5 great things to do in Las Vegas besides gamble
Wondering what to do in Vegas?
Are there things to do in Las Vegas besides gamble? Glad you asked. Las Vegas is not a destination I would normally seek out. I’m not a gambler and the big crowds and casino chaos is a bit much. But we all find ourselves in Vegas; be it for a convention, wedding or traveling with friends who enjoy the city. I’ve been four times and recommend these five great things to do in Las Vegas besides gamble.
No doubt, there is lots to love about Vegas and it’s the favorite destination of many. I’m not bashing it. The food and shows are tops in the world. The themed Vegas properties are like nothing else I’ve ever seen. Where else can you visit ancient Rome, Paris, New York and Venice all in one day? I’ll leave these favorites lists to someone else, because that topic is well covered.
Here’s my advice on things to do in Las Vegas besides gamble, especially if you prefer to minimize the crowds and casinos:
What to do in Vegas besides gamble? Gamble a wee bit
I know, I just confessed to not being a gambler. But I’ve had two fun experiences that classify as unique things to do in Vegas. Once we found ourselves in New York, New York with B’s family on a Sunday morning with the casino so quiet you could hear crickets (and pinball machines). We asked a bored looking blackjack dealer if he would take in four dudes who knew frightening little about the game. He graciously agreed. For a $100 “investment” each, we played for 2.5 hours ($5 per hand), enjoyed free adult beverages and learned a LOT about the strategy of blackjack. At the end, two of us were broke and two were up nicely. To keep it family-friendly, we split the money and all ended up with close to our original $100.
The second time gambling in Las Vegas it was roulette at $1 per chip. Roulette is NOT a game of skill, rather a game of luck. If you’re a newbie, it’s easy to learn the different ways to wager. I plunked down $50 and enjoyed two hours of fun and free drinks, including three 35:1 payouts (the highest). Or maybe the slot machine is your game. Just set a reasonable budget and treat it as an entertainment expense — like an evening or drinks or a show back home.
What to do in Vegas besides gamble? Check out the Las Vegas Strip before the crowds arrive
Las Vegas Blvd. – the famous Las Vegas Strip – dazzles at night with dancing water fountains, renegade pirates, volcanoes and neon lights. It’s a must do as a Vegas newbie. I’ve checked that block and now prefer The Strip by day. Much less crowded. If you go early in the day you will be shocked that you have The Strip practically to yourself. Las Vegas is a city that thrives at night and starts the day slowly. My last time there was in January. I did mornings on The Strip or nearby downtown and then headed to the nearby public lands for hiking as the day warmed up.
Wear your comfy shoes and be prepared for some walking! Google Maps says it’s five miles to walk the strip end to end. I did half The Strip one day and half the next. Allow time to explore all the themed hotel properties. That’s the fun of walking The Strip. The properties are huge. Walking the length of Caesars Palace seems to be several blocks long. I Googled Caesars when I got home and discovered it has 4,000 rooms in six towers, plus a massive convention center and 636,000-square-foot shopping mall. You can also walk to one end of The Strip and return to your start by cab, bus or monorail.
What to do in Vegas besides gamble? Get married, again, with Elvis!
I mentioned earlier that we visited Vegas with B’s family several years ago. In celebration of our 30th wedding anniversary, we renewed our vows at Graceland Wedding Chapel. Yup, that’s the same place Bon Jovi was married (I know you were wondering). They’ve been doing Elvis weddings here since 1977 and claim to be first (Las Vegas has too many Elvis weddings venues to count present day).
For $199, we had use of the wedding chapel with Elvis escorting B down the aisle and performing two songs (“Can’t Help Falling in Love” and “Love Me Tender” as I recall); a wedding renewal certificate (plus a bonus copy of Elvis and Priscilla’s wedding certificate) and photos. It was so much fun getting remarried with B’s brothers, their wives, nieces and nephews in attendance. B had Elvis sunglasses and scarves as wedding mementos for our guests. Elvis hung around after the ceremony to pose in our wedding photos.
Graceland weddings include complimentary limousine transport, so you and your guests arrive in style. The chapel is cute but everything around it is a dump, just for disclosure. And after the wedding, you’ll need to clear the chapel and celebrate in the outdoor courtyard because Graceland Wedding Chapel hosts multiple ceremonies daily from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. It’s quite the popular destination so don’t be turned off by me calling the area a dump. It’s just a contrast to the cute chapel and its grounds.
What to do in Vegas besides gamble? Visit the world’s largest collection of neon signs
Today’s Las Vegas bears little resemblance to the city’s early years. Beginning in 1990, mega resorts began crowding out the small hotels, casinos, bars and restaurants and with them, their neon signs. Luckily, The Neon Museum sprang up in 1996 with the support of public and private money and began collecting these signs that trace the history of Las Vegas. The resulting 200-plus neon sign collection is the delight of nostalgia buffs and the largest collection of neon in the world.
The signs are impressive, and many of the names familiar: Riviera, Moulin Rouge, Golden Nugget and Stardust. But what’s really impressive is the cadre of museum staff who possess a true passion for these restored signs and the history they represent. Staff have fascinating stories about each one. The museum is off The Strip, so you get a break from the crowds. It is outdoors, so dress accordingly. If I went again I would do two things differently and suggest you do the same:
- Visit the museum at night when the neon signs are lit. Signs have been meticulously restored to working condition and put on a dazzling show at night. I failed to research this in advance, and not realizing the signs were powered, stumbled in during daylight hours. It was still impressive but I missed seeing the neon as it was intended, alight against the night sky.
- Take a guided tour. I could give the same advice about most things done for the first time. While the museum staff were super helpful and informed, a guided tour would have illuminated (pun intended) many more nuggets of history and enhanced the experience. Night tours do sell out, so buy tickets in advance.
What to do in Vegas besides gamble? Explore the public lands close to Las Vegas
There are many tours from Vegas to the Grand Canyon, Bryce and Zion National Parks. Those are destinations several hours away and deserving of more than a few hours of your time. If you’re looking for something truly unique to do in Vegas, but close enough that you can fully immerse in a day, here are two I visited in January. (Be aware: this is the Mohave Desert and summer temperatures can be dangerous. Proper clothing and hydration is essential or the consequences are dire.)
Valley of Fire State Park. One hour northeast of Las Vegas is Valley of Fire State Park – 40,000 acres dominated by magnificent red sandstone formations created from sand dunes during the age of dinosaurs. Some 17 miles of scenic road wind through the park, making most major features accessible from parking lots and pull-outs. There are some short hikes that are awesome. Allow 1-2 hours each. I did Mouse’s Tank, Fire Wave (my favorite) and White Domes. The payoff of Fire Wave is the halfway point, where orange and white stripe slickrock appear in alternate bands, twisted into beautiful formations by eons of geologic forces. I waited there about 20 minutes hoping people would get off the spiral domes which dot the Fire Wave basin so I could get a lovely photo. They did not leave, so I did. Returning home, I read that the area is extremely fragile and visitors are to avoid the formations. So sad that people disrespect our public lands with their selfish behavior. Not only do they ruin the view for everyone else, they threaten the survival of these precious landmarks.
Red Rocks Canyon National Conservation Area is the best known public land close to Vegas, a mere 30 minutes east of the city and a popular playground for residents and visitors alike. A true multi-use park, Red Rock Canyon visitors experience great hiking, rock climbing, biking, horseback riding and off road vehicle areas. Its red sandstone formations give the park its name. Though formed similarly from ancient sand dunes, Red Rock is different than Valley of Fire in so many ways. I entered the park via Scenic Drive, a 14-mile, one-way drive that includes 20-plus hiking trails rated easy, moderate or strenuous. I opted to hike Calico Hills and Calico Tanks, each classified as 2 hour hikes by the park service. Photos cannot truly capture the beauty of this park.
Hope these help next time you need things to do in Las Vegas besides gamble. Valley of Fire and Red Rocks are worth adding extra days to your trip if that is an option. I visited both as an extension of a trip to nearby Death Valley National Park.