Los Angeles is known for its Hollywood stars and film studios. But did you know about Las Vegas’ long and deep ties to Tinseltown? I sure didn’t! We highly recommend joining the 90-minute Pop Culture Walking Tour of Fremont Street. This isn’t any boring history tour (trust me, Kevin has a knack for falling asleep even while walking!). The tour gives a first-hand look at the cultural impact of Las Vegas — particularly entertainment.
Each tour is kept small, allowing plenty of interaction and time to ask ALL your questions (and you know how much we love our questions!). From Hollywood classic films like Diamonds Are Forever to larger than life personalities like Frank Sinatra, Las Vegas has no shortage of pop cultural influence. Take that LA!
MEETING POINT: MOB MUSEUM
Our tour began at 4 PM on the steps in front of The Mob Museum. We recommend that you arrive a few hours before the tour to check out the museum. Envisioned by former Las Vegas Mayor (and long-time mob lawyer) Oscar Goodman, this place is among the best museums we’ve ever visited. The exhibits were curated by Dennis Barrie, who is responsible for such other well-known museums as the International Spy Museum in Washington and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. We’ve been to both and can see the similarities in its strong storytelling.
Give yourself at least 3-4 hours since you won’t want to stop reading all about the scandalous history and how Las Vegas became known for its gambling, bootlegging and other, err, illicit activities.
Our guide Rick met us out front of the museum. Rick brings a depth of knowledge you won’t get with just any guide. In fact, he once served as the urban arts coordinator for Las Vegas’ Office of Cultural Affairs and has had a hand in making Vegas what it is today. Before heading into the thick of the action, Rick gave some background on how Vegas began (as a railroad stop 100 years ago). The city sprung up from the desert as a stopping point on the great migration west to California. The major reason: an abundant source of water running underneath (and how Las Vegas got its name, which means “The Meadows” in Spanish). Our minds are blown!
WALKING DURING THE MAGIC HOUR
We followed Rick towards the flashing lights as he described what old Vegas must have been like. The tour is also planned to begin at the city’s “magic hour,” meaning you’ll leave just when all the neon signs start to come on. Clearly, a lot of thought has been put into it. Along the stroll towards Fremont Street, we could see gentrification in action — new boutique hotels (like the Downtown Grand) mixed with old school pawn shops and dark dive bars. We passed by a row of at least 10 Harley-Davidson bikes and peeked inside Hogs and Heifers.
Opened in downtown in 2005, Hogs and Heifers had years of success in New York. In fact, it was the real-life inspiration for the movie Coyote Ugly. And I can tell you, it more than deserves its notorious reputation!
It was a little sensory overload as we walked along Fremont Street. It’s hard to believe that Fremont Street was a major road packed with traffic up until 1995. The project was conceived to compete with the mega-resorts located along the strip and to revive the downtown. And I can say, clearly it worked! Today, you’ll find the longest video screen in the world with tourists ziplining below. It’s cool yet Kevin freaked me out (as he was convinced someone would spit!). Let’s just say, I could see his point – especially thinking back to a trip to San Francisco where a pigeon relieved itself with great precision on the top of my head!
We (quickly) followed Rick past the hotel/casino known as the Golden Nugget. Envisioned by Steve Wynn, this property was the predecessor to The Mirage, considered the first mega-resort on the strip. We then got a few photos of the Glitter Gulch — the corner where 4 classic Vegas casinos all converge. The flashing lights and all the action had us enthralled!
BINIONS GAMBLING HALL
We had no idea how much influence downtown had on the strip. In fact, Rick told us that “the strip” was in reference to the Sunset strip in LA and its continuation here in Vegas. So many fun facts for our next party! We next headed to Binions, which opened in the 1950s and the first to pioneer such perks you’ll find today like free drinks while you’re gambling and seats at all slot machines. Up to that point, all slots were standing. Now players could sit, drink and gamble to their hearts content. They’re tricky!
Be sure to head towards the back of the casino to also see another Vegas first – the live stunt! Binions still keeps out a stack of $1 million dollars where you can get your photo taken for free. Wait, there is something still free in Vegas?
We had our doubts the money was real, but Rick swore by it. Well, I guess if we’re not going to win millions in Vegas, we might as well get our photo with it.
BLOCK 16 AND HISTORY
We followed Rick out the back of Binons where he showed us a parking lot, which was once an active brothel section of town. Today, legal prostitution still exists in parts of Nevada. But you won’t find any brothels at Block 16 anymore. The Army eventually got the city to put an end to it in 1942. Just a few blocks away is one of the most unique casinos called Main Street Station. This place is packed with some incredible memorabilia. Rick showed us the hidden spot where they keep a billiard table once owned by Winston Churchill. But that’s not the only cool thing to check out. Visit the men’s bathroom where you can see an original slab of the Berlin Wall. And ladies, you can always sneak a peek too!
FREMONT EAST AND BEYOND
Next stop: downtown’s newest, up-and-coming area known as Fremont East. You’ll find some of the best restaurants here like Carson Kitchen (which has incredible mac n’ cheese), Le Thai (try the tender Waterfall Beef) and Therapy (um, red velvet waffle chicken sliders!).
We made our way to the final stop: the Downtown Container Park. You’ll know you’re in the right spot when you find the giant praying mantis sculpture that was built for Burning Man. Stick around to watch the flames shoot from the antennas and get in some last-minute shopping.
Wow, Rick covered a lot of ground and history. We said our goodbyes, grabbed dinner at Carson Kitchen then headed back to The Mob Museum to check out their speakeasy saloon known as The Underground. You’ll need a password, which you can easily find on the museum’s Instagram story. We asked the security guard out front. But let’s just say, he wasn’t anywhere close to the real password. After a few failed attempts at finding the entrance (seriously, I think we walked around that building 5 times!), we eventually figured it out. But one thing was certain — clearly, we were a little lost without Rick!
THE LOW DOWN:
- The tour departs daily at 4 PM outside the famed Mob Museum in downtown Las Vegas
- Each tour is approximately 90 minutes, and takes you through downtown, including Fremont Street, one of the most famous streets in Las Vegas
- The tour includes insight by a local expert as well as a limited edition souvenir map featuring some of Las Vegas’ most unique spots.
- Tours are $29.99 per person and can be booked on Viator.
- Rick is also offering a new 2-hour tour called ‘Dazzling Twilight Tour, which departs at 6:30 PM. This tour is $49 per person and can also be booked on Viator.