How To Have The Best Vegas Trip Ever Without Hitting The Strip


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A couple of years ago, I took the Megabus from L.A. to Vegas to meet a girlfriend for the weekend. I’d been to Vegas a few times, mostly justing hanging out on “The Strip” and gambling extremely small amounts of money to get free drinks. This go around, my friend and I decided we needed to see more. We wanted to get off the beaten track and avoid the glitzy chaos, so we headed to Fremont Street, Downtown.

Fremont street is weird in all the best ways. It’s the older, seedier Las Vegas you sometimes glimpse in movies — vintage neon signs, actual dive bars, a two-story praying mantis that shoots fire out of its mouth — we were immediately in love.
It’s quirky, kitchy, and dive-y; in short, it’s the opposite of the towering hotels we’d spent our past trips visiting.

Immediately it sparked something in us, a desire to find the heart of the city without ever spending time in one of its massive resorts. Here’s where to go in Vegas without hitting The Strip.

1. Be a Fremont person.

Fremont Street is. Just. Great. At the Golden Nugget, they have sharks. Who knows why? But I’m glad they do. The Downtown Container Park has stores and restaurants tucked into repurposed shipping containers — while wandering around make sure to tuck into Oak & Ivy for a whiskey cocktail, a tiny, awesome bar in the complex.

The Mob Museum is also downtown — which is a great museum to hit in the afternoon. Later, you should slip into The Griffin, a dive bar with dim lighting, dancing, and strong drinks. It’s just the sort of place you might be fooled into thinking doesn’t exist in Vegas anymore.

Wander from Fremont St. and N. Las Vegas Blvd.

2. Learn your Las Vegas history at the Neon Museum

I mean, I know. You came to Las Vegas to lose brain cells not gain knowledge, but stay with me. The neon museum is a seriously cool place. The neon boneyard, filled with ghosts of glamorous Las Vegas past, is a treasure trove of interesting facts and anecdotes.

Just make sure to do the guided tour, it’s worth it. And while it’s cool in the day, it’s definitely pretty magical at night when it’s all lit up. A guided tour is $28.

770 Las Vegas Blvd North.

3. Take a hike in Red Rock Canyon.

Less than half an hour from Las Vegas is an absolutely stunning park for hiking and climbing. Red Rock Canyon is filled with those kinds of large rock formations that make you think they were carved that way, reddish, glowing golden in the sun. It’s the perfect place to spend a morning. Make sure you get there as early as you can. The park opens at 6 am, and I’d say go right when it opens, but that’s too early for any human. Do your best.

When wildflowers are in bloom check out Ice Box Canyon trail which will also bring you to a really pretty waterfall. It does involve some climbing over rocks, so it’s a bit more difficult. If you want views, try Calico Tanks trail which will bring you up above the city so you can see those lucky, twinkling lights again (unless you already lost all your money, in which case, you’ll get a decent view of the city that ruined you.)

1000 Scenic Loop Dr.

4. Dance all night at EDC (Electric Daisy Carnival)

EDC is an absolutely whimsical electronic music festival with insane light shows, sets, and entertainment. There are carnival rides, big name line-ups, people dressed in the standard, crazy festival desert attire and when you say festival of the senses — it really is. It’s got a circus vibe going without the murder clowns, so expect cool performances and interactive art. It also draws a huge crowd, about 400,000 people.

EDC is the perfect place to dance until the sun comes up.

2019 dates are May 17-19 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, 7000 N Las Vegas Blvd

5. Get amazing Thai food at Lotus of Siam

Food critic Jonathan Gold called Lotus of Siam, “the best Thai meal I had ever eaten.” Anthony Bourdain ate there on Parts Unknown. It’s frequently hailed as one of the best thai restaurants in America. And while it’s certainly not a surprisingly hole in the wall joint anymore, it’s delicious and absolutely worth a visit. While at Lotus of Siam, try the Khao Soi, you choose your meat with noodles in a coconut milk based sauce, it’s unique and absolutely amazing. You can pick your level of spicyness, but absolutely lean to the spicy side. Also delicious, the Nam Kao Tod — which is like a crispy rice with sausage, and the papaya salad, which is seemingly simple but really tasty.

620 E Flamingo Rd.

6. Enjoy drinks on a giant roller coaster.

Okay, this is about as close to The Strip as we can get and still claim it fits the premise here, but High Roller is a lot of fun and worth including. It’s also the perfect way to experience the city’s massive hotels in all their glory without having to wade into the fray.

It takes about 30 minutes to do one revolution and for $35 you can drink from an open bar that whole time. It’s a pretty good deal.

3545 S Las Vegas Blvd

7. Soak in Arizona Hot Springs

Located in Goldstrike Canyon in the Lake Mead Recreation area, Arizona Hot Springs is an awesome rustic hot spring about an hour from Vegas. It’s particularly unique because you soak in a slot canyon at the top of a waterfall. The hike from Goldstrike Canyon Trail is really satisfying but hard and is best done in the cooler months. Mid-April through September the heat makes it so dangerous that the trail is closed (Per the park service you can still access the springs via boat on the Colorado River). After you get through the hike, you climb up a ladder to the top of the falls where a section of the river has been blocked off to create a warm, narrow soaking pool.

It’s definitely worth it, but bring/wear proper gear and bring lots of water!

The trailhead can be accessed from 93 in the Lake Mead Recreation Area.

8. Take a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon

My rule of thumb when visiting Vegas is that if I win $500 dollars I’ll immediately use it to go on a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon. Unfortunately, I’ve never actually won any money at all, but if you have better luck than me, this is a super cool way to see the Grand Canyon that doesn’t involve driving there and still allows you to be partying in Vegas by nightfall.

9. Hit up a speakeasy at Laundry Room.

This tiny speakeasy located inside a larger bar, Commonwealth, is definitely a must if you remember to make reservations ahead of time. The spot is never crowded — they let in less than 30 people at a time. The decor is cozy, and you’re not allowed to take pictures, meaning you get to disconnect from your phone for a bit.

Because it’s so small and intimate, the bartender will make custom cocktails based on your taste.

525 Fremont St. Text: 702-701-1466 well in advance to make reservations

10. Eat insanely good chocolate.

If you like chocolate, and really, who doesn’t? Ethel M Chocolates is a super fun tour, just outside of Las Vegas. Definitely try the wine-paired chocolate tasting. An hour or two spent soaking in the sweet wafting smell of chocolate-y goodness just puts you in a better mood for the rest of the day.

Ethel M also has a beautiful cactus garden and is a great bonus to the trip. A sweet way to end any Las Vegas visit. Get it, sweet. I just want to make sure you got it. You got it, right? Because chocolate is sweet? Cool. Making sure. Just making sure.

2 Cactus Garden Dr. Henderson, NV