Viva Las Vegas
From old school standards to a new slew of entertainment options, Las Vegas is a sure bet for any visitor.
Eating and Drinking
You could travel the world to experience restaurants helmed by power-player chefs like David Chang, Mario Batali, Alain Ducasse and Nobu Matsuhisa. Or you could go to Las Vegas, where the city’s star-studded restaurant scene has also added outposts of iconic name-brand eateries like In-N-Out Burger, Shake Shack and Umami Burger, a trio of burger joints that have taken the country by storm; New York’s trendy Beauty & Essex, which serves only-in-Vegas dishes alongside hipster favorites and Giordano’s Pizza, which brings its signature Chicago deep-dish pizzas to Sin City.
Fans of television chefs from the Food Network, Discovery, TLC and Fox will also find food-fueled happiness in Las Vegas thanks to restaurant openings like Guy Fieri’s El Burro Borracho at the Rio; Giada de Laurentiis’ Giada in the Cromwell, Masaharu Morimoto’s Morimoto Las Vegas at the MGM Grand, Jose Andres’ Bazaar Meat at the SLS Las Vegas and Top Chef Masters star Lorena Garcia, who opened the Latin-inflected CHICA last spring in the Venetian. Bobby Flay, who has been a Food Network sensation since 1994 has two restaurants in Las Vegas, Mesa Grill and Bobby’s Burger Palace. Even Cake Boss star Buddy Valastro has gotten in on the action with Buddy V’s Ristorante at the Venetian.
If you can’t commit to a single cuisine, consider lining up at one of the city’s gourmet buffets, which resemble their ladle food predecessors only in that diners gather their own meals. You’ll work up an appetite exploring the culinary gauntlet that is Bacchanal Buffet, the Caesars Palace cornucopia offering everything from shrimp and prime rib to dim sum and decadent desserts — 500 choices in all — each pre-portioned and presented like a mini-sculpture. Subdued lighting and curved banquettes give the Wicked Spoon at the Cosmopolitan the feel of a steakhouse, which makes sense: the resort’s team of in-house butchers turns out some of the best beef on the strip. Don’t miss happy hour, when drink prices plummet. Chefs at Wynn use Frank Sinatra’s family recipe for the spaghetti and meatballs served at the resort’s massive buffet; among the more than 120 items you’ll also find street tacos, made-to-order sushi and a chocolate fountain.
Ever since 1951, when Frank Sinatra first hit the stage at the Desert Inn, headliners have flocked to the Strip. These days, though, performances are full-on spectacles that include mesmerizing light shows, remarkable videos and goosebump-inducing sound systems. Expect residencies by Diana Ross, Britney Spears, Elton John, Cher, the Backstreet Boys, Celine Dion and Reba McEntire with Brooks & Dunn to take place in late 2017 and early 2018. No stars appear in any of the eight Cirque du Soleil shows being performed in Las Vegas, but that’s part of the allure: Cirque du Soleil shows are all about gravity-defying motion, strength, grace and fearlessness. Specially-built stages set with pools, decks, invisible cranes and deep hidden pits allow for awe-inspiring special effects.
Out and About
Part mall, part theme park, but all Las Vegas, the Fremont East neighborhood combines old Vegas and new Vegas in one neon-lighted locale. Start with the old: when gambling was legalized in Las Vegas in 1931, the area around Fremont Street, which is located about three miles north from the center of the current Strip, became a glitter gulch of neon lights, strip clubs, hotels and, of course, casinos. In 2007, freshly scrubbed and revitalized, this old downtown became a magnet for small, locally owned restaurants, shops (including those housed in old shipping containers in the Downtown Container Park) and music venues. Six blocks of Fremont Street became the Fremont Street Experience, a pedestrian mall that’s home to a zillion-light light show, an urban zip line, restaurants, casinos (visit The D and try your luck on the vintage slots located on the second floor and the Golden Gate, which displays Vegas artifacts from the early 1900s) and shops.
Downtown Vegas is also home to two museums unique to Las Vegas, the Mob Museum and the Neon Museum. Housed in an elegant building on Stewart Avenue, the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement tells the not-so-elegant story of organized crime in America. Beyond fascinating videos and hands-on experiences like listening to actual wire taps and “shooting” a Tommy gun, the museum is filled with 2,000 artifacts that include a bullet-riddled wall from the Chicago building where the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre took place in 1929. Less gruesome is the Neon Museum, where rescued neon signs from shuttered casinos and hotels are displayed in what’s called the Neon Boneyard. Guided tours offer insight into the history of each sign; at night, the seven fully restored signs are fully lighted for guests.
Some of the most popular personalities in Las Vegas don’t sing, dance, do acrobatics or cook. They’re the reality show stars and they couldn’t be easier to visit.
Since its debut on Pawn Stars in 2009, the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop has attracted thousands of fans. The shop welcomes visitors any time during its 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. business hours; if you’re lucky, you just might catch a glimpse of Rick, Chumlee, Corey or the Old Man. To guarantee time with the stars, book a VIP tour through the shop’s web site, gspawn.com.
Steve Darnell has been transforming junkers into hot rods for more than 10 years; Discovery Channel’s Vegas Rat Rods made his shop, Welder Up, famous. Visits are free; the behind-the-scenes tour includes time with Steve and a chance to see his private collection and his current projects (welderup.com). Danny Koker of Counting Cars occasionally greets fans at Count’s Kustoms, his auto body shop; the VIP tour is a half-day event that includes a visit to the Welder Up shop, Shelby American, Count’s Vamp’d Rock Bar & Grill (for lunch) and Count’s Tattoo Company (countscartour.com). Fans of American Restoration can visit Rick’s Restorations Monday through Friday for a tour, which is $5. The shop is open occasional Saturdays (ricksrestorations.com).
Only in Las Vegas
Of course, Vegas being Vegas, the city offers up a few unique experiences.
- Let a robot make you a drink. When the Tipsy Robot opened in June, it became the first bar on dry land where robotic servers — actually, a pair of robotic arms — mixed up drinks ordered by customers via iPad.
- Watch water dance. It’s been 20 years since the fountains in front of the Bellagio began their breathtaking spectacle of light, music and motion. It’s still a magical experience — and totally free. You can even recreate your own Ocean’s Eleven inspired photo.
- Take in the view. At 1,149 feet, the Stratosphere is the tallest freestanding observation tower in the U.S. Take in the 360-degree view of the Strip and the distant mountains from the resort’s observation deck or one of the two skyview bars or the restaurant. Adrenaline junkies can hop onto one of the three high-altitude thrill rides that top the tower or bungee jump from a platform 108 stories up.
- See a volcano erupt. Several times each evening, to a driving soundtrack and a cheering audience, the volcano in front of the Mirage erupts in red and orange splendor that shoots 60 feet into the air.
The odds are pretty good that you’ll enjoy a Vegas visit! Stop by your local AAA office or call 800-750-5386 and let your AAA Travel Agent help you plan your trip.