Find Your Perfect Vegas
Everyone knows that Sin City is the perfect place to, well, sin. But the USA’s capital of excess is also an all-you-can-eat buffet of offerings, serving up something for everyone, from foodies to families, lovebirds to active types. Andrea Bennett plays matchmaker, crafting perfect itineraries for every type of travel. Jackpot!
Vegas for Party Animals
Lasers, flying bottle servers and the world’s rowdiest pool parties. Vegas is made for nightowls and the clubs are continuously upping the ante. XS, the most expensively-built nightclub in the world when it opened, recently unveiled $10 million in new bells and whistles, including massive flames that shoot over the roof of the pool deck and a huge new DJ booth surrounded by 14,000 LED lights. The 75,000 square foot, five-floor Hakkasan has one of the biggest DJ programs (Calvin Harris just signed a three-year exclusive) and party girls get doused in champagne and cake when resident DJ Steve Aoki is spinning (It’s a thing. Don’t question it.) The former Pure at Caesars has been transformed into Omnia, opening March 12, where guests will party under a domed four-story ceiling surrounded by private booths modeled after European opera houses. Inside the incredible SLS, you’ll find LiFE, the 20,000 square foot club in the old Sahara showroom, connected to Beach LiFE, its rooftop pool. A great DJ is always on, since former Swedish House Mafia member Steve Angello signed on for a two-year residency and Erick Morillo is known for appearing late – and staying ‘til the wee hours. If live music is more your thing, the 80,000 square foot Brooklyn Bowl Las Vegas serves up everything from hip hop to bluegrass acts alongside its bowling lanes. The Boulevard Pool at the Cosmopolitan is where you’ll want to be in the summer; the pool stage sits right under a 65-foot-marquee where Thursday night concerts draw as many as 3,000 revelers.
Despite the city’s reputation as the world’s den of iniquity, plenty of people bypass the club scene altogether in favor of the area’s more natural splendors. Just 17 miles west of the Strip, you’ll find the enormous Red Rock Conservation Area, 195,000-plus acres with 30 miles of hiking trails, rock climbing and mountain biking (take one of the night hikes sponsored by the Bureau of Land Management). Prefer to ride? Reserve a dune buggy through SunBuggy, and you can chase around sand dunes, hills and dry creek beds all suited up inside a steel roll cage. Why just take the tour when you can kayak Hoover Dam? A seven-hour tour run by Evolution Expeditions starts with a close encounter with one of the largest dams ever built and then cruises this section of the Colorado River, where you’ll get to old-fashioned swimming holes and geothermal hot springs. One of the best trips you can take, right from the Strip, is a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon. Book with Sundance Helicopters, which touch down 3,500 feet in the base of the canyon for a Champagne lunch, and have you back in 3 ½ hours. One of the most dramatic scene changes in Las Vegas takes place on the road 35 miles northwest of the Strip, up to an elevation of nearly 12,000 feet up Mount Charleston. It’s fun in all seasons, but a major refresher in summer, since it can shave 20 degrees or more off the sweltering desert heat. Check out Mary Jane Falls, or the dramatic 100-foot waterfall at Big Falls, and hang out on the deck at Mount Charleston Lodge after your adventure.
Whether you’re looking to reignite things with a randy weekend away or seal the deal with your special someone, the Strip can be perfect for couples. Vegas’s Eiffel Tower holds nearly as many marriage proposals on its enclosed observation deck as the original in Paris. Want to take it higher? Book a hot air balloon ride with Vegas Balloon Rides to soar 800 feet above the valley, toward Red Rock and over the Spring Mountains, landing with a Champagne toast. If you’ve gotten to the acceptance part of the proposal process and don’t feel like getting married by Elvis, one of the most glamorous ways to tie the knot is at the newly redesigned Wedding Salons at Wynn, inspired by an antique sterling silver Buccelatti box. They can arrange packages with custom Cartier wedding bands, a first dance choreographed by performers from Le Réve – The Dream, a private party inside XS Nightclub, and a rehearsal dinner at Bartolotta Ristorante Di Mare. Then have your reception on The Margaux lawn, overlooking the Wynn golf course. Too much pressure? Bliss out with the after dark couples treatments at Spa at Aria, where the co-ed area has an infinity pool on the balcony with a fantastic view of the decks below. Plan ahead to book the 16-course degustation menu at Joël Robuchon at the Mansion at MGM Grand with its cart of rare chesses, and a mignardises trolley with post-dessert delights. Or plan to stay in and order the in-room High Roller bento box at Nobu Las Vegas, which comes with lobster, Wagyu steak and sushi. Upgrade to a Nobu suite with its own sushi counter for a private meal made by a Nobu sushi chef.
Despite the occasional need to avert small eyeballs away from the city’s randier elements, Vegas really is built for families. At least one of the Strip’s best attractions is free: the choreographed Fountains of Bellagio, which dance every half hour beginning at 3 pm. Last year, the High Roller – the 550-foot-high world’s tallest Ferris wheel – opened at The Linq, the walkable district between The Linq hotel and Flamingo. It anchors a fun little neighborhood with tons of kid activities, from bowling at Brooklyn Bowl to kid-favorite Hash House a Go-Go, where the enormous food arrives in huge troughs. If your kids are animal lovers, head to the family favorite Dolphin Habitat at the Mirage, where new programs like Trainer for a Day let both kids and adults train with the friendly dolphins. Nearby, Siegfried and Roy’s Secret Garden houses endangered white tigers and lions, as well as some of the rarest leopards and other big cats in the world. One of the best new features in the growing Downtown area is the massive Discovery Children’s Museum, full of interactive exhibits like Patent Pending, where inventors can create contraptions to withstand an earthquake, and a 70-foot, 13-level tower with slides and climbing tubes. The largest indoor theme park in America, Adventuredome at Circus Circus, retains the cotton candy and funnel cake smell of yesteryear, but now has rides like El Loco – in which riders experience a negative 1.5 “vertical-G” when they climb 70 feet, then drop over and under backward. Littler visitors, and those who prefer to avoid g-forces, can stick to one of the many tamer rides.
Some of the most indulgent – and definitely the biggest – spas are in Las Vegas. Of course, spas change nearly as quickly as other Strip venues, and there’s always a new treatment to try. Some of the best tap into ancient tradition, such as the new Moroccan Journey at Sahra Hammam & Spa in the Cosmopolitan, where you’ll lie on a massive, heated stone, get scrubbed with volcanic soap and covered in rhassoul clay. Unlike more businesslike hammams in Morocco or Turkey, this one also includes a bamboo scrub and massage and a pure honey coating before a spa soak and another massage. The newest spa on the Strip, Ciel Spa at SLS Las Vegas, is intimate – drawing its inspiration from the glam remake of the old Sahara property, and bedecked with crystal chandeliers and gilded mirrors with all-white interiors. Look for decadent treatments with natural ingredients like fruit enzyme body peels, coconut scrubs and lime oil massages. Similarly, the Bathhouse at Delano Las Vegas uses Vegas’s indigenous plants in treatments like the Cactus and Desert Lily Firming body treatment, designed to combat the drying and toxic effects of winter (and your own self-indulgence). Don’t think that spas on the Strip are all geared to the ladies: plenty have fantastic men-only treatments. For instance, at The Salon at the Mirage, you can pick from among four whiskeys served at the salon’s in-house bar to sip during your old-school hot lather shave.
Herding boozed up, penis hat wearing bachelorettes around is no one’s idea of a good time (unless you’re there with a bachelor party). So leave the party planning to someone else with one of Vegas’s party packages. If it’s nightclubs you’re after, TAO Nightclub and Beach and Marquee Nightclub and Dayclub are two that do it well. TAO will arrange dinner at TAO Asian Bistro and then accompany your passage to TAO Nightclub (or Beach in summer) minimizing your time in line. It even has packages that include limo transport, hair and makeup, and a cake at your table. Marquee teams up with Rent the Runway to provide clothes; ERA by Ciara for in-room makeup; and local bakery Gimme Some Sugar to place cupcakes on your club VIP table. You’ll even get a Grand Cabana at the dayclub, and hour of open bar and VIP entry to the nightclub. It’s worth springing for the more expensive, line-skipping packages, particularly if you’re there for a bachelor party. For those who aren’t into the club scene – or need to recharge after a rough night – Canyon Ranch SpaClub at the Venetian has some of the best group facilities, and you can join your friends for everything from fitness classes to a climb on the 40-foot climbing wall. Adventurous types will love Exotics Racing, which lets you race rare automobiles like the Ferrari 430 Scuderia and Lamborghini Aventador around the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Foodies will love the interactive culinary classes at the Bellagio, where you and your friends will prepare a three-course meal, paired with wines.
Centerpiece of the Atomic Age, home base for the Rat Pack, backdrop for serious mob drama and, of course, beloved Elvis hangout, Vegas is rich in throwback charms. The Neon Museum’s outdoor boneyard is the final resting place of 150 massive signs dating from the 1930s. Check out the Mob Museum for a fascinating spin through the city’s place in organized crime history. It’s housed in the former federal courthouse where the 1950 Kefauver Hearings on Organized Crime were held, and even holds a piece of the bullet-ridden wall from the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. Don’t pass up your opportunity to virtually fire a Tommy gun. More of a science buff? The Smithsonian-affiliated National Atomic Testing Museum covers the atomic movement at the Nevada Test Site, only 65 miles out of town. In fact, those who stood on the roof of what is now the Atomic Liquors Lounge – the oldest freestanding bar in Las Vegas – could see the mushroom clouds billow from the site. Visit today for one of its atomic-themed cocktails and a jaunt through an earlier era. It’s Downtown, the epicenter of the Vegas of yesteryear and now the central artery for the city's hipster scene.
Las Vegas has become a four-mile-long buffet of retail, since this city inspires people to leave their good sense at home and fling their cash around. One popular handbag retailer has imposed a limit on the number of products available to a single shopper in the interest of keeping the store stocked. Some of the most exclusive shopping experiences can be found at the Shops at Crystals in CityCenter, like in the private rooms at Van Cleef & Arpels and Louis Vuitton, where there lounges for celeb families to kick back in while the spending happens. Similarly, the Esplanades at Wynn and Encore hold every high-end you can imagine, from Chanel (there are two) to the first Givenchy in the US to Oscar de la Renta, Dior and Alexander McQueen. Or you can pick up a little something to drive home in from the Penske/Wynn Ferrari-Maserati showroom, the state’s only authorized Ferrari dealership. Fashion Show Mall, right across the street, is more accessible, and anchored by Saks, Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom, and is expanding this year. Both the Forum Shops at Caesars and the Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian are imagineered to make you feel as if you’re walking or dining outside under trompe l’oeil skies, and they’re equally fun. Go to the Palazzo side of the Grand Canal Shoppes and you’ll find Bauman Rare Books, which carries tomes from as far back as the 15th century.
There is only one sure bet in Vegas—that there will always be a new restaurant or 12 to try. Some of the year’s best hits include Carson Kitchen, which occupies a former flophouse downtown and is home to addictively homey dishes by Kerry Simon, nicknamed the “Rock ‘n Roll Chef” by Rolling Stone. True to the reputation, the 60-seat room is frequented by rock royalty, who come for the addictively crispy fried chicken skins with smoked honey to glazed donut bread pudding soaked in three-rum caramel with vanilla crème anglaise. Spanish superchef José Andrés is no stranger to the Strip (his Vegas restaurants include Jaleo and the notoriously difficult-to-obtain table at é by José Andrés and China Poblano). His new Bazaar Meat in SLS is an ode to Iberico ham, with flaming grills right in the center and major dishes – like an entire suckling pig for the table. Daniel Boulud’s DB Brasserie in the Venetian successfully transformed a formerly dark, subterranean restaurant into a seemingly skylit space, the perfect backdrop for Boulud’s impeccable French food. Another brasserie hit the scene at the beginning of 2015: Michael Mina’s beautiful new Bardot Brasserie in Aria takes classic French fare – onion soup, duck a l’orange, steak frites – and elevates it so flawlessly, you’ll wonder why you bothered with all the other high-concept fare on the Strip. For instance: onion soup bubbles with aged Gruyere covered in Perigord truffles and studded with braised oxtail. Not feeling so formal? Head to the recently-opened Yardbird Southern Table & Bar in Venetian, a casually fun Southern concept (think chicken and waffles and green tomato BLTs), with some Vegas exclusives, including its 18 oz. Niman Ranch Tomahawk Porkchop. Bon appetit.