• Travel and Fanfare

Las Vegas Neighborhoods for a Weekend

By Rob Kachelriess

Las Vegas is one of the fastest growing destinations in the country right now with new neighborhoods popping up nearly as fast as lawyer commercials on TV. Its residential evolution is influencing what's possible for tourism, whether it's the dining scene or attractions that are shifting away from casino culture. Just look at the sudden emergence of Vegas as a sports town with the success of the Golden Knights and the pending arrival of the Raiders -- something that couldn't be possible with a city dominated by tourists alone.

More people are also discovering the natural surroundings of Southern Nevada. Some have been around all along (hello Red Rock Canyon), some are disappearing slowly (goodbye Lake Mead). But Vegas has more opportunities than ever. It's not just about the Strip, Fremont Street, and long drives to Pahrump to track down a legal brothel. If you're spending a weekend here, you should exhale, take your time, and focus on one specific neighborhood to maximize your efforts. Whether you're looking to go off-the-Strip and head Downtown or completely off-the-grid at a mountain resort, pick a neighborhood and enjoy the weekend you deserve.

If you're coming to Las Vegas for the first time, you're probably laser-focused on the Strip -- a place that's equal parts Monte Carlo and Jersey Shore. The four-mile-plus stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard runs between Russell and Sahara, dominated by bright lights, giant marquees, and mega-resorts loaded with restaurants, nightclubs, and other attractions. Don't let locals scare you away by saying the Strip is overrated, expensive, and not as good as it used to be. All those things are true -- and we wish the mob still ran the casinos, too -- but it's now a new era. Time to make the most of it.

Where to stay: If you want a mega-resort with an over-the-top theme, Caesars Palace, the Mirage, or Mandalay Bay may be calling your name. if you're feeling extra-goofy, the Luxor (Egyptian!) or Excalibur (Camelot!) will do the trick. Keep in mind, these are all sprawling properties, so be ready for endless walking. Other big resorts include the Aria (newer) and the MGM Grand (older). If you want something smaller but sexier, The Cromwell is pretty cool. So is the Cosmopolitan. If you’re looking to save a few dollars by staying in the relatively quiet and secluded north end of the Strip, check out The Strat or Sahara. A pair of twin properties -- Wynn/Encore and Venetian/Palazzo -- offer the best bang for the buck (although it's a big buck) and follow an all-suites format. While their resort fees are among the highest on the Strip, there isn't a parking charge. Take your victories when you can.

Things to do: See a show -- whether it's one of seven Cirque du Soleil productions on the Strip or a big-name residency at the Park Theater (Lady Gaga, Aerosmith, Cher, Bruno Mars), the Colosseum at Caesars Palace (Keith Urban, Sting, Mariah Carey), or Zappos Theater at Planet Hollywood (Shania Twain, Kelly Clarkson, Christina Aguilera). The magic shows here do more than just pull rabbits out of hats, especially Piff the Magic Dragon, Matt Franco, Penn & Teller, Mac King, and David Copperfield. If you just want to laugh, everyone says the same thing about Carrot Top -- "I wasn't expecting to like it as much as I did." Otherwise, get familiar with actually cool things to do in Vegas. Some things live up to the hype (the High Roller wheel, blackjack at the Cromwell) and some things are actually free (Bellagio Fountains, the Conservatory & Botanical Gardens, Mirage Volcano).

Best restaurants: Options for breakfast include the egg sandwiches at Eggslut and the seared-with-a-blowtorch cinnamon rolls at District Donuts. Pronto by Giada at Caesars Palace is another safe bet. But it's hard to beat Della's Kitchen at the Delano with all your breakfast and lunch favorites made fresh and clean, often with Nevada-sourced ingredients. If you're at the Park MGM (or a nearby resort like New York-New York or the Waldorf Astoria), Eataly will cook some Creekstone Farms steak on the spot at retail prices to take back to your room. (Note: You'll probably shell out serious dollars on dinner, So try to spend reasonably on other meals.)

If money really isn't an issue, upscale French restaurants like Joel Robuchon, Twist by Pierre Gagnaire, Restaurant Guy Savoy, and Le Cirque put together some of the most complete dining experiences in town, often with multi-course tasting menus crafted with precision by well-trained kitchen teams. If Joel Robuchon looks a little too pricey, nextdoor sister restaurant L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon is a bit more casual and less expensive, but still a great culinary experience. If you feel a need to cross a steakhouse off your "Things I Did in Vegas" list, Bazaar Meat, Delmonico Steakhouse, Jean-Georges, and Cut are top options to consider.

Bars and nightlife: Vegas is a great town for drinking -- and you can't go wrong with all the cocktail lounges in the big resorts -- but the prices add up fast. Grab a few bottles for pregaming in your suite. CVS or Walgreens (and the Strip has a growing number of both) will be less expensive than hotel lobby shops. If you have a car, head to Total Wine at Town Square for a large selection at standard prices most human beings can process. Probably the best way to mingle with the locals -- and watch them go bananas -- on the Strip is to see a Vegas Golden Knights hockey game at the T-Mobile Arena, which opened in 2016 and still smells like new. The energy, not to mention the food, is hard to beat.

Downtown Downtown is where you want to be if your idea of Vegas was formed by watching videos by U2 or The Weeknd. It's the second-largest tourist corridor behind the Strip and, while most out-of-towners make a point to visit once in the middle of their Vegas vacation, it's also a worthy place for a weekend getaway.

Where to stay: The biggest and most luxurious Downtown hotel is the Golden Nugget. It's also probably the most crowded. Choose your room wisely. The Carson tower is old and full of families with annoying kids. The Spa Tower is newer and much quieter. Otherwise, your best bet is the Downtown Grand, an airy, modern resort that's adding a second tower in 2020. However, once the year is over, Circa will be -- by far -- the most lavish resort in the area.

Things to do: You'll have to dodge some annoying street performers, but walking down the Fremont Street Experience is something everyone needs to do at least once. The five-block pedestrian mall is covered by the Viva Vision overhead canopy with the largest HD video screen in the world. In true Vegas style, it plays "shows" (images matched to music, often seasonal or in tribute to somebody like Bon Jovi) every hour. Head across Las Vegas Boulevard and you'll enter Fremont East, a neighborhood we like to pretend is "for locals." It's a hub for bars, restaurants, and an outdoor mall in old shipping containers. For authentic local flavor, the Arts District has tons of second-hand shops loaded with Vegas character. Around the edges of all this, you'll find some cool and weird museums, including the Mob Museum to celebrate our city's affection for criminal activity, the Neon Museum where vintage signs and marquees go to die, and the Old Mormon Fort, an old structure leftover from setters in the late 19th century.

Best restaurants: Downtown totally outperforms the Strip when it comes to coffeehouses -- and fortunately, these places have great food, too. Try Makers & Finders, for weekend Latin Brunch and Vesta for locally baked, buttery croissants. PublicUs scores points for making a coffee drink look like an Old Fashioned. For dinner, Oscar's (named after former mayor and mob lawyer Oscar Goodman) and the Triple George Grill are both steakhouses with a cool old-school Vegas vibe, although Vic & Anthony's is the only downtown restaurant with certified Kobe beef. But if you really want to nail the downtown dining scene, check out Carson Kitchen for a new take on New American and Esther's Kitchen for Italian.

Bars and nightlife: What used to be Vegas’ oldest free-standing bar where people watched nuclear test explosions go off in the desert is now Atomic Liquors, a craft cocktail destination. Throughout all of Downtown’s changes, The Griffin has remained a staple -- a laid back bar for cold beer, expert cocktails, and live music. (Plus it’s low lit with comfortable booths for serious lounging.) For a true only-in-Vegas experience, check out The Gold Spike, a former hotel and casino that’s been turned into an adult playground with oversized games, live music, and 24/7 drinking. But if it’s a cheap dive bar you seek at the end of the night, look no further than the The Huntridge Tavern -- located next to a pharmacy -- where a can of Hamm’s is only $1.50.

Henderson is the second-largest city in Nevada, but it's highly residential and full of shopping malls and chain restaurants. Yet it also has a ton of parks, mountain trails, and casino resorts that offer plenty of value compared to the Strip. Henderson is best navigated by car, making it attractive to those driving in from nearby states like California and Arizona. It's also a bit closer to the Hoover Dam, Grand Canyon, Lake Mead, and Lake Las Vegas, helping you get in touch with nature and other attractions beyond the urban sprawl.

Where to stay: The M Resort is probably the nicest hotel in Henderson. It's right off Interstate 15 with a chic, modern feel and sweeping outdoor pool deck with Daydream (a dayclub on the not-so-aggressive side) and occasional outdoor concerts in the summer. Green Valley Ranch is a close second with a Mediterranean theme and big, badass pool deck of its own. Things to do: The area is full of smoky casinos where it feels like there's an age limit of 65 and above, but it's starting to earn some hipster cred. For something sweet, take a free tour of the Ethel M Chocolate Factory, which has an outdoor three-acre botanical cactus garden with more than 300 species of plants. Henderson is also a golfer’s paradise with eight courses in the area including Reflection Bay, Wildhorse, and The Revere. Best restaurants: The Stove is a great breakfast and lunch spot. Between the champagne cocktails, tea service, and indulgent dishes like a chile relleno omelette and tableside Bananas Foster pancakes, you'll be in great shape to start the day. CraftKitchen and Kitchen Table are two other brunchy restaurants that are just as good, if not better, than anything you'll find on the Strip. Hank's at Green Valley Ranch is easily the best steakhouse in Henderson and now carries real, certified Kobe beef and Hokkaido scallops. (Thanks, Japan.) For more casual stuff, Hardway 8 is a sports bar with food so good, we named it one of the top new Vegas restaurants. Tokyo Boys is a 50s-style diner transformed into a Japanese restaurant with carefully sourced seafood and ingredients. Just pull up to the bar and, while you might be tempted to order a chocolate malt, ask the chef for an omakase experience based on your budget.

Bars and nightlife: Get familiar with the Henderson “booze district.” From the outside, it appears to be just another warehouse and office complex, but inside you'll come across the Las Vegas Distillery, Vegas Valley Winery, Grape Expectations (for custom wine barrel blends), and two breweries: Crafthaus and Bad Beat. Another beer maker, Lovelady, is one of the newer businesses on Water Street in Henderson's downtown district.

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