It’s really hard to overlook the Strip—after all, a number of people have spent billions and billions of dollars to ensure that you don’t—but there are still some surprisingly unusual and captivating sights to see in and around Las Vegas. This itinerary is designed to help you discover them. You will need a car to do this tour.
Those pricey buffets at the casinos may offer you truckloads of food, but even the ones at the out-of-the-way hotels are the very definition of “discovered.” Instead, go down home for the delightful Southern cooking at M&M Soul Food Café. Chicken and waffles, biscuits and gravy, or anything with grits is a great way to start the day as far as we’re concerned.
Walk off that breakfast by exploring the nearby 18b Arts District, home to a number of art galleries and studios, bravely taking a stance against prefab, soulless Vegas. You might take special note of Retro Vegas, a fun and funky store celebrating Sin City and mid-century modern furnishings (they work remarkably well together). If it’s the first Friday of the month, you could come back and stroll here in the evening, as that’s when the galleries come into the streets for a food, art, and entertainment festival.
Springs Preserve is a remarkable destination, focused on nature and ecological concerns. The interpretive center examines the history of the region as related to water consumption, which sounds “dry” but really isn’t. Need proof? Try the so-real-you-are-there flash-flood exhibit or the 3-D movie theater that puts you atop the Hoover Dam being built. Outside are trails through the wetlands, animal habitats, and other exhibition halls dealing with the environment and recycling. The place is informative, entertaining, and absolutely vital in this day and age, and you can’t believe that something of this quality and social significance is anywhere near Vegas.
Although Las Vegas is obviously our favorite city, New York comes in a close second and a lot of that has to do with the food. Downtown is becoming Brooklyn-esque, with great independent restaurants such as Carson Kitchen and Le Pho becoming the new neighborhood hangouts. Great for the residents of Downtown, even better for you since you get a taste of what you’d be eating if you lived here.
From there, we recommend a duo of only-in-Las Vegas museums. Begin with the National Atomic Testing Museum. It’s about more than just the 5 minutes when the bomb was awesome (apparently people really thought that—they have photos that you won’t believe, like the one of Miss Atomic Bomb), instead tracing the history of the atomic age and focusing specifically on the aboveground nuclear testing that occurred just outside of Las Vegas. It’s a fascinating and sobering experience.
Then you’re off to the Pinball Hall of Fame, where you can not only appreciate, but actually play, classic machines and arcade games from the 1960s to the present day.
If you want to skip the latter, consider taking in the afternoon show by Mac King or Jeff Civillico at Harrah’s Las Vegas and the Flamingo, respectively. Both are considered among the best shows in Vegas and are good values for the money. King is an illusionist and comedian of great personal charm who still practices magic that doesn’t require computer technology, while Civillico is a comic-juggler with a family-friendly and very funny patter. You can often get discounted (or even two-for-one) tickets for both shows in local magazines or online.
Now we’ll send you far west to a place only foodies tend to know: Raku Grill, a Japanese robata (charcoal grill) restaurant that is a hangout for many of the chefs in town when they’re off the clock. Alternately, you could try Omae, another off-Strip restaurant that features an all-omakase menu of pristine, Japanese fare touched with French techniques. The chef guides you through the predetermined menu based on what’s best that day.
After dinner, why not do something completely “unlikely,” like perform on the Las Vegas Strip? There are several hotel lounges that offer karaoke, but the sing-along fun at Ellis Island is probably the best. Or, instead of a show in one of the casinos, see what’s playing at The Smith Center for the Performing Arts in Downtown Las Vegas. You might be able to catch a Broadway touring show, a big-name concert, or a jazz set in one of the many theaters at the complex.
End your night exploring the booming bar scene of Downtown’s Fremont East Entertainment District or the Main Street Arts District with funky taverns like Downtown Cocktail Room, The Commonwealth, Starboard Tack, Vanguard Lounge, and Velveteen Rabbit, Hop Nuts, and more, all within steps of each other. Each has its own vibe and is mostly populated by locals, so try each on for style and see what fits.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.