Viva Las Vegas! Since its founding more than 100 years ago, Las Vegas has been the biggest, brightest, and brazenest boomtown in the history of the world. Over a dozen major hotels and mega-resorts recreate everything from ancient Egypt to Venice (complete with canals and gondoliers), Paris (a mock Eiffel Tower), and New York City (with a Coney Island roller coaster and fake steam puffing up from fake sidewalks). More numbers: With more than 150,000 rooms, the city has as many as New York and Chicago combined, and 40 million annual visitors lose more than $8 billion in the casinos here every year.
In addition to gambling, Las Vegas casinos have all the rooms, restaurants, and “recreational opportunities” you can imagine, and then some. If you’re staying overnight, you’ll enter the wacky and somewhat wicked world of Las Vegas lodging. Rooms are no longer the dirt-cheap bargains they were a generation ago; rates vary depending on the time of year, time of the week, and sometimes even the time of day. Count on spending at least $100 for a decent hotel room, and close to five times that for something special. Make reservations as early as you can; on Friday nights, or during a big convention or boxing match, the whole town is often sold out. A final note: If you’ll be schlepping a lot of luggage, be aware that Las Vegas hotel rooms are a long way from their parking spaces, which are in huge high-rise or underground garages. On the upside, parking is free at most hotels.
Driving in Las Vegas
Las Vegas has to be the easiest city in the world to drive around: Everything lines up along, or in relation to, one big road: The Strip. Dubbed an official “All-American Highway,” along with such scenic landmarks as the Blue Ridge Parkway and the stretch of Hwy-1 through California’s Big Sur, this five-mile traffic-clogged barrage of bright lights and architectural extravagance is also known as South Las Vegas Boulevard and runs parallel to I-15 between the compact downtown area and the airport. Other roads in Las Vegas are named after the big hotels near their junction with The Strip; hence you have Sahara Avenue, Flamingo Road, and Tropicana Avenue one after another.
Almost everybody who drives into Las Vegas comes by way of the I-15 freeway, which runs between Los Angeles and Salt Lake City and which connects with US-93 some 20 miles northwest of The Strip. From the south and Hoover Dam, use the new I-515 freeway, which carries US-93 and US-95 on a snaking S-figure between Henderson and Fremont Street in downtown Las Vegas.
US-93 actually bypasses The Strip, veering southeast along Fremont Street and the Boulder Highway—or along I-515—but it’s all but required that you drive at least a little of The Strip before you can say you’ve been to Las Vegas. Don’t expect to get anywhere quickly, though; The Strip is like one big, slow cruise, with 10 lanes of traffic moving past all those casino lights at about 10 mph, day or night.
Here are a few of the many places you can play:
Caesars Palace (3570 Las Vegas Blvd. S., 702/731-7110 or 866/227-5938): Long before there was a Mirage; a New York, New York; a Bellagio; or a Venetian, there was Caesars Palace. Though ancient by Las Vegas standards (Caesars opened in 1966 as the first “themed” hotel in Las Vegas), this is still one of the classiest and most famous places in town.
Luxor (3900 Las Vegas Blvd. S., 702/262-4000 or 877/386-4658): The most distinctive casino, Luxor is housed inside a mammoth (29-million-cubic-foot) glass pyramid at the southern end of the Strip.
The Mirage (3400 Las Vegas Blvd. S., 702/791-7111 or 800/374-9000): This casino has its own rainforest, a 20,000-gallon saltwater aquarium, and white tigers on display (leftovers from the shows of Siegfried and Roy, who last performed in 2003).
Wynn Las Vegas (3131 Las Vegas Blvd. S., 702/770-7000 or 888/320-7123): Brought to you by the creator of Mirage and Bellagio, on the site of the historic Desert Inn, where billionaire recluse Howard Hughes used to live, this ultra-fashionable 2,700-room oasis is the last word in high-end indulgence, with an on-site Ferrari dealership in case you hit a jackpot or two.
Neon Museum (770 Las Vegas Blvd. N., 702/387-6366): Not a casino or hotel, but a huge and amazing outdoor collection of more than 200 giant neon signs that once lit up Las Vegas. Very popular guided tours are offered day and (even better!) by night.