1. Where to Stay
Take advantage of comped amenities like mountain bike rentals and poolside barbecues at the element Las Vegas Summerlin (from $119). The bright, modern design and apartment-sized rooms are a welcome contrast to its just-off-the interstate location 15 minutes from the strip.
Stay on the Strip – but a removed ten miles south of the circus – at the seven-month-old, 400-room M Resort Spa Casino (from $90). Book a Flat Suite for the freestanding bubble-jet tubs and panoramic views of the desert and the strip. Downstairs, the Hostile Grape serves 160 varietals by the glass.
Book a gothic boudoir at the Artisan Hotel (from $99), a born-again Travelodge just north of the Strip. The swank lounge serves strong, innovative cocktails and the onsite wedding chapel (should you feel the urge) is more romantic than cheesy. The Mediterranean-style, palm-tree ensconced pool is one of the best – and least crowded –in the city.
2. Where to Eat
Forgo sushi for the aburiya-style (grilled) Japanese food at Raku, the 15-month old restaurant on Spring Mountain opened by former Megu chef Mitsuo Endo. Make reservations at least two weeks advance, or miss the rush (and spy on off-duty chefs) by going late night.
Change your mind about mall-dining at Settebello, the recently-relocated Neapolitan pizza joint in Henderson’s District shopping center. Owner Brad Otton trained under a pizzaiolo in Italy and bakes his pies in a wood-burning oven.
Get a restaurant bottle at wine-store prices (and a $10 corkage fee) at Marche Bacchus, a European-style bistro-slash-wine shop helmed by Emeril protégé Jean Paul Labadie. Enjoy your selection al fresco at the tables clustered on the shore of manmade Lake Jacqueline.
3. What to Do
Las Vegas’s museum culture makes the MoMa seem like a stuffy old lady. Start at the year-old Erotic Heritage Museum, a17,000 square-foot homage to sex that includes a detailed history of the porn industry starting with a 1915 flick entitled A Free Ride. Pick through Vegas’s past in the three-acre Neon Museum Boneyard, a final resting place for original Strip marquees for old casinos like Caesar’s Palace, the Golden Nugget, and the Stardust (pre-book online). View films of atomic explosions in the Atomic Testing Museum, a Smithsonian affiliate that hosts regular talks from scientists and former AREA 51 employees.
Cool off in off-Strip pools that offer access to non-hotel guests — a cheaper alternative to a pricey cabana. Lounge on a cucumber-and-ice soaked towel at The Villaggio Del Sole complex in the M Resort ($15 admission fro non-hotel guests; pay at the Pool Hut) or take a free swim at the Green Valley Ranch’s infinity-edge dipping Pond. Sip cocktails at Cherry, the popular nightclub inside the Red Rock Casino, that allows topless sunbathing during the day.
Forget the high stakes poker professionals at Bobby’s Room; you’ll find friendlier joints elsewhere where you can still feel the rush of a winning hand. Stop at the Tuscany where they host daily no-limit tournaments with a $25 buy-in or find a variety of games (Omaha High-Lo, Seven Card Stud, Texas Hold ‘Em) at the newly remodeled Orleans poker room. Green Valley Ranch boasts the biggest bad-beat jackpot in town and handheld vibrators let you know your seat is ready at the card table.
Head downtown to bar-hop in a scene that offers more diversity and better values than its Boulevard peers. Search hard for the discreet entrance to the Downtown Cocktail Room, in a former wedding chapel off Fremont Street. Around the corner, Beauty Bar looks like a relic from the Sputnik era but has some of the best live indie music in town. Finish the night in the neon-lit Dino’s with at least one round of cheap beer and karaoke.
4. Insider’s Tip
Taxi travel can get exorbitant if you’re staying off the Strip, so rent a car. Though the easiest option is at McCarran airport, which has virtually every agency from Avis to Thrifty, non-airport locations will often offer up better rates. Look for discount codes online at sites like Retailmenot.com— they can get you as much as 50 percent off the going rate. If you’re traveling with a big group, you may want to consider renting a driver for the night. AWG is a reliable option ($78/hour).
5. Oddball Day
Bulk up on breakfast at Hash House to fuel your hike to the summit of Mt. Charleston, less than an hour from the Strip. For seasoned hikers, the North Loop trail (10.8 miles) and the South Loop (8.2 miles) offer rewarding views of Kyle Canyon. If you prefer a nice walk to a strenuous hike, the stunning six-mile Bristlecone Trail to see high-elevation conifers like Ponderosa Pines and White Firs. Celebrate your climb with a beer at the Mt. Charleston Lodge but hold out your hunger for a boozy milkshake and juicy, hormone-free burger at LBS on your way back into town.
Local food critic John Curtas’ blog Eating Las Vegas details his adventures in eating (and drinking) in Sin City.
Norm Clarke’s >column in the Las Vegas Review Journal is a source of local gossip
Check out Xania’s Hot Spots for the latest in nightlife news.