Courtesy of Joe Buglewicz / Las Vegas News Bureau
Travel

The Best Neighborhoods in Las Vegas to Spend a Weekend

Las Vegas is one of the fastest growing destinations in the country right now with new neighborhoods popping up nearly as fast as lawyer commercials on TV. Its residential evolution is influencing what's possible for tourism, whether it's the dining scene or attractions that are shifting away from casino culture. Just look at the sudden emergence of Vegas as a sports town with the success of the Golden Knights and the pending arrival of the Raiders -- something that couldn't be possible with a city dominated by tourists alone. 

More people are also discovering the natural surroundings of Southern Nevada. Some have been around all along (hello Red Rock Canyon), some are disappearing slowly (goodbye Lake Mead). But Vegas has more opportunities than ever. It's not just about the Strip, Fremont Street, and long drives to Pahrump to track down a legal brothel. If you're spending a weekend here, you should exhale, take your time, and focus on one specific neighborhood to maximize your efforts. Whether you're looking to go off-the-Strip and head Downtown or completely off-the-grid at a mountain resort, pick a neighborhood and enjoy the weekend you deserve.

The Strip
The Strip | Courtesy of Sam Morris/Las Vegas News Bureau

The Strip

If you're coming to Las Vegas for the first time, you're probably laser-focused on the Strip -- a place that's equal parts Monte Carlo and Jersey Shore. The four-mile-plus stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard runs between Russell and Sahara, dominated by bright lights, giant marquees, and mega-resorts loaded with restaurants, nightclubs, and other attractions.  Don't let locals scare you away by saying the Strip is overrated, expensive, and not as good as it used to be. All those things are true -- and we wish the mob still ran the casinos, too -- but it's now a new era. Time to make the most of it. 

Where to stay: If you want a mega-resort with an over-the-top theme, Caesars Palace, the Mirage, or Mandalay Bay may be calling your name. if you're feeling extra-goofy, the Luxor (Egyptian!) or Excalibur (Camelot!) will do the trick. Keep in mind, these are all sprawling properties, so be ready for endless walking. Other big resorts include the Aria (newer) and the MGM Grand (older). If you want something smaller but sexier, The Cromwell is pretty cool. So is the Cosmopolitan. If you’re looking to save a few dollars by staying in the relatively quiet and secluded north end of the Strip, check out The Strat or Sahara. A pair of twin properties -- Wynn/Encore and Venetian/Palazzo -- offer the best bang for the buck (although it's a big buck) and follow an all-suites format. While their resort fees are among the highest on the Strip, there isn't a parking charge. Take your victories when you can. 

Things to do:  See a show -- whether it's one of seven Cirque du Soleil productions on the Strip or a big-name residency at the Park Theater (Lady Gaga, Aerosmith, Cher, Bruno Mars), the Colosseum at Caesars Palace (Keith Urban, Sting, Mariah Carey), or Zappos Theater at Planet Hollywood (Shania Twain, Kelly Clarkson, Christina Aguilera). The magic shows here do more than just pull rabbits out of hats, especially Piff the Magic Dragon, Matt Franco, Penn & Teller, Mac King, and David Copperfield. If you just want to laugh, everyone says the same thing about Carrot Top -- "I wasn't expecting to like it as much as I did." Otherwise, get familiar with actually cool things to do in Vegas. Some things live up to the hype (the High Roller wheel, blackjack at the Cromwell) and some things are actually free (Bellagio Fountains, the Conservatory & Botanical Gardens, Mirage Volcano). 

Best restaurants: Options for breakfast include the egg sandwiches at Eggslut and the seared-with-a-blowtorch cinnamon rolls at District Donuts. Pronto by Giada at Caesars Palace is another safe bet. But it's hard to beat Della's Kitchen at the Delano with all your breakfast and lunch favorites made fresh and clean, often with Nevada-sourced ingredients. If you're at the Park MGM (or a nearby resort like New York-New York or the Waldorf Astoria), Eataly will cook some Creekstone Farms steak on the spot at retail prices to take back to your room. (Note: You'll probably shell out serious dollars on dinner, So try to spend reasonably on other meals.) 

If money really isn't an issue, upscale French restaurants like Joel Robuchon, Twist by Pierre Gagnaire, Restaurant Guy Savoy, and Le Cirque put together some of the most complete dining experiences in town, often with multi-course tasting menus crafted with precision by well-trained kitchen teams. If Joel Robuchon looks a little too pricey, nextdoor sister restaurant L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon is a bit more casual and less expensive, but still a great culinary experience. If you feel a need to cross a steakhouse off your "Things I Did in Vegas" list, Bazaar Meat, Delmonico Steakhouse, Jean-Georges, and Cut are top options to consider. 

Bars and nightlife: Vegas is a great town for drinking -- and you can't go wrong with all the cocktail lounges in the big resorts -- but the prices add up fast. Grab a few bottles for pregaming in your suite. CVS or Walgreens (and the Strip has a growing number of both) will be less expensive than hotel lobby shops. If you have a car, head to Total Wine at Town Square for a large selection at standard prices most human beings can process. Probably the best way to mingle with the locals -- and watch them go bananas -- on the Strip is to see a Vegas Golden Knights hockey game at the T-Mobile Arena, which opened in 2016 and still smells like new. The energy, not to mention the food, is hard to beat. 

Downtown Las Vegas
Downtown Las Vegas | Courtesy of Joe Buglewicz / Las Vegas News Bureau

Downtown

Downtown is where you want to be if your idea of Vegas was formed by watching videos by U2 or The Weeknd. It's the second-largest tourist corridor behind the Strip and, while most out-of-towners make a point to visit once in the middle of their Vegas vacation, it's also a worthy place for a weekend getaway. 

Where to stay: The biggest and most luxurious Downtown hotel is the Golden Nugget. It's also probably the most crowded. Choose your room wisely. The Carson tower is old and full of families with annoying kids. The Spa Tower is newer and much quieter. Otherwise, your best bet is the Downtown Grand, an airy, modern resort that's adding a second tower in 2020. However, once the year is over, Circa will be -- by far -- the most lavish resort in the area.  

Things to do: You'll have to dodge some annoying street performers, but walking down the Fremont Street Experience is something everyone needs to do at least once. The five-block pedestrian mall is covered by the Viva Vision overhead canopy with the largest HD video screen in the world. In true Vegas style, it plays "shows" (images matched to music, often seasonal or in tribute to somebody like Bon Jovi) every hour. Head across Las Vegas Boulevard and you'll enter Fremont East, a neighborhood we like to pretend is "for locals." It's a hub for bars, restaurants, and an outdoor mall in old shipping containers. For authentic local flavor, the Arts District has tons of second-hand shops loaded with Vegas character. Around the edges of all this, you'll find some cool and weird museums, including the Mob Museum to celebrate our city's affection for criminal activity, the Neon Museum where vintage signs and marquees go to die, and the Old Mormon Fort, an old structure leftover from setters in the late 19th century.     

Best restaurants: Downtown totally outperforms the Strip when it comes to coffeehouses -- and fortunately, these places have great food, too. Try Makers & Finders, for weekend Latin Brunch and Vesta for locally baked, buttery croissants. PublicUs scores points for making a coffee drink look like an Old Fashioned.  For dinner, Oscar's (named after former mayor and mob lawyer Oscar Goodman) and the Triple George Grill are both steakhouses with a cool old-school Vegas vibe, although Vic & Anthony's is the only downtown restaurant with certified Kobe beef. But if you really want to nail the downtown dining scene, check out Carson Kitchen for a new take on New American and Esther's Kitchen for Italian.  

Bars and nightlife: What used to be Vegas’ oldest free-standing bar where people watched nuclear test explosions go off in the desert is now Atomic Liquors, a craft cocktail destination. Throughout all of Downtown’s changes, The Griffin has remained a staple -- a laid back bar for cold beer, expert cocktails, and live music. (Plus it’s low lit with comfortable booths for serious lounging.) For a true only-in-Vegas experience, check out The Gold Spike, a former hotel and casino that’s been turned into an adult playground with oversized games, live music, and 24/7 drinking. But if it’s a cheap dive bar you seek at the end of the night, look no further than the The Huntridge Tavern -- located next to a pharmacy -- where a can of Hamm’s is only $1.50.

Henderson
Henderson | Courtesy of Las Vegas News Bureau

Henderson

Henderson is the second-largest city in Nevada, but it's highly residential and full of shopping malls and chain restaurants. Yet it also has a ton of parks, mountain trails, and casino resorts that offer plenty of value compared to the Strip. Henderson is best navigated by car, making it attractive to those driving in from nearby states like California and Arizona. It's also a bit closer to the Hoover Dam, Grand Canyon, Lake Mead, and Lake Las Vegas, helping you get in touch with nature and other attractions beyond the urban sprawl.  

Where to stay: The M Resort is probably the nicest hotel in Henderson. It's right off Interstate 15 with a chic, modern feel and sweeping outdoor pool deck with Daydream (a dayclub on the not-so-aggressive side) and occasional outdoor concerts in the summer. Green Valley Ranch is a close second with a Mediterranean theme and big, badass pool deck of its own. 

Things to do: The area is full of smoky casinos where it feels like there's an age limit of 65 and above, but it's starting to earn some hipster cred. For something sweet, take a free tour of the Ethel M Chocolate Factory, which has an outdoor three-acre botanical cactus garden with more than 300 species of plants. Henderson is also a golfer’s paradise with eight courses in the area including Reflection Bay, Wildhorse, and The Revere.

Best restaurants: The Stove is a great breakfast and lunch spot. Between the champagne cocktails, tea service, and indulgent dishes like a chile relleno omelette and tableside Bananas Foster pancakes, you'll be in great shape to start the day. CraftKitchen and Kitchen Table are two other brunchy restaurants that are just as good, if not better, than anything you'll find on the Strip. Hank's at Green Valley Ranch is easily the best steakhouse in Henderson and now carries real, certified Kobe beef and Hokkaido scallops. (Thanks, Japan.) For more casual stuff, Hardway 8 is a sports bar with food so good, we named it one of the top new Vegas restaurants. Tokyo Boys is a 50s-style diner transformed into a Japanese restaurant with carefully sourced seafood and ingredients. Just pull up to the bar and, while you might be tempted to order a chocolate malt, ask the chef for an omakase experience based on your budget. 

Bars and nightlife: Get familiar with the Henderson “booze district.” From the outside, it appears to be just another warehouse and office complex, but inside you'll come across the Las Vegas Distillery, Vegas Valley Winery, Grape Expectations (for custom wine barrel blends), and two breweries: Crafthaus and Bad Beat. Another beer maker, Lovelady, is one of the newer businesses on Water Street in Henderson's downtown district. 

Las Vegas Ballpark
Las Vegas Ballpark | Courtesy of Rob Kachelriess

Summerlin

The west valley of Las Vegas is dominated by Summerlin, a master-planned community for people who love parks, trails, and extra HOA fees. It's a great alternative to the Strip, because you can get more value for your dollar at the hotels while being closer to attractions like Red Rock Canyon and Mt. Charleston. If you take your first Vegas vacation on the Strip, then your second should be in Summerlin.
   
Where to stay: Red Rock Resort is the closest thing to a luxury Strip-style hotel here. You get a well-rounded restaurant lineup, a big casino, and a killer pool deck. (They also have a big kids club to keep those pests occupied while you're out having fun.) The JW Marriott is another great choice based on recently remodeled rooms and some incredible landscaping with waterfalls, palm trees imported from Iraq (really), and more grass than Las Vegans know what to do with.

Things to do: See a game at the new Las Vegas Ballpark, which is part of the Downtown Summerlin dining and shopping complex. It's home to the Las Vegas Aviators minor league baseball team. Everyone loves the stadium so much, it doesn't really matter if the team wins or not. It's got open-air views, great food from local restaurants, and probably the most comfortable seats in any sports venue ever. There's also a swimming pool in the outfield. Plus, they love the outdoors in Summerlin. If you happen to be biking in the Blue Diamond area near Red Rock Canyon, stop by Cottonwood Station, a rustic bistro with early morning breakfast bites, fresh-baked pizzas, and even some beer and wine on tap (which offers some incentive to just hang out on the patio and forget that bike ride altogether).   

Best restaurants: Toasted Gastrobrunch covers all the bases for brunch seven days a week: great cocktails, overloaded pancake and even a sticky-sweet coconut pistachio kanafee. For dinner, La Strega does Italian so well, it isn't just one of the best restaurants in Vegas, but one of the best new restaurants in the country. You'd be nearly as happy with a big hunk of steak at T-Bones Chophouse inside Red Rock Resort, but you can probably spend half as much at Echo & Rig and get a meal just as good. The steakhouse at the Tivoli Village shopping plaza has its own butcher shop in view of the host stand to get your juices flowing before you even sit down. 

Bars and nightlife: When it comes to bars, Summerlin isn't really known for its craft cocktail scene or even its beer scene, so stick with the better restaurants if you want a better drink and you'll be fine. That being said, the Hop Nuts Taproom at Tivoli Village has its charm and, if you want a back-in-college nostalgic feel, Public School 702 has all the draft beer and shuffleboard games to last you well into the night.

Boulder City
Boulder City | Courtesy of Sam Morris/Las Vegas News Bureau

Boulder City

No gambling and no cannabis dispensaries. Have we lost you yet? Boulder City is a charming community southeast of Las Vegas that mixes an easy residential lifestyle with history and culture with frequent weekend events at several different parks. Much of the city's identity and culture is based on the Hoover Dam. Sometimes the town feels like a slice of Southern California, but it's really the place where Vegas began. 

Where to stay: Boulder City is full of hotels and motels, presumably for Arizonans too tired to finish their drive to Vegas. But if you're staying for the weekend, look into the historic Boulder Dam Hotel, which was built in 1933 and has a free walk-through museum dedicated to the history of the Hoover Dam in the back. Just outside city limits proper, the Hoover Dam Lodge and Railroad Pass are the closest hotels with a casino.   

Things to do: If you don't see Hoover Dam, you're doing this whole Boulder City thing wrong -- although the whole experience was much cooler back in the old days when you could drive right over the top. Make the most of your proximity to Lake Mead with rafting, boating, and kayaking by Black Canyon River Adventures. Continue to scratch that itch with a hike on the Gold Strike Hot Springs Trail, but if that sounds like too much work, hang around and relax with grazing bighorn sheep at Hemingway Park. If you're going to hang around Boulder City, you might as well hang around at Flightlinez Bootleg Canyon, a zipline park that includes a hiking tour to the top of Red Mountain and four separate ziplines.  

Best restaurants: The Coffee Cup Cafe is your place for breakfast. Think of it as an elevated greasy spoon with license plates and out-of-town coffee mugs hanging on the wall. Milo's Inn is a cool little wine bar in the historic district that's the ideal spot for casual day drinking. If you think the southwest can’t do barbecue, prepare to be convinced at Fox Smokehouse, which offers pork ribs, tacos, and homemade jerky. The Dillinger is a bar and restaurant, renovated from an old bank, that has amazing burgers and craft beer. For dessert, check out Chilly Jillyz for self-serve frozen yogurt including the beloved Dole whip.

Bars and nightlife: Many also consider The Dillinger a speakeasy (including us) but the definition applies just as well, if not better, to the newer Cleveland's Lounge by the same owner in the basement next to the Boulder Dam Hotel. Beer lovers will prefer the outdoor garden at the Boulder Dam Brewing, where the stout is used in the chili and the hefeweizen makes an appearance in the "Breuben" corned beef sandwich. 

Chinatown
Chinatown | Courtesy of Las Vegas News Bureau

Chinatown

What can we say? We love Chinatown. The historic neighborhood is conveniently close to the Strip and overloaded with so many good restaurants, you could really spend a few days eating your way through it. For the most part, parking is tight and traffic sucks, making a reliable ridesharing app your best friend. Chinatown is almost entirely on Spring Mountain Road between Interstate 15 and Jones.  

Where to stay: Chinatown doesn't have any hotels to call its own. Some of the closer resorts include mid-Strip favorites like the Wynn, Venetian, Treasure Island, and Trump International. The Palms, Rio, and Gold Coast are just south of Chinatown on Flamingo Road. The latter is home to Ping Pang Pong, easily one of the best restaurants in Las Vegas for dim sum.  
Things to do: Massage parlors, footspas, and late-night karaoke. Need more? Chinatown Plaza, which marks where the neighborhood started, and the brand new Shanghai Plaza are both places to explore complexes full of Asian businesses without the stress of hunting for parking spaces. 

Best restaurants: Despite the name, Chinatown covers all sorts of ground Shanghai Taste is killing it during lunch right now with hand-made soup dumplings that draw big crowds. Or you can just do fun Asian-inspired burgers at Fukuburger. Then there’s the classic Chinese of Joyful House, the spicy flavors of Chengdu Taste, the robata grill of Raku, a modern take on Vietnamese at District One, and the high-end Japanese omakase at Sushi Kame and Yui Edomame. The neighborhood is rounded out by how good the non-Asian restaurants are, including Partage for French, EDO for Spanish and ones like Sparrow + Wolf and Mordeo, which disregard categories altogether for an array of global flavors. 

Bars and nightlife: For drinks, your best options are the classic drinks of Sand Dollar Lounge, Golden Tiki, a tiki bar with more to offer than sugary tropical crap, and the Leatherneck Club, a Marine bar where -- to paraphrase an old Olive Garden slogan -- everyone is family.   

Lake Las Vegas
Lake Las Vegas | Courtesy of Raf Willems

Lake Las Vegas

Although technically part of Henderson, Lake Las Vegas feels like a world of its own, even though it's just a short drive away. The community of homes and hotels is built around a giant man-made lake that's great for boating, water sports, or just hanging around with a drink while checking out the scenery. Concerts, food festivals, and wine-tasting events are great excuses to come by. So book a hotel room for a few nights and check things out. Lake Las Vegas had an especially tough time recovering from the recession and more than 10 years later, is still pretty quiet. Whether that's good or bad is up to you.     

Where to stay: Both the Hilton and Westin have comfortable rooms and great spas, adding up to a romantic weekend if you book a couples massage. For more privacy, hunt for a good condo on Airbnb. 

Things to do: Lake Las Vegas Water Sports has boat rentals ranging from paddle boats to La Contessa, a two-level yacht with (here's the important part) two bars on board. The company will also let you bounce around the inflatable Aqua Park obstacle course. Nearby hiking trails have great views of both the Strip and Lake Mead. Reflection Bay Golf Club has a course personally designed by Jack Nicklaus, but it's true calling seems to be for weddings, food tastings, and other outdoor parties.

Best restaurants: Seasons Grocery is a place to grab some supplies for your hotel room or condo, but it's also a quick stop in the morning for coffee, fresh-squeezed juices, and breakfast and lunch bites. Outside of the hotels, you'll find your share of bars and restaurants in The Village by the water. The Mexican food at Sonrisa Grill is the most in demand, but don't overlook ONE5 Lakeside for French and Luna Rossa for Italian. 

Bars and nightlife: Take a walk around Montelago Village, which has been described as “Scottsdale meets Lake Como,” to take in all the terracotta or even enjoy a gondola water taxi ride. You’ll like come across The Pub, a distinctly laid back sports bar for pub grub, beers, and a game of pool. Or head to Vino Del Lago for live jazz and wine under string lights on the patio.

Mt. Charleston
Mt. Charleston | Courtesy of Sam Morris/Las Vegas News Bureau

Mt. Charleston

If you need a change of pace -- and some serious elevation -- the best thing you can do is hit Mt. Charleston. The tallest mountain in Southern Nevada is about an hour drive from the heart of Las Vegas, yet it's the quickest way to trade out the dry, brittle, allergy-ridden air of the valley in favor of some welcome pine-fresh mountain scenery. Drive up in the winter and you'll see families tubing alongside the road before you even reach the ski resort.   

Where to stay: Switch things up from all those Las Vegas hotels and rent a cabin near the The Mt. Charleston Lodge. More adventurous visitors can camp or RV year-round at McWilliams Campground. Bring some food and chains when it's snowing. If you prefer a more standard hotel room, try the quiet 64-room Retreat at Charleston Peak. The place has been around since 1984 and seen better days, although things are slowly starting to turn around under new ownership. You can always see what resorts are available on Airbnb since the mountain has an intriguing mix of quaint and ultra-modern private properties.     

Things to do: Lee Canyon has skiing, snowboarding, and tubing all winter long and hiking, disc golf, and other activities in the summer. The elevation cancels out the sweltering seasonal heat that plagues everyone else on the Strip. Mt. Charleston is part of the Spring Mountain National Recreation Area, where miles and miles of forest makes for a great backdrop for picnicking any time of year.   

Best restaurants:Mt. Charleston Lodge has a full menu with pizzas, bison and elk burgers, a semi-legendary chile recipe (customizable with your choice of beans), and the infamous boozy Mt. Charleston coffee. It's your best place on the mountain for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Be ready for long lines during busy hours. Lee Canyon recently debuted the new multi-million dollar Hillside Lodge with towering windows, an ultra-modern look, a revamp of the Bighorn Cafe (a longtime service counter for beer and burgers) and the Brewin' Burro to warm up with coffee and hot chocolate. 

Bars and nightlife: Since you’re in a sleepy ski town, there’s really not much where that came from. That being said, over at the Retreat at Charleston Peak, there's a 24-hour cafe for hot drinks and small bites, a small but friendly bar with a decent wine and beer selection, and Canyon Restaurant, which has upgraded its menu with the hotel revamp, including breakfast and dinner buffets, and live music on weekends. 

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Rob Kachelriess has been writing about Las Vegas in Thrillist for more than six years. He treats every weekend like a vacation in Las Vegas. Follow him on Twitter @rkachelriess.