Explore: Vegas, Baby!

Las Vegas Boulevard isn’t the only thing to see while you’re in Sin City.
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The Neon Museum, a graveyard for the neon signs of old Vegas
The Neon Museum, a graveyard for the neon signs of old Vegas.

When it comes to visiting Las Vegas, The Strip (Las Vegas Boulevard) is usually the main attraction. With its high-rise casinos, opulent restaurants and streetside entertainment, it’s almost always a good time. But maybe you’re looking to get away from that particular hustle and bustle, or you want to explore a slightly less-touristy—or at least different— version of Vegas. There is plenty to see, do and taste away from the main stretch.

Fremont Street and Downtown Las Vegas—If you’ve ever asked a server or driver in Las Vegas their favorite place to dine or grab drinks, I bet they told you the locals tend to flock to Fremont Street and the surrounding downtown area.

FREMONT STREET EXPERIENCE is akin to a “mini-strip.” It has the casinos, yard-high frozen drinks, street entertainers and concert stages, all packed into a shorter stretch of blocks. A canopy shields the concrete, pedestrian-only walkway from the elements.

peyote at fergusons vegas
Peyote. Photo by Anthony Mair.

The Experience is also home to one of Las Vegas’ newest hotels. CIRCA RESORT & CASINO is a destination for sports fanatics, with its huge indoor sportsbook and outdoor Stadium Swim pool. In the Stadium, a 40-foot-high LED screen plays the games of the day. (You’ll need viewing tickets during the larger sporting events.) There are also live table games, and you can find the daily spreads overhead onscreen when you’re ready to place your bets inside. The best part? This can all be accomplished from any of the six swimming pools, with a cocktail in hand. The hotel backs up to Fremont Street Experience, so you can walk out the casino entrance and into the mayhem. No children are allowed at this 21-and-over property.

The rest of Fremont Street Experience is a playground for visitors of all ages. Live music plays throughout the day on small stages. There’s also ax throwing, indoor go-kart racing and a movie prop museum filled with things like costumes from “Alien vs. Predator,” a fish finder from “Jaws” and Thor’s hammer from “Ragnarok,” along with original and replica movie props for sale. An eatery called HEART ATTACK GRILL requires diners to wear hospital gowns (provided by the restaurant, of course), serves its alcohol in IV bags and grants free food to anyone who weighs in at more than 350 pounds.

fremont street experience vegas
Fremont Street Experience. Photo by Giovanni Gagliardi/Adobe Stock.

Throughout the rest of downtown, which is undergoing a metamorphosis, you’ll find plenty of good food, much of it made by former casino restaurant chefs who decided to go out on their own. THERAPY, which turns from a restaurant into a nightclub dubbed RELAPSE after hours, is known for its creative menu, with dishes like chicken and red velvet waffles. CARSON KITCHEN serves caviar-topped deviled eggs and wild boar tacos, and PEYOTE has a New American menu heavy on Mexican-inspired dishes and diet-friendly cuisine with options for soy chorizo and other vegan substitutes. Perhaps the easiest way to taste it all is on a LIP SMACKING FOODIE TOUR, where you’ll visit four locations over two and a half hours, feasting on seasonal, farm-to-table fare at chef-driven hot spots.

Main Attractions—Several of Vegas’ highlights actually occur off The Strip. AREA15 is a neon playground housing arts production company Meow Wolf’s installation, dubbed OMEGA MART, where you can climb through grocery store freezers, skid down tunnel slides and drink at a secret bar. Outside of Omega Mart, art recovered from the Burning Man playa marks the entrance and, inside, the experience continues with black lights surrounding a garden-themed bar. Businesses offering ax throwing, simulated golf and VR rides take up space between restaurants and retail shops.

Omega Mart, Meow Wolf’s art installation inside Area15
Omega Mart, Meow Wolf’s art installation inside Area15. Photo by Kate Russell.

DOWNTOWN CONTAINER PARK is another draw. Made entirely out of shipping containers, the shopping mall has everything from two-story restaurants and bars to small shops and an outdoor playground. In all, 45 shipping containers of various sizes and colors were used to construct the park. At night, another piece of art, a large praying mantis atop a working vehicle, shoots fire from its antenna at the entrance.

After dark, THE NEON MUSEUM glitters. It also hosts tours during the day. It’s basically a graveyard for the neon signs of old Vegas, with everything from huge hotel marquees to those infamous dancing showgirls and cowboys. Inside, you can purchase your own piece of iconic Las Vegas with a bulb pulled from the “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign or poker chips from a since-closed casino.

At THE MOB MUSEUM, learn the history of organized crime and law enforcement in all kinds of fun ways, including with cameos from the big mobsters of the time period. After you’ve soaked up the experience, head downstairs to THE UNDERGROUND SPEAKEASY & DISTILLERY, where a small patch of wall gives way to a secret room. The presentations get creative: Some drinks arrive hidden in books, and gin-based cocktails are poured into mini-bathtubs as a nod to the Prohibition era.

The secret room at The Underground Speakeasy & Distillery inside The Mob Museum
The secret room at The Underground Speakeasy & Distillery inside The Mob Museum.

Just barely off of The Strip, PALMS CASINO RESORT is one of the larger casinos apart from those on Las Vegas Boulevard. It has a storied history, including stints as the filming location of “The Real World: Las Vegas” and as the spot that formerly housed The Playboy Club. After about two years with its doors closed to the public, the property was sold and reopened this past April. The infamous GHOSTBAR is still on the 55th floor of the Ivory Tower, proffering sparkling views of The Strip. Here you can enjoy your drink on the veranda or splurge on bottle service. A large opening ensures that even from “inside,” guests get the best views.

Next door to the entrance to GhostBar is SCOTCH 80 PRIME. A true casino steakhouse with white tablecloths and servers dressed in suits, this restaurant serves an over-the-top meal worth the price tag. Daring seafood towers and tomahawk steaks are just the beginning. The bone marrow and beef tartare will get you started, and a list of old fashioneds brings a hint of unexpectedness—and smoke—to the table. Insider tip: Don’t leave without dessert. The s’mores are wrapped in a ball of chocolate, melted tableside using real fire, for a show that brings the Las Vegas experience right to you.

Barry’s at Circa Resort & Casino
Barry’s at Circa Resort & Casino. Photo by left: PC Pathfinder Productions.

Laughlin, Nevada—About 90 minutes from Las Vegas sits the city of Laughlin. Designated as a resort town, it brings the same charms of The Strip (gambling and booze) to a laid back locale. It feels more like the small Nevada towns speckled throughout the state, each of which boasts its own casino resorts. Laughlin provides a good time for people who want to partake in the Las Vegas lifestyle without hitting the big city.

What makes Laughlin stand out is its location on the Colorado River, which runs through town, enabling beach time and water sports. Hop aboard the USS RIVERSIDE and get a guided tour. The tour picks up on the Riverwalk, a paved walking path that connects Laughlin’s handful of casinos, including a HARRAH’S. Or choose to set out on your own by renting jet skis or kayaks.

Laughlin
Laughlin

A big upside to this neighboring town is the table limits for gambling. Instead of dropping $50 per hand, you can spend your day leisurely playing with $5 bills while you sip free liquor. If you want to take in the view, THE COVE inside of AQUARIUS CASINO RESORT sits right on the water and provides video poker, as well as food and drinks.

Surprising to many, the entertainment in Laughlin doesn’t play second fi ddle to Vegas. Just this year, the area’s big venues—DON LAUGHLIN’S RIVERSIDE RESORT HOTEL AND CASINO, HARRAH’S LAUGHLIN BEACH RESORT and LAUGH-LIN EVENT CENTER—have hosted big acts including Chris Young, Hall & Oates, Kid Rock and Sara Evans.

If you didn’t rent a car, hire AWG Ambassador for a chauffeured day trip from Las Vegas to Laughlin.