Where to Begin with First-Time Vegas Visitors?

It's impossible to pick just one place, and you don't have to start on the Strip

Photo by Andrew Sea James

Photo by Andrew Sea James

What’s the short list of places you’d take first-time Vegas visitors?

That’s like asking, “What is your favorite restaurant?” There are so many variables that it’s hard to pin down a “best” of anything in our dynamic city (not that we don’t try). In any case, I try to give my visitors a taste of the Las Vegas they are expecting, as well as the one they wouldn’t.

For a classic Vegas experience, Downtown is obvious. An afternoon at the Neon Museum and/or the Mob Museum is a great jumping-off point for an evening either gambling on Fremont proper or drinking on Fremont East. (I’d pencil in a drive by The Smith Center, just to make a point.) Dinner at Piero’s followed by cocktails at the Peppermill is another old-school suggestion; there are, sadly, few places remaining that originate in old Vegas but still deliver on its modern expectations like these two.

I also like to expose visitors to our unexpectedly beautiful natural environment. While this can point in a lot of directions, it often means a jaunt to Red Rock Canyon, with a stop at Spring Mountain Ranch State Park. Formerly owned by casino magnate Howard Hughes, the ranch ties into the Las Vegas they know but exposes to them a side they likely didn’t: the outdoors!

Vegas nostalgia, however, is a relatively recent phenomenon, and our city certainly wasn’t built on it. That makes a stop at CityCenter an absolute must-do. Why? It never fails to impress me, and I’m a jaded native. Yep, the gambling-meets-dining-and-shopping thing has been done here before, but never when juxtaposed with quality outdoor spaces, impressive art installations and international-stature architecture.

Here, the cliché “It’s like I’m not in Vegas” sentiment rubs up against the reality of how perfectly Vegas it all is. I let others try to figure out whether it’s a success or failure, and simply enjoy what boundless ambition (and $9 billion) has brought us.

That leaves only one thing—a Strip show—and only one remains from the old school: Jubilee! All showgirls and headdresses and impressive stage sets, this is the Vegas our virgin visitors have been dreaming about, and Bally’s is the last place to see it. (If they insist on Cirque, Love is all they need.) After that, they are on their own. After all, part of the fun of traveling is discovery. Besides, I have work to do. I live here, ya know.