffet called Makino.
Remember the show ticket discounters mentioned above? They also sell half-price vouchers for restaurants and buffets on the Strip. And don't turn your nose up at the casino buffets. Those offered at the Rio, Green Valley Ranch, and a couple of other spots have diverse, surprising dishes.
Learn about the Las Vegas Ecology
In addition to the drives you can take to get outside of Las Vegas and into nature, you can visit the Springs Preserve to learn about the ecology of the Las Vegas Valley. Formerly known as the Desert Demonstration Garden, the Springs Preserve is a great place to go by yourself or with your family.
The 180-acre grounds feature the "Origen" Museum, the Nevada State Museum, a sustainability gallery, nature trails, a demonstration solar-powered home called DesertSol, the Nature Exchange, WaterWorks, and Boomtown 1905. Clearly, there is something for everyone at the Springs Preserve!
Get Out Among Las Vegas Locals
There might be part of you that feels called to meet local folks when you visit somewhere. I would encourage you to do so in Las Vegas!
The last two times I have traveled to the city, I have lodged at condos, so the inclination to meet locals came more naturally. Simply going to a Trader Joe's for groceries led to meeting local people.
Of course, when you dine out or gamble on the Strip, you will be interacting with locals, but if you want to meet folks when they aren't at work, try going to a local bar and striking up a conversation.
One place where that is easily done is Money Plays, a video poker bar at 4755 West Flamingo Road. I have an affinity for this place because its uniquely well-produced open mic helped me make professional connections with local stand-up comedians. But I guarantee that you can have blast there, if you like beer and bar atmospheres and if you are not afraid to talk to folks you don't know.
Shop Like You Were Born to Do It
Las Vegas has more retail storefronts than I have room to name. Highlights include Fashion Show Mall, Miracle Mile Shops, the Forum Shops and the Shops at Crystals. At each of those collections, you can find name brands, boutiques, and dining options.
Enjoy a Little Self Care
I am not a spa regular, but I have partaken of some opportunities in Las Vegas. Picture yourself recharging in a eucalyptus steam room, which can be found at Mandalay Bay, or relaxing in a hammam, as is available at the Palms. I am a fan of the former, and my wife loves the latter.
Those who like to take a dip or sunbathe can do so in style at the Garden of the Gods Oasis at Caesar's Palace. Here, you will find several pools, including a saltwater Olympic-size pool and, for some Euro sunbathing, a hidden topless pool.
Play Every Generation of Pinball Machine
An unexpected sort of lights and noise also awaits in Las Vegas. It is found at the Pinball Hall of Fame. Here, anyone with a quarter can pick from over 100 machines to play. The museum has filled its 10,000 square feet with machines from every decade of the pinball era. They even have early machines without flippers and recent ones with stupendous playing surfaces.
Skip the slot machines at the casinos. Take your quarters to the Pinball Hall of Fame!
If You ARE Going to Gamble in Las Vegas...
Do yourself an enormous favor, never place a bet in a casino. If, like me, you cannot follow that advice, at least, research rules, odds, and playing strategies of the various casino games before you ever place a wager in Las Vegas.
Here are some brief Las Vegas gambling pointers. Who am I to give this advice? Someone who almost got poker famous on basic cable in 2006 — in other words, nobody! But I have done a ton of gambling research for personal gain. So read these few paragraphs if you do not want to burn your own time otherwise researching gambling strategies.
Back in the early 1990s, I read in a book — which I'm sure I still own but am too lazy find, scan, and cite — that there are two types of people who place bets in casinos — gamblers and losers.
Gamblers know the odds of the games they play. They know the best wagers to make in the casino and the ones to avoid. Losers think that luck exists. They believe they can will the roulette wheel to land on their number.
True, thinking gamblers play blackjack, craps, and poker — and nothing else. Further, they know which bets at those games are sucker bets, and they never make those bets. Some gamblers are "advantage players", but that is deep-dive stuff.
You can learn optimal blackjack and craps strategies from a long-established website called WizardOfOdds.com. For what it's worth, I used to play a lot of optimal-strategy blackjack, and I was profitable, but I decided to quit because I felt like a machine, so be careful!
Even when played with optimal strategy, craps cannot be beaten in the long run. The casino's edge will always wear you down. With that said, throwing the dice can be exhilarating, especially when you go a few dozen rolls in a row without "crapping out".
Craps is the party game of the casino. If you enjoy revelry, then putting your money on the craps layout and taking advantage of the casino's complimentary beverages for players might work out for you. (Of course, if you get drunk and start making sucker bets, the party will end quickly!)
With regard to poker, if you land in Las Vegas with little or no poker experience, do not try to "pick it up" while you are in town. Poker's rules are easily learned, but playing it optimally is a nebulous proposition. And poker sessions easily eat up large swathes of hours.
Rather than bother with poker during a trip to Las Vegas, stick to blackjack and craps, and do some of the other things I have suggested in this article. If you follow that advice, you will surely have a great time on your Vegas vacation!