Las Vegas is not the destination I think of when I want to go on a vacation. In fact, I tell everyone I don’t like Las Vegas. I don’t like to gamble, I don’t care about flashy shows, and I don’t have the budget to splurge on all the high-end shopping. It’s expensive, crowded, overwhelming, and exhausting. Does that sound like how you feel about Sin City? Then this blog post is for you.
We’ve only ever been to Las Vegas to see our favorite band 311 play their bi-annual self-named celebration, 311 Day. A huge, multi-day concert where people fly in from all over to see them play. While I prefer the original location of New Orleans, we make the trek to see our friends and the show. This means we didn’t spend a lot of time exploring and spent a lot of time in a central location. In the last couple of trips, we decided we were going to experience what Las Vegas has to offer.
The city is pretty big and dense with things to do and this is in no way an extensive list. It’s a curated collection of enjoyable things to do in Las Vegas when you don’t like Las Vegas.
Enjoy Otherworldly Desert Landscapes
Las Vegas was built in a basin within the Mojave Desert and is surrounded by some incredible desert landscapes and mountainous terrain. From unforgettable National and State parks to incredible feats of human engineering, there’s an outdoor destination for everyone.
Ranging from 1 to 4 hours driving time from Las Vegas, these all require a rental car or to participate in a paid tour service to get to, but I promise they are all worth it. Since we began to make an effort to see something new each trip, we’ve been able to check out several great outdoor destinations. Here are our favorites, plus our to-do list for future trips.
Grand Canyon National Park
How Far From Las Vegas?: Roughly a 4-hour drive
How Much Time Do I Need To Visit?: I would recommend at least one full day, especially with the 4-hour drive time. Staying overnight allows you to catch a sunset or sunrise (or both!)
Why Visit This Park?: While you can technically see the Grand Canyon West, a part of the canyon that’s only about 2 hours drive from Las Vegas and famous for its clear skywalk, you won’t be seeing the canyon at its grandest (no pun). The West rim is part of the Hualapai Reservation and not actually part of the National Park with an elevation of roughly 4000 feet above sea level. If you invest the extra 2-hour drive to the Grand Canyon National Park South Rim, you will be gifted with some of the most surreal views of the canyon at its deepest depth of 7000 feet above sea level.
What Should You Do Here?: Definitely try to stay the night so you can catch a sunrise or sunset. Make the 4-hour drive fun by hitting up spots along Route 66!
Website: Grand Canyon National Park
See more photos from our trip and learn all about the Grand Canyon National Park’s South Rim here.
Valley of Fire State Park
How Far From Las Vegas?: Roughly a 1-hour drive
How Much Time Do I Need To Visit?: This park closes literally at sunset so plan accordingly. We drove out after our morning flight into Vegas which gave us only 2.5 hours. This was enough time to see a lot of the park, but we didn’t have time to truly hike and see many of the stops on my list.
Check out my post on Valley Of Fire State Park When You Only Have Half A Day to see more incredible views.
Why Visit This Park?: If you are looking for some of the most insanely beautiful views with minimal effort, this is your place. While it’s always great to get out there and hike the trails, what we liked a lot about Valley of Fire State Park is that a lot of the incredible views were extremely accessible-either through driving or viewpoints being close to parking lots. This makes it easy to pack in a lot when you only have a couple of hours as we did. I do recommend giving yourself a lot more time to truly take it all in, but if you only have a few hours to spare, you can pack in so much.
What Should You Do Here?: Mouse’s Tank Drive for some of the most colorful and incredible views.
Website: Valley of Fire State Park
Death Valley National Park
How Far From Las Vegas?: Roughly a 2-hour drive
How Much Time Do I Need To Visit?: I would plan on at least a full day in the park so you don’t have to rush, but you could probably see a few highlights in half a day.
Why Visit This Park?: If you’re into unique, desolate desert landscapes with layers of color and history, this is your park. It’s the hottest, driest, and lowest of all the National Parks with parts of the park at almost 300 feet below sea level. The sand-covered, rocky terrain of Death Valley National Park feels like you’re on another planet, which doesn’t surprise me that they filmed many scenes from the original Star Wars movies here.
What Should You Do Here?: Definitely make sure to check out the Mesquite Flats Sand Dunes, Badwater Basin, and Zabriskie Point for a full range of landscapes.
Website: Death Valley National Park
How Far From Las Vegas?: Roughly a 40-45 minute drive.
How Much Time Do I Need To Visit?: You can take in the views within a 1-2 hour visit.
Why Visit This Park?: I guess this one is technically not a park, but it’s an incredible sight to see that it’s worth the stop for the historic views.
What Should You Do Here?: “…take all the dam pictures you want.” (I love quoting the movie Vegas Vacation). We didn’t take a tour, but you can walk from Nevada to Arizona and see incredible views.
Website: Hoover Dam Bureau of Reclamation
On our outdooors to-do list: Lake Mead, Page Arizona, Grand Canyon West, Red Rock Canyon, El Dorado Canyon
Get Weird In Las Vegas
Let’s take the party off the Strip and check out these unusual, unique, and fun destinations. While you’re still going to find crowds, it’s something different to do when you need to get away from the flashing lights and chaos of Las Vegas.
Seven Magic Mountains
Launched in 2016 and initially intended for a limited-time viewing, this unique, large-scale desert public art exhibit by Ugo Rondinone is still available to see and is a fun photo op just about 10 miles outside of Las Vegas. You’re going to need to drive here as no public transportation is available at the installation site.
Visit the Seven Magic Mountain’s website for more information.
Area 15/ Meow Wolf
If you’re looking for something really weird to do, check out Area 15/ Meow Wolf. This huge art installation/entertainment complex is one of the oddest things you can do in town. Your tickets gain you entry to Mega Mart, a very unusual, interactive story that starts within a grocery store and gets weird once you find some secret paths and entryways. (I mean, look at the picture of meat below, it gets odd before you find the entryways). There are bars and other entertainment activities that are additional costs spread throughout the building.
Visit the Meow Wolf website for more information.
The Neon Museum
Also known as the Neon Boneyard, this destination is still on our to-do list, but a look at this fun, lit-up vintage Vegas sign depot shows this will be a fun museum to explore. Nighttime viewings are guided tours, however, you can stroll around on your time if you choose a daytime viewing.
Visit The Neon Museum website for more information.
Fremont Street Experience
Downtown Las Vegas, otherwise known as Fremont Street Experience feels like a combination of every major party street you can think of. Bourbon Street, Sunset Strip, Venice Beach, and vintage Vegas. While it shares packed crowds, bright lights, and loudness with the Vegas Strip, it has a much more down-to-earth feeling to it.
Visit the Fremont Street Experience website for more information.
Other places on our list to check out: DTLV Arts District, Ethel M. Chocolates & Cactus Garden
Have Fun On The Strip
Not into gambling, big shows, or spending big bucks on high-end shopping? Me neither. If you’re having to spend time on the strip and want to find something interesting to do, here are a few of my favorites and some things on my to-do list.
Watch The Bellagio Fountains
This is a popular destination so you’re not going to escape the crowds, but it’s a fun show to watch. Depending on the date and time, the show could view every 30 mins to every 15 minutes.
Be sure to check out their website for the most up-to-date details.
View The Bellagio Conservatory & Botanical Garden
While you’re near the Bellagio, be sure to check out the Conservatory & Botanical Gardens inside. Each season the 14,000-square-foot garden is transformed into a beautiful display of florals themed to each of the four seasons. It’s a delight for the senses, and free. Check out their site for more details.
Go On A Gondola Ride Through The Venice Canals
The Venetian Resort is something to see. With the Canals of Venice, Italy replicated both inside and outside of the resort, you have two options for this fun and unexpected experience. We opted for the indoor ride as 70 degrees in the direct sun was not our idea of a good time. The rides last about 11-13 minutes and include some interesting facts about Venice and a few songs by your Gondolier. If you’re looking to make this a romantic gesture, be prepared to shell out twice the cost of tickets for a private ride, otherwise, you’ll be sharing a Gondola with two strangers.
The Gondolier March, a special tradition that only happens twice a day, happens at 9:45 am and 4:30 pm. Catch them singing as they march in unison along the indoor canal to announce their arrival.
Check out their site for more details.
See The World
The Las Vegas Strip is 4.2 miles of chaos, casinos, and familiar worldly themes. You’ll see an Egyptian Pyramid at Luxor, the Eiffel Tower at Paris Hotel, the Venice Canals at The Venitian, and even the New York City skyline at New York, New York hotel to name a few. You can make a game out of finding all the worldly destinations on your trip and getting a photo with each.
Things to do on the strip on our to-do list: High Roller Observation Wheel, Shark Reef Aquarium at Mandalay Bay and the Flamingo Wildlife Habitat at The Flamingo Hotel
Eat Your Heart Out
Let’s be honest, the best part about travel is experiencing the food, and if Vegas has anything-it’s a lot of restaurants. From famous buffets, Michelin Star restaurants spots to secret spots, they’ve got something for everyone. To help narrow down your list, here are some of our favorite restaurants, and what’s next on our to-do list. You may notice several places are centralized around The Cosmopolotain and Park MGM and that’s because they have a great selection of restaurants, are modern and fresh feeling hotels, and just happen to be where we always are. Maybe in the future, we’ll venture out further, but for now, enjoy!
There is a little spot on the 3rd floor of the Cosmopolitan that has some mighty tasty pizza that we might have waited in a long line at 2 am to get one last slice of before leaving town. You won’t find them listed on Cosmopolitan’s website, you won’t find any signage leading you there, but you may see a long line of folks standing in a vintage record-covered hallway with the best pizza smells wafting by you. Visually, it might not look like anything special, but trust me, it’s worth the wait.
Beauty & Essex
Looking for a unique but beautiful dining experience hidden behind a pawn shop like a speakeasy but for food? Then check out Beauty & Essex, a dimly lit and unexpected dining experience. Much of the food is served in sharable bites that are surprisingly filling. We dined on flavors like Mexican Street Corn Ravioli, ‘Chicken’ Arepas, and House Made Deep Dish Focaccia Bites… but the one dish that earned a spot on my most memorable travel meals is the Grilled Cheese, Smoked Bacon & Tomato Soup Dumplings. I don’t even like bacon or tomato soup, if that tells you how incredibly good this dish was. In fact, we liked it so much we put in a second order before the kitchen closed.
Be sure to make a reservation as early as you can, we forgot and there were only late-night slots open at 10 pm. You may not think it wouldn’t be packed at 10 pm, but you forget what city you are in. 🙂
Momofuku Milk Bar
I own their book, I’ve made the cake from scratch, but it wasn’t until we visited their spot in Vegas did I get to try their ice cream and famous birthday cake. Now, it’s a go-to staple for us when in Vegas (and other cities). I highly recommend getting a slice of birthday cake, or a cup of cereal milk flavored ice cream. Yum!
While in downtown Las Vegas, there’s a spot with some deliciously themed hot dogs that’s worth a visit. We were hanging out at the bar next door and put in an order for Elote Fries and they were so. freaking. good. I can only imagine how the rest of their food tastes.
This spot is well known for their insane milkshakes, which we were too full after our meal to try, but there’s an entire stand in the middle of the restaurant dedicated to making their shakes if that tells you how serious they are about it.
Hello Kitty Cafe
OK, if you are like me and obsessed with Hello Kitty growing up this is a must-visit spot to pick up a little treat while in town. The Strawberry Lemonade was so tasty, and we grabbed a handful of treats to have in the room for late-night snacking. So adorable!
This Italian spot is not unique to Vegas, but it was an enjoyable place filled with a variety of Italian food stands and delicious smells. Book a reservation if you have a larger party so you can all sit together easily.
If you’re looking for a delicious egg-based sammy to start your day, look no further than Eggslut. According to their Wiki page, an Eggslut is someone who puts egg on everything to make it better. Whenever we’re near one of their shops, we always visit at least once. Delicious.
Okay, I’m writing this as someone who lives in the eastern half of the country who isn’t surrounded by In-n-Outs and can go whenever I want. In-n-out has become our obligatory first meal after landing whenever we’re out west and it’s worth a visit if it’s not a place you can go to anytime (looking at you midwest and east-coasters).
Restaurants & bars on my to try list: Best Friend, La La Noodle, Superfrico, Ghost Donkey, The Laundry Room, Nomad Library, Mama Rabit, Lucky Day, The Henry, Black Out Dining in the Dark, Bouchon, Hash House A Go Go
So there you have it, my curated list of things to do if you don’t like Vegas. After our last couple of visits, I have to say I’ve warmed up to Las Vegas a little more and I’m actually excited to check out our to-do list destinations on future visits. I hope you found this list of things to do inspiring if you find yourself visiting Las Vegas in the future.
Did I miss any great destinations or unique attractions that should be on this list? Let me know in the comments!
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