The Best Cheesy Tourist Destinations Just Outside of Las Vegas
Las Vegas is nothing if not unrepentantly cheesy, but that flavor permeates more than just the Strip. These are the best kitschy tourist destinations that are a day trip -- or less -- away from Vegas, for those with an insatiable appetite for the absurd.
Lake Las Vegas
Distance from Vegas: 22 miles
"But why is Lake Las Vegas cheesy?" you might ask. Well... have you been there? Like so much of Vegas, Lake Las Vegas is envisioned as a sort of ersatz luxury resort town. One with a vaguely "Tuscany" theme (because Rome and Venice were already taken). The kicker is that the place seems to have been cursed from the start, a victim of not only the recession but also what seemed to simply be a series of unending unfortunate circumstances: the Ritz closing, becoming Ravella for a short time before morphing into a Hilton. The Hyatt became a Lowes and is now a Westin. Even the casino closed -- twice (and currently remains so). There is a smattering of stores and restaurants, but otherwise it's just one empty storefront after another surrounded by some of the most preposterously poorly designed hotels you've ever tried to navigate your way through, most of which are, presumably, mostly empty most of the time. It's a sadly ambitious place, like so much of Vegas, and the closest thing you'll find to a modern-day ghost town. All that said, it offers a wonderful respite from the weekend warrior crowds of Vegas.
Hoover Dam & Boulder City
Distance from Vegas: 26 miles
It's astounding the number of people who come out to look at the Hoover Dam. It's a big, giant dam. There's nothing else to it. It's just a big giant dam. But fine, the birds-eye view of the Colorado River is pretty cool from the top, if you can elbow your way in amongst the throngs of other tourists, and from there you can go on to Boulder City, which is a 30-minute drive from Vegas and hardly the stuff staycations are made of, but is entirely a world away from Vegas culture. Enjoy the charming Southwestern architecture of downtown Boulder City, which has no counterpart in Las Vegas. Check out the historic Boulder Theatre -- the Dam Short Film Festival is coming up February 10-13th and is one of the only film festivals of any kind in or near Vegas. Go antiquing at the outrageously robust Sherman's House of Antiques, and other antique/vintage stores. Buy a cowhide at one of many (and there are many) cowhide and alpaca purveyors.
Primm & Jean, NV
Distance from Vegas: 43 miles
If you've made the drive to or from Vegas to LA (and pretty much everyone in both cities has), then you have passed through Primm. Primm makes no sense. Situated directly over the California border, Primm really just exists to capture the gamblers who just can’t wait to get the rest of the way to Vegas, which is silly because Vegas is only 45 minutes from Primm. The hotel-casinos Buffalo Bill's and Whiskey Pete's cater to that "fuck it, close enough" clientele, and there's also an outlet mall for, apparently, the same folks who just can't wait. There are also family-friendly attractions including a surprisingly awesome hypercoaster wrapped around Buffalo Bill's façade, a log flume ride, and the Bonnie and Clyde "Death Car." About 20 minutes north of Primm is Jean, NV, with another random, dated hotel-casino: Gold Strike Hotel & Gambling. Then there’s Goodsprings, a veritable ghost town that is home to the Pioneer Saloon, an old mining town bar that dates back to 1913 where there are still bullet holes in the wall from past gentlemen's disagreements and the ghosts of the Ladies of the Night who once worked in the hotel next door. For extra kicks, schedule a "Haunted Lockdown" overnight stay in the bar.
Distance from Vegas: 62 miles
Yeah, people totally go here for the wineries. Sure. Yep. Mm-hm. Sure they do. You know what else they go for? Brothels. One of which is Sheri's Ranch, where you can also go to casually grab a burger at the their restaurant and sports lounge... plus there's a gift shop!
Distance from Vegas: 98 miles
Hahaha Laughlin. See, it has "laugh" right there in the name. Laughlin is precious. It tries to be mini-Vegas. But it is not mini-Vegas. The hotel-resorts are old and awful. And the highlight is absolutely the two-level nightclub Loser's Lounge inside the Riverside Inn, which is so very much in on its own joke you just have to admire it. But there's a fun boardwalk and plenty of water-bound outdoor activities on the Colorado River and the nearby Lake Mojave, where you can hang out and tailgate (boatgate?) in hidden coves and go cliff diving, but maybe not all in that order.
Distance from Vegas: 150 miles
You guys, aliens. From Vegas you can take a guided tour to Area 51 complete with intimidating "Men in Black" guarding the perimeter. Travel the "Extraterrestrial Highway" through a Joshua Tree forest with a stop for an Alien Burger at the Little A'le'Inn diner and gift shop. Also play the X-Files theme song on your phone for the duration of the tour, because you have to.
Distance from Vegas: 232 miles
Thankfully Palm Springs isn't all that far away, and it's only infested with the chimerical Coachella hipster-girls-in-native-American-headdresses once a year. The rest of the year it is all sorts of rainbow-pasteled, almost-hip-but-not-quite, Cali desert modernism-worshipping, motels-gone-chic fabulousness that is uniquely Palm Springs. Also, it's a helluva lot warmer there in the winter.
Tijuana (via San Ysidro)
Distance from Vegas: 343 miles
You can get from Las Vegas to the San Ysidro border crossing in about five hours if you drive fast and don't stop. From there, you just walk on over the border. Literally. You just walk through a turnstile, and boom, you’re in Mexico... where you will immediately be accosted by the Tijuana prescription drug pushers. Ignore them the way you ignore the porn card peddlers on the Strip. Also, take Uber everywhere (really!). Eat at Misión 19. Wander the Mercado El Popo and buy food items to smuggle back across the border that they will care 100% nothing about. Walk down the Playas de Tijuana boardwalk where you can check out the murals and the remnants from the last time someone tried to build a wall to keep "illegals" out of America. TJ is trip, but if you feel safer with a Sherpa, we highly recommend Turista Libre tours.
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Nicole Rupersburg lives on the South Strip but would totally live in Lake Las Vegas if only there were a good beer store nearby. She has also not been to TJ since Uber launched and is now plotting her return. Follow her IG at @eatsdrinksandleaves.