Staying in Vegas a few extra days? There’s a lot to do in this town, and its worth flipping through any of the tourist mags or scanning the interwebs to find deals and listings of the cool stuff at casinos and pointers on which buffet is the best one this week. But a few faves, in no particular order.
* Fremont Street Experience
It boggles the mind, but we used to host our challenges on Fremont, in front of the open mouth stares of tourists from all over the world, in the 110F+/43C+ hot wind on a slanted, cobblestone track with manhole covers taped over with cardboard and the afternoon sun slanting through the dust and car exhaust to blind everyone. That’s where 20 rosters at RC came from – you needed a 10-jammer lineup for a 20 minute challenge. And most of us survived! But Fremont St is not just a home for derby nostalgia; the “good ole days” thrive in all forms on several blocks of neon old Vegas. Head to glitter gulch to see where Vegas started, and where its old strippers and gamblers end up. Walk around with a 4 foot frozen cocktail, get your pockets picked by a pro (if you’re not careful), take a photo with KISS or a frightening giant baby (among other people in weird and fragrant costumes), watch the world’s largest TV (several city blocks in the dome overhead), see cover bands – and their incredibly enthusiastic fans, and decide not to wait two hours to zip line 2 blocks. Drink on the street and heckle the people that did wait. Buy the stupidest souvenirs ever – for 99c. Fave spots include the Binion’s Sport Book and – well, just the whole place. When you’ve had enough, walk to the East end and continue another block, or head North a block down the neon alley for hipster spots like Beauty Bar and lot more. http://fremontstreetexperience.com/
* Neon Boneyard
Just North of Fremont Street is the Neon Boneyard Park, formerly just a shitheap where they dumped old signs, now a tourist attraction that’s still really cool. We haven’t been *inside* (there is an entry fee and they were about to close when we got there recently) since it was just a barbed wire fenced storage lot, but now they have the stories of the signs, too, and guided tours. We enjoyed the new gift shop, and what we could see through the fence. You can also check out a bunch of restored neon signs all over the city with their Neon Tour Map, which would be a FANTASTIC roller skate tour of downtown for the not faint-of-heart.
* KISS Mini Golf
A blatant money suck – but if you’re a KISS fan, you won’t care (and let’s face it, you’re probably used to it). Exactly what it sounds like: Neon KISS themed rock’n’roll mini golf.
* The Fruit Loop
A weird little triangle of one way streets with a handful of gay bars plus a leather store, a Tom of Finland-ish “book” store and the World Famous Double Down, a punk rock bar with a fantastic juke box. The gay bars have drag shows, each with their own personality – our fave is the (mostly) unattractive but spit-your-drink-out funny ladies at FreeZone – others feature Drag Race supervixens, and the bars range from true Vegas trash that will remind you why you outlawed smoking in bars everywhere else – to LA-style classy. Gypsy hosts (hosted?) the only gay Goth dance night we have ever known. Piranha actually does have a giant tank of piranhas and is nice for an early cocktail, before it gets packed; this is where the Drag Race ladies tend to do shows. We like to start at Double Down and ultimately end up at FreeZone; a bar that truly seems to welcome the L, B, G & T (and straight folks) equally, plus it has a pole in the center of the dance floor that you’re welcome to try out yourself. The entire Fruit Loop has one parking space for every 100 or so people and you’re gonna drink a lot, so take a cab to Swenson and Naples and start at the Double Down.
* Ellis Island Casino – well after midnight, especially on a weeknight
From the outside, you’d never know this standard, somewhat flea-bitten off strip-casino was anything special. But after hours on a good night, their lounge is a dark velvet locals hideaway, with the stiffest of cocktails and heart-rending occasionally truly awesome karaoke singing that one can only speculate is where unattractive but incredibly talented singers wind up. Take it from a karaoke hater, there is frequently more talent than you can shake a stick at here, if you get lucky while you’re waiting for a seat in their cafe and a shot at the late night steak & eggs specials. Join their Players Club and you might get a free meal. Ellis Island, 4178 Koval Ln – a short cab ride from the Fruit Loop. You don’t really want to look at their website – its boring.
* Red Rocks
When you have had a full dose of the gritty urban fantastica of the Las Vegas strip, just 20 minutes from downtown is – NATURE. Super accessible, seriously beautiful mountains that will knock your socks off, especially if you’re new to the desert. Bring a hat, sunscreen and water (consider a white long sleeve shirt in the summer), and drive the 13-mile scenic loop, stopping where you fancy to take selfies with gorgeous stripey mountains – or hike & climb in them. The loop costs a couple bucks per car ($7 maybe?). There are restrooms, but no food, water or other real services. Find your way to Charleston Blvd and head West.
Seven Magic Mountains & Ivanpah Solar Facility
(Ivanpah Valley just past )
In dusty patch of desert ten miles outside of Las Vegas en route to Los Angeles, the 30-foot-tall “Seven Magic Mountains” tower against the horizon. These neon totems are a public art installation by Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone, and they’re in Ivanpah Valley, 30 minutes this side of the California border, where you can’t miss Google’s super futuristic Ivanpah Solar Power Facility, both just off the 15 freeway on the way to LA.
Thunder Mountain Monument
(Imlay, Nevada – Waaay North)
If you’re interested in seeing 7 hours of gorgeous desert and mountains with plenty of nuclear testing grounds-level weirdness along the way, consider the long route to Salt Lake City (and Utah’s famous canyons) or Sacramento (via Death Valley, Yosemite from the backside & the Sierra National Forest). Really, Thunder Mountain is an excuse for an amazing road trip; the journey more than the destination, you understand. But the Monument is pretty cool and weird. WWII vet and police officer Frank Van Zant moved to the middle of the desert, renamed himself “Chief Rolling Thunder” and then using sand, scrap metal, cement, cars and everything else the desert sort of preserves – he created a house, hostel and massive sculpture park. Read more about it.
Find lots more weird Nevada (and everywhere else) on Atlas Obscura.
- Fremont St photo c. 2006 Robert Folliard
- Ivanna & KISS by Trish the Dish
- Neon Boneyard photo by Shawn Sanders
- KISS Mini golf from their site
- Calm down, that’s just a google map
- Karaoke guy from Ellis Island’s site
- Red Rocks photo c. 2013 Ivanna S. Pankin
- Seven Magic Mountains by Yelp, not credited
- Ivanpah from google maps
- Thunder Mountain by Terrie Schweitzer