Lifestyle

Actually Cool Things You Can (Still) Do in Las Vegas Right Now

Whether you’re at home or on the Strip.

las vegas
Rail Explorers/Las Vegas News Bureau

Maybe it's easier to start with what you can’t do in Las Vegas right now. Nightclubs, shows, and strip clubs remain off limits due to COVID-19. The next CES is officially doing online and after being delayed from spring to fall, the Electric Daisy Carnival is being pushed back again to next year. But here's the good news -- Sin City is still a fun destination with plenty of cool things to do. Just be smart and be safe. You know the drill: wear a mask, wash your hands, keep your fingers out of your eyes, and respect the space of others. If you want to spend time at home (or in your hotel room) to maximize social distancing, that’s cool, too. With that in mind, we put together some of the best events for staying busy in Las Vegas.

Lip Smacking Foodie Tours
Lip Smacking Foodie Tours

Take a walking food tour of Las Vegas

Multiple locations
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 new 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 LINQ promenade, 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.

Be the best sports fan possible in Las Vegas

At home/online
It’s an exciting time to be a sports fanatic in Las Vegas, even if few of us can actually watch the games in person. The brand new Allegiant Stadium -- one of the most anticipated openings in what was originally expected to be a business-as-usual 2020 -- welcomes the Raiders in September, giving Las Vegas its first NFL team. Meanwhile, the Vegas Golden Knights are back on the ice, playing in the hub city of Edmonton while on hiatus from the T-Mobile Arena. The only problem -- until we get a coronavirus vaccine, fans won't be attending any sports events in person. However, you can still watch the action from the safety of a TV screen and place a bet at your favorite casino sports book.     

Take a tour of Vegas history with the Pioneer Trail

Multiple locations
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. 

Marquee
Marquee

Lounge by the pool and order bottle service

The Strip
Until recently, Vegas was known for its dayclubs -- wild pool parties with loud music, tons of booze, and dancing bodies crowded together in swimming pools. Now, the concept is being set aside in favor of poolside lounges with reservations for a cabana or daybed typically required. The music is a little lower, the scene is a little more quiet, but you can still blow money on bottle service like the good old days of 2019. The atmosphere is actually a welcome change of pace at venues like Wet Republic, Liquid, Marquee, and Encore Beach Club. Just remember to wear a mask when not in the water. (Watch the tanlines.) 

Have a drink and support your local bars

Multiple locations
It’s not an easy time for Vegas cocktail bars right now. Many are forced to remain closed if not part of a food-service establishment. The Downtown Cocktail Room is getting around the rule by adding brats, nuts, and pretzels to the menu with table seating required. The Sand Dollar is going a step further, temporarily rebranding itself as Revelré at Sand Dollar while operating as a mini-restaurant with pizza and Spanish-style pinchos served out of a small kitchen. On the Strip, the iconic Chandelier at the Cosmopolitan remains open 24 hours a day, seven days a week on the ground level with food and drinks brought directly to tables by servers. The top two levels are open evenings Thursday-Saturday.   

Explore the Fremont Street Experience

Downtown
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 expansive high-def Viva Vision video canopy, which looks better than ever after a major renovation last year. At some point, grab a beer at Banger Brewing, play the penny slots at Binions, and sit down for dinner at Vic & Anthony's.  

Check out the latest Secret Burger event

Multiple locations/online
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 done in advance online. The coronavirus outbreak and Nevada shutdown threatened to derail the business earlier this year, but Secret Burger continues to move forward with a series of take-home dinners, pop-up events, and online cooking classes with accomplished local chefs.

Bounce around on a floating playground

Lake Las Vegas
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.      

Wicked Spoon
Wicked Spoon

Try a new kind of Vegas buffet

The Strip
Buffets were among the very first venues to close following the  COVID-19 outbreak in Las Vegas. Now, they're making a comeback. Wicked Spoon at the Cosmopolitan has a bottomless brunch Thursday-Sunday from 8am-3pm for a starting price of $39. Instead of serving themselves, guests are handed individual portions by employees. Highlights include meats from carving stations, a spicy trofie pasta, and house-made “Wicked Cereal” with a meringue topping to be crunched up into marshmallow-like pieces. The Buffet at Wynn (starting at $36.99 for brunch, $59.99 for dinner) is a little different, basically operating as a tapas restaurant with dishes brought to your table by a server. Ask for as much as you like. Meanwhile, Bacchanal Buffet at Caesars Palace is preparing to reopen by the end of summer with a modified format after undergoing a multimillion dollar renovation.   

Head out of town for a day trip

Boulder City
Take a break from casino culture with a quick road trip to Boulder City -- free of gambling and about a 30-minute drive southeast of Vegas. The Hoover Dam isn't offering tours at the moment, but you can ride the train tracks with Rail Explorers, watch bighorn sheep hang out at Hemenway Park, and visit the free Hoover Dam museum in the Boulder Dam Hotel. Just make sure to grab a beer and burger across the street at The Dillinger, an old bank transformed into a speakeasy-style bar and restaurant.   

Bellagio
Bellagio

Soak in the beauty of the Bellagio fountains

The Bellagio
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. 

Neon Museum
Neon Museum

Watch old signs come back to life at the Neon Museum

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 light, video, and music display that brings some of those signs back to life without a single one being plugged in. If you prefer to stay home, download the official Neon Museum app (using the password NEON) to digitally explore 25 exhibits. 

Explore the local neighborhood dining scene

Multiple locations
Most top restaurants are back in action with new safety standards in place -- no hanging out at the bar, no visiting the bathroom without a mask, and don't even think about touching your meal without covering your hands in sanitizer. Between the Strip and the neighborhood dining scene, there are plenty of new restaurants to check out. If you prefer to eat at home, support the local industry by ordering delivery or pickup.

Legally smoke weed from the privacy of home

Now that recreational cannabis is legal in Nevada, Las Vegas is loaded with dispensaries. Count Planet 13, The+Source, Acres, Thrive, Oasis, and Curaleaf among those 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.

Vegas Baby Vodka
Vegas Baby Vodka

Bring the Vegas cocktail scene to your own at-home bar

Multiple locations
Most bars that aren't attached to a kitchen remain closed right now, so brush up on your at-home bartending 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.

Take a Downtown art tour via Google Earth

Downtown
The Life is Beautiful festival was officially cancelled this year, 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.

Host your own beer festival

Henderson and Downtown
Any other year, Las Vegas would be overloaded with food and drink festivals, including Motley Brew's Great Vegas Beer Festival and Downtown Brew Festival. With one already cancelled and the other in jeopardy, it might be time to organize your own at-home beer drinking event. Fortunately, local brewer Crafthaus makes it easy with online ordering and curbside pickup at both its Henderson and Downtown tap rooms. Just order by 2pm for same-day service.  

Ethel M
Ethel M | Rob Kachelriess

Take a bite out of artisanal chocolates

Multiple Locations
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 built in 1980 in Henderson by the founder of Mars with a three-ace 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. The retail shop is closed but orders can be placed online for a variety of treats, ranging from truffles and caramels to chocolate scrubs and lotions. Hexx Chocolate features 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. 

Explore the food and drinks of Chinatown

Chinatown
Las Vegas has an awesome under-hyped Chinatown that's just a few blocks west of the Strip on Spring Mountain Road. Many of the neighborhood's top restaurants are not only welcoming guests, but serving food via delivery and curbside pickup. Favorites include the spicy Szechuan flavors of Chengdu Taste, the robata-grilled cuisine of Raku, the masterful Japanese dining of Sushi Kame, and even the modern French of Partage or Spanish tapas of EDO.

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. 

Take a trip back to the Old West at the Pioneer Saloon

Goodsprings
It was originally ordered from a Sears catalog, but the oldest bar in Southern Nevada is still standing just a few miles near the California border. It's expanded dramatically over the years with a kitchen, dining room, patio, courtyard, and even a whiskey-aging program to keep people coming back for more. The spicy half-pound Ghost Burger alone is worth the drive.

Do brunch Vegas-style

Multiple locations
If you enjoy eggs, home fries, biscuits, bacon, or anything else considered an integral combination of breakfast and brunch, Vegas is here for you. Our town has no shortage of delicious brunch options in every neighborhood, but you may want to put three recent openings on your radar. Johnny C's Diner at the Las Vegas Motor Resort has a fresh spin on familiar breakfast and lunch staples in a classic diner setting. Meanwhile, Sunny Side Up at Boca Park is a Chicago import that's heavy on egg dishes, from omelettes and benedicts to burritos and tostadas. If you're on the run, Egg Sammie, is a new grab-and-go breakfast sandwich shop in the southwest. 

First Friday Las Vegas
First Friday Las Vegas

Get a feel for the vibrant Arts District

Downtown
About a mile south of Fremont Street, the Downtown Arts District is one of the fastest growing areas of Las Vegas, thanks to its bars, restaurants, and thrift shops, which all share a common city culture. Grab a bite at Esther's Kitchen or Jammyland, order a few bottles for pickup from Garagiste wine bar, or enjoy a hot cup of coffee at Makers & Finders. The Arts District is also home to First Friday, an arts and culture festival on the first Friday of each month. A virtual online version launched in May and is continuing as needed until things get back to normal.   

Hit golf balls (and try the pretzel board) at Topgolf

Off the Strip
While there are a few Topgolf locations around the country, the one in Vegas smokes 'em all. You've got three levels to drive golf balls while staring straight at the Strip skyline -- which looks great day or night. Meanwhile, hang out in your own private bay while ordering drinks and food like a ridiculous Pretzel Board, which is kinda like a charcuterie and fruit plate served inside a giant soft pretzel. The swimming pool and main bar remain closed, but you can still order food and drink from a table or bay.    

Get the best views of Vegas from a helicopter

Multiple Locations
When the city is operating at full-speed, the lights of the Strip shine bright and it's easy to lose count of the helicopters in the sky. Companies like Maverick, Sundance, and Papillon offer a variety of tours above the Strip and to remote destinations like the Grand Canyon or Valley of Fire. For the next best thing, put on your virtual reality goggles (Oculus Rift or HTC Vive will do) and take a simulated flight over the Hoover Dam. The modern marvel is the only thing holding back 10 trillion gallons of water at Lake Mead. It looks amazing from the air. 

hike
Sam Morris/Las Vegas News Bureau

Get out of the house for a beautiful desert hike

Multiple locations
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 hiking trails. You may find a few charming discoveries close to home. Don't underestimate the weather. Bring plenty of water and stick to mornings or late afternoon to avoid the sun’s peak hours.

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Rob Kachelriess has been writing about Las Vegas for Thrillist for more than four years. His work has also appeared in Modern Luxury, Leafly, and Luxury Estates International's seasonal publication. He's eating chocolate as he writes this. Follow him on Twitter @rkachelries.