Ethel M's holiday cactus garden.

How Does the Native Spend the Holidays?

The holidays can be hellidays for some, which is why many who live in Las Vegas head out of town to escape for a week or three. Many are off to the obvious beach or snow vacations, or perhaps the more stylish booking time in perennially perfect Palm Springs. But not this local. I’ve been holidaying in my hometown for as long as I can remember, with the significant exception of one recent and blissful Christmas Day I spent strolling in a T-shirt and board shorts along the sands of Laguna Beach. Blissful, I should say, until it came time to drive home … along with a few hundred thousand anxious Californians cruising to Las Vegas for New Year’s Eve. If you want to experience the true meaning of criminal frustration, try driving in stop-and-go traffic for 12 hours with only an overworked Starbucks bathroom and a Del Taco drive-thru standing between you and insanity.

Not this year. I’ll be staying in town and doing Vegas-y things, spending time with significant others, friends and the occasional family member. To jump-start my spirit, I’ll ho-ho-ho my way to the holiday-bedazzled Springs Preserve or Ethel M’s Botanical Cactus Garden. There is something very Vegas about a spindly succulent twinkling in the crisp Mojave air; it’s as if the Desert Inn’s classic neon sign has sprung to life. Once properly inspired, it’s time for festive celebrations and house-party hopping. The Bootlegger Italian Bistro is a wonderful place to find oneself part of an Old Vegas family celebration, and live music completes the vibe. Also, some of the casinos really drop a dime on decor during this time of year, from the classic Mystic Falls Winter Wonderland Park at Sam’s Town (free parking!) to Bellagio’s gorgeous, seasonally themed conservatory.

My new favorite tradition is found at CityCenter, where stylish holiday scenery combined with an epic restaurant bar crawl make for a fantastic dress-up frolic. Last year it was all about oysters and martinis at Carbone, absinthe-tinged tomfoolery at Sage (closed Dec. 21-28), and bar snacks, whiskey and the view at Mandarin Oriental. With so many great bars and restaurants in one spot, a CityCenter crawl feels very much like a night in Manhattan or Tokyo, but with the convenience of crashing in your own bed after a brief cab ride. Happy Holidays, Las Vegas.

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