For the longest time, I was convinced that I hated Vegas… I swore off the place for a good 5 years. I don’t gamble, am not a fan of gorge-fest buffets and can’t stand cigarette smoke-filled casinos that trap you inside. In fact, if ever I’m stuck behind someone smoking, I begin hacking (ever not so subtly!). I now love Las Vegas. But you gotta do it right (including the all-important hotel choice). Kevin and I go several times a year – especially around Christmas when hotel rates plummet. I’m talking some of the cheapest rates all year. Plus, you’ll see some over-the-top Vegas Christmas decorations, which I love.
Below are some of our favorite picks from our recent weekend in Vegas — including a hike to the Hoover Dam via historic railroad tunnels, authentic Japanese cuisine just minutes from the strip, an up-and-coming artist community and a super hero museum to relive your favorite Marvel Comics moments (okay, this was clearly for Kevin, but still pretty fun!).
Hotel Choice: The Palazzo
It’s all suites here and the rooms are massive. Kevin and I were convinced that the room was the same size as our condo in LA (which made us both a little sad). If you have a choice between the Venetian or the Palazzo, I’d recommend the Palazzo given that it’s the newer of the two properties and a little more chill. Staying at the Venetian can feel like being in an amusement park. Our room looked out at the mountains (once we figured out how to operate the remote-controlled curtains!).
We got a rate of $179 a night, plus $150 of dining credit for the weekend at any restaurant in either the Palazzo or Venetian. We’ve stayed at The Mandarin, Vdara, Hotel 32 and several others (which were all wonderful). But for overall value, I think Palazzo is the top of the pack.
Easy Road Trips: Boulder City, Nevada
Boulder City is just 30 minutes from the Vegas strip but feels worlds away. This quaint town sprung up around the construction of the Hoover Dam. And more recently, got a shout out in the Oscar contender La La Land where Emma Stone’s character grew up. Today, you’ll find antique stores, chocolate shops and a weird/fun “Area 52” Alien store (note it’s not Area 51 because apparently Area 52 is even more of a secret!).
The biggest reason to make a stop is to have breakfast at The Coffee Cup Cafe. Come early and get your name on the list. We ended up just waiting 15 minutes before being seated at the old-time lunch counter. The spot was featured a few years back on Guy Fieri’s Food Network series Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. And the place has been packed ever since. But it doesn’t disappoint at all.
Must order food choices include the Pork Chili Verde Omelet ($9) and the Smothered Burrito ($7.50). And their coffee is fantastic, too.
Next Stop: The Railroad Tunnel Hike
This stop was probably the top highlight of our weekend. It’s a 6-mile roundtrip hike (3 miles out and 3 miles back) to the Hoover Dam. It follows an old network of railroad tracks built in 1931 to haul materials to construct the Hoover Dam. Trains used to run 24 hours a day carrying gravel, supplies and machinery to the construction site. The trail passes through a total of 5 carved out tunnels as you wind your way around Lake Mead.
The best part of the hike is when you end up right on top of the Hoover Dam. It’s Art Deco all the way, even down to the really fancy bathroom (that we oddly were so transfixed by!).
Dinner Picks: Japanese and Thai
Sure, Vegas has it’s share of celebrity chefs and buffets. But it’s also home to a large and diverse Asian community offering authentic food (off strip). According to the local newspaper, the Las Vegas Sun, Nevada’s Asian population has doubled in the past 15 years (with no other state having a bigger surge). For Thai, we really enjoyed Le Thai located near the Fremont Street frenzy. Must order foods include the Waterfall Beef with sticky rice and the 3 color curry (which even at no spice, was pretty hot. You’ve been warned!). Next up, we went to the Japanese restaurant Yonaka, located just minutes from the strip by car.
Yonaka is a tapas-style restaurant with both traditional Japanese ingredients and international dishes.
Dessert Spot: Ghirardelli Ice Cream & Chocolate Shop at The Linq
For those who want to get in a little exercise before downing a dessert, we recommend walking 10 minutes from the Palazzo to the flashy area by The Linq Ferris Wheel. Be sure to stop in Ghirardelli where they always hand out a free sample. Or is it bait to get you to buy something else more expensive? I think we know the answer to that question! Brownie sundae please…
Entertainment Pick: Showstoppers at the Wynn
Cirque du Soleil gets all the attention in Las Vegas. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an entertaining show, especially their Beatles tribute show Love, playing at the Mirage. But we kind of feel if you’ve seen one Cirque show, you get the idea. For this trip, we decided to stay close by the Palazzo and walked across the street to the Wynn Resort to see Showstoppers. It’s a high energy show with 60+ dancers and a full orchestra. The concept is simple — a musical review featuring Broadway’s best “show stopping” songs from such hits as Chicago and A Chorus Line. We got our tickets on Vegas.com, which offers significant discounts (and coupon codes if you Google it!). Ticket prices vary (a lot) but we got our seats for $90 per person all taxes included.
Culture Vulture: Vegas Arts District
The arts district is part of the revitalization efforts for Vegas off the strip. Created in 1998, it’s an 18 block zone North of the towering Stratosphere Hotel that was set aside to encourage art and artists.
There are also some great vintage shops including Retro Vegas, that will take you back to the 70s. You gotta check out the pink kitchen that is fully set up inside.
Quasi-Museum: Marvel Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N.
The moment Kevin was waiting for all weekend! Our visit to a museum dedicated to all things Marvel Comics. Full disclaimer here – you will get so much more out of this if you are a Marvel fan. I enjoyed it, but not sure I got quite the same thrill as Kevin did. The experience starts off with a really cool (and free!) interactive video game where they even suit you up in a digital Iron Man costume. That was actually really entertaining.
Next, you’ll head inside the museum where you can follow along either on your own iPhone via a downloaded app (or rent their iPhone for $5 each). We decided to rent theirs so we didn’t kill our phone batteries. Along the way, you’ll be quizzed on all things Marvel comics and get to check out some of the original costumes. The final moment is a challenge where you need to work together as a team to kill off some bad guys. I was assigned to be The Hulk (though I’m pretty sure I did nothing to contribute since my iPhone pretty much died by the end!). Tickets cost around $40 each. So yep, you gotta be a big fan!
Wow, we packed in a lot. And those were just the top highlights. And yes, I’m not afraid to admit it. I love Vegas… just keep me away from the casino and all that cigarette smoke. Or you’ll be forced to hear me hack up a lung. You’ve been warned!