Casinos beckon you to indulge in the neon pleasures of The Strip. Supposedly hip insiders warn you to stay away. So who is right? The answer is both. If you want to truly experience Las Vegas, you must embrace its cliches (gambling, showgirls, champagne) along with its lesser-celebrated assets (nature, art, history). Here’s how to do just that:
Hidden in a strip mall (like many great things in Las Vegas), this vaguely nautical hideout on the west side of town serves shareable small plates with a focus on seafood. Get the spicy tuna tartare and waffle fries—a combination you did not realize has been missing from your life.
When people talk about good food in the Arts District, they’re usually talking about Esther’s Kitchen. Make a reservation at this minimalist Italian restaurant and get ready for homemade pasta, sourdough pizza, and charcuterie.
Hidden behind an unmarked door in Chinatown, Gabi is a fairytale-like Korean coffee shop with fittingly colorful desserts, tea service, and decor that would make Alice in Wonderland jealous.
Venture east on Fremont Street (yep, just a little bit further) and you’ll find the coolest coffee shop in Las Vegas. The scene is lively and sun-soaked, and the menu—which includes chimichurri steak and eggs, shakshuka, and spicy bourbon fried chicken—is the real deal.
Roy Choi’s spot at Park MGM brings the best of Los Angeles to Las Vegas. The neon-soaked, plant-filled dining room is extremely cool. Order something from the LA Sh*t menu, which includes elote, short rib tacos, and charred carrots.
From the musicians and dancers to tableside prime rib carving and mignardises served in music boxes, everything at Mayfair Supper Club is a production in the best way. The immersive dining experience is worth the hefty price tag—and the view of the Bellagio Fountains doesn’t hurt.
Set sail at this otherworldly Chinatown tiki bar, where the ceiling is made of twinkling stars, cocktails are served in pineapples, and foul-mouthed animatronic parrots provide commentary.
This Gatsby-esque art deco cocktail lounge at the Palazzo is where you want to be if you’re looking for old-fashioned cocktails like Airmails and Gimlets. There’s also a champagne call button, which is kind of the most Vegas thing ever.
Ghost Donkey is a string light-adorned mezcal speakeasy at the Cosmopolitan. Look for the green door with the donkey on it, and you’re in.
True story: In the 50’s, people used to climb on the roof of this Downtown watering hole and watch atomic bombs explode in the desert. These days, it’s popping off inside, where craft beer and cocktails are always in style.
Part antique shop, part bar, ReBAR is your Arts District destination for craft cocktails and your next great vintage find.
This blink-and-you’ll-miss-it bar just so happens to be one of the best live music venues in Vegas. The setting is no-frills but the cocktails are surprisingly fancy, as is the pizza.
Step inside this rainbow building in the Arts District and see artists at work in their studios plus live theater events. First Friday is the best evening to visit, but Preview Thursday the night prior offers a less crowded experience.
Take a self-guided tour of Downtown and the Arts District and see murals and installations. One highlight is Felipe Pantone’s 3D mural on 7th Street and Ogden Avenue, which uses a prismatic lightning strike to thrilling effect.
Just east of The Strip at UNLV, this underrated art museum offers free admission and a rotating collection of pieces with a Southern Nevada focus.
In the no man’s land desert 10 miles south of Vegas, towering stacks of technicolor boulders appear off of I-15. This is Ugo Rondinone’s Seven Magic Mountains, a once-temporary installation that has become a road trip landmark.
Stay among Downtown Las Vegas history at the El Cortez, the longest-running hotel in the city. From the smoky casino to the 24-hour restaurant where you can order shrimp cocktails at 3 a.m., El Cortez is quintessential retro Vegas.
Located less than a mile from AREA15 and Meow Wolf, Palace Station is a locally-loved hotel and casino. Don’t miss the tiny Oyster Bar on the casino floor, which is known for its late-night $1 oyster specials.
Sparkling, seductive, and just a little bit weird, The Cosmopolitan has sky-high rooms with outdoor terraces plus tons of art throughout the resort. Look for digital displays in the lobby and vintage cigarette machines turned into art dispensers.
Explore a world of Aztec sandstone just a half-hour from The Strip at Red Rock Canyon. This national conservation area offers a 13-mile scenic drive, hiking trails, and some of the best rock climbing in the country.
Visiting Vegas in the summer? Escape the sweltering heat at Mt. Charleston where the alpine air is cool at 7,000+ feet. Go for a hike, spot wild horses, and come back in the winter when the ski resort at Lee Canyon opens (yes, there’s really a ski resort in Las Vegas).
Drive east to Boulder City, and Lake Mead appears like a heavenly blue apparition. The national recreation area is perfect for kayaking, beach lounging, hiking, house boating, and bighorn sheep spotting.
Valley of Fire is a Nevada state park that lives up to its awesome name. Head here for crimson cliffs, camping, hiking, petroglyphs, and more. Don’t miss St.Thomas, a ghost town that was submerged beneath the waters of Lake Mead until a recent drought brought it back to dry land.
This outdoor museum serves as a final resting place for retired neon signs. Opt for a guided tour to hear the stories behind them. The after-dark Brilliant! experience projects lights onto old signs to bring them back to life.
Four words: world’s largest erotic bike. This sex-positive museum manages to be comprehensive and all-inclusive without taking itself too seriously.
Located in a former courthouse Downtown, the Mob Museum offers an in-depth look at all forms of organized crime. While here, slip into the basement speakeasy for live jazz and moonshine.
An homage to feathers, tassels, and fishnets, this Arts District museum is dedicated to preserving the history of burlesque. See costumes and props—or consider taking a class.
Think of it as a nostalgic alternative to slot machines. The Pinball Hall of Fame houses a huge collection of pinball machines with some dating back to the 50’s—and yes, you can play them all.
Bet on the ponies at the D Casino, where you’ll find the only remaining Sigma Derby in the city. This intricately-designed miniature version of a horse racing track allows you to bet your quarters on your favorite competitor.
A haven for bibliophiles awaits just steps away from Fremont Street at The Writer’s Block. Here you’ll find an independent bookstore/coffee shop/artificial bird sanctuary. Check the calendar for readings and book club nights.
This quirky local shop at Fergusons Downtown (a destination in its own right) sells vintage apparel and beautifully-crafted stained glass.
From tiki mugs to ashtrays from dearly departed casinos, you can find all sorts of treasures at this 12,000 square-foot antique mall in the Arts District.
Immersive doesn’t even begin to describe this Arts District company. Take, for example, their holiday season performance of Krampus, which brought small audiences to a dinner party gone demonically wrong at an actual Downtown area residence. From an interactive 70’s era production of Measure for Measure to an opera about the Manson Family, Majestic Rep keeps it interesting.
Learn more about the writer, Krista Diamond
Learn more about the illustrator, Abbie Ren