What to Do in Las Vegas
In Vegas, which pioneered the art of reinvention, there's always some new hot spot to explore. And now you can reacquaint yourself with the city from 550 feet above the Strip—by taking a spin on the High Roller Ferris wheel.
The record-setting attraction, opened in March 2014, is one of our favorite Vegas experiences and more proof that the legendary Strip keeps getting better. Nearly every hotel is getting revamped, and dozens of new restaurants are opening. Luckily for visitors, Vegas packs its thrills into a few miles, making it easy to cover a lot of ground, even in 24 hours.
You might sip cocktails poolside at a day club; brush up on Sin City history at the Mob Museum; or have a close animal encounter at the Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay. After dark, there's something for everyone, whether you're in the mood for dinner at a celebrity-chef restaurant or drinks at a karaoke dive bar.
And here's an insider tip: head to downtown's Arts District the next morning for the hangover brunch at Bar + Bistro. A cup of its whiskey-spiked cappuccino, and we bet you'll be ready for more of the fun only Vegas has to offer.
For more on things to do in Las Vegas, check out T+L's Guide to Las Vegas.
The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas
It’s rare to find a culture-minded hotel in Las Vegas—especially smack-dab in the heart of the Strip. The 2,995-room, dual-tower Cosmopolitan offers Sin City thrills—a 100,000-square-foot casino, a 30-room spa, a dozen boutiques, eight bars, and the celeb-sanctum Marquee nightclub—without sacrificing sophistication. Walls of the chic David Rockwell–designed rooms are lined with books, and throughout the hotel, seven Art-o-mat machines (repurposed vintage cigarette dispensers) supply original artwork. In addition to first-rate restaurants—including outposts of Scarpetta and Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Grill—there are plenty of lesser-known foodie finds: ask about the secret pizza parlor, or head to the Neapolitan poolside bar for alcohol-infused ice cream shakes served by bikini-clad staffers.
The Hangover Brunch at Bar + Bistro
The most delicious reason to visit downtown’s Arts District is the hangover brunch at its Bar + Bistro, whose menu spans Spain, Morocco, Egypt, Lebanon, and Puerto Rico (among others) and is hot among the neighborhood’s cognoscenti. (Catch it on the morning after the circus-like First Friday art party.) Plates like rich Cangrejo Benedict Mofongo and brioche flan French toast sop up the spill from the night before. And if the ambience and the Applewood-smoked bacon don’t right you, a whiskey-spiked cappuccino will. 107 E. Charleston Blvd.; (702) 202-6060.
The Mob Museum
It’s the actual former federal courthouse where such landmark hearings as the 1950 Kefauver hearings on organized crime were held. Here, Las Vegas’s former “Happiest Mayor on Earth,” Oscar Goodman, defended real-life wiseguys like Anthony “The Ant” Spilotro (playing himself defending a facsimile of The Ant in the movie Casino). The long-awaited (a decade, to be exact) $42 million museum was created by the same team that designed the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. Among its showpieces: part of the bullet-ridden wall from the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. themobmuseum.org
The High Roller Ferris Wheel
The Strip’s newest attraction can quite literally lift your spirits after an unlucky night at the casino. At 550 feet tall, it set a new world record for tallest Ferris wheel when it opened in March 2014 (until another city calls its bluff). The High Roller is the flashiest element of Linq, a new 300,000-square-foot shopping and entertainment complex by Caesars. thelinq.com
If you’re not sure what real Las Vegas residents look like, you’ll find them at Container Park, a mixed entertainment/dining complex hewn from old shipping containers. The open-air operation, fronted by a fire-breathing praying mantis, is a retail and restaurant incubator and a draw for dedicated eaters and Downtown hipster families alike. Among the most promising and consistently delicious are Bin 702 (with a crisp, light lobster roll with sriracha aioli), cozy wood-paneled Pork & Beans (don’t miss a mini version of chef Kerry Simon’s Iron Chef Burger, with caramelized onions, bacon, and red onion jam), and Pinches Tacos (for perfectly done carnitas, beef tongue, and cactus street tacos). downtowncontainerpark.com
Las Vegas Motor Speedway
The year-old Dream Racing experience at Las Vegas Motor Speedway offers aspiring race-car 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.
The Blind Pig
Block 16 Hospitality is well known for its fun-loving restaurants like Holsteins, Public House, and The Barrymore. Now in a somewhat unlikely location, the Panorama Towers just west of I-15, comes The Blind Pig, a vintage-inspired lounge with craft beers and artisanal bites, plus a market selling provisions to gourmet ingredient–starved locals. Chef Anthony Meidenbauer makes the trip worth everyone’s while, with creative dishes such as crispy pork nuggets with sweet chile glaze and sriracha aioli, sprinkled with peanuts; strozzapretti pasta with broccoli rabe and sausage in a rustic tomato sugo; and a signature porchetta sandwich bursting with herb-marinated goodness. theblindpiglasvegas.com
Liquid Pool Party at Aria Resort & Casino
The modern Tahitian vibe at Liquid is less frantic than higher-volume dayclubs, and its 16,000 square feet qualifies as intimate, so you can enjoy a good mix of local DJs and the industry’s A-listers without battling a throng of crazed dancers. Eight cabanas are each outfitted with flat-screen TVs, a private pool, two daybeds, and a fridge. Handcrafted wicker daybeds and lounges surround the pool. Order from Light Group executive chef Brian Massie's menu poolside or at Liquid's own restaurant. aria.com
Red Rock Lanes
There’s something for everyone at this charged club that features lightweight bowling balls and lane training rails for kids, handicap bowling ramps, and cosmic bowling—glow-in-the-dark lanes, pins, and bowling balls complete with dancing lights and fog machines. All 72 lanes have Brunswick pinsetters and Vector Plus scoring systems. You can also expect pool tables, dartboards, shuffleboard, and a cosmic-themed arcade. redrocklanes.com
The Wynn’s Michelin-starred standout has undergone a dramatic makeover, replacing its deep, formal reds with colors evoking traditional Chinese jewelry: bright white, gold, and jade greens. Every detail is symbolic, such as the custom cloud-motif carpet designed after the embroidery of an Imperial jacket from the Ming period. The décor even influenced some new dishes on the Cantonese-Shanghainese-Szechuan menu, such as a smoked-salmon salad with mandarin oranges, pickled shallots, and pineapple-yuzu vinaigrette formed into a precious flower. Eat it all while wondering where you are—particularly if you’re looking out the window at centuries-old imported pomegranate trees.
Mandarin Oriental Pools
Few know that they can gain entry to one of the Strip’s most rarefied spaces with the rental of a cabana—for a relatively low price, compared with others around town. On the eighth floor of the Mandarin Oriental, the sleek pool deck has fabulous views over CityCenter, and two pools, two Jacuzzis, and one intimate plunge pool. The vibe is serene, if not downright hushed, and attendants circulate to clean sunglasses and distribute mini-smoothies and frozen fruit. Inside the cabanas: a bottle of Moët Ice champagne, fresh fruit, sun care products, Oshibori towels, a 42” flat-panel TV, PlayStation 3, and pitchers of iced tea and lemonade.
Bobby’s Burger Palace
Bobby Flay may have 16 other Burger Palaces—known for their “crunchified” potato-chips-on-top option—but only on the Strip could his margaritas-to-go stand exist, the signature cactus pear and mesa margaritas a classier alternative to yard-long frozen drink bongs. Gourmet burgers such as the Carolina (smoked American, green onion slaw, mustard barbecue sauce), New Mexico (queso sauce, roasted green chiles, pickled red onions), and restaurant-exclusive Vegas Burger (white American cheese, Fresno red chiles, barbecue potato chips) all hover around $9.50, a downright steal compared to other restaurants in the luxury Crystals mall. Plus there’s patio seating.
Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay
Situated just off the Strip, this aquarium is home to more than 2,000 animals, including 100 sharks, piranhas, rare golden crocodiles, and a 300-pound endangered sea turtle. As one of the largest aquariums in North America, Shark Reef contains almost 1.6 million gallons of water in its 14 exhibits, which include a jungle-themed area; a touch pool with sharks, rays, and horseshoe crabs; and a 1.3-million-gallon shipwreck zone. The aquarium also features two shark tunnels that afford a diver’s underwater view. Animal feedings take place periodically between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. sharkreef.com
With ’70s décor and a haze of secondhand smoke, Dino’s is the place to channel your inner lounge singer. The Sin City institution offers “the best karaoke in the west,” according to an enthusiastic Yelp reviewer, and hosts a Drunk of the Month competition. Have enough fun crooning, and one of the bartenders just might nominate you. dinoslv.com
Miki Agrawal opened her additive-, hormone-, and pesticide-free Wild concept in two New York City locations, challenging diners to leave their cares and cell phones at the door and feast on pizzas made with gluten-free flour and vegetables sourced from nearby farms. If this all sounds a bit hippy-dippy to you, you’ll become a convert in the new, seems-like-it-was-always-there location in Downtown’s hotel and condo complex, The Ogden, where weathered kitchen tables encourage communal dining. Don’t miss the Wild White pizza (mozzarella, white truffle ricotta, mushrooms) or one of the restaurant’s most creative and delicious items: a beet and kale cupcake with avocado frosting. Weird? Maybe. Delectable? Absolutely. eatdrinkwild.com
Luxor Hotel & Casino
The world’s strongest light beam shines nightly from the giant pyramid that is Luxor. That and its other “ancient” elements—replicas of Cleopatra’s Needle, the Sphinx, the Great Temple of Ramses II—haven’t changed since it opened. But the rooms, shopping, and entertainment have had some much-needed work done, most notably along the sky bridge that connects Luxor to Mandalay Bay. Look for all the traditional games on the casino floor, and if you’re a rookie, make a beeline for the poker room where you can get free lessons.
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. thesmithcenter.com
Drift Spa & Hammam
Drift Spa and Hammam at Palms Place in the Palms Las Vegas offers the city’s first and only hammam experience, a Turkish-inspired steam bath featuring curved geometry and seating covered in mosaic tiles. In addition to the co-ed hammam, the Drift Spa offers 20 treatment rooms and a menu that allows patrons to indulge in massages, facials, and body rituals. Additional spa amenities include couples treatment rooms, indoor hot and cool soaking pools, a sauna, and private outdoor garden lounges. Reservations are encouraged, and treatments should be booked two weeks in advance.
Garden of the Gods Pool Oasis at Caesars Palace
Classical landscaping, Roman statues, and a flowing 18-foot waterfall make this oasis fittingly palatial. Its 44 cabanas are spread around eight distinctively different pools (a separate, private pool serves the highest-profile guests). The only pool complex on the Strip with swim-up blackjack, it’s also one of the few that welcomes families. There's a separate adult-only Venus Pool Club. Just wander the pools until you find one that fits.
Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare
Paul Bartolotta’s Mediterranean seafood palace has gotten a recent facelift: a gold-leaf fish chandelier, new patterned-stone floor, and orange-and-yellow shocks of paint reminiscent of Italian travertine create a convivial, somewhat more casual feel. Looking out to the cabana-lined lagoon (you can eat there too), it all feels like a sunny seaside retreat. Order the ricciola di Sicilia all’acciughe (Sicilian amberjack, radicchio, and anchovy sauce), or splurge for Bartolotta’s Gran Menu di Mare—his family-style feast (from $160 per person) gets prime pick of his weekly two-and-a-half-ton haul of sustainably caught seafood (microchipped to live-track its freshness on the journey in).
The Fountains of Bellagio
Every half hour in the afternoon and every 15 minutes at night, the Fountains of Bellagio put on a free song-and-dance show illuminated by 5,000 white lights. Across this 8.5-acre lake, 208 fountains sway to the likes of Gene Kelly, Pavarotti, and Elvis, shooting water over 450 feet into the air—thanks to pioneering technology now imitated worldwide.