When you hear the words Las Vegas, your mind may run to dancing girls, Tom Jones and Blackjack. And there’s good reason for that. The city’s most notorious industries are front and center from the moment you arrive. Pity the poor soul with a gambling addiction; he won’t have a moment’s rest until he leaves.
Fortunately, Las Vegas is so much more than casinos and night clubs. Here are some notable Las Vegas destinations for people who want to explore and have fun without patronizing the city’s gambling scene.
The art scene
Art lovers will be surprised to find a rich climate for visual arts in Las Vegas, starting with the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art. From now though January 6, this gallery is featuring Claude Monet: Impressions of Light, an exhibit organized in cooperation with Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, owners of one of the largest Monet collections anywhere beyond Paris.
Wine aficionados may enjoy their interactive discussions, pairing art with wine the second Wednesday of every month from 5 to 7 p.m. If you go, stick around for the Bellagio Fountain Water Show, which starts every half hour from 3 to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday; 12 to 8 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays; or every 15 minutes from 8 p.m. to 12 a.m. seven days a week. You won’t soon forget this stunning choreography of water, and light. If you can’t make it to Vegas, rent the movie Oceans Eleven and get the general idea.
In any other city, signage is a mere business necessity. Not Las Vegas. The city’s neon signage alone is a bold, extravagant feast for the eyes, especially among people who appreciate vintage graphics. In an effort to preserve its mother lode of vintage signs, Las Vegas has opened the Neon Museum, a collection of signs dating back to the 1930s. Capitalizing on the interest in old Las Vegas and all things vintage, the museum has been 15 years in the making. It offers 45-minute tours of the Neon Boneyard, a home for old neon signs. If you’re not the touring kind, stroll down Las Vegas Boulevard between Sahara and Washington Avenues and you can see seven restored signs from the museum’s collection.
The dining scene
In the mood for a steak or shrimp scampi? Head to Binion’s, located on the top of the famed casino and hotel. It was a family-owned business until 2004, when it was sold under duress to a large corporation following a messy battle between siblings. Evidently, the contender didn’t have the requisite management skills to balance the hospitality business with the gambling business–one of the toughest acts in Vegas.
Go to Binion’s on a Sunday night after the dust has settled from weekend gambling. If the locals stay home, you may luck into a window table where you can see for miles from the 24th floor restaurant. On a recent visit, the only negative was an unpleasant odor that greeted us as we stepped off the elevator and into the otherwise old-world sumptuousness of Binion’s.
Another highly esteemed destination for steak lovers is The Range. Located in Harrah’s, The Range is an elegant, contemporary steakhouse with an extensive menu that includes plenty of alternatives to steak. Go for tradition and service at Binions; elegance and intimacy at The Range.
If you wake up hungry after a night out, don’t ruin your appetite with a stale hotel pastry. Save room for Du-Pars, a Las Vegas restaurant and bakery that started in 1938 in Los Angeles and came to Vegas in 1958. Du-Pars is known for buttermilk pancakes and a spicy breakfast sausage. You’re on vacation, so take a piece of pie to go!
The golf scene
Vegas is home to impressive golf courses at every price point. If money is no object, treat yourself to The Wynn, where an 18-hole round will set you back $500. It’s known as a challenging beauty, but if the price gives you heartburn, you won’t blow the budget or compromise your expectations at Stallion Mountain or Rhodes Ranch.
Stallion Mountain offers a gorgeous view of the surrounding mountains and unrivaled service. We were treated like royalty when we played this fall at a resident rate of $59, including range balls. The pro also gave us great recommendations for other local courses worth playing.
An admirable approach shot at Rhodes Ranch might earn dignified applause from an appreciative homeowner with a ringside seat along the course, which was still meticulously groomed late in the season. At roughly $120 a round, you can at least be rewarded with a witness to your best shots! It offers splendid views of the mountains from a rolling, links-style course that’s a pleasure to play.
The natural scene
Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam are musts for Las Vegas visitors who want to understand the west. Board the Desert Rose paddleboat for a two-hour lunch cruise of cerulean blue Lake Mead and the gorgeous rock that surrounds it. Visit the captain’s quarters and you might even get a shot at steering the boat. The 1.5 million acre lake is a reservoir resulting from the construction of Hoover Dam. You can also enjoy dinner and champagne brunch cruises aboard the Desert Rose.
Check out the massive architectural marvel that supplies electricity to Las Vegas and much of the southwestern U.S.––Hoover Dam. Built in 1936, it was a five-year project that solved a world of natural problems that once plagued the area—not that growth in the southwest hasn’t generated a new set of problems all its own. Gray Line Tours offers the trifecta tour: Lake Mead and Hoover Dam with the Ethel M Chocolate Factory and Botanical Cactus Garden thrown in as a sweet (and prickly) ending. Ethel M was the mother of Forrest Mars, founder of the company that makes Mars and Snickers candy bars. It’s kind of a hokey little tour, but fun. Who’s going to reject a bite of chocolate at the end of the day?
*Adventurous travelers can zipline across the old Las Vegas Strip.*
If this is your first trip to Las Vegas, try any these destinations and you’ll go home with a bank of memories richer than any winnings you might have had at the slots.
Crystal Hammon is an accredited business communicator and corporate copy writer who loves to travel. She blogs at Dressed Her Days Vintage.com, a site for vintage fashion enthusiasts.