By Teresa K. Traverse
Las Vegas is more than just casinos
Lively Las Vegas is a common getaway for many Phoenicians for work or play. It’s easy to travel to Vegas, check out The Strip and then leave town. Many travelers do, and The Strip has undeniable appeal. But Las Vegas is way more than just The Strip. From a stunning canyon to a revitalized part of downtown, Las Vegas offers plenty of safe bets for entertainment.
Fremont Street Experience
Before The Strip, there was Fremont Street (vegasexperience.com). Las Vegas’ very first hotel was built here in 1906. The city’s first gaming license was issued here. The Golden Nugget – a hotel that still stands today – was the very first hotel built with the intention of being a casino. The area was dubbed “Glitter Gulch” due to the large number of signs there. Over time, more lavish and luxurious properties were built on The Strip, about six miles away, and many Las Vegas visitors only spent time there. In 1994, construction began on the Fremont Street Experience – a 90-foot high canopy that spans five blocks on a pedestrian-only stretch of Fremont Street – in an effort to attract more tourists downtown. The cheapest way to travel throughout the area is to hop on The Deuce (rtcsnv.com). For $8, you can ride a bus that will transport you from The Strip to downtown Las Vegas for 24 hours.
The best time to visit is at night, when the overhead canopy is lit up with the Viva Vision light show. At 1,500 feet long and 90 feet wide, the world’s largest video screen is made up of 12.5 million LED lamps. Shows feature music from The Killers, Heart, Green Day, Imagine Dragons, The Who and Tiesto. The light shows start every hour, on the hour, from 6 p.m. to 1 a.m. Another entertainment highlight? Downtown Rocks, a series of free outdoor summer concerts hosted at Fremont. Melissa Etheridge will grace the stage on August 31.
You can literally fly 90 feet above Fremont on a zip line dubbed the SlotZilla Zip Line, since the building where riders take off from is shaped like a – you guessed it – slot machine. You can ride lying face down in a harness to simulate flying or sit down in a chair harness as you take in a bird’s-eye view of the entire bustling area.
Just a few blocks from the Fremont Street Experience, Container Park (downtowncontainerpark.com) is constructed entirely out of old shipping containers and features colorful boutiques, open-air seating and a cutting-edge entertainment venue. Tear into all-natural beef jerky at JoJo’s Jerky (jojosjerky.com). Cheffini’s Hot Dogs (cheffinis.com) menu features gourmet and creative takes on this all-American food. Bite into options like the Moshi Moshi, a grilled frank topped with caramelized onions, seaweed, jalapeño, wine sauce and spicy mayo. The park is also home to The Dome (thedomelv.com), a movie theater that’s like a planetarium in that visitors recline while in a dome-shaped building and watch projections on the ceiling of a choice of kids’ movies or animated scenes paired with music from classic rock bands including U2, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. The park occasionally shows movies outdoors, weather permitting.
Opened to the public in 2012, the Neon Museum is home to more than 200 of arguably the city’s most famed artistic contribution – signs. Stroll the nearly two-acre campus that’s within walking distance to Fremont Street as you check out signs of all stripes. The entire outdoor museum (keep this in mind when you’re booking a tour and might want to try to avoid the heat) is an Instagram lover’s paradise, with a plethora of colorful signs at every turn. Tour day or night. Some signs flash. Some are iconic images of old Vegas – like the old Caesar’s Palace and Stardust signs – but the entire museum is a feast for the eyes and a place you could return to again and again without ever tiring.
Red Rock Canyon
Although just more than 16 miles from Las Vegas, scenic Red Rock Canyon (redrockcanyonlv.org) feels refreshingly removed from the frenetic energy of the city. If you’re short on time, pay a vehicle fee at the ranger’s station and take a 13-mile, one-way driving tour of this beautiful park. There are places to park so you can get out, admire the views and take photos before you press on to your next stop. Expect stunning red rock formations that change color in the sunlight coupled with the backdrop of green shrubs and sepia mountains. The area is quiet and a perfect place to relax and reflect. Sunset is an ideal time to snap memorable shots. Be mindful of the 35 mph speed limit. You never know when a jackrabbit or other wildlife will dart across the road. If you have more time, consider hiking, climbing, biking or even camping here. The park offers 26 different trails of varying lengths and degrees of difficulty. If you’re exercising, bring plenty of water and wear sunscreen before you head out.
Seven Magic Mountains
Seven Magic Mountains (sevenmagicmountains.com) is a public art installation by Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone featuring colorful stacks of pink, blue, yellow and green boulders more than 30 feet high. Located about ten miles south of Las Vegas off I-15, this eye-catching exhibit makes for a photo-worthy opportunity with the colorful, striking boulders providing a stark contrast to the Nevada desert surroundings. See this installation as soon as you can. It’s only promised to remain standing until the end of 2018.
Where to Eat
Locals love to dine at I Love Sushi (ilovesushi.restaurantsnapshot.com), and it’s not hard to see why. This surprisingly sleek sushi bar located in a strip mall in Henderson – about 16 miles from Las Vegas – slings tasty Japanese food. The U-shaped sushi bar is where chefs work their magic and diners can watch in the lively dining room. Waitresses wear kimonos. Service is speedy. And specialty rolls are the stars of this restaurant’s extensive menu. Diners can feast on offerings ranging from complex rolls like Sean’s Special – spicy soft shell crab, spicy tuna, cucumber, masago, and cream cheese topped with yellowtail and avocado with brown and eel sauce – to simpler options like The Crunch Roll with tempura shrimp, cucumber and avocado, topped with crunch and eel sauce.
If seafood isn’t your thing, stroll into Park on Freemont (parkonfreemont.com) for a menu of artisanal hamburgers, sandwiches and comfort food that includes “Garbage Fries” slathered in cheese and vegetables and topped with a sunny side-up egg; mac and cheese balls; and eggplant lettuce cups. The atmosphere is lively, especially on the whimsical garden patio illuminated by candles and torches.
These restaurants – like other non-Strip Las Vegas attractions – prove to be worthy of visitors’ time and money. And although main attractions are hard to resist, it can never hurt to venture off the beaten path. You never know what you’ll find.