This Hidden Gem in Las Vegas Reveals a Secret Side to Sin City

With its unique local culture and proximity to Red Rock Canyon, the community of Summerlin might change your perception of Sin City.

The sun setting in Downtown Summerlin

Lilly Graves

There used to be a billboard on the expressway entering Las Vegas from Los Angeles that felt ironic. While I can’t remember the exact phrase (and it’s now gone), the message was geared toward new Nevada residents. It read, “Welcome to those who plan to come for a year and stay for a lifetime,” or something to that effect. 

It was timely. More people have been moving to the Las Vegas area from California for one major reason: taxes. The state of Nevada, like eight others in the U.S. (Alaska, Florida, South Dakota, Tennessee, New Hampshire, Texas, Washington, and Wyoming), has no personal income taxes — and certain events of the past few years seem to have inspired many Americans to reevaluate finances and change their home bases. 

I was perhaps one of them, and had traveled to Nevada to check out a community named Summerlin, located on the west side of the sprawling Las Vegas metropolis. It was on a short list of possible new residences that my husband and I entertained while continuing to spend 10 months of the year abroad for work. It seemed like a smart idea, given the instability of the world and the fact that California has one of the highest state tax rates — and cost of livings — in the country. And, important to us, it was just far enough removed from the Strip, about 30 minutes by car.

After spending a week here in summer 2022, my negative preconceived notions about living near Las Vegas shifted. Two unexpected things happened: Not only did I find the area of Summerlin entirely enjoyable, but I also wanted to share it with others given its pedestrian-friendly downtown, desert lifestyle, quality food scene, and easy access to both a major airport and the great outdoors.

The Red Rocks in Las Vegas

Lilly Graves

A Brief History

If you’ve never heard of Summerlin, you're not alone. That’s because it’s relatively new. It was the business magnate Howard Hughes who purchased the western valley rim land in 1952 for a few dollars per acre and named it after his paternal grandmother: Jean Amelia Summerlin. There was promise, indeed: The 25,000-acre parcel lay on a relatively flat surface jutting against the nearly 200,000-acre Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area — a.k.a. the ultimate backyard. Depending on the day, the sandstone mountains appear beyond Summerlin in varying shades of red: vivid streaks under the midday sun, ochre hues before a desert storm, or burnt orange shadows as the sun inches lower into the west. 

Hughes’ land sat unused for three decades before there was finally movement with the construction of a college prep school in 1988 that helped put it on the map. It was really the 1990s that brought it to more prominence, though, when the community started taking shape with paved roads, including a four-mile parkway that locals referred to as the “road to nowhere” while it was being constructed — a testament to how barren the area was. 

In the years that followed came the development of residential communities, schools, offices, retail centers, and golf courses, starting with TPC Summerlin, where Tiger Woods won his first PGA in 1996. There were new resorts, like the JW Marriott Las Vegas Resort & Spa and the Red Rock Resort, and more additions each year, including Red Rock Country Club with two Arnold Palmer-designed golf courses, and the Nevada Ballet Theatre next to the Summerlin Library. 

The Red Rocks in Las Vegas

Modern Appeals

Lacking any significant history, Summerlin is proud of its newness. First of all, it’s clean and organized. The downtown has a tidy grid where cars drive slowly past manicured desert plants and silvery ash trees. Towering palms line uncrowded boulevards, and there are built-in ponds and fountains to wander in person. It’s easy to see why the community is credited with its use of low-water landscaping and remains a national leader when it comes to water conservation. 

My husband and I made it a ritual to take long walks every morning before the heat kicked in. We’d walk for 90 minutes up and down flat sidewalks, enjoying the mountains peeking into view and the changing light of an early sunrise. In the evening, we’d take walks along the same streets, twinkling with white string lights, while cicadas chirped in the distance.  

The area pulls in shoppers who come for major retailers, as well as dining, entertainment, and office space. A large manicured green space has a stage where concerts, movies, and events are frequently held. On Saturday mornings, you can find workers unloading fruits and vegetables onto stands for the weekly farmers market, while women in yoga pants walk home from an early class.

As for eats, recognizable chain names like Shake Shack and Wolfgang Puck commingle with lesser-known eateries serving Mexican, Italian, BBQ, and Asian cuisine. One sushi restaurant beckoned on a hot summer day. Entering its blackened windows, we were grateful for the sunless space where a trio of Japanese chefs prepared artful rolls and iced jasmine tea. 

Like the community itself, Summerlin’s downtown is expanding each year. On one side of the walkable village is a sleek WeWork building and a new minor league baseball stadium (completed in 2019), home of the Las Vegas Aviators, with a 10,000-person capacity. After hearing the crowd cheering one night, I snatched a pair of the affordable tickets online. First, though, it was time to explore the great outdoors. 

Outdoor Pursuits

The sun setting at the Las Vegas Ballpark

Lilly Graves

Summerlin might also be the best located area of Las Vegas for enjoying nature. First, there’s the community itself, with more than 150 parks and golf courses. Residents are proud to say that nearly one-third of Summerlin is designated as open space. There’s also easy access to a wide range of trails for walkers, runners, hikers, and cyclists carved into the landscapes that connect Summerlin’s villages. A growing regional trail system is in the works, and will eventually connect an impressive series of trails to Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, just a few miles from Summerlin in the Mojave Desert.

Those who have seen the Netflix documentary “Free Solo” might remember the rock climber Alex Honnold — the first person to free climb Yosemite National Park’s El Capitan vertical rock face. In the film, Honnold and his girlfriend live out of a van and finally settle down in Las Vegas, due to its close proximity to excellent rock climbing. We caught a glimpse of the potential peaks Alex Honnold regularly climbed, while perusing the mountainous area outside of Summerlin, taking a scenic drive and testing a few trails in the dry summer heat. 

Nighttime at the Las Vegas Ballpark

Lilly Graves

The small village of Blue Diamond also makes a fun day trip from Summerlin, where a luxury sports car might be parked at the rustic grocery store, mere feet from a field of wild donkeys. Also in town is a Trek mountain bike shop that provides rentals for enjoying the top-rated trails in the area. When you’re done riding, head to the all-day eatery called Cottonwood Station for lunch.

I was processing all that I had learned about Summerlin on our last night of the trip. We had just walked to a baseball game against the Salt Lake Bees and barely waited in line to get inside. Trendy vendors served a mix of bratwursts, fish tacos, craft cocktails, and canned beer. We sat in our seats alongside the residents and sipped local IPA while watching a brilliant sunset and waiting for the next crack of the bat. There was a sense of home. Maybe it was America, a place we’ve been in short supply of for a few years, and maybe it was Summerlin. 

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