Vegas is like an out-of-town relative who comes to stay at your house: It's great for a while, but after a few days, it's time to go.
That being said, you want to enjoy all the city of lights has to offer if you're in town for a couple days. You'll need to venture off the Strip a few times during your visit to do it. In fact, if you never leave the main drag, you're missing out on some fantastic experiences. So buckle up! Here are the best ways to make your stay in Vegas memorable - on and off the Strip.
On: See a Show
All you need to do is step off the plane to know the selection of shows in Las Vegas is beyond abundant. There are musicals, big-name performers, magic shows, comedy, the list goes on. Trying to narrow down your choices may be the most difficult part of your entire trip.
I've never heard one person say anything but wonderful things about Cirque Du Soleil shows, especially The Beatles LOVE. It's at the Mirage; the gentleman in front of me was actually crying when it ended.
If you haven't been to Vegas in a while, Cirque now offers a show with the music of Michael Jackson's at Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino called Michael Jackson ONE. It's also fabulous, as you would expect.
Another show getting a lot of buzz is BAZ at the Palazzo. It's a musical mash-up of three Baz Luhrmann films: Moulin Rouge, Romeo & Juliet and The Great Gatsby. That sentence alone should tell you this won't be a traditional performance, which means this show probably isn't for everyone. But those who like it REALLY like it.
Off: Get a Drink at Atomic Liquors
Atomic Liquors is the oldest freestanding bar in Las Vegas. Built in 1945, it still stands in the downtown area on Fremont Street. It was originally Virginia's Café, but it 1952, it was refurbished with a new name, a new bar area, and its now-famous neon sign out front. Customers once enjoyed their cocktails while watching atomic bomb tests from what's known today as the Nevada National Security Site, about 100 miles away - hence the name! The Rat Pack, Clint Eastwood, Smothers Brothers, and Barbra Streisand have all wet their whistles here, and you should too. Just be aware, Atomic Liquors is now known more for its craft beer selection than its list of cocktails.
On: Eat at a Buffet
I know this isn't a novel concept - buffet and Vegas are practically synonymous. But there's a small plate revolution happening, and at a buffet that's actually a good thing. If you're like me, you leave a buffet ready to burst but wishing you could try one or two more things. This allows you to do that.
Wicked Spoon at The Cosmopolitan and Bacchanal at Caesars Palace are leaders in the small-plate buffet experience. They're pricey but offer everything you want on a buffet and so much more. There's an entire section dedicated to hot and cold seafood items. The meat station will make you salivate - when is the last time you've seen roasted bone marrow and lamb on a buffet? There are Asian and Italian options and a dessert area that would make even Willy Wonka jealous.
One tip: if the dinner price is out of your range, plan to get there just before brunch ends and dinner begins so you can pay the brunch price without feeling like you're eating too early. Staff members will tell you they limit each table to two hours, but I've never seen anyone get kicked out.
Off: Visit The Mob Museum
This was a trip highlight, a place where you can easily spend several hours. The Mob Museum is in a downtown building which was once a post office and courthouse. The museum walks you through the extensive history of organized crime, and the events and artefacts that defined it. You'll see Al Capone's revolver, Tommy guns, and the wall from the Valentine's Day Massacre.
While it's located in Las Vegas, the museum chronicles the history of the Mob throughout the United States, displaying photographs from actual events and detailing the crime families who ran each city. The museum also has some excellent interactive exhibits, including a Crime Lab Experience.
Since the building is a former courthouse, you'll sit in the same room where the Kefauver Hearings, which aimed to crack down on organized crime, were held in the 1950s. From start to finish, every section of the museum is very well done and immerses you in Mob history. Ticket prices vary depending on if you add on the Crime Lab or Use of Force Experiences.
On: Free "Art"
There isn't much that's free in Vegas, but there are a few places that'll give you a break. The most well-known free show is The Fountains of Bellagio, which combines water, light, and music. Depending on the time of day, the show runs either every half hour or every 15 minutes and the music varies, so you can watch it repeatedly and not see the same show.
The Bliss Dance Sculpture is something you may just stumble across. It's located in the park outside of T-Mobile Arena between New York-New York and Monte Carlo resorts. The 40-foot-tall sculpture was created by artist Marco Cochrane. His first experience at Burning Man inspired the work, which shows female strength, self-confidence, and expression. The sculpture is illuminated at night by 3,000 colored LED lights.
The Lake of Dreams at Wynn puts on an interesting show which you can enjoy on the balcony or terrace overlooking the lake, or while enjoying a cocktail at Parasol Down. It only lasts a few minutes, but it's definitely unique. There's puppetry, holographics, and thousands of lights. Again, it's a quick show, which runs at the top and bottom of every hour starting at 7:30 p.m. and ending at 12:30 a.m.
Off: Hike Red Rock Canyon
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is located about 35 minutes west of the Strip. It's a beautiful place to get away from the crowds, although it's likely you won't have the place to yourself. There's a 13-mile loop through the park, which you must drive if you enter since it's only one-way. You can just take the drive and enjoy the scenery, but after you pay $15 to get in, why not stop and enjoy one of the several hikes along the way? If you plan to hike, pack plenty of water and some snacks. There are picnic tables about halfway through your drive near a short trail that will take you to petroglyphs. Be forewarned: we saw a baby rattlesnake during our hike, so keep your eye out for wildlife and be prepared for any activity with the right attire.
On: Eat at Gordon Ramsay Hell's Kitchen
This one is especially for fans of the reality show, but the food is really good regardless. The Hell's Kitchen restaurant is located at Caesars Palace on Roman Plaza just outside of the hotel registration lobby. You'll see the red and blue teams in the kitchen crafting their dishes, and you'll be able to enjoy the view through floor to ceiling windows. Fans rave about the Beef Wellington and the Sticky Toffee Pudding, so be sure to save some room. It's pricey, but worth the splurge. Check out the prix fixe menu if you want to try the two favorites. You never know, you might even see a recent Hell's Kitchen winner running the show in the kitchen!
Off: Fremont Street Experience
If you never leave the Strip, you'll miss out on a few things that are just five miles north. Fremont Street is full of Old Vegas fun with a few modern twists. Gamble at Golden Gate, the city's oldest casino, or one of the other nostalgic locations in the area.
You can also get a quick look at Fremont Street from several stories up by taking a ride on Slotzilla, where you'll Zipline or Zoomline above all the excitement. If you don't know the difference, don't worry. You're in a seated position during the zipline and seven stories up in the air. Zoomline makes you look like Superman and is four stories higher.
If you want to add even more oohs and aahs to the experience, take a ride in the evening when Viva Vision gets going. This is the free Freemont Street light show which plays every hour on the 1,500 foot long and 90 foot wide video screen above the pedestrian mall. Of course, you can also stay firmly planted on the ground and enjoy the show too. The number of times Viva Vision runs depends on the season, so be sure to check the website before your visit.
This area is just a few blocks from The Mob Museum, so you could spend the entire day exploring Downtown Las Vegas.
On: Ride in a Gondola
The only things better than clouds that dot the sky-blue roof at The Venetian are the Gondolas that float beneath them. Gondoliers are waiting indoors and out all day every day to take you for a romantic ride. While it isn't Venice, it's a fun and relaxing splurge. Even if you don't want to hop in a boat, be sure to take a walk around the Venetian and watch the Gondoliers do their work.
Off: Visit Hoover Dam
The Hoover Dam is just 30 miles southeast of Las Vegas and it remains an impressive sight. The dam is more than 700 feet high, spanning the Colorado River on the Arizona and Nevada state line. You can simply walk along the top, but if you go, you really should take either the Powerplant Tour or the Dam Tour.
A few things to know before you visit: there is a $10 charge to park, and you'll also have to pay $10 if you want to go into the Visitor's Center. Traffic can also be tough, so it's recommended to get there as early as possible.
Whatever you decide to do in Las Vegas, you can't lose with any of these on/off ideas. (Unless you hit the slots - then there's no telling how much you might lose!) Have a safe journey!