“While I was busy hating Vegas, and hiding from Vegas, a funny thing happened. I grew to love Vegas.” – J. R. Moehringer
The first time I was sent to Las Vegas, I experienced a culture shock greater than any other place I've been to on Earth (includng the summer I taught English in the countryside of Japan). All I had known prior to going was Hunter S. Thompson's "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" and the saying "What happens here, stays here"... neither made me happy about staying on the Strip. I also never gamble, or smoke, and I don't enjoy drinking - so, what else is there to do when you're in town for a conference?
Bet On Your Feet
I now think of the Las Vegas Strip as my "home away from home", I've actually lost count how many times I've been sent there for work. Most of the conferences I live illustrate for take place in the expo halls of the hotels, so I've gotten to know the Strip pretty well over the years. I have a routine while I'm there that costs me nothing (except for food), and brings no shame on me or my family! Ready to hear about it? OK! Let's go for a walk...
When you set out to walk up or down the Strip, you will notice it takes a long time to get anywhere (even getting from your room to the hotel lobby can take 20 minutes). It's VAST! Wear comfortable shoes, and expect to be detoured as you go up and down staircases, are sent into shopping centers, and can't cross the street unless you take an overpass in most cases. I look at this confounded system as a blessing because it keeps you in shape :) I recommend exploring one side of the Strip per day, but if you are up for it you can do it all in a single day.
Silent James' Trip on the Strip
1. MGM Grand - Best Food, Best NightClub, and a Giant Gold Kitty
Quality food is a scarce resource on the Strip, I've eaten at so many restaurants and in my opinion Wolfgang Punk Bar and Grill in MGM Grand has the best food. My recommendations are the Chinois Chicken Salad and the Margherita Pizza :)
Hakkasan is the hotel nightclub and it is the coolest looking one on the Strip. If you are a guy, you'll have to pass their dress code (this is standard among all the clubs on the Strip). You're prolly still wearing your fancy clothes from the conference so you'll be fine, but ditch the badge!
For me, seeing the huge MGM Lion statue in front of the hotel gives me the feeling of seeing an old friend. I always visit the gold kitty every time I go, it's such an extraordinary thing to see in person.
2. Paris Hotel - Favorite Casino
How does a non gambler judge a casino? They're all pretty similar, but Paris Hotel stands out to me just based on how strange it is. It's like a haunted house (I've always loved amusement park haunted houses), everywhere you look there's something bizarre happening. First of all, the feet of the huge Eiffel Tower actually start inside the casino and go through it's painted sky roof. The hellfire lighting casts shadows on the sky, and the carpet looks like swirly flames. You can go to the top of the Eiffel Tower and it's called the "Heights of Romance". There's a vaudeville style theatre, with huge fake trees that have icicle lighting. I'm fascinated by the people of the Strip, and this place has some of the best "people watching" opportunities in the world! The rest of the hotel has some crazy architecture as well, so make sure to explore.
3. Flamingo and Harrah's - Favorite Signs
The Strip is known for some crazy signs, I've always loved the Flamingo's light up sign.
If you want a real fright, approach the Harrah's sign from the North at night! The horrific eyes of the ghoul beckoning you in, haunt me!
4. The Venetian - Best Rooms, Best Sights
I've stayed at all the hotels on the Strip, and the Venetian has the best rooms. They are very ornate and well designed. The views are usually pretty grand. I once stayed in the "Renaissance Suite" and it was so extravagant, I felt like Bruce Wayne "I don't think I've ever been in this room before" :)
The hotel itself is exquisitely detailed, the architecture is insane with marble floors and stone columns and huge vaulted painted ceilings. There's canals and you can even take a gondola ride throughout the hotel! Where the gondola's end up is a beautiful hub for shopping, but I really just love walking through and seeing the craftsmanship of the facades and the streets. I'm always happy when the Venetian is my home base for my stay in Las Vegas!
5. The Mirage - A Volcano
The grounds of the Mirage are the interesting part of the hotel. There's a volcano and it goes off throughout the day and night. I stayed at the Venetian facing the Volcano one time and it kept going off when I was trying to sleep, so I have mixed feelings about it, but it's worth seeing.
6. Caesar's Palace - Architecture, Gardens, and the Garden of the Gods
I love walking around the grounds of Caesar's Palace, it's one of the rare places on the Strip with greenery. The architecture is beautiful and the pool area is so ridiculously elaborate! There's 6 huge pools, I love the tile work and designs. The rooms are pretty nice as well.
7. Bellagio - A Fountain
I'm not crazy about the Bellagio, but most people love the fountain show so I'm including it on this list.
8. The Cosmopolitan - 2nd Best Rooms, Best Bar, 2nd Best NightClub
I stayed on the top floor once and the view was absolutely stunning. The shower was in the middle of the room and I remember the walls were glass so you could see the vast expanse of the desert as you scrubbed up. Everything was brand new in the room, it is a very futuristic hotel.
Even if you don't drink, the Chandelier Bar is a must see. There's many floors and it's surrounded by crystals and beads from floor to ceiling. It's really quite breathtaking to see. I once did a live illustration job inside the bar, it was such a surreal and beautiful experience!
Marquee is the 2nd best nightclub on the strip, the music is more on the trance techno side which is much more danceable than any other club. The layout is very strange and it's way too cramped, but it's a really cool place.
9. Aria - Best Soundtrack
As you're walking through the convention hall, you'll hear some of the most contemporary techno remixes of 80s songs, it's really neat. Then as you walk outside, you'll be delighted and surprised to hear the same music coming out of the bushes along the street! The Strip has it's own soundtrack, and Aria's is the best!
The rooms are OK but I've always had a bad experience with the staff. So many conferences take place there, so I've stayed there a lot.
10. Excalibur - A Castle
It's pretty incredible to walk around outside Excalibur, you feel like you're in Super Mario Bros. Inside the hotel is hideous, so just storm the castle on the outside!
11. Luxor - Blade Runner Style Pyramid
Luxor is one of the most incredible sites to see on the Strip. The pyramid fires a beam of light out of the top that can be seen from space! It's honestly like living in Blade Runner, I just love it. Around the pyramid are huge Egyptian monuments and statues. I stayed in the pyramid a few times, and though the decor is odd there's something very unique and charming about the slanted glass. The view I had was incredible as well.
Viva Las Vegas!
Conference Season is coming up, I hope you found this genteel guide informative and useful as you head out to Las Vegas. Here is a high quality printable version of my map. Remember: what happens in Vegas doesn't have to stay in Vegas, please share with anyone that's looking for recommendations :)
I'm here to make sure your events are more creative and memorable this conference season! Contact me today and let's create a memory together!