The word is synonymous with Las Vegas. It is the reason the Las Vegas Strip exists at all in the middle of the desert, pulling in more than $5 billion (USD) last year in gambling proceeds. And last year was the worst, financially, in almost five years.
Las Vegas is so much more than gambling, though. In the past two decades, Vegas has embraced the diversity of its patrons and tried to expand its appeal to larger and larger swaths of the population. Fueled by the dot-com bust in 2001 and the recent Global Financial Crisis, casinos are trying to find new ways to tell customers why they should come visit Vegas.
Maybe you’re not a gambler, though. You wonder about what the appeal to Vegas is for a non-gambler. While gaming has been the mainstay of Vegas since the 1930s, there is so much to do there without risking a nickel in a casino. Here are 5 things to do on and off the Strip that don’t involve gambling.
On the Strip
Shows – As Vegas has attempted to shed its “Sin City” image, the number of live shows has increased dramatically; and it’s not all Wayne Newton. From big names like Celine Dion and Elton John, to complex shows like Cirque du Soliel and V, the big casinos have attempted to bring showmanship and variety shows into the 21st century.
Food – While casinos were once known for the cheap meals to keep patrons from leaving, many of the casinos have recruited some of the best chefs in the world to bring 5-star dining to every corner of the Strip. Wolfgang Puck, alone, has six restaurants in different hotels on the Strip. From steakhouses, to rum bars, to fine Italian food; it’s all available on the Strip.
Shopping – Once again, fueled by casinos, shopping has exploded in Las Vegas. The casinos’ philosophy being that if you win big, they STILL want to keep your money, so buy yourself something nice. You don’t HAVE to win big, though, to enjoy shopping on the Strip. Shops can be found in nearly every major casino, with large malls attached to Caesar’s Palace and Planet Hollywood.
Pools – You might think the middle of the desert would be an odd place to find wonderful pools, or maybe you don’t think that’s so odd. The hotels on the Strip have fabulous pools available to their patrons. You can sit in the sun and get a tan, take a refreshing dip in the solar-heated waters, or rent a cabana poolside, while you enjoy reading a book and a cool frosty beverage brought to you by a pool server.
Sites – The Strip is one of the more amazing places on Earth. What ever compelled a company to build a billion-dollar resort in the middle of the desert, directly adjacent to another billion-dollar resort? And yet, the density of incredible hotels and the full spectrum of clientelle are there for the watching. Simply admiring the size of the hotels can keep me entertained for days, but it’s the attention to detail that’s really the icing on the cake. From the Venetian’s indoor canals (complete with gondolas and singing gondola drivers), to Paris’ 541-foot tall model of the Eifel Tower, to Bellagio’s performing fountains, there is so much to see by simply walking around the Strip. And that doesn’t even begin to address the people!
Strip’s still not your thing, eh? Well, there’s a host of things to do OFF the Strip, if the mood strikes you. Just rent a car.
Off the Strip
Hoover Dam – Located southeast of the Strip, the Hoover Dam is the second-tallest dam in the United States. Built in the 1930s in five years, it was completed two years ahead of schedule. It’s huge, and it’s an impressive structure, not only in its size, but in its engineering. Tours take place several times a day, and its an easy day trip from Vegas. (45-minute drive)
Red Rocks Canyon National Conservation Area – Just west of the city is Red Rocks Canyon, a canyon featuring large, red sandstone rocks. It’s so close that you can actually see it from the Strip, and several locations around Las Vegas. Aside from seeing the beautiful rock formations, the area promotes hiking, rock climbing, camping and horseback riding. (30-minute drive)
Death Valley – A little further away from Las Vegas, but still a day trip from the city, is Death Valley. In addition to being hot and dry, it has some wonderfully-interesting geography, including the Devil’s Golf Course, Natural Bridge, Artist’s Drive, and Golden Canyon. Also, don’t miss Badwater, CA, the lowest elevation (282 ft below Sea Level) in the United States, with a wonderful view of Mount Whitney, the highest elevation in the continental United States (14,505 ft). (3-hour drive)
Valley of Fire – Located north of Las Vegas the Valley of Fire offers more hiking and outdoor options, as well as picnicing and camping. The red sandstone cliffs have been used as a backdrop for several movings, including Total Recall, Transformers, and Star Trek: Generations. The various rock formations and petroglyphs provide plenty of diverse photo opportunities throughout an outdoor hike or a scenic drive. (1-hour drive)
Grand Canyon – The longest day trip from Vegas is to what is certainly the grandest marvel. The Grand Canyon is listed as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, and it’s 200+ miles of deep erosional canyon are a sight that every American should see in their lifetime. Hiking tours are available, as well as a 25-mile scenic drive to see much (but not all) ofwhat the Grand Canyon has to offer. (4.5-hour drive)
There’s never been a better time to go see all that Vegas has to offer; not only as a resort destination, but as a staging point to several of the Southwest’s natural highlights. Flights are still cheap, with discount carriers like Southwest and JetBlue, and off-peak hotels are dirt cheap.
Go get your sin-free Vegas on.