Las Vegas, otherwise knowns as 'Lost Wages' or the place where The Hangover was filmed gets a pretty dodgy rap as being kinda trashy, kinda hedonistic and one large tourist cesspool. While at times it can be all of these things, it is also a lot of other great things!
The state of Nevada is rich with natural wonder outside of the bright neon light-laden Strip of Vegas. If you look past the veneer of the high roller clubs, overpriced drinks and bargain-priced all-you-can-eat-buffets, you will see that Las Vegas, like many other cities, is supremely misunderstood.
Is it a great place for a bachelorette party? Sure it is! In fact, on your visit you are bound to see squads of friends dressed up in novelty outfits as they parade around gleefully in search of a bit of fun. But hey, don’t let that deter you from visiting Las Vegas even if you aren’t big on partying. There are many reasons to visit that stem from a rich agricultural and archaeological history. For example, did you know that Las Vegas translates from Spanish to mean ‘the meadows’ from when it was a grassy marshland back in 1821?
It wasn’t until the 1930s that Las Vegas became known as the gaming capital of the USA that we know it for today. This swift change to an entertainment mecca featuring casinos and ‘theatres’ was largely as a result of a need to entertain labourers who were constructing the Hoover (formerly the Boulder) Dam. Even the famous Las Vegas Strip has seen many changes over the decades and has not always been the ‘megaresort’ style that it is today.
Whether you’re looking for a quick holiday in the sun or a niche experience, here are 15 awesome things you wouldn’t know about Vegas until visiting (and 5 less awesome sidebars):
Let’s start with the awesome…
20 There’s a GIANT Garden in the Desert.
While Las Vegas was once known as a marshy green land rich with wells of water, today it is mostly noted for its bone dry location in the Mojave Desert. While it’s true that Vegas can reach temperatures as high as 134 (57 degrees celsius) in the height of summer, rest assured you can take shelter in lush spaces if you know where to look.
Vegas has within it a natural reserve and botanical garden which are hidden in plain sight in the Mojave Desert. The Spring reserve is a whopping 180 acres of natural park that features galleries, springs, and even animals which you can observe! Here you can find a botanical garden and a butterfly observatory among sculptures and informational exhibits that rotate around various aspects of desert life. A favourite pitstop far from the beaten path for families with children or anyone who loves nature.
19 You Can Camp in the Valley of Fire
While the name itself may cause you to start to perspire, the Valley of Fire is a state park where you can take a break from the casinos and enjoy nature. Don’t worry, you won't be left without top amenities, including killer panoramas, to help you enjoy your stay.
The park features red Aztec Sandstone outcrops nestled between grey and tan limestone mountains. There aren’t too many places in the world where you can witness Jurassic era sandstone! There are 72 camping spots that all include lavatories, shaded areas and grills. For as little as $30 a night, the whole family can pack up the RV if it makes you more comfortable.
With events like yoga, moonlit walks and coffee with a ranger where you can enjoy an early morning chat with a park expert and ask any burning questions (pun intended) that you might have about the desert.
18 3. Vintage Shopping is Tops
For those who appreciate the thrill of the hunt, you will be surprised to learn that Las Vegas is famous for its vintage shop offerings. As they say, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure and with plenty of high rollers and showgirls coming and going through Sin City over the decades, you can often score high-end vintage fashion at decent prices.
Should you choose to peruse shops like Deja Blue Boutique (Goodwill) or Assistance League of Las Vegas Thrift Shop you’ll be supporting good causes with your purchases while simultaneously avoiding any additional sales taxes as they are registered charities.
From crystal glasses to Christmas decor - you can find it all on the Vegas vintage scene.
17 4. You Can Find A Free Art Exhibit In The Dessert
Seven Magic Mountains is an art exhibit by world famous artist Ugo Rondinone that has been in existence for 2 years. The exhibit consists of seven 30-foot tall totems composed of locally sourced boulders that have been painted brightly in contrast to their surroundings.
If you don't have time to stop and take a gander, it can be viewed from Interstate 15, but if you can swing it, the exhibit is totally free to visit and houses parking spaces for cars.
Its location is a commentary on the inherent tension that exists between the natural and the artificial as represented by the boulders and their location. The seven mountains are visually stunning even if you don’t know very much about art. You will need a car to visit as they are not accessible by transit.
16 5. The Strip Isn’t Even Located in Las Vegas
Not a lot of people know (or care) that the 6.8 km of ‘The Strip’, or the main hotel and casino area, isn’t even technically within the Las Vegas border but rather qualifies as Clark County. The Strip passes through the two unincorporated townships of Winchester and Paradise and some of The Strip’s largest hotels are as much as a mile off the main boulevard. Apparently, most of the hotels and casinos were built outside the parameters for tax purposes back in the 1950s. This bit of information will inevitably pose questions to the famous ‘what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas’ saying as, what happens on the Strip, isn’t technically Vegas at all…
15 6. It’s Not ALWAYS Unbearably Hot
Popular to contrary belief, Las Vegas has four seasons in a year, meaning that the summer is generally the only unbearably hot season while fall and spring are just uncomfortably hot.
Peak seasons, therefore, are quite contrary to most other touristic hotspots in Europe for example and happen mid-April for 3-4 weeks and again at the end of September when the heat is bearable.
If you just so happen to visit Vegas in the wintertime, the temperature typically stays between 1-15 degrees Celsius. Depending on the time of day you may actually catch a cold breeze in Vegas! It’s not exactly the same thing as a lucky breeze, but hey, if it means not getting kicked off out table stool, we’ll take it.
14 7. You Will See (Fake) Zach Galifianakis
40-year-old Thaddeus Kalinoski was a restaurant manager turned celebrity Hangover impersonator who was earning a whopping $255K a year impersonating the ever-famous character of Alan (Zach Galifianakas) in The Hangover. Thaddeus was such a hit with tourists that he even became an ordained minister so that he could perform marriages for Vegas visitors who wanted something ‘extra special’ for their big day.
Sadly, this famous impersonator has hung up his beard, glasses and baby as the lifestyle of 24/7 Vegas caught up to him. Luckily, when you visit Vegas you can still catch Zach Galifianakis impersonators on the Strip if it’s an impromptu ‘hangover’ momento you’re after.
If not, there will always be Elvis.
13 8. There's A 20 Dollar Trick
The 20 dollar trick or ‘credit card sandwich’ is something many learn from Vegas veterans that we at The Travel are happy to share with you today. When checking into your hotel, you can be momentarily blinded by the opulence and grandeur that you can only assume that all rooms are just as stunning. However, this is not the case as the Vegas hotel has a vast hierarchy of rooms and suites. So if you are willing to put yourself out there a bit, you could score yourself an upgraded suite for as little as 20 bucks.
But how?! I hear you shrieking with excitement.
All you have to do is sandwich a 20 dollar bill between your credit card and ID when prompted at reception during your check-in and ask about any complimentary available upgrades. It’s that simple.
On a town that runs on tips you should have no problems but if in doubt, you can consult this website which has put together a ranking of success rates with the 20 dollar trick. Enjoy!
12 9. Gaming Used To Be Illegal in Vegas
It may sound preposterous but the casinos used to be limited to underground operations until it was legalized in 1931. It was legalized in large part because the powers at be realized that it was quite good for local business and the economy to entertain the masses of labourers who were looking for a way to stay 'engaged' while away from home.
Today a whopping 48 out of 50 states have some form of legalized casinos in effect which some would say is in large part due to this early adopter influence. However the state of Nevada itself does not allow for any lottery to occur whatsoever aside from church raffles and charitable organizations - how odd!
11 10. It’s Actually A Great Place for a Family Holiday
Despite it’s ‘sinful’ reputation, Vegas is actually just as much a kids paradise as it is an adult Disney World. With hotels that as a default boast more than 5 pools at a time, an in-hotel rollercoaster at The Big Apple or one of the many live shows on offer each night, it can be every bit as entertaining for kids.
If the kids at the hotel are having a blast, why not bring back your childhood sandbox days and visit the heavy machinery theme park Dig This? This is where mom and dad can learn how to operate bulldozers and excavators with the help and humour of a trained professional. Vegas truly has something for everyone in the family to enjoy!
10 11. Vegas is Surprisingly Pet-Friendly
It’s not an exaggeration to say that pets are treated like (if not better than) humans in Las Vegas. With establishments created exclusively for catering to dogs like Bogart's Bone Appetit that feature an all natural pet-bakery and dog pizza, or the Hydrant Club which is a members-only dog park that provides bottled water… for the dogs.
Many hotels like The Flamingo, Caesars Palace and The Cosmopolitan also have pet-friendly available listings if you prefer to travel with your furry friend. It’s quite common (despite it being a bit unusual) to see pet owners walking through the luxurious surroundings with their pups.
9 12. It’s a Foodie Haven
It’s not what you would expect from this neon heartland of cheap thrills but Vegas is on the world map for food. Celebrity chef eateries are plentiful on and off the Strip. Take for example Joël Robuchon’s eight-course black truffle menu which includes a black truffle tart with onions and smoked ham. Joël was named ‘chef of the century’ by the Gault Millau guide in 1990, so you will pay a handsome price for this culinary experience at the Mansion in MGM… as in $500 per person.
If you’re more low-key or want to sample a classic Vegas experience, you’ll have to sample a buffet. No one is saying you can’t have a classy experience though! The Wynn and The Bellagio are both top-rated options featuring king crab, duck and Kobe beef. It will feel like you’ve hit the foodie jackpot.
8 13. Vegas is Considered the 9th Island of Hawaii
Say what?! It’s true! Vegas is not an island so this point can be a bit confusing. However, it is one of the most-travelled destinations of Hawaiians who faithfully return time after time to The California Hotel. Due to its large influx of regular Hawaiian visitors, the hotel has done everything possible to make it feel like a home away from home, including a quick bites shop called Aloha Specialities featuring dishes typical to Hawaii and a Luau breakfast buffet.
So why do they call it the ninth island of Hawaii when it doesn’t have the sea, surf or even seafood similar to Hawaii? It’s because of the people. With over 200,000 Hawaiians visiting Las Vegas on a yearly basis, and many who relocate, there is an established Hawaiian community in Vegas. Many Hawaiians are seeking a cheaper way of life and are used to the abundant touristic elements of a place like Vegas, so it is a natural fit.
7 14. You Can Get Married on The World’s Tallest Ferris Wheel
It turns out the world’s largest Ferris wheel doesn’t just illicit groans and eye rolls from its banal name The High Roller, but perhaps something else is ‘in the air’ to trigger enough of a romantic affiliation prompting many to get married while aboard it.
That’s right, you can get married on a Ferris wheel in Vegas. For about $400 you can have the wedding of your dreams! That is if your dream wedding includes 30 minutes of Ferris wheel, while listening to Bruno Mars on a Bluetooth speaker with 10 of your nearest and dearest, complete with a souvenir photo (of course).
If you should prefer it, an Elvis lookalike or showgirl officiant are available for an extra $200.
6 15. You Can Learn to Fly for $100
If you’ve always wanted to see what it felt like to free fall but aren’t quite committed enough to jump out of a plane you can go to Vegas and fly indoors! For the low, low price of $75 you will be provided the gear and an instructor to enjoy 3 minutes of flight in the indoor tunnel. $99 gets you a full 5 minutes in the wind tunnel simulator. Sure, it may seem expensive but can you really put a price tag on a 1000 horsepower motor that propels you through the air defying gravity?
If you answered no, you may be a candidate for the 1-hour flight session that runs up to $1000 per person.
And now, let's have a look at 5 annoying aspects of Sin City (some things to consider)
5 Annoying: Smoke Everywhere
In Vegas there are a lot of permitted smoking areas like casinos, stand-alone bars, taverns and some hotel rooms. This is, of course, to discourage hardcore gamblers from wandering out into the daylight and instead, keeping them nice and cosy at the table.
It can be a pretty big culture shock if you come from somewhere like Boston or Ontario where smoking laws are pretty strictly upheld. To ensure you don’t get caught in a cloud of second-hand cigarette stench, be sure to reserve a non-smoking hotel room and keep an eye out for smoke free zones where you can catch a breath of fresh air.
4 2. Odd Taxi Rules
Add this to another odd law of Las Vegas. Taxi drivers are not legally allowed to stop and pick of passengers who have flagged them down on the street. The consensus is that it could cause issues with traffic flow if pedestrians suddenly started hailing cabs whenever and wherever they felt like it. For a New Yorker or Chicago native it can feel counterintuitive to have to pre-order a cab or line up from the hotel but sadly, them's the breaks.
It is never advisable to walk off the Strip even if it doesn’t seem like a far walk, it can always be safer to call a cab as they aren’t hugely expensive. It is also worth noting that your cab fare can only be paid in US Currency.
3 3. Blazing Hot Rays
The summer sun of the desert is no laughable matter. When you're boiling hot where's the first place you want to go? Well, it's probably going to be one of the 10 pools in your hotel. However, leaving the safety of indoors must be done with utmost care, especially around water and other reflective surfaces.
Take for example the Vdara hotel which was built without considering that the reflective glass combined with the concave architecture formed what locals referred to as a 'death ray'-like result. The concentration of the sunlight was bouncing off the hotel building and literally frying the occupants of the pool.
In other words, you have to be really, really careful anytime that you leave to go outside in Vegas during the season of the high heat. It gets so hot that it can literally melt the rubber of your flip flops to your feet. While you may be looking to enjoy a somewhat tropical holiday, you will have to do so cautiously.
2 4. Water Costs Upwards of $4 per Bottle
Water is a human necessity for survival so it is pretty infuriating that it costs upwards of $4-$8 for a bottle of water in Vegas. If you consider that this is more than the cost of an alcoholic beverage you can see where the issues start to creep in. For most people, nearly $10 for a small bottle of water is simply unaffordable. They may be tempted to drink something else instead.
It would be fair to say that there needs to be more of an ‘open tap’ policy when it comes to Vegas and serving tap water for the health and safety of its visitors and those serving them.
1 5. Fake Paris and Fake Italy
Perhaps the tackiest of the tacky involves the imitation of Italy and Paris on the Strip with the 460-foot Eiffel Tower (compared to the original at 1,063) at Paris Las Vegas, imitation statues of David and the Colosseum at Caesar's Palace, as well as the gondola rides at the ‘shopping center canal’ in the Venetian. Just stop all of it.
None of these places reflect a shred of their historical or contextual significance and are therefor a downright insult to the original creators and cultures which they aim to represent. If you want to see the Eiffel Tower or Michelangelo’s David grab a Ryan Air flight from London Stansted for the price of 10-12 bottles of Vegas water and do so with dignity. Vegas is a place for many things, but for these important works, it is not.
References:independent.co.uk, downtown.vegas, readersdigest, thoughtcatalog, Forbes