Features

Your guide to historic Boulder City—a few miles southeast of Vegas with a vibe light years away

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A man sits outside Boulder Theatre in Boulder City, Friday, Mar. 3, 2018.
Photo: Wade Vandervort

Created as a home for the workers who built the Hoover Dam, Boulder City stands as a time capsule, back to its Great Depression-era origins. Many of its original structures and destinations have been preserved, and you won’t find any casinos—gambling isn’t legal in this family-friendly, throwback town. But Boulder City isn’t just about its links to the past. It’s home to a wide range of worthwhile destinations, from scenic outdoor hiking and boating spots to inviting restaurants and watering holes. What follows are some recommended Boulder City haunts, along with some of the town’s best annual events. Next time you get the itch to leave town, remember that there’s a vacation waiting to happen right here in Nevada, only minutes away.

Explore

Boulder Dam Hotel

Listed on the United States National Register of Historic Places, this colonial-style inn was built in 1933 for tourists during construction of the Hoover Dam and has welcomed famous guests such as Bette Davis, Henry Fonda, Shirley Temple and Howard Hughes. The hotel features a museum on the first floor and a full-service restaurant with free breakfast for guests. And heads up, ghost hunters: Over the years, some visitors have reported the hotel to be haunted. 1305 Arizona St., 702-293-3510.

Hemenway Park

There’s nothing like spending an afternoon lazing on the grass while desert bighorn sheep graze and nap a few feet away. The sheep—Nevada’s official animals—are accustomed to being near humans, but give them some space to be safe. With its view of Lake Mead, Hemenway also makes for an ideal spot for a springtime picnic or a basketball game on the courts. 401 Ville Drive, bcnv.org.

State Railroad Museum and Nevada Southern Railway

Built by the Union Pacific Railroad service in 1931, this historic railroad depot once provided transportation for Boulder Dam workers while delivering equipment and materials to the site. Hitch a ride on four operational diesel locomotives, survey various steam train displays or book seats for a birthday party. 601 Yucca St., nevadasouthern.com.

Historic Boulder Theatre

Boulder City

The only air-conditioned building in Boulder City during the 1930s, this venue served as a place of respite during brutally hot desert summers. Originally built as a movie theater, it was purchased by Desi Arnaz Jr. in 1997 and turned into the home for the Boulder City Ballet Company. It also houses the annual Dam Short Film Festival, which wrapped its 15th edition in February. 1225 Arizona St., 702-293-1161.

Lake Mead

Canoe and kayak the Colorado River within Black Canyon, fish along nearly 290 square miles of water, rent a boat with friends or go hiking throughout the recreation area. There’s something for every kind of outdoor enthusiast, and the adventure begins in Boulder City. nps.gov/lake/index.htm.

Hoover Dam

Construction on this giant, 726-foot-tall concrete structure began in 1931 in Black Canyon along the Colorado River, straddling the border of Nevada and Arizona. Before its completion in 1936, the project drew 21,000 men, many of whom brought families with them across the country. Originally the Boulder Dam, its name was changed in 1947 to honor President Herbert Hoover. The dam provides hydroelectric power to nearly 1.3 million people in Nevada, California and Arizona, and is available for tours ($12-$15 per person, $10 per vehicle for parking) throughout the year. usbr.gov/lc/hooverdam.

Eat & Drink

Boulder Dam Brewing co.

This family-run business pays homage to the Hoover Dam with its 1930s-inspired lighting and décor and “kilowatt” sliders. There’s always a wide selection of house-made brews at the ready, and local musicians are featured on weekends. 453 Nevada Highway, 702-243-2739.

The Dillinger

This mob-themed bar and restaurant has become a local favorite during its seven years, thanks to its stacked menu full of delicious burgers and beers, and its hip, inviting vibe. (It also heads up the annual Block Party outside its front door.) You won’t find a burger like the Baby Face Nelson—topped with baked Brie, mixed greens and fig marmalade—anywhere else around here. 1224 Arizona St., 702-293-4001.

Fox’s Smokehouse

Chew on this for a moment: Weekly folks who know barbecue hail Fox’s as the best in the entire Vegas Valley. The brisket is a must, and the spare ribs, pulled pork, mac and cheese and sweet potato fries aren’t far behind. It’s all waiting for you inside this meat lover’s paradise. 1007 Elm St., Suite E, 702-489-2211.

Milo’s Cellar

This rustic wine bar and sandwich shop and its streetside patio is just as perfect pre-show or post-hike. With more than 350 wines and 40 beers, there’s something for every palate. And if you have a little too much fun, you can get a room at the Tuscan-themed Milo’s Inn, Boulder City’s only bed and breakfast, which is located above the wine cellar. 538 Nevada Way, 702-293-9540.

Coffee Cup

Lindsay Stevens, owner of the Coffee Cup Cafe in Boulder City, takes customers orders, Friday, Mar. 9, 2018.

It’s the spot where legendary surf drummer Sandy Nelson starts his morning, so you know it’s good. Serving locals since 1994, Al Stevens and his family opened the original Cup along Nevada Way before relocating it to its current spot in 2003. Did we mention it was also featured on Diners Drive-Ins and Dives? If you’re searching for a place where everybody knows your name—and that also makes a mean meatloaf—look no further. 512 Nevada Highway, 702-294-0517.

Southwest Diner

For the past 30 years, the Southwest Diner has been serving up the goods: nachos, burgers and sandwiches, plus specialties like huevos rancheros, Santa Fe potato pancakes and the Boulder City-famous chile relleno breakfast casserole. The décor changes with the seasons, so return throughout the year. 761 Nevada Highway, 702-293-1537.

The Tap

Operated by the same crew behind the Dillinger, this bar attached to Boulder City’s Best Western has a strong selection of draft beer and bar food—and that’s not all. Early-to-rise type? Order a crepe or a Benedict, or better yet, the crepe Benedict. Afternoon grubbing? Try the Kick Ass Mac, made with three kinds of cheese, bacon, mushrooms and truffle oil. Make it a date night and catch a show in the bar’s back room, thrown by Boulder City’s own Bad Moon Booking. 704 Nevada City Way, 702-293-0532.

Grandma Daisy’s

Superman ice cream is one of the sweet treats offered at Grandma Daisy's Candy Store & Ice Cream Parlor in Boulder City, Friday, Mar. 9, 2018.

You can’t come to Boulder City without stopping by this combination candy store and ice cream parlor. It’s the best place to score a fresh milkshake and a batch of homemade peanut brittle while browsing the assortment of truffles, toffees, barks and nuts. Whatever you’re craving, Grandma’s probably has it. 530 Nevada Way, 702-294-6639.

Mark Your Calendar

Art in the Park

One of the Southwest’s largest outdoor juried art festivals takes place every year in Boulder City, drawing more than 100,000 visitors—triple the size of the town’s full-time population. The two-day event—set for October 6 and 7 this year—benefits the Boulder City Hospital Foundation. bchcares.org/foundation/art-in-the-park.

Boulder City Beerfest

On March 31, more than 2,000 people will ascend on Wilbur Square Park for the sixth annual edition of this brew gathering, featuring more than 30 beer tents, eight food trucks, beer-centric vendors and more. 1 p.m., $35-$45, Wilbur Square Park, bouldercity beerfestival.com.

Damboree

This Fourth of July celebration, which will celebrate its 70th year this summer, is the biggest event of the year for Boulder City residents. Staged at the Broadbent Memorial Park and Veteran’s Memorial Park, the Damboree includes a pancake breakfast, a parade, water fight and a fireworks display. visitbouldercity.com.

Wurstfest

More than 4,000 brats, sausages and hot dogs get cooked every year at Boulder City Sunrise Rotary’s annual fundraiser, scheduled for September 29 this year. Staged at Bicentennial Park, Wurstfest features a car show, auction, live music

Shop Talk

Boulder City is an antique lover’s dream, with lots of vintage shops and Native American jewelers dotting the landscape. From Sherman’s House of Antiques and the Boulder City Antique Market to the Western & Mexican Center and the kitschy Back in Thyme, you’ll surely find something with a history worth sharing.

Bypass and Beautification

Phase 2 of the Interstate-11 project, commonly referred to as the Boulder City Bypass, has been in the works since 2015. As completion of a freeway that will provide a more direct route from Nevada to Arizona nears, Boulder City and its residents are preparing for the impact it might have on tourism and the economy.

The city is also undergoing a beautification project along Boulder City Parkway (formerly Nevada Way), to make the streets safer, more walkable and more aesthetically pleasing. While the goal of both the bypass and the beautification project are to make Boulder City a better place to live and visit, the construction has become a charged issue, worrisome for some local businesses in the area who rely on tourist traffic. With less congestion and a more welcoming atmosphere, some say those who want to visit Boulder City will find it more appealing. Others argue the bypass will deter potential tourists from exploring. The bypass is on track to be completed this year.

Keep Boulder City World

The historic preservation of Boulder City is part of an ongoing conversation that has been happening for years, explains Dennis McBride, director of the Nevada State Museum and a Boulder City enthusiast who was born there in 1955. Recently, the private sale and demolition of notable buildings like the Historic Boulder City Hospital have been controversial, to say the least. “It got very ugly and nasty,” McBride says. The Browder building—the city’s oldest commercial structure (it opened in 1931) and home to the former Browder Café—faces a similar fate. After pushback from the community, the building’s demolition was halted last year.

At one point, even the Boulder Dam Hotel was on the chopping block. “Community groups got involved, and eventually the city got involved, and now you have this building [that is] preserved,” McBride says.

This year, the site of Boulder City’s old water filtration plant—and the current site of the Community Gardens—is for sale, sounding the alarm yet again. “You can run a city like a business that’s got a bottom line, but a community is something entirely different,” McBride says. “This is our home, and these are the things we save and hand down so each generation is aware of what came before.”

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Leslie Ventura is a staff writer at Las Vegas Weekly and Industry Weekly. She’s picked the brains of rock stars ...

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