Misha Gravenor

Las Vegas has reinvented itself once again with splashier hotels, over-the-top restaurants, and show-stopping spectacles. What's not to love?

Andrea Bennett

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Lay of the Land

The Strip: This legendary stretch keeps getting better, with nearly every hotel undergoing a major face-lift.

Downtown: The city's business district is also home to Vegas's best galleries, museums, and one-off boutiques.

Getting Around: Taxis are ideal; for travel within the Strip, consider walking or taking the monorail.

See the T+L Insider Video: Perfect Day in Las Vegas

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Stay

From the most buzzed-about openings to eye-catching renovations, here's what's happening in the Vegas hotel scene.

The Makeovers

MGM Grand: The $160 million renovation of the MGM includes a major green sweep (LED lighting; solar shades) and the addition of wellness-themed suites, complete with light therapy. Destination restaurants like Joël Robuchon were (wisely) left alone, but look out for new Cantonese hot spot Hakkasan. $

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino: A 7,000-square-foot entertainment venue. A rollicking gastropub. A massive gaming lounge. They're all part of the recent update of this popular off-Strip hangout. $$

Four Seasons Hotel Las Vegas: All 424 rooms and suites rang in the new year with an Art Deco–inspired transformation, incorporating lacquered surfaces that reflect the glittering Strip below. Take in the views of the desert from your floor-to-ceiling window. $$

Bellagio: A recent $110 million nip and tuck added bold colors, patterned murals, and high-tech amenities to this Vegas standby. $

Related: Best Pools in Las Vegas

Nobu Hotel Caesars Palace: The legendary Caesars Palace has been reborn as chef Nobu Matsuhisa's Nobu Hotel. Rooms combine handcrafted grass cloth and Japanese stone, not to mention an in-room Nobu sushi menu. $$

The New Classics

Aria Resort & Casino: It takes a lot to make waves here, but Aria did it in 2009, redefining the skyline with its curvilinear glass towers housing 4,004 rooms, 17 restaurants, a spa, casino, and the Cirque du Soleil show Zarkana. $$

Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas: The city's last-built major hotel makes a design-forward statement in two sleek towers. Past the see-and-be-seen lobby, there are plenty of diversions: Marquee Nightclub, inventive boutiques, and a range of restaurants, from brasserie Comme Ça to the burger joint Holsteins. $

Palazzo Las Vegas: Consider it a rarefied version of the Venetian, with some of the most luxe suites on the Strip and a five-acre Roman-garden-style pool deck. $

Encore: Dripping with 130 red Murano-glass chandeliers, the edgier, younger sibling of Wynn Las Vegas manages to feel intimate despite its 2,034 rooms. $

Hotel Pricing Key
$ Less than $200
$$ $200 to $350
$$$ $350 to $500
$$$$ $500 to $1,000
$$$$$ More than $1,000

Eat

Don't miss these five foodie adventures.

The Strip

Tetsu: Chef Masa Takayama's new restaurant specializes in teppanyaki. Guests pick from a table piled high with meats, seafood, and vegetables, which are cooked at one of six grills—four of which are blackjack-style tables (Welcome to Vegas!). $$$$

Public House: Plenty of Vegas restaurants have tried their hand at the gastropub game, though none as successfully as this one. Nevada's first beer cicerone helps pair dozens of brews with plates like roasted bone marrow with bacon marmalade. $$

Bacchanal: If you thought you knew the Vegas buffet, you'll be surprised by the 600-seat Bacchanal. Serving more than 500 dishes from nine open kitchens, the large-scale operation puts to rest the mass-cooked concept: these foods are prepared to order. $$$

Downtown

Eat: A low-key joint on the ground floor of an old apartment building has developed a cult following. Chef Natalie Young infuses American classics with New Mexican and French influences to create standouts like roast beef on ciabatta with tangy blue cheese, wild mushrooms, and pickled red onions. $

Le Thai: This tiny dining room attracts both power brokers and hipsters, thanks to an eclectic menu with monster Thai flavors. Three-color curry and pork jerky are the main draws, along with the aptly named "awesome noodles," which are tart, sweet, fishy, and spicy. $$

Restaurant Pricing Key
$ Less than $25
$$ $25 to $75
$$$ $75 to $150
$$$$ More than $150

Related: Best Breakfast in Las Vegas

Shop

Vegas has it all—big-name brands, funky one-off boutiques, and plenty of kitsch.

The Strip

Crystals at CityCenter: The mixed-use development is chockablock with designer boutiques: Louis Vuitton, Eres, Gucci. Add in the cinematic draws—Fendi's scale model of Rome's Trevi Fountain; a full fashion runway at Roberto Cavalli—and you have a seriously stimulating retail experience.

Forum Shops at Caesars: This over-the-top Roman extravaganza contains one of the three Tiffany & Co. stores on the Strip, as well as Valentino, Hublot, and the U.S.'s second Alfred Dunhill store.

Shoppes at the Palazzo: The airy space is anchored by Barneys and holds eye-popping shops, including Van Cleef & Arpels, Charriol, and more.

Downtown

Patina Décor: It's all about the well-chosen selection of vintage furnishings here, from Hollywood Regency tables to Midcentury Modern barware. Just try going home without ordering a wing chair that's been creatively reupholstered in candy colors.

Electric Lemonade: Pieces by emerging designers are displayed like art at Electric Lemonade. Look out for throwback concert T-shirts, 1960's dresses, and retro jewelry and sunglasses.

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See + Do

Four ways to get your culture fix, Vegas-style.

Neon Museum: After years of appointment-only showings, this collection of 150 neon signs dating back as far as the 1930's is finally open to the public. The lobby of the rehabbed La Concha Motel now stands as its visitors' center, through which you'll enter to see iconic signs from the Moulin Rouge, the Desert Inn, and the Stardust.

Mob Museum: The federal courthouse where the 1950 Kefauver Hearings on Organized Crime were held is now a museum dedicated to the history of mobsters. Among its showstoppers: the entire bullet-ridden wall from the 1929 St. Valentine's Day Massacre in Chicago; interactive exhibits on wiretapping; and real weapons used by Mafia hit men.

Project Dinner Table.: Every month, internationally renowned chefs, including Mark LoRusso and Michel Richard, serve 150 guests at one very long dinner table in a different setting—the middle of an orchard, say, or left field at a baseball stadium—for charity. Caveat: seats fill up quickly, so book at least 30 days in advance. April through November.

Smith Center for the Performing Arts: The most hotly anticipated cultural venue in recent Las Vegas history is a breathtaking, $465 million center that hosts groups ranging from the Israel Philharmonic and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater to the Cleveland Orchestra and London's Academy of St. Martin in the Fields.

Only in Vegas...

Where can you race a Ferrari or watch an after-hours cookoff among the world's top chefs? Vegas, baby, Vegas.

Test Drive Race Cars: The year-old Dream Racing experience at Las Vegas Motor Speedway offers aspiring drivers classroom training, a simulator session, and five high-speed laps around the track (0 to 60 mph in 3 1/2 seconds) in cars—like the Ferrari F430 GT—that are not street legal.

Play Vintage Games: Bring your quarters. At the upstairs gaming room at the D Las Vegas (formerly Fitzgeralds), you can race mechanized horses on one of the few remaining Sigma Derby tables, or plunk your change into retro one-armed bandits.

Watch Famous Chefs Battle: Once a month starting at 1 a.m., high-profile chefs are pitted against one another at a clutch of food-truck kitchens in the Tommy Rocker's parking lot with only a basket of mystery ingredients in what's been dubbed the Back of the House Brawl. Dishes are sold to the public until 2 a.m.

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Local Take

Three Las Vegans share their favorite spots in the city.

Tony Hsieh

CEO of Zappos

Where I go for…
A Power Lunch: The coffeehouse and record store the Beat ($$), in downtown's Emergency Arts center.

Late-Night Tipples: With its hip music and low-key vibe, the Downtown Cocktail Room has been a local favorite for years.

Hanging with the In-Crowd: Coterie Downtown (515 E. Fremont St.; 702/685-7741), which is part lounge, part vintage store, is the place to be—whether you're shopping or not.

Melissa Akkaway

Owner of Beckley Boutique at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas

Where I go for…
A Night Out: The Barrymore ($$$), just off the Strip, has delicious American food and a Rat Pack feel that's not overdone.

Inspiration: I love to visit the Beckley House, which was my grandmother's residence and is now part of a museum. It's one of the first bungalow-style homes in the area.

A Day Off: When I get some downtime, I run the loop at Red Rock Canyon.

Rick Moonen

Chef and owner of RM Seafood at Mandalay Place

Where I go for…
A Post-Work Bite: One of my go-to places is Culinary Dropout ($$$) with soulful dishes such as meatloaf and beef stroganoff.

People-Watching: There's so much to see at First Friday, when galleries and artists' studios are open to the public until 10 p.m.

Exercise: Valley of Fire, Nevada's oldest state park, and Mount Charleston are great places to hike.

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Nightlife

Hit up one of these places for a taste of Vegas after dark.

Bagatelle Supper Club: Start the day with the champagne brunch at this Med-style restaurant/club.

XS: Expect gold-embossed-croc VIP booths at XS, rumored to be the priciest nightclub ever built.

1OAK: This New York import reinvents itself as an intimate (in Vegas, this means 16,000 square feet) space.

Hyde Bellagio: Sam Nazarian's Philippe Starck–designed lounge becomes a club on weekends.

The Ainsworth: Done up with barn wood, this rustic yet sophisticated room elevates the sports bar.

Read T+L's Guide to Las Vegas for more Vegas vacation ideas.

Encore

Wooden pharmacy cabinets line the walls, and the stock includes outfits used in films.

Neon Museum

After years of opening by appointment only and going by the “Neon Boneyard,” this collection of 150 neon signs (the largest in the world) dating from the 1930s is now open to the public. The rehabbed La Concha Motel lobby now stands as its visitors’ center, through which you’ll enter to see iconic signs, including ones for Moulin Rouge, Desert Inn, and Stardust.

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

Many visitors bypass the club scene altogether in favor of Vegas’s more natural splendors and outdoor pursuits. Just 17 miles west of the Strip, you’ll find the enormous Red Rock Conservation Area, 195,000-plus acres with 30 miles of hiking trails, rock climbing, and mountain biking—and interpretive programs such as night hikes sponsored by the Bureau of Land Management. Dedicated bikers do the entire loop in 100-degree weather.

The Palazzo

The 3,000-plus guest rooms in this newer wing of Venetian start at 720 square feet and are decked out with remote-controlled Roman shades and Anichini linens. Spring for a $100-$250 upgrade to the Prestige Suites, which occupy the entire 23rd floor and feature a 12,000-square-foot private lounge with complimentary happy hour, several daily food presentations, and Wi-Fi-enabled nooks to escape the ching-ching-ching of the casino. You could almost say the casino at the Palazzo is "boutique" compared to other megaresorts—its sensible, pit-shaped layout makes it easy to navigate your way from the baccarat tables to restaurants including Carnevino and Wolfgang Puck's Cut.

Forum Shops at Caesars

This giant, 160-shop mall resembles an ancient Roman city, with columns and arches, piazzas and fountains, and faux-outdoor cafés beneath cloud-painted ceiling skies (the lighting even changes with the time of day to mirror the real world). Just as much of a draw as the décor is the cavernous shopping center’s roster of boutiques. It holds all of the usual luxury suspects, and we mean all: Burberry, Christian Dior, Fendi, Versace, Gucci, Harry Winston, Vuitton, Cavalli, Ferragamo, and Valentino.

 

Tip: Vegas resorts are obsessed with all things aquatic, and Caesars Palace is no different. The Forum Shops has a half-million-gallon tank—located in the same area as the moving statues—that holds 400 exotic swimmers, including puffer fish, clown fish, lionfish, and stingrays. Staffers offer free below-the-scenes tours of the tank’s mechanicals each day at 3:15 p.m.

First Fridays, Las Vegas

Part street carnival—fire-breathers, mimes, exhibitionists, and local bands mix with the pedestrian traffic—and part serious exhibition, the art crawl takes place on the first Friday of each month and meanders around the galleries that have set up shop in downtown’s former warehouses and auto body shops (download a map at firstfriday-lasvegas.org).

Downtown Cocktail Room

Revitalized Fremont Street has quickly become the favorite under-the-radar bar scene, and the Downtown Cocktail Room is appropriately hard to find. Its hidden door is marked only by a tiny Downtown sign, and its speakeasy feel is part of the appeal. Set in a renovated wedding chapel, it’s now a sexy dark room with selectively lit nooks. Red walls and secluded booths make the small space sultry, and you can actually have a conversation here: the DJ spins an eclectic blend of downtempo electronica, classic rock, and world music at just the right volume. Anyone looking to crash a party (or start one) will feel out of place, but the subdued, stylish locals look right at home sipping on elevated cocktails like The Huntridge (Plymouth gin, Kübler absinthe, and muddled cucumbers).

Four Seasons Hotel Las Vegas

The first hotel to open in Vegas without a casino (it debuted, somewhat ironically, in a tower adjacent to Mandalay Bay in 1999), the Four Seasons is arguably still the best of this growing breed. The property’s location at the south end of the Strip means it’s already removed from much of the city’s chaos—but the sense of sanctuary is reinforced by the hotel’s hushed marble entrance, relatively painless check-in (so much quicker than at the hotel-casinos), express elevator, and gorgeous, garden-surrounded pool. Rooms are decorated with typical Four-Seasons elegance: graceful dark-wood tables and desks, overstuffed chairs and ottomans upholstered in silk and velvet, marble baths. Charlie Palmer Steakhouse is just off the lobby, while Verandah, the hotel’s indoor-outdoor restaurant, is a hot Sunday brunch ticket. Golfers get priority tee times at Bali Hai Golf Club next door.

Bellagio Hotel and Casino

Most know the Bellagio for its public spaces—those fountains performing nightly, the Conservatory with its over-the-top revolving floral displays (don’t miss the Chinese New Year exhibit), and the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Arts. In 2015, Bellagio completed the $165-million-renovation of its nearly 4,000 rooms, a four-year project that culimated in the remodeling of more than 400 suites in its main tower, which overlooks the fountains.

Hard Rock Hotel and Casino

Known for a (hard) rocking atmosphere, musical residencies that can’t be topped, and long-running summer Sunday pool party Rehab, HRH has been fine-tuning its people-watching opportunities ever since it opened. After a $750-million overhaul in 2010, it became an even better place to see guests, gawk at its $3 million in music memorabilia, and watch the acts that fill the 3,200 seats of The Joint.

MGM Grand

The 5,000-plus-room ode to Emerald City on the south end of the Strip is massive. Home to some of the world's top chefs (Robuchon, Puck, Colicchio, Lagasse), MGM Grand also has partnerships with Hakkasan, which runs its spectacularly large club; Wet Republic, one of the most popular pool clubs in Las Vegas; and dozens and dozens of bars, retail venues, restaurants, swimming pools and Cirque du Soleil production . But MGM isn't just about size. A renovation in 2012 also brought 42 "Stay Well" rooms completely devoted to purifying the air, detoxing your body, and even eliminating sleep-disruptive electromagnetic fields.

Valley of Fire State Park

Walk the red sandstone formations. Nevada’s oldest state park is made up of some 35,000-odd acres of petroglyphs and dramatic rock formations. Look for Arch Rock, Piano Rock, and the Three Sisters, whose recognizable forms have been the backdrop for many a western movie.

Spring Mountains National Recreation Area

Once owned by Howard Hughes, the 520-acre oasis features more than 50 miles of marked trails and is always 20 to 30 degrees cooler than the Strip.

ARIA, Las Vegas

It takes a lot to make waves in Sin City, but Aria did it in 2009, redefining the skyline with its minimalist, curvilinear glass towers housing 4,004 rooms, 18 restaurants, eight bars, a nightclub, a casino, spa, pools, and resident Cirque du Soleil show. The accommodations, with floor-to-ceiling windows and iconic masculine Vegas style, have beauty and brains: upon entering the guest rooms, the curtains open and the TV switches on to reveal customizable room controls for lighting, temperature, music, and wakeup signals. Also impressive is Aria’s LEED gold certification. Ample natural light, wood, and stone throughout are proof that green can be sexy.

The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas

When the Cosmopolitan opened in 2010, it made an urbane, design-forward statement that is still relevant and hasn't yet been surpassed. It lures people inside its two sleek towers with a blend of nightlife (Marquee Nightclub and the poolside Marquee Dayclub), boutique shopping (AllSaints Spitalfields, Stitched, Skin62), and dining (rustic Italian at Scarpetta, a “secret” table inside Jose Andres’ Jaleo, boozy shakes and great burgers at Holsteins, upscale Greek at Milos Estiatorio, and theatrical fun Rose.Rabbit.Lie). The Cosmopolitan can’t be topped for surprises, from a pop-up wedding chapel to monthly live-in artists working in a public storefront. Even the lobby, with its video-wrapped columns, is a cool place to be seen. Live music, free parties, and summer concerts at the Boulevard Pool (frozen to make a boozy, buzzy ice skating scene in the winter) make it a favorite with visitors and locals.

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