It is easy to forget that Las Vegas isn't just a world-class party playground but also a huge metropolitan area that offers far more than the neon lights, intense highs and despondent lows of the Strip. It's a bustling metropolis where the sun (almost) always shines, celebrity chefs hold court in opulent dining rooms and local neighborhoods are prime for exploration. It is a place where people from all over the planet come to let loose at luxury hotels, spas and restaurants, but it is also home to a vibrant arts community and a growing industrial sector. The fact that all of this is set amidst the natural beauty and shimmering sandstone of the Mojave Desert makes Sin City even more appealing.
The State of Nevada legalized recreational cannabis in 2017 and hasn't looked back. Anyone who is 21 and over can purchase cannabis for recreational purposes with a government issued ID. Although pot can only be legally enjoyed on property owned privately by residents, there are some hotels that allow guests to consume cannabis in their rooms. Dispensaries are plentiful but not on the Strip. Local law states that dispensaries must be outside the gaming corridor. That said, the area designated as an industrial corridor that holds Planet 13 and Reef is within walking distance from mid-Strip hotels like the Mirage and The Wynn.
You can’t visit Las Vegas and not go to the Strip at least once. The iconic four miles of Las Vegas Boulevard is known the world over for its neon lights, fountains, fake volcanoes, hotels, casinos and restaurants. The people watching is superb; folks of almost every ethnicity and socio-economic background converge on the Strip to check out the scene and take in the glitz and glamour. Just remember that it’s a massive area. Simply crossing from one side of Las Vegas Boulevard to the other can be a major undertaking, especially when temperatures rise above 100 degrees. Wear comfortable shoes and pop in and out of shops and casinos to take a break.
The 18 blocks (hence the nickname 18b) north of the Strip make up the Arts District, an area designated by the city in 1998 to facilitate the development of the arts and artistic opportunity. The plan worked, what used to be a no-go area of empty storefronts and warehouses is now a bustling zone of galleries, vintage clothing shops, hip dive bars and eclectic eateries. Think of the Arts District as the anti-Strip. It’s a culturally forward zone filled with color and creativity on an approachable level. There are no chain restaurants here – just plenty of independent spirit and imagination on display.
The wonder of Las Vegas all started here. This is the oldest neighborhood in Las Vegas and it’s where gambling began back in 1931. It is also the central business district and contains several municipal and medical buildings. The taste of Old Vegas is still strong here, though, with institutions like the Golden Nugget and Golden Gate anchoring the area. After years of playing second fiddle to the Strip, Downtown has undergone a serious revitalization and is an exciting place to spend some time. Prices tend to be cheaper, minimum bets are lower and there is a sense of inclusiveness that isn’t present on the Strip. The biggest change to come to Downtown is the Fremont Street Experience. There is an enclosed street for pedestrians complete with an indoor zip line spanning five blocks and massive interactive digital screen, three different performance stages, tons of street performers and a new crop of restaurants and shops to enjoy. There are free concerts on Saturdays and hourly light shows after 6 p.m.
This is another city initiative that is starting to come together. Travel a few blocks east of the Fremont Street Experience and you’ll find yourself in a relatively new (established in 2002) quarter officially known as the Fremont East Entertainment District. The cheaper real estate has attracted younger entrepreneurs who have opened donut shops, sushi joints and record stores. Chef Natalie Young’s Eat (superb breakfast and lunch spot) opened in 2012 and has been the rock that has allowed the neighborhood to expand and develop. The Downtown Container Park is a destination within the District that is a fun collection of locally owned stores and dining options inside former shipping containers. Before you leave the area, check out the El Cortez Hotel & Casino. It’s the longest continuously running casino in Las Vegas and was once owned by mob-boss Bugsy Siegel.
Known officially as the National Museum of Organized Crime & Law Enforcement, this entertaining and expansive museum is located in Las Vegas’s imposing former courthouse and post office building that was built in 1933. It is a great place to enjoy the popular culture aspect of organized crime while still getting all the lurid details about the Mob’s influence in the U.S. and abroad. Exhibits span three floors and you can easily spend a couple of hours reading the history and engaging in interactive exhibits like the Firearm Training Simulator and the Crime Lab Experience. When you’re done with the museum, head to the basement where you’ll find the Speakeasy with its Prohibition-era craft cocktails like Giggle Water and the Bee’s Knees to wet your whistle. Tickets to the museum are not cheap, but hey, you’re in Vegas.
Want a full day of beats, Vegas style? Hit this larger-than-life complex (54,500 square feet) with DJs spinning all day in front of a 4,100-square-foot sundeck, two massive saltwater pools, six private plunge pools and 10 deluxe cabanas. If you’re ready to go all in, reserve one of the 12 luxury bungalows and lounge on a king-sized daybed while enjoying premium bottle service and your own plunge pool. Located in the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino.
It can be a ton of fun to enjoy some weed and simply stroll through the multitude of lobbies, lounges and exhibits that are open to the public at most of the casinos on the Strip. The Venetian and Bellagio have two of the most opulent interiors and are well worth a wander. At The Venetian the fake blue sky, polished marble floors and the recreation of Venice’s Grand Canal are extremely impressive. The main attraction at the Bellagio is the Conservatory & Botanical Garden where expert designers and horticulturalists seasonally rotate displays filled with all types of flowers, plants and trees. The annual Chinese New Year showcase never fails to impress. The Bellagio also boasts a Gallery of Fine Art that has a solid assortment of 19th- and 20th-century paintings and regularly rotating traveling exhibits.
What is Vegas without neon? The Neon Museum allows visitors to experience the city’s history via its “most iconic art form – the neon sign.” Neon signs from old stores, businesses and casinos are displayed outdoors over two acres. Take a toke and gawk at the massive signs that used to adorn famous hotels like the Sahara and the Stardust. The Visitor Center itself it impressive; it’s a restored lobby from the old La Concha Motel that was designed by Paul Williams, one of the first prominent African American architects. We recommend you go at night, as all of the restored signs will be lit up. (Price – $$)
If you feel like you need to escape the glitz and glamor of Sin City and get back in touch with nature, this is the place to go. Located about 20 miles west of downtown but still technically in Las Vegas, Red Rock Canyon is a wondrous sandstone park containing 195,819 acres in the Mojave Desert. The Visitor Center is a prime place to begin as it has several enlightening exhibits on the history and geology of the area. After, move on the Desert Tortoise Sanctuary where more than a dozen of these noble beasts that were originally kept as pets live in their native habitat. The desert tortoise is Nevada’s state reptile but it is also on the endangered species list due to habitat loss and disease. Next, take a drive around the 13-mile one-way loop road and be sure to stop at a few of the scenic overlooks and gorgeous trailheads that provide access to fabulous hiking and rock climbing opportunities.
Reef Dispensaries is a small regional chain and its flagship shop is conveniently located not far from the Strip. Open 24/7, Reef sells and grows their own flower, and they feature their own line of Tryke products in addition to being the exclusive retailer in Las Vegas for Wiz Khalifa’s Khalifa Kush products. They have a top selection of strain specific pre-rolls and more edibles than you’ll ever need. Address: 3400 Western Ave, Las Vegas, NV 89109
The Grove was voted “Best Dispensary in Las Vegas for 2018” by readers of Las Vegas Weekly and the award is justified. The company focuses on products that are all natural and free from any dangerous pesticides or fertilizers. Kannabis is The Grove’s line of proprietary flower and top-shelf strains like Velvet Elvis and Money Maker are knockouts. If you are looking to avoid the mega-stores and make your purchase at a smaller and more relaxed venue, hit The Grove. The store is practically adjacent to the airport so you can make it your first stop if you’re flying into town. Address: 4647 Swenson St, Las Vegas, NV 89119
NuWu is a huge dispensary filled with every type of cannabis product you could imagine. It claims to be the largest dispensary in the world and with over 16,000 square feet of retail space and over 170 feet of display counters, it probably is. If the massive size isn’t enough to make NuWu unique, this dispensary offers 24-hour drive-thru! CBD users will find NuWu particularly attractive as the store stocks CBD creams, gels, pills and more. Conveniently located just north of Downtown and the Fremont Experience. Address: 1235 Paiute Circle, Las Vegas, NV 89106
Is it a nightclub or a dispensary? Planet 13 calls itself a "cannabis superstore and entertainment complex" and it certainly lives up to its billing. It’s like a microcosm of Las Vegas: gaudy yet attractive. Everything is purple and black, there is a huge globe-shaped fountain, there are floors that light up, motion-sensor displays, glowing and floating orbs and wall projections in 3D. The friendly staff roams the complex with iPads at the ready for your order. Not enough? Fall 2019 will bring a pizza parlor and coffee shop to the monumental facility. Planet 13 also offers a free shuttle from select locations around town and provides special nighttime discounts from midnight to 8 a.m. Just like almost everything else in Vegas the party never stops at Planet 13 – it is open around the clock. Address: 2548 W Desert Inn Rd, Las Vegas, NV 89109
This warehouse in the Arts District provides local artists with space to produce and sell their works. There are numerous galleries and studios featuring everything from paintings to welded steel sculptures. It’s a cool spot to spend time with art that is actually affordable and interact with the artists themselves. A bar and a yoga studio complement the relaxed feel of the space.
The Martin Lawrence Gallery in Las Vegas is one of the larger iterations of the venerable chain. The firm regularly loans pieces of its collection to the top museums in the world and the Vegas location in the Forum Shops at Caesar’s Palace is high in “wow” factor. How about the largest oil painting Salvador Dali that ever put on canvas? It’s there. Right over by the complete set of Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe series. If you don’t want to go into debt there are reasonably priced prints and reproductions for sale.
Want to outfit your home to look like Sam and Ginger’s place in Casino? It won’t be difficult if you just head over to Retro Vegas. The store has a perfect blend of tasteful mid-century furniture mixed with tacky yet attractive 70s light fixtures, ceramics and accessories. Everything on the floor is in excellent condition. Their “Smokin’ and Drinkin’” options alone are worth a visit.
This is another collective that is set close to the Downtown Container Park and the Fremont Street Experience. It is housed in the first medical complex built in Las Vegas and the independent spaces within the collective hold galleries, a hair salon, a trade and fashion academy and other unique small businesses.
Lamaii is top-notch Thai at affordable prices. Basic dishes like steak pad prik, fried pork with fish sauce and Gang Rawaeng (tumeric curry with braised beef) are prepared with impressive care and technical precision. If you’re into seafood, the oysters with spicy chili lime sauce and fried shallots is exquisite. The dining room is beautiful and perfect for a date night. The wine list is far superior to what you might expect at your standard Thai place.
It’s Paris in Vegas at Thomas Keller’s (The French Laundry) bright and relaxed brasserie. While Sunday Brunch is the big draw here, any visit to this bistro in the Venetian’s Venezia Tower with a modern take on French cuisine will leave you more than satisfied. It all starts with the bread. The quality of the bread is the standard for any top French restaurant and Buchon has it locked down with sumptuous baguettes with perfectly crunchy crust to flakey melt-in-your-mouth croissants to perfectly toasted brioche. If it’s not too hot, a seat outside in the garden patio overlooking the pool is a treat. The service is quick, professional and friendly.
Carson’s is a stylish place with a focus on well-crafted comfort food. After a long night out in Vegas, head to the repurposed 1950s John E. Carson Hotel downtown to get yourself ready for another day in paradise. Its indoor/outdoor flow creates a mellow vibe and there is plenty of space to relax and recover. The baked mac and cheese is heavenly and the wild boar sloppy joe might just be the best thing between two buns. There are several beers on tap, a small but well-designed wine list and a slew of specialty cocktails if you need some hair of the dog.
If you are a pizza lover head over to the Fremont Street Experience and Pizza Rock where you’ll find Neapolitan, Classic Italian, Classic American, Sicilian, Roman and Gluten Free pies. The best of the bunch are Tony Gemignani's (12-time World Pizza Champion) Sicilian-style burratina di margherita – winner of the Gold Cup Pizza Championships in Lecce, Italy – and the basic yet exemplary Napoletana-style margherita, which won the World Pizza Cup in Naples, Italy. If you’re not in the mood for pizza there are plenty of other Italian-American classics like eggplant parmigiana, calzones and pastas.
The menu at Other Mama focuses on small-plated seafood with a heavy Japanese influence. Sushi and sashimi star here but there are also non-seafood items such as kimchi fried rice with pork belly and Japanese fried chicken that don’t disappoint. Beer, wine, craft cocktails and an exceptional sake selection round out the menu. Try to get a seat at the bar where you can watch the action in the kitchen.