Been there, done that. It happens when you live anywhere. You get over the rush of newness and into ruts. But this is Las Vegas! City of infinite possibility. From natives sharing their special haunts to ideal itineraries for particular types, this is an itemized reminder why you love Las Vegas, and to never stop looking with fresh eyes.
The Inspired Mooch
It’s amazing what a cup of coffee can buy. At Grouchy John’s (8520 S. Maryland Parkway), $1.89 covers a small cup, admission to a gallery of Star Wars pop art, membership to a paperback library and access to Wi-Fi and games like Sex in the City trivia. If they threw in a cookie and unlimited bathroom access, you’d stay forever.
But the free tour of the Shelby Museum (6755 Speedway Blvd.) is at 10:30 a.m., and you don’t want to miss any car ogling or hearing the guide’s yarns about legends of American muscle like the Cobra CSX2000. You even get to autograph a wall of the working factory.
Who needs lunch when you have the sustenance of Harrah’s free entertainment? Carnaval Court comes alive at 11 a.m., with The Spazmatics making like rock lobsters or a DJ giving dynamic flairtenders a booze-juggling beat. But Big Elvis’ afternoon show in the piano bar is the gem. (Does Celine Dion have a 900-song repertoire?)
For a nibble of luxury, a local ID and $12 gets you a trip up the Stratosphere Tower. Watch a “thrill ride wedding” before grabbing a table at Top of the World for a $6 chocolate pot de crème (to nurse like hell) while the restaurant spins through the clouds.
Evening brings packs of hot women to the Strip, and if you walk a liiittle too close behind them, club promoters might accidentally toss you a free pass. Or, for the joy of gaming with no money down, hit the View at the Palms (no cover for locals on Tuesdays and always free for local ladies) and challenge a drunken bachelor party to Jenga. You will destroy them.
The reward for a day so cheaply/richly spent involves Familia Pizzeria (8090 S. Durango Drive #116) and the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” median. You’ll just about hit the $12 delivery minimum with a 24-pack of fried, sweet zeppoles and “Pizghetti,” a mutant blend of meaty spaghetti, mozzarella and marinara baked inside pizza crust. Don’t share that, but do spread the zeppole love among the tourists. Even semi-broke, you can still give back. —Erin Ryan
The Insomniac Gambler
10 p.m. You’ve finished dinner, now it’s time for dessert. Why not hit the Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory slots at South Point? The Oompa-Loompas help you spin, and the Wonkavator helps you pick a bonus game. If you strike it big, you’ll hear Gene Wilder’s life-affirming exclamation, “You did it! You won!”
Midnight. Bring your golden-ticket winnings to MGM Grand’s high-roller baccarat lounge. It’s connected to the gorgeous MGM Mansions, which should tell you that minimum bets are sky-high. If you can’t afford to play, you can at least do some world-class whale watching.
3 a.m. Right about now, the drunk guys are getting out of Tao, and the Grand Canal Shoppes escalator drops them off right at ... you guessed it, the Sands Poker Room at Venetian. They’ll play the 1-2 No-Limit game, and so will you. No need to get fancy against the inebriated; just play super-high hands, and play them strongly.
6 a.m. By now, you’re the inebriated one thanks to all the comp drinks over the past eight hours. Best not to mess with anything that requires too much thought. It’s time for craps! And Fremont Street is the place to play, what with better odds and the company of fellow drunks. If you haven’t played craps before, just bet the “Pass” line and you’ll do fine.
8 a.m. Just because you’re in bed doesn’t mean the gambling has to stop. Online poker is legal in Nevada now, and the Caesars-owned WSOP.com went live on September 19. Just remember to log out before you pass out. —Rick Lax
The Music Junkie
If you’re anything like me, you dream of a day when you’d be able to simply follow your ears. For me, that means starting with a trip to a record store. Yes, I still prefer owning albums to streaming them on Spotify—and in this town that means Zia Record Exchange (4503 W. Sahara Ave.; 4225 S. Eastern Ave.). I actually grew up with the regional chain, launching my music-buying life with cassette hauls at the Phoenix-area stores back in the ’80s, so a visit to one of Vegas’ two Zia locations always fills me with a nostalgic glow. These days, I mostly hang out in the vinyl section, and I always try to bring some old music for trade—the only thing better than acquiring new music is doing it without having to reach into your wallet.
Next up: the airport. No, getting on a plane is not part of my ideal day, but the runway-viewing parking lot on Sunset just west of Eastern makes for a fantastic listening station. The noisy ambience of Tim Hecker’s Harmony in Ultraviolet feels just right as aircraft descend, gently bounce on the tarmac and roll toward their gates. After that—what else?—more listening, this time through headphones, as I create my personal soundtrack to the world around me. Casinos can be interesting places for that, but my pick is the Pinball Hall of Fame (1610 E. Tropicana Ave.) where a power-pop classic like Game Theory’s Lolita Nation becomes the bouncy accompaniment for the machines at my fingertips.
Of course, a perfect music day has a concert at its core, and that means a prime seat inside the Pearl at the Palms. As for the band, well, Radiohead hasn’t been seen in Vegas for almost 20 years, and I might as well dream big.
If I’m still standing after, I’m headed Downtown to Fremont East and the Griffin (511 Fremont St.), where my favorite jukebox in town is routinely filled with gems by the likes of Guided By Voices and Wire.
I end my night two doors down at Beauty Bar (517 Fremont St.) on the back patio, watching talented homegrown bands—let’s say A Crowd of Small Adventures and Caravels, back-to-back—in one of Las Vegas’ most intimate live-music environments. And then? Time to give my ears a rest and get some sleep. —Spencer Patterson
The Discerning Glutton
If you’re committed to an all-day binge, do it with food that’s worth the consequences. Start with an industry haunt like Eat (707 Carson St.) and its beignets with jam, or spicy-sweet huevos motuleños with New Mexican chiles, black beans, feta cheese, peas and sautéed bananas—a mess that somehow deliciously works.
Walk it off with a late-morning jaunt through the Friday Downtown 3rd Farmers Market (Casino Center Blvd. at Stewart Ave.), home to an amazingly diverse selection of produce, from caviar limes to Arkansas Black apples. After absorbing a little fresh inspiration, sneak into the modest Eureka Casino (595 E. Sahara Ave.) for lunch at locals’ fave Fat Choy. Sit at the retro counter and order the fried pork sauce noodles and indulgent Peking duck buns. This is not a request.
A dinner that spans the city and its flavors can only be done in waves of cocktails and small plates. Begin at Aria’s Five50 Pizza Bar with a late-afternoon Tenaya Creek Calico Brown Ale and dishes of giardiniera, heirloom tomatoes and burrata cheese, and bites of mortadella and cappicola from Olympic Provisions.
Talk yourself down from ordering a pizza so you’ll have room for the next stop, the always-satisfying Forte (4180 S. Rainbow Blvd. #806). After a few sips of a Dirty KGB martini or the Moscow Mule-esque G.F. Forte Jackass, have some European tapas—maybe stuffed baby squid or beef and lamb confit with truffled mashed potatoes on the side.
End the night with spice at Chada Thai & Wine (3400 S. Jones Blvd. #11A), one of Vegas’ most-buzzed-about eateries, where you’ll be wowed by soothing coconut soup, garlic fried Cornish game hen and lo-ba, a collection of modest pig parts done as a delicacy. Congrats—you just ate the city’s coolest food, all in one day. —Brock Radke
The Local Culturephile
It’s the kind of breezy day where you want to sit on the porch under the shade trees and watch the town folk, discussing the war while admiring the victory garden behind a 1940s Townsite home. This slice of vintage Mayberry, known as Las Vegas yesteryear, evolved from plopping early homes and businesses along a gravel road behind the Clark County Museum (1830 S. Boulder Highway), authentically furnishing them and opening the doors for our amusement and historical education. Complete with an auto-court motel room, a wedding chapel and an obscenely cool retro Airstream trailer, Heritage Street is the bomb.
You could geek out there all day, but then you’d miss Downtown’s Smith Center for the Performing Arts (361 Symphony Park Ave.) and its Boman Pavilion, where architectural art-deco references have spilled fully into the interior design—vent plates, lamps, flooring and other hardware with stylized motifs that thrill and inspire.
Main Street, here you come! Meander Retro Vegas (1131 S. Main St.) and Patina Decor (1211 S. Main St.) for a design lesson like no other, and grab some interesting pieces for the living room. With the Arts Factory (107 E. Charleston Blvd.) right around the corner, you can stop at Trifecta Gallery and the Contemporary Arts Center before battling that outrageous traffic on the Strip to get at CityCenter’s Fine Art Collection. Who wouldn’t fight through nightmarish traffic for a glimpse of works by Nancy Rubins, James Turrell, Frank Stella and Maya Lin on the way to check out Warhol Out West at Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art? This is the perfect day, after all, and you have some time to kill before a guided night tour at the Neon Museum (770 Las Vegas Blvd. N.). —Kristen Peterson
The Nearby Wanderluster
With Mount Charleston and Red Rock Canyon close enough to see from the Strip, Las Vegas is a nature-lover’s paradise—but venture outside of its wilderness staples and you’ll see the desert has much more to offer. Like the Mojave National Preserve in California, two hours away and home to the booming Kelso Dunes (shifting sands that create a booming sound when you run down them!) and a forest of Joshua trees.
Whether you plan ahead or wing it, make a pit stop at the Kelso Depot before you begin. The visitor center transports you to the Old West and features a bookstore where you can learn more about the land’s history, an art gallery and a place to buy coffee and snacks.
Consider it fuel for a strenuous hike along Kelso Dunes, among the vastest in the country. The 3-mile trip may not sound like much, but with the dry desert heat, you’ll want to wait for cooler fall weather and pack extra water and food.
While you’re in the desert between here and LA, take a drive down Zzyxx Road. Pronounced “Zye-Zix,” it doesn’t actually lead to a scary horror-film truck stop, but rather the famous man-made Lake Tuendae, which was initially developed in the ’40s as a health center and spa and now serves as the Desert Studies Center for California State University.
Looking for something to climb? The preserve is full of challenging terrain. Delve into a canyon via metal loop ladders or practice rock climbing on giant boulders. Whether you see a scenic lake you never knew existed or a herd of happy cows running among the trees, there’s plenty to experience in 24 hours at this tucked-away escape. —Leslie Ventura