Saturday, Sept. 22, 2012 | 2 a.m.
Oh, geez. You just heard Uncle Bob and Aunt Rosie are flying in tomorrow for a few days — with the cousins in tow — and they’re eager to enlist you as their expert tour guide. They want the full Vegas experience; heaven knows they don’t want to return home to discover they missed out on the best parts. So you’re scrambling.
You give them a list of the must-sees (the Bellagio fountains, the top of the Stratosphere, the Venetian’s Grand Canal Shoppes, etc.), but it’ll take more than postcard fodder to keep the whole family entertained while giving them an experience to brag about back home.
So here’s a guide to the Vegas experience for just about anyone who might show up on your doorstep, from teens to grandparents, from nerds to hipsters.
The teen and 18-20 crowd
Too old for theme park gimmicks and too young to indulge in Las Vegas vices, the teenager may be the trickiest guest to entertain. Luckily, there’s a slew of age-appropriate options that will appease video game nerds and mallrats alike.
About 10 minutes southeast of the Strip is the Pinball Hall of Fame, offering hundreds of classic and contemporary arcade games that will keep them occupied for hours. The best part? Entrance is free — all you need is a sack of quarters to feed the machines.
For those who prefer perusing the mall, it’s hard to beat the variety offered at Caesars’ Forum Shops or the gargantuan Fashion Show just north of it on the Strip. More than your neighborhood shopping centers, the former boasts the world’s largest H&M while the latter tempts with the super-chic Topshop — one of two in the United States and the only one on the West Coast.
At night, venues such as Mandalay Bay’s House of Blues, Mandalay Beach (in the summer), the Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel and the Cosmopolitan’s Boulevard Pool offer an impressive lineup of all-ages concerts.
The first Friday and second Saturday of every month offer First Fridays and Vegas StrEATs, two all-ages outdoor events downtown featuring food trucks, live music, dancing and other entertainment. For the older crowd looking to get a taste of Vegas sin, there are a number of 18-plus entertainment options to check out, including Cirque’s “Zumanity” at New York-New York and “Absinthe” at Caesars Palace.
From vintage Las Vegas to the atomic age, the city’s museums are equal parts informative and entertaining.
Science fiends and conspiracy theorists will get a kick out of the Atomic Testing Museum, which features 10,000 square feet of interactive displays and films detailing the history and propaganda of the nuclear testing that took place just outside the city.
The new Mob Museum downtown is an interactive stick-em-up experience that dives in deep to examine the history, myths and legacy of the mob’s influence in Las Vegas and beyond.
Also downtown is the Neon Museum, which officially opens to the public Oct. 27. Commonly referred to as the “Neon Boneyard,” the space features the Strip’s towering iconic neon displays of yore; fun and informative tour guides lead you around the lot for an interactive walk around what’s literally the city’s history in lights.
Less distinctively Vegas but just as jaw-dropping is the Luxor's "Bodies" exhibit, a lesson in human anatomy that you won't find in any textbooks. Also at Luxor is the "Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition," which features over 300 artifacts that are sure to blow away history buffs and fans of the movie.
The nature lover
Some of Las Vegas’ greatest spectacles are lit by sunsets rather than neon lights. If you’re hosting an outdoors enthusiast, an afternoon hiking among the glowing, rust-colored cliffs of Red Rock Canyon — or the Valley of Fire, if you have the time — is sure to leave them with goose bumps, as are the waterfalls and alpine forests of Mount Charleston, whose snowy peaks in the winter offer skiing and snowboarding in addition to hiking.
A trip to Hoover Dam is a well-known favorite for visitors; switch things up and make a day of the visit with a stop at Lake Mead or the Colorado River. Their temperate waters and cave-lined cliffs offer a variety of low-cost outdoor activities, including kayaking, boat rentals, fishing, camping and, of course, swimming.
With all the megaclubs, DJs and “Jersey Shore”-style partying of the Strip, it may not seem like there are many nightlife options for young people whose interests are more off-the-beaten-path.
Fear not, for there is downtown’s Fremont East District, a conglomeration of hip dive bars and mixology lounges that cater more to indie and hip-hop than electronic dance music, and to stiff classic cocktails than overpriced vodka-Red Bulls.
Beauty Bar regularly hosts fun themed dance nights (mod, punk, soul etc.) and outdoor concerts featuring local and touring acts you won’t find on the Strip. Next door, the cave-like Griffin boasts what’s debatably the best jukebox in town with a dance room in the back. Earlier in the night, you can grab a sandwich, beer and maybe an old David Bowie album at the cafe-cum-record-store The Beat Coffeehouse. Around the corner, Downtown Cocktail Room offers more of a chic, sleek atmosphere — think low lighting and plush couches — with an evolving menu of sumptuous mixology concoctions, both classic and original (absinthe is one of their specialties).
For those looking to stay on the Strip, the Cosmopolitan is a must — it’s Vegas for people who think they don’t like Vegas. When it comes to mixology, Vesper and Chandelier may be the most creative and impressive bars in town, accented by low lighting, great art and savvy bartenders who lack the pretension you might find elsewhere on the Strip. Live sets from under-the-radar bands and DJs often set the soundtrack for the night.
There's a big cliche that grandmothers love chocolate, but then again, there’s truth to most stereotypes. That’s why a visit to Ethel M Chocolate Factory and Botanical Cactus Garden is a must. Fifteen minutes from the Strip in Henderson, Ethel M brings in over 700,000 tourists a year to watch how their signature delights get made. Visitors also can sample their gourmet treats and take a casual stroll through the cactus gardens for a unique but low-key afternoon.
If your grandparents are art lovers, a walk through Wynn and Encore is a guaranteed visual feast thanks to pieces displayed throughout the properties and the delightful, whimsical displays in the atriums that change with the seasons. The Gallery of Fine Art at the Bellagio and the “Da Vinci: The Genius” exhibit at the Venetian are other notable options for an art experience.
Music lovers can get a Motown fix with Human Nature’s renditions of the hits at Imperial Palace; similarly, Beatles fans will enjoy Cirque’s “Love” at the Mirage, and Rat Pack fans will get a blast from the past with “The Rat Pack is Back” at the Rio.
It’s well known that Las Vegas is among the world’s top dining destinations, so if you’re hosting foodies, they’re in for an embarrassment of riches.
There are, of course, the heavy hitters — Nobu for sushi, Bouchon for French, Joël Robuchon for a three-star Michelin experience — but if they’re looking for a more local twist, or simply prefer not to break the bank, there are some tasty alternatives.
Lotus of Siam, about 10 minutes east of the Strip, was once dubbed by food critic Jonathan Gold as “the best Thai restaurant in North America,” and most who have eaten there would agree. Don’t be put off by the dingy strip mall it’s located in — the restaurant itself strikes a perfect balance between elegance and character, offering fresh traditional Thai fare along with a more unusual and very authentic Northern Thai menu.
The tapas at Firefly are perfect for a social evening out (be sure to order the bacon-wrapped dates), as are the slices from Metro Pizza. For a tried-and-true local experience, Nora’s Cuisine offers arguably the best Italian in town.
The Peppermill may be the quintessential Vegas dining experience. Though known best for its lounge atmosphere and chrome-and-neon kitsch, it offers hearty portions of diner food done right — perfect for brunch or late-night.
A walk down the Strip is arguably its own thrill, but if you’re looking for a true adrenaline spike, just take your pick of any of Las Vegas’ death-defying attractions.
Roller coaster junkies can get their fix at New York-New York and Circus Circus’ Adventuredome; those who are even braver can tempt fate atop the Stratosphere with SkyJump, a cable-controlled freefall, and other skyscraping thrill rides such as X-Scream, Insanity and the Big Shot.
Skydiving aficionados can choose from a number of local services that cater to the thrill or pay a visit to the indoor wind tunnel at Vegas Indoor Skydiving.
For a distinctly Las Vegas thrill, racing fans and speed demons should pay a visit to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where you can ride along with a driver or even man a car yourself; there’s also an indoor go-kart track — just be sure to buckle up.
The LGBT crowd
With Krave nightclub’s recent push to become “the world’s largest gay nightclub,” Las Vegas is positioning itself to become a premier destination for the LGBT community; though Krave has yet to undergo its expansion, it provides the unique Vegas megaclub experience while catering to an LGBTQ crowd.
There are a number of drag shows to choose from in town, but Frank Marino’s “Divas” at the Imperial Palace — which just celebrated its 1,000th show — is a classic. For a more interactive drag experience, downtown’s new Drink & Drag combines Las Vegas’ fiercest divas with bowling, pool, video games and a full bar.
The self-billed “country-western gay bar” Charlie’s is a favorite among locals, with regular theme nights and events, including drag queen bingo, Latin afterhours and an especially popular Sunday night drag revue.