Despite the setbacks of 2020, Las Vegas is a city that can’t sit still. Nevada remains one of America’s fastest-growing states, and an influx of creative newcomers is reshaping the city with a host of new galleries, bars, and restaurants. The opening of downtown’s Circa Resort & Casino late last year will be followed by the highly anticipated Virgin Hotels Las Vegas this spring, and the Santa Fe–based arts collective Meow Wolf expanded into Vegas with a new experience, Omega Mart, in February. Suffice to say, there’s a great deal to get excited about. Here’s how to make the most of a long weekend in still-booming Sin City.
Wake up at the NoMad Las Vegas, a hotel-within-a-hotel at the Park MGM. With its elegant dark woods and jewel-toned velvet—a tasteful take on the glitz the city is known for—it’s one of the Strip’s newest stays.
Your first day in town is dedicated to off-Strip exploration though: Take a 10-minute cab ride to downtown’s Arts District, and begin by fueling up with a café con leche and a short-rib-topped arepa benedict on the patio at Makers & Finders. Walk a few blocks north to the Arts Factory, a converted warehouse filled with galleries, boutiques, and studios where you can buy works by local artists, such as skater-slash-painter David A. Soto. Back on Main Street, browse vintage shops, including Retro Vegas for midcentury-modern furniture and Modern Mantiques for old signs and phonographs.
For lunch, hail a cab to Vegas Test Kitchen, where rotating chefs host pop-ups of new concepts such as Bulgarian pastries and sourdough pizza. Next, dive into the long history of American organized crime at the Mob Museum. You’ll need a timed-entry ticket, and a deluxe or premier pass can get you access to an interactive forensic crime lab or a Prohibition distillery tour.
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to return to the Strip to find a decadent dinner. For proof, splurge on the seven-course tasting menu at Chinatown’s Partage, where chef Yuri Szarzewski (who has cooked at Michelin-starred restaurants across France) puts modern twists on French classics, with dishes like mahi-mahi confit and seared foie gras with pineapple carpaccio.
Book a timed-entry ticket for the Neon Museum to learn the history of the city’s rise as an American entertainment capital through its collection of 200-plus restored neon signs. Cap the night off with a rum-and-pineapple Tiki Bandit at Frankie’s Tiki Room, a perfectly kitschy tropical escape out in the desert.
No trip to Vegas is complete without a visit to the Hoover Dam, the awe-inspiring feat of Depression-era engineering that harnessed the power of the Colorado River. On the 30-minute drive from Vegas, make a pitstop at Henderson’s Weiss Deli for cult-favorite breakfast sandwiches such as The Best, a combo of corned beef hash, eggs, and cheese.
While tours of the dam are currently on hold, you can still walk across the Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge—the world’s tallest concrete arch bridge at 880 feet—for spectacular views of the dam and the Black Canyon below. Nearby, take a stroll on the Historic Railroad Trail, which skirts the shores of the artificial Lake Mead and then cuts through a series of tunnels carved into the mountainside.
Refuel in Boulder City with some carne asada and al pastor at BC Dam Tacos, named the city’s best food truck by the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Then drive west across the valley to Red Rock Canyon, a National Conservation Area covering more than 195,000 acres within the Mojave Desert (it currently requires reservations for timed entry). On scorching desert days, you can stay in your car and tackle the park’s 13-mile scenic drive with your AC on high. But to really experience the canyon, we suggest setting out on one of its 26 hiking trails. The 2.2-mile Calico Tanks Trail passes through dramatic sandstone formations, where keen-eyed hikers might spot red racer snakes and chukars, plump members of the pheasant family.
Just south of the canyon, Vietnamese imperial rolls and braised lamb belly await at the Black Sheep. It will only take a few bites to see how chef Jamie Tran earned a spot on Top Chef.
Today is all about experiencing the sights, sounds, and flavors of the Strip—in short, what makes Vegas, Vegas. Start by savoring crepes or an omelet al fresco at Mon Ami Gabi, a bistro at the Paris Hotel & Casino with views of the Bellagio Fountains across the street. After breakfast, stop into the 14,000-square-foot Bellagio Conservatory & Botanical Gardens to see what the team of 120 horticulturists has planted for the season; spring often brings cherry blossoms, tulips, and calla lilies.
The best way to take in the sensory overload that is the Strip itself is, ultimately, from above. Walk 15 minutes to the Linq Hotel for a ride on the 550-foot High Roller Observation Wheel—the world’s tallest at 107 feet higher than the London Eye. Back on solid ground, head to lunch at The Cosmopolitan’s Block 16 Urban Food Hall, which features outposts of beloved restaurants from around the country, such as Portland, Oregon, sandwich shop Lardo. Opening later this spring, David Chang’s Bāng Bar will specialize in Korean bāng bread and spit-roasted meats.
While the Strip is perhaps best known for the performing arts, the visual arts are well represented in the impressive collection at the Aria Resort & Casino. Download a guide from its website to scope out works by contemporary artists including Maya Lin, Jenny Holzer, and James Turrell.
You’ve earned some relaxation in the sun, and as a guest at the NoMad, you have access to the Park MGM’s three pools—ideal spots for lounging on a daybed with a mojito. Freshen up before dinner at the Flamingo’s Bugsy & Meyers Steakhouse, where old-school Vegas decadence gets a new-school twist in the form of 60-day dry-aged ribeyes and custom cocktails from the Old Fashioned cart.
While shows are slowly starting to make their return (you can check with venues and the city’s website for updates), the Wynn’s outdoor Lake of Dreams has been filling the void since it reopened in the fall, with a refresh by High School Musical director Kenny Ortega. This trippy combination of giant puppets and 5,500 lights set against a 90-foot waterfall definitely checks the box for an only-in-Vegas experience.
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