Actually Cool Things to Do in Las Vegas
At home or on the Strip, there's lots to do in Vegas.
Vaccines are here and we're beginning to see a long-awaited drop in coronavirus cases. So can we feel better about leaving the house? Life in Las Vegas is all about balance. Use your best judgement and put safety first, whether going on a date with someone special or hitting the road for a quick getaway. If you still want to do the lockdown thing, but in a different setting, there's an Airbnb rental for that too. Whatever path lies ahead, just remember—we're not out of the woods yet. Avoid large crowds, wash your hands, and wear a mask. Vegas isn't anywhere close to being its old self, but we're getting there. Here's a few cool ideas for staying busy around town as we head into spring.
Take a walking food tour of Las Vegas
Lip Smacking Foodie Tours specializes in culinary walking tours in which guests are guided to top restaurants to sample signature dishes and drinks. No waits for tables, no lame restaurants, no retail stops—just the best of the best, all in one evening. The company's spin-off concept, Finger Licking Foodie Tours, changes things up a bit. Guests can now take self-guided tours in a more casual and affordable format with the option of hitting the Aria, Fremont East, the Arts District, and Chinatown. The latter might not seem ideal for walking, but a rideshare is included in the price to help cover the distance between restaurants. Any dining experience that offers EDO, Lamaii, and Sparrow + Wolf in one night is hard to beat.
Want to play tourist, but avoid the crowds? Explore the history of Las Vegas at your own pace with the Pioneer Trail. It's an interactive map that guides participants through historical sites that often go unnoticed in everyday life. Go for a drive and check out the former home of casino magnate Benny Binion or the Old Mormon Fort—a weird museum in its own right. Some sites are spooky, like the Woodlawn Cemetery. Some are quirky, like an old home known as "The Castle." No matter where you go, the tour is free.
Lounge by the pool and order bottle service
The party scene in Vegas isn't what it used to be. Nightclubs remain closed, although a few (like Tao and XS) have reopened as lounges, proving you can still charge for bottle service without covering the cost of a big-name DJ. Pool parties followed a similar format and are gearing up to do the same this year. The music is still pumping, although dancing is generally restricted to cabanas and daybeds, which require a reservation. The atmosphere is actually a welcome change of pace at venues like Wet Republic, Liquid, Marquee, and Encore Beach Club, which are all expected to reopen when the weather warms up—if not sooner. Just remember to wear a mask when not in the water. (Watch the tanlines.)
The Fremont Street Experience remains a must-see Downtown tourist destination, combining bright neon lights and iconic imagery (like the Vegas Vic smoking cowboy marquee) with popular attractions like the Slotzilla zipline and overhead high-def Viva Vision video canopy, which looks better than ever after a recent renovation. At some point, grab a beer at Banger Brewing, play the penny slots at Binions, and sit down for dinner at Vic & Anthony's. The newest addition to the promenade is Circa, the largest resort in Downtown Vegas. Step inside (if you're 21 or older—no kids allowed) and check out the world's largest sportsbook, Barry's Downtown Prime steakhouse or The Legacy Club—a rooftop cocktail lounge that's proving to be a great place to impress a date in Las Vegas. For something more casual, visit 8 East, where dumplings, bao buns, and other Asian street food (along with the occasional Wagyu steak) are best enjoyed with a flight of Japanese whisky.
Founded by Jolene Mannina, Secret Burger is a Las Vegas success story based on a simple concept: team up with top restaurants to offer one-night-only "secret" dishes with sales made in advance online. Even with the pandemic making things complicated, Secret Burger continues to move forward with a series of take-home dinners, pop-up events, and online cooking classes with accomplished local chefs. Mannina also founded the Vegas Test Kitchen, a new kind of food hall with a series of rotating culinary concepts under one roof.
Lake Las Vegas
Outdoor activities are in hot demand right now. Get away for the weekend at Lake Las Vegas, where you can enjoy boating, kayaking, and paddleboarding courtesy of Lake Las Vegas Water Sports. If that's not enough, bounce and slide on the Aqua Park inflatable playground and zoom around on a flyboard, which propels you into the air with the power of water beneath your feet. Think Iron Man and you've got the right idea.
It may be the most obvious free thing to do in Vegas, but it's also one of the coolest. The sight of more than a thousand fountains shooting water nearly 500 feet into the air never gets old, whether accompanied by the music of Frank Sinatra or Tiesto. Shows tend to run every 15 minutes at night and every half hour during the day. Just remember to keep some social distance while gathering on the sidewalk to watch the spectacle.
The Neon Museum packs a lot of Vegas history into one place, offering guided tours of old neon signs and marquees from casinos and other businesses long departed. The attraction is especially engaging at night. Make sure to check out "Brilliant"—a 30-minute light, video, and music display that brings some of those signs back to life without a single one being plugged in. A special exhibit dedicated to the legacy of the Moulin Rouge, the first integrated Las Vegas casino, is on display in La Concha visitor center until at least late summer (while its restored marquee can be viewed outside). If you prefer to stay home, download the official Neon Museum app (using the password NEON) to digitally explore 25 exhibits.
With recreational cannabis legal in Nevada, Las Vegas is loaded with dispensaries. Most of 'em—including favorites like Planet 13, The+Source, Acres, Thrive, Oasis, ShowGrow, and Curaleaf--now offering curbside pickup in addition to delivery services. NuWu takes the idea one step further as the only dispensary in Vegas with its own drive-thru window. And if you’re coming from out of town, Cannabis Tours can be a great resource for tracking down 420-related activities. Hotels, however, are legally off-limits for consumption. You may have better luck with an Airbnb, but check directly with individual owners on policy.
Bring the Vegas cocktail scene to your own at-home bar
Nevada bars are currently limited to 25% capacity. That leaves many of us brushing up on our at-home bartending or hotel minibar skills. Hit Lee's Discount Liquor, Total Wine, or Liquor World and make a point to sample and support Nevada-produced spirits like Ambros banana-infused whiskey, Grandma's Apple Pie Moonshine, Frey Ranch Gin, and Vegas Baby Vodka. Each one works great on its own or in a cocktail.
Take a Downtown art tour via Google Earth
The Life is Beautiful festival was officially cancelled last year (and aiming to return this fall), but let's not overlook all the colorful street art the event has left behind in Downtown over the years. Much of it can be explored by using Google Earth, including a robotic tribute to slot machines by Pixel Pancho, a vibrant showgirl by Tristan Eaton, the latest example of a dysfunctional character by D*Face, a multilayered mural with solar-powered accents by Felipe Pantone, and a multi-story mural by Shepard Fairey on the exterior of the Plaza hotel. Of course, you can also leave the safety of your laptop, go for a drive, and see these impressive works in person.
Take a bite out of artisanal chocolates
It doesn't get talked about much, but Las Vegas has some of the best chocolate makers in the country. Let's begin with Ethel M, a boutique chocolate factory in Henderson with a three-acre Cactus Garden out front. Head west of the Strip, where Jean-Marie Auboine Chocolatier has been quietly selling luxury chocolates to the Ritz-Carlton, Four Seasons (and most of the high-end hotels on the Strip, actually) on a private-label basis for years. After temporarily closing, the retail shop is back open. Orders can also be placed online for a variety of treats, ranging from truffles and caramels to chocolate scrubs and lotions. Hexx Chocolate utilizes single-origin beans from Ecuador, Madagascar, and other regions, crafted with little more than cacao, palm sugar and in some cases, a touch of milk and vanilla. The chocolate is produced at the Paris resort, where sister restaurant Hexx uses it to make desserts.
Get your caffeine fix from the best coffee spots in Vegas
The secret is out. Vegas has a killer coffee scene, providing plenty of great coworking spaces to bring your laptop. (As long as you spend, no one will care if you hog the WiFi.) If you prefer grab-and-go java, PublicUs, Vesta, Makers & Finders, and Mothership all have drinks and beans ready for pickup or delivery. Founders Coffee is even more convenient with a drive-thru window at both its original Southwest location and a new one in Henderson. If you still need a caffeine fix, try Golden Fog in the Downtown Arts District, a new vegan-friendly coffee bar where plant-based milks are offered with no upcharge.
Get out of the house for a beautiful desert hike
Can hot temperatures really kill the coronavirus? Collectively, experts agree it's a maybe. Regardless, the desert landscape outside Vegas is full of hikes to explore, including parks like Red Rock Canyon, Valley of Fire, and the Grand Canyon. If you're okay with downsizing your adventure, check out alltrails.com, an online resource for searching nearby hikes. You may find a few charming discoveries close to home. Don't underestimate the weather. Bring plenty of water, sunscreen, and stick to mornings or late afternoon to avoid the sun's peak hours.
Downtown Arts District
If you're torn between dining out and ordering food for pickup and delivery, Esther's Kitchen has another option for maximizing safety in the middle of a pandemic. The restaurant recently added a "Greenhouse Village" in the back lot, complete with isolated tents for tables of four that include carpeting, heating, and even music for ambiance. It's the perfect way to feast on the fresh, Italian cuisine of Chef James Trees without mixing and mingling with anyone outside your party.
Off the Strip
There's so much cool stuff constantly opening at AREA15, it's almost hard to keep track of it all. Almost. After a long wait, the entertainment complex is finally welcoming its anchor tenant, Meow Wolf, with a large-scale art installation called Omega Mart. The expansive exhibit is a trippy take on a grocery store (which doubles as the gift shop) while opening "portals" to the fictional corporate entity behind it, including a factory and offices where nothing is quite as it seems. There's even a few slides to travel between levels. Give yourself at least an hour to fully appreciate the whole thing. If that's not enough, pay a visit to the smaller-scale Wink World: Portals To The Infinite. The attraction was created by Chris Wink, one of the brains behind Blue Man Group—and you'll notice a few minor similarities, especially with the music. Guests walk from room to room for colorful infinity-mirror experiences with music, lights, and special effects. It's not a major production, but it's a fun little detour that takes about 20 minutes to complete.
Feast on high-end Japanese cuisine
The Las Vegas version of Chinatown is a hot destination for Asian cuisine–and one of the highlights is the recent wave of elevated Japanese dining. Kabuto set the standard for omakase presentations-–carried out with precision, expertise, and fresh fish flown in daily from around the world. Eventually, Chef Gen Mizoguchi left and started Yui Edomae Sushi, which raised the bar even higher, crafting multi-course meals in a quiet, minimalist dining room. Newer additions include Sushi Kame (with a choice between omakase at a secluded private counter and a regular menu in a larger dining room) and Kaiseki Yuzu, which relocated to Chinatown from its original home in Silverado Ranch. Which one is best? Don't try too hard to figure it out. Just make a point to visit each one and enjoy a personalized meal that will be among the best you have all year.
Live entertainment may be limited in Las Vegas right now, but that doesn't mean you can't rock out with your buddies. Sonic Rodeo is a one-stop resource for all musicians, from amateurs to experienced pros. Play in four themed rehearsal rooms, buy or rent equipment, take lessons, lay down some tracks, and get promotion for your up-and-coming band (including t-shirts and other merch within days). And when live concerts are once again a regular thing, Sonic Rodeo can supply the staging, lighting, and equipment. Half the fun is networking. Think of it as a co-working space for musicians—not just for rock bands, but DJs, R&B singers, and anyone else moving to the beat of their own rhythm.
Adrenaline Mountain is an outdoor entertainment complex that has everything you need to go wild and crazy in the middle of the desert. Shoot machine guns, go off-roading in an ATV, get behind the wheel of a monster truck, and shoot targets with archery or axe throwing. If that's not enough, you can blow up a car with a sniper rifle (or just crush one with construction machinery). As you can see, the options are endless—with new ones being planned as we speak. Adrenaline Mountain also has event spaces to rent, in case you're planning an extreme wedding in the near future.
Commonwealth looks a little different these days. The Laundry Room, which took over the entire venue for much of last year, has now returned to its original, intimate space as a secluded speakeasy. Yet much of that charm and bartending expertise is continuing in the main room with Commonwealth Cocktail Club on Friday and Saturday nights from 7 pm–2 am. Expect a new menu of carefully crafted libations, including a rum-fueled punch bowl, and live music from DJs and piano players. Seated reservations are required with limited capacity to ensure social distancing.
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