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Hello everyone! Kelly and I just got back from Vegas! We had yet another fantastic, relaxing journey and as always, had to come home too soon. For the better part of a decade now we have made a trip to Vegas at least once a year, usually in either the Fall or Spring to keep the grim, grey Pennsylvania winter from starving us from too much sunlight and warmth. The desert that time of the year can be mild and windy, but when you’re coming from 40 degrees, 75 or so is a welcoming warmth. Las Vegas in August however… It was regularly 90 by 9:00 and topped off at around 105. “But it’s a dry heat,” many say, and yes that does help a bit, however it’s still hot, like fifth circle of hell hot. So if you are thinking of a summer vacay to Vegas, just be prepared for that kind of heat. My wife and I find ourselves, strangely, comfortable in that kind of heat; or at least more tolerant of it than most, so off to Vegas we went.
Each time we stay in Las Vegas we stay with my brother, which is great for a few reasons; family, a free place thankfully and of course local life. We get supplies at the Smith’s supermarket, make our own drinks and get sun by their pool, borrow the car and head out to the mountains, etc. We typically make a point to hit The Strip once to see what’s new (Vegas is constantly revamping itself), but if we don’t make it there it’s no big deal because there are so many other great things to see. The next time you’re in Vegas, here are a few things you should take the time to see and do.
Because Las Vegas is in state of flux, we thought it would be interesting to visit the Neon Museum (aka the Neon Boneyard) to visit, and re-visit a few of the lights that once defined the skyline. Until recently this property was essentially the dumping ground for old Vegas neon signs. Today it’s still where a lot of the signs go, not to die, but to be reborn. Tours are given daily and nightly ($18-$25, cheaper if you’re a NV resident) by volunteers dedicated to the preservation of this aspect of Vegas’ history. The entrance/visitors center is the lobby of the old La Concha (seen Casino lately?), which they had brought to the location piece by piece. On the tour you will learn the history of Las Vegas as told through the hotel, motel, and other interesting signage. I was pleased to see some old favorites from my past visits such as The Stardust, Sahara, Tropicana (before the remodel), and the Barbary Coast. The Barbary Coast is set to reopen early in 2014 under its third transformation (Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall and Saloon recently) as The Cromwell, a luxury boutique hotel and casino which by the drawings looks to be pretty spectacular. Out with the old, in with the new; Vegas, baby.
A quick note on luxury boutique hotels, which thankfully is the emerging trend in Vegas right now. Kelly and I on our prior trip took the time to stay at The Cosmopolitan, one of the newer venues on The Strip. The “wow” factor created here is unmatched right now. They fuse classy, modern, sophisticated and sinful all into one. There is a bit of a James Bond feel to the place. Their main bar, called The Chandelier, is three stories and drapped in $3.5 million in crystals. The rooms are spacious and not one detail was left unscrutinized. Bravo. Even if you don’t stay here during your next trip, take the time to walk around for a bit.
When it comes to remodeling, there are fewer unique experiences off The Strip than The Artisan. Just off the 15 (I-15) on Sahara, this once Travelodge was revamped in 2001 into an art museum/ultra lounge/pool/hotel sensory overload that is a must see while in Vegas. As per usual you can expect to pay a little more than you’re used to (mostly for the food), but then again remember you can always buy a bottle of vodka, mix your own drinks and get hastled by the cheap labor escort service promotors while walking down the Strip (Resort owners in Las Vegas please hear me, remove these guys from your properties, if people want that kind of thing they can find it, but nothing will make me avoid entering your establishment more than hordes of hooker panhandlers). Or take a short cab ride (or limo if you’re really feeling like a star) and try something new.
One thing I enjoy about dining out in Vegas is that for the little extra you pay, it comes back to you three fold. As per usual, my family took a little time to find places that they enjoy that we can’t get anywhere other than Vegas. For us, there is no such thing as Subway or Red Lobster. This trip we went to a few sandwich shops with island themes. Beach Cafe off of South Jones is a great breakfast/lunch place. Adorned with surfboards and bathing suits, it’s accomodating to the family and yet host a few locals on a feeding frenzy after a Vegas night. If you do go with kids, ask nice and they might just appease them with a beach ball. If you have a serious appetite, and I do mean serious, you can find a high quality gut busting hoagie (or sub, depending on where you’re from), I would give Beach Hut Deli a look. Two beach places in a row, I know, we joked about that in fact. Anyway, this sandwich shops is no joke. We didn’t leave Vegas two days later hungry as a result. And although (surprisingly) we didn’t partake in the modest beer selection they have, it was knowlegebly selected. Bonus: if you “like” them on Facebook you can get a free small glass of their house brew. A little south of The Strip still on Las Vegas Blvd is Vegas’ Outlet and Premium Outlet Center, however just a little farther south then that is Steiner’s, a beer and sports bar fit for fans of both. My brother and I have been to this place a few times and it never disappoints, plenty of rotating craft drafts and bottles, plus a couple of self contained tap tables that let you pull your own beers off the handle as you wish. Now if you’re in for a real treat, particularly if you’re from Philly, there is no passing by Bachi Burger. If you’re at Steiner’s, go back north on Las Vegas Blvd and turn right on Windmill, just a touch down on the left is your dream Japanese version of wagyu beef heaven. It is unacceptable to order a cheese burger here becasue their assortment of quaility crafted burgers will not be ignored. The appetizers here are equaly as dangerous; we had the ox tail chili cheese fries and burned off every calorie I consumed trying resisting the urge to shovel the whole plate in at once like a space station astronaut that has been living off of liquid meat loaf for a year straight.
Should overindulgence occur, and it will, you may need to actually burn off the calorie consumption. Red Rock Canyon is about an hour drive outside Vegas. There is a scenic drive that loops through the park, many opportunities to hike, bike and climb. It is full of plants and wildlife; we regularly see burros (wild donkey for those who don’t habla espanol), and bighorn sheep. Without a doubt this is one of the most beautiful sights in and around Las Vegas and what’s more is that it is free. On the way out there you’ll pass through the thriving metropolis of Blue Diamond, NV (pop. 290, or so); actually a very quaint community that prefers to keep its small town small. Also if you’re with the kids and are in for a real adventure, you’ll also pass by Bonnie Springs Ranch, a petting zoo/old western town. There is a train ride for the kids and for the dads, yes, there is a bar.
One last place I wanted to touch on before signing off this time, and becasue I really didn’t highlight a “locals” resort, Kelly and I actually had the excitment of being at for their opening weekend a few years back. M Resort is located about 11 miles south of The Strip, still on Las Vegas Blvd. It is the real deal, full gaming, spa, pool, suite, clubs, etc. There is a crafty beer bar in the heart of the casino floor, from where I watched as my 24 black hit twice, proving yet again that I am not meant for gambling. In fact M is probably one of the nicest facilities in Vegas, plus it is quieter becasue it’s not right in the middle of the circus that is The Strip. So again, if you’re looking for the Vegas vacay but know you’re not into too much of what Vegas can provide, there are plenty of local options that are top notch.
Ok folks, that’s it for us from Las Vegas! Always a great time with family and friends for us, can’t wait to get back. So whether you are a frequent vistor or a first timer I highly recommend looking into all that Vegas has to offer, as the local places are often times the best. Next, Kelly and I are heading twice as far west to the 808 for a look at the island of Maui! Until then, may the wind be at your back and the sun warm upon your face.