Sure, the Strip is a trip. But stray off-the-beaten-path in Las Vegas and you’ll be rewarded with art, history, coffee and gorgeous vistas.
I was born in Las Vegas and, contrary to popular belief, I wasn’t delivered by an Elvis impersonator (thank you, thank you very much). Although my family moved to Indianapolis when I was less than a year old, my grandparents, aunt and cousins stayed in the Vegas vicinity, which kept my ties to the glitzy city intact.
I spent weeks there during childhood summers in the ’80s and early ’90s; my family would ooh and ahh at the casinos and check out shows, roller coasters and other kid-friendly fun. But we also regularly ventured off the Strip. And every time I’ve returned to Vegas as an adult, I’ve added other off-the-beaten-path stops to my Sin City itinerary, including these favorites.
Get cultured and caffeinated in the 18B Arts District.
This funky enclave straddles East Charleston Boulevard and is home to the Arts Factory and the Art Square buildings, where you’ll find artist studios and boutiques, as well as the Cockroach Theatre company. The district also hosts the long-running First Friday event featuring live music, food trucks and, of course, art.
Just a hop, skip and a shimmy down the block, you’ll find the Burlesque Hall of Fame. The museum recently moved into a new 3,000-square-foot space on South Main Street — all the more room to show off its va-va-voom memorabilia.
When you’ve had your fill of culture, refuel at one of the area’s indie coffeehouses. Makers & Finders (1120 South Main Street) slings creative lattes — coconut-turmeric or lavender, anyone? — and Latin comfort food. Or visit Vesta Coffee Roasters (1114 South Casino Center Boulevard) for green coffees from around the world and Instagram-worthy salads stocked with local produce, like the urban miso with Salanova® lettuce, parmesan, a poached egg and miso-mint dressing.
Feast your eyes on Red Rock Canyon.
This rock climber’s paradise is a 25-minute drive from the Strip, but it feels worlds away. A one-way scenic road weaves through the 195,819-acre Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. As you drive, there’s something almost extraterrestrial about the scrubby landscape and striated Aztec sandstone cliffs that rise to greet you.
To get up close and personal with the geologic eye candy of the Mojave Desert, park and set off on one of the 26 marked trails, which range in difficulty and duration. On the relaxed end, the 30-minute Petroglyph Wall Trail takes you to a cliffside dotted with 800-year-old rock art. Adventurers can tackle the six-mile White Rock-La Madre Spring Loop, recommended for spotting bighorn sheep.
If you strike out seeing fauna, never fear: swing by the visitor center to meet Jackson, the canyon’s spokes-burro. Adopted via the Wild Horse & Burro Program, Jackson helps the rangers educate guests about conservation. The center also features presentations on everything from insects to animal babies. Or go on a guided hike — you know, for working off those poolside drinks.
Thanks to the free, just-launched Downtown Loop shuttle, exploring the greater Strip area is easier than ever. Hop aboard the can’t-miss pink bus and expand your Vegas horizons.
Step into the light at the Neon Museum.
The minute you lay eyes on the visitor center of the Neon Museum, ensconced in the refurbished La Concha Motel lobby — a groovy, curvilinear masterpiece by architect Paul Revere Williams — you’ll be in mid-century modern heaven. Keep the nostalgia going by perusing the photogenic collection of more than 200 retired neon signs in this so-called boneyard. You’ll see relics from the now-demolished Stardust Resort and Casino, The Riviera and the Desert Inn, plus the giant fiberglass skull that once adorned the Treasure Island Hotel and Casino.
While guided tours are available day and night, the museum really shines after dark, when its 11 restored signs are switched on. (The collection could reach 12 soon, thanks to the addition of the hulking, glowing guitar from the original Las Vegas Hard Rock Café, donated by the Young Electric Sign Co.)
Not only is the Neon Museum an illuminating slice of Vegas history, the gift shop is souvenir-central, hawking retro postcards and A-to-Z magnets each emblazoned with a different letter from a boneyard sign.
Embrace your inner hipster in Fremont East.
With artisan doughnuts, book and record shops and public murals galore, the Fremont East Entertainment District, created by the city in 2002, is like the Brooklyn of Vegas. And while you certainly won’t confuse it with the non-stop party at the nearby Fremont Street Experience, Fremont East has a vibrancy all its own. That may have something to do with the buzzy Life Is Beautiful music and art festival; held each September, the event brings acts like MGMT, Lorde and Chance the Rapper to multiple stages.
During the rest of the year, you’ll find the cool kids at the Downtown Container Park. It’s one of the crown jewels in the Downtown Project, a $350-million revitalization effort. Created from shipping containers, the open-air marketplace boasts 30-odd shops and restaurants, plus a treehouse-themed playground and the Dome theater. There’s also a 55-foot-tall praying mantis kinetic sculpture at the entrance that plays music and shoots fire from its antennae — this is Vegas, after all.
Where to Stay:
Marriott’s Grand Chateau®