On my latest travel adventure, I went solo for a week-long work trip to Las Vegas. I invited Ivan to come along, but since Vegas ranks high on his least favorite places on the planet, I was on my own. Touching down at Las Vegas McCarran Airport from Los Angeles, I was on a mission to have a good time, while steering clear of the fear and loathing.
Las Vegas is objectively a terrible place. It’s one of the few cities that actively encourages people to be the worst (Ivan: and dumbest) version of themselves (e.g. the “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” marketing campaign). So, I’d say that right off the bat, it would not be one of the cities I’d choose to visit for fun. However, you’ve gotta make lemonade with lemons sometimes, right?
As I was going to be working from the Vdara for a week, I figured I’d try to find things off-strip that would be unique and enjoyable for a non-gambler and non-partier. Miracle of miracles, I managed to have a decent time! However, it didn’t really change my thoughts and feelings towards this desert, neon-lit city. It did manage to somewhat lift the boredom though.
Without further ado, here’s my top 5 of places to visit in Vegas as a non-gambling, non-partying culture geek.
This venue has pinball machines from 1950s up through the 1990s. I’d say it’s one of the few places that I really enjoyed! I spent a good two hours playing the various pinball games and reading through some of the descriptions about each machine. The museum did a decent job of adding background around the designer, style of play, and level of popularity around some of the games. The games I enjoyed were the classic Atari games, the Twilight Zone pinball machine, and the Duck Hunters game (pew pew pew).
Price: Free to watch or between $0.25 to $1.00 a game. I spent a total of $3.00 for two hours. Way better than blowing that on slots. Jennie tip: there is cash machine in the museum that will allow you to change your $20 bill for three $5 dollar bills and $5 dollars worth of quarters (instead of a million quarters)
Things to keep in mind: The Pinball Hall of Fame is off-strip and relatively close to the Ethel M Chocolate Factory and Botanical (about 10 minutes by car). And being the Type A personality that I am, I would suggest pairing the two spots together for efficiency’s sake.
Jennie's Score: 5 out of 5. I had the best time at this museum! I mean, it's a lot less stuffy than a museum because you can actually interact with the so-called installations/art here. It was the best $3.00 that I spent anywhere in Vegas that week.
A collection of old school casino and business signage. The oldest sign in the boneyard was from the early 1930’s. It read, “Cocktails, Chicken, Steak. Come and get it.” I like that. Straight to the point. It’s funny because if you look at signs nowadays it’s hard to tell what they mean or what they’re even selling. I went during the day because I didn’t want to be swayed by the restored (somewhat romanticized) neon lights. When I showed up to the museum, I didn’t want to see the glitz and glamour of Vegas, I wanted to learn more about the seedy underbelly of corruption and hedonism. And that’s exactly what I got on this boneyard tour.
- Yellow and red signs act as daytime neon. Think McDonald’s and the like. Insane, right?
- If you’re not going to be in Las Vegas anytime soon, you can still actually see one of “signs” from the museum better than in person through Google Satellite images! Check out the giant fiberglass skull sculpture from the old Treasure Island casino, before they re-branded to “TI” because their family-friendly Las Vegas marketing campaign failed miserably.
Price: $18 during the daytime; $25 in the eveningThings to keep in mind: Tours start at 8am and fill up pretty quickly in the evenings.
Jennie's Score: 4 out of 5. Had there been less people to ruin the atmosphere (alas, the paradox of tourism), I would have enjoyed myself more.
3. Vintage Slots at The D
This place was recommended to me by one of the Neon Boneyard Museum tour guides. She mentioned that she occasionally goes to the vintage slots to play Sigma Derby, an electromechanical horse racing game. So, I headed over and walked down Fremont Street. I’ve been down Fremont in the evening and I’ll tell you...casinos and businesses in the daytime without their neon allure is a real stark contrast to it’s evening facade...the streets were full of hard working hospitality and retail workers, homeless veterans, and curious tourists looking to indulge in the Vegas life a little longer. Anyway, I strolled into The D (heh), headed to the second floor and immediately found the Sigma Derby. One game took me 10 minutes because I kept spreading my bets and winning (reluctantly).
Price: Free to people watch; $0.25 a game. You don’t need a casino player’s card to play this game, thankfully. So, I got to use my own quarters, leftover from the Pinball Hall of fame.
Things to keep in mind: The D is a five minute drive (or 20 minute) walk from the Neon Boneyard Museum; it’s also in the Fremont Street in the downtown Las Vegas area.
Jennie's Score: 2 out of 5.
4. Container Park
This was recommended to me by a friend and former resident of Las Vegas. He mentioned that it was a great place to hang with the locals, eat good food, and drink. The Container Park opens around 10 or 11am so when I arrived it was early...but I got the entire place to myself. A couple of cool bars and eateries in the area if you’re looking to dive in like a local.
Price: Free to people watch; $$ for shopping, food, and cocktails.
Things to keep in mind: It’s walking distance to Fremont Street.
Jennie's Score: 4 out of 5. I’m sure I would’ve enjoyed the Oak & Ivy bar among other places in the area. Oak and Ivy at its core is an American craft whiskey cocktail bar dedicated to “classic mixology”. With more than 40 types of bourbon, ryes, and barrel-aged cocktails, it’s an interesting mix of the “old” with the new. And there are other bars within walking distance if you’re not feeling the American craft whiskey vibe.
Artist James Turrell's exclusive, total color immersive art installation is hidden in a back room of a Louis Vuitton shop on the Strip. It’s free for the public but the 20 minute tour is limited to only four people at a time. I called a week in advance and got on the waitlist. Ultimately, they ended up calling me on Friday at 4:20pm for a 4:30pm showing due to a last minute cancellation. It’s a worthwhile installation and costs you nothing but time to actually experience it. Besides, don’t you want to tell others that you went behind some Louis Vuitton shop a nearly private tour of James Turrell’s installation?
Things to keep in mind: They occasionally close early. For some reason, the Monday that I was available, their staff mentioned that the installation was closing shop at 4:30pm. Be sure to call well in advance and reserve a time to go or make sure to get your name on a waiting list if it’s booked solid already.
Jennie's Score: 4 out of 5. There are few places in Las Vegas where you can actually slow down and think. This experiences was unique and private. I'd suggest anyone looking to take a step a way from crazy Las vegas to look into this art installation.