Las Vegas: What some call tacky is what we call an entire populace sans judgment. This is a town where (most) adults come to stay in hermetically sealed Carnival-esque casino hotels on the Strip, which is essentially a four-mile-long version of Times Square. It’s where renowned artists like James Turrell display their work in Louis Vuitton storefronts, and Elvis impersonators still get gigs singing to the likes of Joe Jonas and Sophie Turner on their wedding day.
If you’re traveling to Las Vegas for the slot machines, showgirls, and antics, you’re likely planning to stay on the Strip, where there are thousands of rooms with highly competitive rates (even the nicest stays are often under $200 a night). What you save in overnight fare you’ll certainly spend on clubs, casinos, and shows — even with Adele recently canceling her residency due to Omicron concerns, this year still has performances by Lionel Richie, Sting, Bruno Mars, and Bad Bunny on deck — as well as splashy restaurants, like one from Bobby Flay, and otherwise over-the-top attractions like a new museum dedicated entirely to Kiss. But staying in Vegas doesn’t prescribe a stay on the Strip; there are plenty of off-Strip hotels, including one that puts you right next to Red Rock Canyon’s hiking trails. To parse the dazzling Vegas-sphere, we talked to 19 savvy travelers who work in everything from architecture to hospitality to the sexual-wellness industry to see where they stay. Here’s what they shared, from the high-octane casino that books Diplo-level acts to the kitschy motel with a retro pool.
The Vegas-iest Las Vegas hotels
“I feel at home every time I walk through that lobby,” says creative director and photographer Érada Svetlana, who’s been going to Vegas since her early 20s — standard for her and her fellow California natives, she says. Svetlana is one of four people who recommended the Wynn, which opened in 2005 and remains a trusty go-to (“like the ol’ faithful, but luxe,” Svetlana says) because of its luxurious, up-to-date accents. Svetlana says the Wynn is slightly removed from “all the congestion” of the Strip but provides a view of the action, and it has the most comfortable linens she’s ever slept in. Jev Valles, a literary coordinator at United Talent Agency, agrees. He’s visited Vegas dozens of times over ten years and echoes Svetlana: The Wynn has an “upscale” feel with modern details (the lights and curtains are all one-touch appliances), all packaged in a “palatial” décor. Perhaps most palatial of all is the hotel’s bar Parasol Up, a lounge enclosed by spiral stairs covered in orange, magenta, and purple umbrellas that look like Lewis Carroll may have collaborated on the hotel’s vibrant interior.
Opened by Steve Wynn after he opened his eponymous hotel, Encore (get it?) and the Wynn are connected and have similar aesthetics, but are technically two different stays. Encore opens with a floral, forest-esque guest area that’s like an indoor botanical garden. This is just one reason why real-estate agent and Vegas resident Sara Price chooses Encore for staycations. “It has this prestigious vibe where you just want to experience it all,” Price says. “So if you have money to spend, you won’t get bored here.” The hotel’s Beach Club — an outdoor club with a pool as its dance floor — books big-name DJ residents like Diplo, Kygo, and Dillon Francis, who often spend the night at Encore themselves. But painter Elisa Valentini says she stays at Encore for the rooms: “Floor-to-ceiling windows, drapes that open with the press of a button to a view of the Nevada sunrise, faux Picasso drawings, and a soaking tub” are just a few details that she recalls.
While she loves Encore, Price says Cosmo is her “favorite hotel-meets-casino on the strip.” Located in the center of the action, every single room boasts a balcony, making the stay a perfect way to take in Vegas for newcomers. In the middle of the hotel’s casino sits a three-story bar shaped like a chandelier, which, according to Price, is really what Cosmo is known for. It’s the “perfect photo opp,” with its purple backdrop, and has a secret drink on the menu: a margarita with an edible flower that “feels like Pop Rocks in your mouth.” If you want to flirt with just a secret drink, the hotel’s Chandelier Bar has a neighboring mezcal-and-tequila speakeasy, Ghost Donkey, attached to its food court with margaritas and truffle nachos that give Tex-Mex go-tos a run for their money. And if you’re looking for something that’s actually on the menu, former event designer Grace Duthe recommends the breakfast sandwiches at Eggslut, the fan-favorite Los Angeles restaurant with an outpost here. The hotel also has two concert venues on-site that book acts including Passion Pit, the Black Keys, and Foster the People. At the outdoor venue, Boulevard Pool, Price says guests can even hang in the water during the concert if it’s not too crowded.
While she’s a self-proclaimed “Wynn girl” these days, Instagram product marketing manager Maggie Braine says that her stay at Caesar’s was perfect for her first trip to Vegas when she was in her 20s. “From Corinthian columns to the gold and red power colors everywhere, it’s kitsch through and through,” Braine says. Its central location makes it “key when going with big groups.” Plus, there are the other Caesar’s guests: “Caesar’s has such a mix of old and young,” she says. “The spectrum of guests and gamblers was people-watching like I’ve never experienced.” Staying at Caesar’s is all about taking in “classic Vegas without it being Circus Circus” (the hotel that’s infamous for newcomers and features trapeze acts and carnival games). Braine says Caesar’s is where you check all the boxes for quintessential Vegas. (Of course, if you’ve seen The Hangover, you know this.)
In 2019, wellness and culture writer Mckenzie Schwark stayed at Park MGM when she and her friends took a trip to see Lady Gaga’s Enigma residency. They thought the best place to stay was, pragmatically, the same building that was holding the performance. The hotel offers certain themed rooms; the “Stay Well” room, where Schwark spent time getting ready before the concert, provides wellness amenities like aromatherapy, a memory-foam mattress, and a shower filter that cuts down on chlorine in the water. For Schwark, the room’s “long red velvet couch was perfect for preconcert pics, and the big and bright bathroom meant all four of us could put on our eyelid glitter and drink Champagne together before heading out for the night.”
For a low-key, “kitschy” stay, creator of Wine Zine and journalism student Katherine Clary found herself at Gold Spike’s Oasis as part of a pit stop on her cross-country road trip a few years back. “We booked this place because we saw the phrase ‘retro pool,’” Clary says. In the spirit of making memorable cross-country stops, Clary indulged in everything from slot machines to selfies with street performers at this “oasis.” For those looking for an affordable stay that still offers the quirks that come with Vegas, the rooms provide something for everyone — from the traditional seventh-floor penthouse to a tiny home that’s been converted into a solar-powered room (the Sugar Shack) with a front yard and fire pit, for an even more eccentric stay.
“As an architect, a strange building is a huge attractor,” says Shaina Yang of Luxor. Named after the city and its temples in Egypt, the hotel is as close to a Vegas transplant of the African destination as is reasonably possible. Yang recommends Luxor for those who are less concerned about luxury and more interested in the “quirkier, only-in-Vegas side of things,” and says she “secretly loves” staying in the pyramid rooms specifically. While perhaps slightly “past their prime” (which she says is now standard for all “heavily themed” Vegas stays), she likes the distinguishing slanted windows and nearby elevators that rest at 45 degrees. Yang often goes to Vegas with her husband, who travels for work. And while the unusual décor is what originally drew her in, she also stays for its affordability.
Yang also recommends the Venetian for its “great balance of absurdity and luxury,” which pretty much sums up Vegas in general. The fake indoor canal and faux–Creation of Adam ceiling nods to its Italian counterpart in the cheesiest of ways, and yet, as Yang mentions, features marbled bathroom vanities and an in-room Jacuzzi that immediately make you feel like you’re on vacation. With 7,000 rooms, the Venetian’s room-service menu offers dishes from the 40 (yes, 40) restaurants in the hotel, which range from upscale vegan to “classic” Italian.
The (slightly) less Vegas-y Las Vegas hotels
Two of our sources recommended Resorts World Las Vegas, which just opened last summer across from the Las Vegas Convention Center (there are three properties here under the Resorts banner; CES is also held here). Mallory Granata, engagement coordinator for Moët Hennessy, says that the hotel’s concierge staff made her time there — she was in town for the Electric Daisy Carnival — a breeze, even providing shuttles to the festival. Art dealer and curator Afrodet Zuri initially stayed at Resorts because of the hotel’s art, which includes Andy Warhol’s Flowers and Tea Bag Art, by Red Hong Yi. Upon staying, Resorts became her “new favorite playground,” thanks to the the yakuza-inspired speakeasy hidden within the food hall (called Here Kitty Kitty Vice Den, it’s hidden behind a shelf of maneki-neko, or lucky cats) and the sprawling spa, which includes six vitality pools featuring a wraparound digital backdrop and a sauna experience.
In avoiding what he deems the “artificially flashy,” writer Isiah Magsino finds his Vegas home in the Aria Sky Suites, a “sky-high oasis from the gaudy theatrics of the Las Vegas Strip.” The rooms’ modern details make Magsino feel like he’s in a “chic, futuristic spaceship,” thanks to “one-touch” technology features. Just outside of the hotel is a strip of high-end luxury shops, which is why Magsino says the Aria is made “for those who want to dip into the extreme opulence of Sin City.” Savannah Robertson, head of sales for sexual-wellness brand Dame, has been traveling to Las Vegas for the past ten years and also books the Aria. Besides enjoying proximity to New York dining outposts like Catch and Carbone, Robertson finds that the spa is a “great escape from the controlled madness.” From therapy pools and salt rooms for detox to ganbanyoku (hot stone) beds, choices for relaxing exist in multitudes, Robertson says. And at the end of the day, she prefers Aria’s quiet rooms and near-blackout curtains.
For those looking for greenery (and to avoid the Strip), Red Rock offers immediate access to Red Rock Canyon. Dana Gluck, director of the Spring Hill Arts Gathering festival, loves staying here for the nature-filled escape. “It’s amazing for an extended hike, brief nature walks on shorter trails near the visitor center, or just a scenic drive in and out,” she says. “Considering that most of Nevada’s landscape is very brown, the red color formations really pop and it’s extraordinarily beautiful.” Back at the hotel, the suites include butler service, a fireplace, and their own massage room and steam showers if you’re looking for a room turned spa. For big groups or families, the movie theater and bowling alley are just two of many activities outside of a typical casino. Plus, the hotel’s restaurant, Hearthstone, serves what Gluck calls “best steak she’s ever had.” And for those looking to catch a game, Red Rock also provides a shuttle to Vegas Golden Knights or Raiders events.
The NoMad’s Las Vegas outpost showcases a different kind of opulence: It’s got bird-shaped cocktail glasses, golden statues of Great Danes in room corners, bedrooms clad with leather lounge chairs, blue accents, deep-red eucalyptus floral arrangements, and bathtubs next to beds. Magsino credits this décor for creating a more intimate ambience compared to surrounding casinos’ bright, “loud” golds and reds. While he normally stays at the Aria, Magsino says the NoMad is “certainly worth the change in routine,” and that he understands why NoMad has been written up as a European escape in Las Vegas. The décor has “hints of Parisian there and a dash of English here,” he says, adding that he’s never felt “more mysterious, like a love interest in a Fitzgerald novel” than when he’s people-watching at the NoMad hotel bar with a vodka martini.
It’s the classic Waldorf, but the Vegas edition. Picture immediate valet followed by teatime in the lobby, which is on the top floor; a car service that escorts you directly to your gambling outlet; and immediate access to Crystals, the shopping strip with Prada, Gucci, and Cartier. Price says she loves how approachable the Crystals’ sales associates can be, avoiding any “snobby” stereotype and instead welcoming you to simply take in the history of fashion in one breath. “Since it isn’t a casino, Waldorf Astoria has more of a sophisticated feel,” Price says. But for those wanting their Vegas fix, it’s part of CityCenter — a collection of buildings, like the Aria’s casino, connected physically by walkways. Because you can’t have Vegas without a view, this hotel upgraded traditional views from bedrooms to the spa area. Price loves experiencing the sauna with a great view of the Strip.
Writer and filmmaker PJ Perez and his wife stayed at El Cortez because they just happened to be getting married across the street that weekend. The venue, Commonwealth, is a speakeasy located at the center of what Perez calls the “trendy” and “burgeoning” area that is the Fremont East Entertainment District (for those who don’t know Vegas well, it’s like a mini-version of the Strip). Perez lived in Vegas for 25 years (he’s now in California) and recommends El Cortez for its “vintage vibe,” from the smells of perfume and cigarettes to “the weirdest mix of senior citizens gambling their pensions, nickel-slot-playing tourists, and bargain-hunting hipsters.” For their wedding weekend, the two stayed in the penthouse suite that “had a slick Old Hollywood–glam makeover” — as well as water faucets in the shape of gold swans, baby-blue-tiled kitchens, and a pink bathroom. But it’s not just the rooms that stuck with Perez: He says he still craves the lox special at the hotel’s 24-hour diner, Siegel’s 1941.
For work trips, Perez also recommends this stay located a half-mile off the Strip — especially for solo travelers who enjoy a sports game at the brewpub. Unlike the other hotel behemoths nearby, Tuscany’s suites can be found in various small buildings spread across the property, which “feels more like living in a studio apartment.” (That feeling is driven home by the coin-run laundry machines offered to guests.) While not a stunner in terms of décor, the suites offer what Perez calls “spacious” living rooms and a kitchenette that, again, create an at-home feeling. Highlights include the free Piazza Lounge drink coupons at check-in and Tuscany Gardens, a hotel restaurant that Perez says serves some of the best Italian in Vegas, including “a lasagna my wife still talks about to this day.”
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