20 Actually Cool Things to Do in Las Vegas This Summer

Escape the summer heat with new attractions, pools, shows, and more in Sin City.

If you can handle the heat, you can handle Las Vegas in the summer. Resist the temptation of overblown casino air conditioning, get hydrated, and drag yourself away from the slot machines to see what this city is all about. Vegas is continuing its comeback and pulling itself out of the depths of the pandemic with new bars, restaurants, attractions, shows, and other cool stuff—plus old favorites that never wear out their welcome. From family-friendly activities off the Strip to world-class performances and more, check out the coolest things to do this summer in Sin City. And don’t forget to keep tabs on events happening every weekend in Las Vegas.

Particle Ink: Speed of Dark
Photo courtesy of Particle Ink: Speed of Dark

Explore the Downtown Arts District

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Downtown
There's a reason the Downtown Arts District has more buzz than any other neighborhood in Las Vegas. It's a rapidly expanding hub for art galleries, restaurants, bars, coffeehouses, and other businesses—and things are only getting bigger and better. The Arts District recently welcomed its first hotel, The English Hotel, a partnership with celebrity chef Todd English, whose food is served in the Pepper Club. Try the sushi. Esther's Kitchen, which helped kick off the neighborhood's dining boom, is expanding to a larger space later this year and the City of Las Vegas is recognizing the area's growth with new sidewalks, trees, string lights, and yes, parking, which remains a problem. Once you find a space, make a point to check out Particle Ink: Speed of Dark, a new show that combines live performers with interactive animation and imaginative lighting in a warehouse of evolving stages and scenery. Dates are scheduled through at least July 17.

Rarely Seen/National Geographic Society
Photo courtesy of Rarely Seen/National Geographic Society

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Bally's
Take a trip around the world with images captured by the best in the industry. National Geographic's "Rarely Seen" exhibit features 50 photographs of fascinating destinations, natural phenomena, and other intriguing sights not often seen by human eyes. The size and scope of each image is enhanced in size (and sometimes texture) for an immersive experience. Look for the exhibit on the ground level of Bally's. Tickets are $35 and available through September 25.

Photo courtesy of Shelby American/Hertz

Take a daytrip with a different kind of car

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You can learn about the history of Shelby American and see classic high-performance vehicles on display with a visit to the company's heritage center (one of the best free attractions in Las Vegas), but if you want to actually get behind the wheel, the experience is becoming a lot more accessible. The automaker is teaming up with Hertz for a fleet of custom rentals in an exclusive three-year deal. That means you can rent a Mustang Shelby GT500 (with more than 900 horsepower) for the first-time ever and drive it down the Strip or on the highways outside Vegas during a day trip. Just stop by the Hertz counter at Harry Reid International Airport. If you prefer to go green on the road, EVolve Rentals just opened at Resorts World as the first carbon-neutral car rental company in the United States with a lineup of Teslas.

Cowabunga Bay Las Vegas
Photo courtesy of Cowabunga Bay Las Vegas

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Henderson & Southwest
Henderson's Cowabunga Bay waterpark is expanding its presence in Las Vegas this summer, taking ownership of Wet'n'Wild in the southwest and rebranding it Cowabunga Canyon. Along with a new name comes a new look with a Wild West theme and millions in renovations. The two parks span a combined 45 acres with more than 50 attractions, including wave pools and water slides. The best deal is the Cowabunga Vegas Pass, which provides unlimited admission throughout the season for $89.99. Funnel cake and chicken strips not included.

We All Scream
Photo courtesy of We All Scream

Enjoy the views at new rooftop bars

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Las Vegas already has lots of cool rooftop bars, but the views are getting even better in the Fremont East district. 700 Fremont is three experiences in one with the Crooked Cricket cocktail bar on the ground floor with the Fremont Food Truck (not actually a truck, but a themed indoor counter) serving four different menus with a choice of burger, pizza, Mexican, and corndog concepts. Zoo, the upstairs deck and bar, has great views of the Container Park across the street and develops a nightclub feel as the night goes on. Less than a block down the street, We All Scream (in sneak preview mode with a grand opening in June) is a bar, art gallery, and nonprofit ice creamery to fund local art projects. A rooftop patio has 360-degree Downtown views and a DJ booth shaped like an ice cream cone.

Resorts World Theater
Photo by Ralph Larmann, courtesy of Resorts World Theater

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Resorts World Theater
The new theater at Resorts World is quickly proving itself as one of the best places to see a concert, not just for the stellar residency lineup, up-close sightlines, and high-tech sound system, but also pushing the boundaries for VIP seating. Michael Bublé's recent six-show run actually had audience members sitting on-stage, dinner-theater style with champagne included. Return for residencies in the months ahead, when top pre-show VIP upgrades include a tequila toast with Katy Perry in a themed hospitality suite, margaritas during an intimate pre-show acoustic performance with Luke Bryan, and a wine toast and tasting with Carrie Underwood.

Best ATV Tours
Photo courtesy of Best ATV Tours

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Searchlight
As the weather warms up, Best ATV Tours Las Vegas is leading hour-long guided expeditions in the Mojave Desert near Nelson Hills, where the terrain goes hand in hand with a wild west atmosphere. The Fat Boy all-terrain vehicles are equipped with 450cc engines; just enough power to suit both beginners and experienced drivers while zipping up and down hills, the occasional canyon, and a few challenging turns. The company charges a flat $150 per person with four times offered throughout the day, beginning as early as 6 am if you want to speed through the desert during sunrise. A shuttle can pick you up from the Strip. Just meet at the Luxor.

Hoover Dam Rafting Adventures
Hoover Dam Rafting Adventures

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Boulder City
It's no exaggeration to say the best way to see the Hoover Dam is from the Colorado River—and if you need further proof, just try taking a decent photo while standing on top of it. Lake Mead Mohave Adventures recently brought back its Hoover Dam Rafting Adventures tours, which have rare security clearance to get within about a quarter mile of the iconic landmark. The shorter Postcard Tours are just a few hours, zooming around on motorized rafts with up to 20 guests and guides sharing details on the history of the dam, how it was built, and other cool nuggets of info about the surrounding landscapes. Along the way you'll see leftover artifacts like an old catwalk, gauging stations, and survey equipment—and perhaps even a glimpse of Bighorn sheep, birds skipping across the water, and hot springs flowing into the river. A longer "Hoover Dam Raft Tour" holds up to 80 people, includes lunch, and travels to Willow Beach.

KÀ by Cirque du Soleil
KÀ by Cirque du Soleil

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The Strip
After shutting down at the onset of the pandemic, Cirque du Soleil is back with a full schedule of shows on the Strip. Soak in the high-diving water world of O, the levitating stage of Ka, the high-level choreography of Michael Jackson ONE, and a little bit of everything at Mystere. The Beatles Love is back too, but may be on borrowed time since its theater is inside the soon-to-close Mirage resort. Zumanity was a casualty of the pandemic, but was replaced by Mad Apple, a different kind of Cirque production with a relatively small cast of just 39 people. The show is designed to represent a night of entertainment in New York City, with stand-up comedy from Brad Williams, music from rapper Chris Turner, and a live band performing classics from hometown favorites like Billy Joel and Lady Gaga. Don't worry, you'll see a few acrobats too. Previews are underway with a grand opening May 27.

Wet Republic Ultra Pool
Wet Republic Ultra Pool

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The Strip
Dayclubs weren't quite the same the last couple years when you had to wear a mask by the water, but things are different now. Vegas pool parties are back to full form with stuff everybody loves—beats, booze, food, sun, and minimal clothing—all in one place. Wet Republic at MGM Grand, Ayu at Resorts World, Daylight at Mandalay Bay, Liquid at Aria, Encore Beach Club at Wynn, and Drai's on the rooftop level of the Cromwell tend to draw the biggest crowds with top entertainers. Tao Beach at the Venetian is back after a renovation two years in the making. The outdoor deck was completely redesigned to have better views of the DJ booth, upgraded cabanas, and a large sculpture of a mystical tree goddess.

JING Las Vegas
JING Las Vegas

Experience a new era of vibe dining

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Multiple Locations
Get ready to hear about "vibe dining" more often in Las Vegas. The phrase describes a growing trend of restaurants mixing dining and nightlife with a lounge-style atmosphere, typically with the lights getting dimmer and the music getting louder as the night goes on. Kassi Beach House is a perfect example with pasta and Mediterranean spreads best enjoyed on the patio overlooking the Virgin Hotels pool deck. FUHU, one of the top attractions at Resorts World, is a stylish party spot serving contemporary Asian dishes just outside Ahu Dayclub. La Neta Cocina serves a fresh take on Mexican cuisine (including eye-catching large-format tacos) with a sleek bar area and tall windows that open up to Downtown Summerlin. Another restaurant in the outdoor shopping complex, Jing, has only gotten better in recent months with a menu that mixes Asian and American flavors with photogenic backdrops. Book a reservation for Thursday or Friday when a special omakase menu is offered.

Lost Spirits
Lost Spirits Distillery Las Vegas

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Off the Strip
Lost Spirits, one of the coolest attractions at AREA15, is almost like a theme park version of a distillery. Set inside its own separate building, the facility is a maze of environments with lounges, tasting rooms, and live performance areas that offer a few surprises for your entertainment. Take a dive 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea via "submarine" and book a 16-course dinner in one of the most exclusive dining rooms in Vegas. Along the way, you'll learn about Lost Spirits' groundbreaking scientific distilling process, which dramatically speeds up the aging process, and sip on house-made creations like the signature Navy Style Rum and four Vegas exclusives. Yes, there's a gift shop in case you'd like to take a bottle home with you.

The Mayfair Supper Club
The Mayfair Supper Club

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Off the Strip
Mayfair Supper Club and Delilah are ushering in a new era for throwback supper clubs on the Strip, but there's a pair of smaller-scale alternatives to those high-price experiences. The Vegas Room, in the historic Commercial Center plaza off the Strip, is an intimate space for live cabaret music, food, and cocktails. It's almost like a group of friends hanging out in somebody's living room with musicians mingling with guests during intermission and after the show. The newer Nevada Room is a sister concept by the same owners right around the corner. It's a little larger with a piano bar and showroom. Both venues serve multi-course meals and have championed a wide variety of local entertainment throughout the uncertainty of the pandemic.

Enjoy the fresh taste of local artisanal bread

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Multiple Locations
Is there anything better than fresh-baked bread during the fall season? Cottage-industry bakeries are growing in popularity with delicious recipes straight from the kitchen. Brett Boyer and Brendon Wilharber of Desert Bread sell baked goods out of their home driveway east of the airport on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Everything is all natural and organic with fruit sourced from a local orchard. The wide selection includes sourdough bread, New York-style bagels, French-inspired croissants, and much more. Bread Day is a one-woman operation by Isabela Moraes, a former Olympic-level swimmer who performed in Le Reve. She originally sold bread to her castmates and now makes it available on Saturdays at the Tivoli Village farmers market. You'll see an appreciation of darker grains and fun stuff like a purple sweet potato ciabatta. Kris and Ryan Wilson of 5098 Bread learned the art of breadmaking while traveling in Uruguay and now sell products at Las Vegas farmers markets throughout the week. Their sourdough starter is not only used in the bread, but also a popular chocolate chip cookie. Placing orders in advance for all three businesses is highly recommended.

Take a sip of low-intervention wines

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Multiple Locations
Do you know what's really in your wine? Most of 'em are full of additives. (Just google "mega purple" for starters.) Fortunately, low-intervention wines—which often cross over into natural and/or biodynamic wines—are taking hold in Las Vegas. You just need to know where to look. Garagiste Wine Room is a great resource for low-intervention wines in the Downtown Arts District. Enjoy a glass at the bar or take a bottle home (with a 50% discount on retail sales). Khoury's Fine Wine & Spirits is expanding its selection by the day (and expanding its size over the summer with a new renovation). Just look for the white stickers on bottles to identify low-intervention options. Ada's at Tivoli Village is another spot that takes its wine seriously with a certified sommelier on standby to go into detail about what is (and isn't) in every bottle on the wine list. The Vegas Test Kitchen and neighboring F The Bar in Fergusons Downtown are also keeping low-intervention options in stock. Don't want to leave the house? Veteran Strip sommelier Kelly Ford has a Vegas-based wine subscription service, KellySOMM, that ships low-intervention selections directly to your doorstep.

Lip Smacking Foodie Tours
Lip Smacking Foodie Tours

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Multiple Locations
Lip Smacking Foodie Tours knows how to do culinary crawls the right way, whether it's the Strip (Aria/Park MGM or Venetian/Wynn), Downtown Arts District, Fremont East, or Chinatown. The company teams up with top restaurants to offer the dishes and drinks you really want to try—all at one price without a wait for tables. The concept continues to grow. Lip Smacking Foodie Tours recently announced new crawls of Resorts World and Virgin Hotels, giving curious diners one-stop exposure to top restaurants at two of the newest resorts in Las Vegas. It could be the most delicious 2.5 hours you spend in Vegas. Make sure to add on the optional drink package. Along the way, a guide will share details about each destination plus a little bit of Vegas knowledge. The company also introduced Finger Licking Foodie Tours during the pandemic, which offers more casual, socially distant self-guided excursions with new tours recently introduced for Tivoli Village and Green Valley Ranch.

Fremont Street Experience
Fremont Street Experience

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Downtown
The Fremont Street Experience remains an always fun and sometimes weird 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. At some point, grab a beer at Banger Brewing, play the penny slots at Binions, and sit down for dinner at Vic & Anthony's. Step inside Circa, the largest resort in Downtown Vegas (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 lounge that's proving to be a great place to impress a date in Las Vegas. Ready to drink your way down Fremont Street? Sign up for the Royal Crawl, an app that guides participants to six different bars at three different casinos with beer, wine, or a cocktail included at each stop. You don't even need money to have fun here. The Downtown Rocks concert series is back with free shows by Hoobastank, Rick Springfield, Stone Temple Pilots, and other acts throughout the summer.

The Neon Museum
The Neon Museum

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Downtown
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.

Meow Wolf Omega Mart
Photo courtesy of Meow Wolf Omega Mart

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Off the Strip
There's so much cool stuff constantly opening at AREA15, it's almost hard to keep track of it all. Almost. Omega Mart, a large-scale art installation by Meow Wolf, is the biggest and coolest attraction inside the warehouse-like entertainment complex. The expansive, interactive space is a trippy take on a grocery store (which doubles as the gift shop) with "portals" that open to the world of the fictional corporate entity behind it, including a factory and offices where nothing is quite as it seems. There are even a few slides to travel between levels. Think of it as dozens of art exhibits within a single cohesive environment. Give yourself at least an hour to fully appreciate the whole thing.

Kame Omakase
Kame Omakase

Feast on high-end Japanese cuisine

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Chinatown
The Las Vegas version of Chinatown is a top 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. 

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Rob Kachelriess has been writing about Las Vegas in Thrillist for more than seven years. His work has also appeared in Travel + Leisure, Trivago Magazine, Sophisticated Living, Modern Luxury, Leafly, Las Vegas Magazine, and other publications. He's eating chocolate as he writes this. Follow him on Twitter @rkachelriess.