Photo by iStock. Design by Erik Mace for Yahoo Travel.
By Diane Edelman / D Travels ‘Round
Las Vegas and gambling are synonymous, and with good reason. Sin City is known for its mega resorts and massive casinos. But, there is so much more to this desert town than just dropping dollars on chips and hoping to cash them in.
What else is there to do in Vegas? Oh. So. Much. Here are ten things to do off the Vegas strip — and you won’t have to gamble on any of them.
The Las Vegas skyline, gambling optional. (Photo: Diana Edelman)
The rebirth of Downtown has been a slow process, but in the past few years, the historic Downtown area of the city has come alive. Not only is it home to some fantastic places to eat and drink, but it is also filled with a vibrant art scene and lots of local culture.
Container Park — made of shipping containers — features galleries, unique dining, entertainment, and more. And then there is the popular Fremont East Entertainment District, which is packed with hip bars and venues to hop through the night.
By day, take a wander and explore the street art which has been popping up, or head to Grass Roots to get a healthy smoothie to counteract the alcohol from the night before.
Tap Into Your Inner Artisan-Lover
Okay, so “artisan drinks” may be a bit overplayed, but Vegas does these drinks right. While plenty of spots in the resorts offer handcrafted cocktails, the true gems are Downtown and off-Strip.
One of my favorite spots is Park on Fremont. This gastropub not only offers up some fab food, but its drink menu is creative and mouth-watering (e.g. the Twig & Berries Mule with elderflower liquor, gin, lime, muddled raspberries, and ginger beer.
And, while I’m on the topic, be sure to include Downtown Cocktail Room on your list. It’s a bit tricky to get inside, thanks to a misleading entry way, but well worth a visit for its seasonal handcrafted cocktail menu and super chill vibe.
Take a Hike
It may be the desert, but Las Vegas has plenty of options to get off of the Strip and head into nature. The most popular spot to take advantage of the outdoors is the gorgeous Red Rock Canyon. Pack a bottle of water (or two) and some snacks, and head west of the city to this outcropping of red rocks for some hiking (which ranges from moderate to difficult). Or drive 45 minutes from the city to Mt. Charleston, the highest peak in Southern Nevada. The mountain offers refreshing temperatures for hiking in the summer and skiing and snowboarding in the winter.
Escape the Strip at the stunning Valley of Fire. (Photo: Diana Edelman)
A little further away is the Valley of Fire, the oldest state park in Nevada. It’s got plenty of easy hikes and is home to some of the most magnificent scenery in the area. Visitors can check out petrified wood, 3,000-year-old Indian petroglyphs, and some gentle strolls through red sand.
Hit First Friday
Held the first Friday of every month, as the name suggests, this gathering takes place in the 18b Las Vegas Arts District (worthy of checking out regardless of whether or not First Friday is taking place). First Friday celebrates Vegas artists, entertainers, and dining with live music, food trucks, galleries, and much more.
Skip the Clubs and Head to Local Hangouts
Sure, the clubs in Vegas are worth a visit, if you don’t mind waiting in line for hours and paying ridiculous amounts of money for a drink. The secret to going out in Vegas is to head where the locals go. Locals in-the-know hit up spots like Downtown Cocktail Room and Commonwealth (check out its rooftop bar and its secret backroom speakeasy, The Laundry Room). Other don’t miss bars include Artifice, Frankie’s Tiki Room for some tiki cocktails, Herbs & Rye, the Vegas outpost of Beauty Bar, The Griffin for a Pabst, and Don’t Tell Mama for a bit of piano music.
Related: How to P*ss Off a Las Vegan
Check out a Ghost Town (or Two)
Las Vegas has two ghost towns within driving distance. The first is the more kid-friendly of the pair, Bonnie Springs. Rumored to be one of the most haunted spots in the States, this town has plenty to do: brave the empty buildings, hang at the cozy lodge, or catch a Wild West re-enactment.
You won’t find any casinos in the tiny ghost town of Nelson, Nevada. (Photo: Diana Edelman)
On the other side of town (and I’m talking way other) is the tiny town of Nelson. It’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it-spot but a fantastic location to explore as the sun sets to catch the character of this former mining village. Think Vegas old-fashioned kitsch mixed in with sweeping mountain views and beautiful colors.
Related: America’s Creepiest Ghost Towns
Ride the Waves
Yes, Vegas is landlocked. And yes, there is Lake Mead, but I’d never suggest going for a dip in that water. However, there are plenty of other options to cool off during the summer months. Every resort has a pool (and often times a corresponding pool party to enjoy), but the real gem for water is off-Strip at the newly reopened Wet’n’Wild. Located in Summerlin, this spot boasts heaps of slides, pools, and rides perfect for kids and grown-ups alike looking to enjoy some amusement park fun (and to beat the Vegas heat).
Get a Dose of History
Vegas is filled with historic spots, especially Downtown. But, for more history and a chance to get off the main drag, head to Boulder City and on to Hoover Dam. Boulder City is packed with antiques shops, little restaurants, and even a brewery. Afterward, move on to Hoover Dam. Opened in 1936, the site treats visitors to the story of Vegas, pre-casinos. Park and simply wander around the area, or take a tour.
The old Vegas (and a bit of the old West) is alive and in color at the Neon Graveyard. (Photo: Diana Edelman)
To get a glimpse of Vegas before the birth of the mega-resort, check out the Neon Museum and Neon Graveyard. Spanning six acres, this is the graveyard for old neon signs which used to light up the Vegas night. This museum is reservation-only, so book in advance.
See the Strip From Above
The glittering lights of Vegas can be seen upon the descent into the airport; but that’s not the only way to glimpse their beauty. Book a helicopter ride and head out as the sun sets to see the Strip come alive.
Race a Car
What’s it like to race a Ferrari? Get behind the wheel of an exotic car at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway (the local home of NASCAR) and race it around the track.