Vegas is synonymous with blackjack, scantily clad women, and nights out clubbing that evoke the phrase “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” A go-to destination for the girlfriend getaway and the ultimate bachelor party, it’s easy to forget (or not even discover) that there’s more to Sin City than gaming tables, drinking, and neon. We’ve put together this non-gamblers guide to Las Vegas with some of our favorite things to on and off The Strip:
ExperienceFly an open cockpit bi-plane over Hoover Dam
If you think a spin of the roulette wheel is a thrill, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet! Just wait until you pilot either an open cockpit bi-plane and do barrel rolls and loops over Hoover Dam. You may not forget losing than $100 you placed on black anytime soon, but you’ll definitely remember your flight with Sky Combat Ace. And let’s face it, it’s a way better story to tell to all your friends back home. Not everything that happens in Vegas has to stay in Vegas.
ExperienceOperate an excavator
Do you remember when you used to play with toy bulldozers and excavators in your sandbox as a kid? Well, a company in Las Vegas has embraced the saying that Vegas is just a huge sandbox for adults and let’s you (so long as you’re not inebriated) get behind the controls of real life bulldozers and excavators. I chose the excavator hoping I might get famous for digging up Jimmy Hoffa. No such luck with finding the famous missing mobster, but I did school the guys in a game of excavator basketball.
ExperienceCheck out the Downtown art scene
As a Las Vegas resident in the early 2000s, I would have told you to avoid Downtown Las Vegas like the plague. The only reason you had to go down there was if you were getting a marriage license from the courthouse. But like much of Las Vegas, Downtown has re-invented itself and is now a cool mix of eclectic one-of-a-kind stores, galleries, bars, and restaurants.
First Friday art festivals now draw some 20,000 people every month. But even if you aren’t in Vegas on the first Friday of the month, you can still head downtown to check out the art scene. It’s officially called 18b, which referred to the original 18 blocks that made up the arts district. It’s now expanded far beyond those 18 blocks.
ExperienceZipline over Freemont Street
The art scene is cool and hip, but while you’re downtown you can be a little daring too. Head over to Freemont Street Experience to check out some of Las Vegas’ classic hotels still brandishing their neon signs, watch the light show, and soar over all the pedestrians below from 77 feet high on Freemont Street’s zipline. Just look for the 12-story tall slot machine, called SlotZilla, where you can get harnessed up for your 850 feet long zipline. And be sure to smile, because photographers are snapping away for your keepsake photo (and some less daring tourists below are probably snapping your photo too).
ExperienceSee a Broadway hit
Las Vegas theater used to mean risqué productions that might even make the Moulin Rouge crowd blush. But these days Las Vegas theater is taken seriously and you can find top-shelf musicals off and on The Strip. The Smith Center for Performing Arts is located Downtown and hosts an impressive Broadway line-up each season.
Though, you don’t have to head Downtown; Paris Las Vegas packs musical lovers in each night for their showing of Jersey Boys. Telling the rags to riches story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, the music will have your toes tapping and wanting to sing along to songs like Sherry and Big Girls Don’t Cry.
Las Vegas’ many pools are a whole scene, but if you’re up for good ‘ol fashioned fun in the sun head to Wet’n’Wild. Once located right on The Strip, the water park closed back in 2004 and re-opened in Spring Valley in 2013 with bigger and better slides.
Thrill seekers will want to try out the Tornado, a funnel slide that catapults you through a 45-foot wide funnel. Though my favorite slide was the Rattler, the first of its kind in North America. It sends multi-person tubes down over 360 feet through twists and turns and some “midnight” enclosed tunnels before launching you and your friends out into the splash pool.
You can still get a tan lazing on tubes as you float along the Lazy River or ride the waves in the 400,000 gallon wave pool. There’s plenty of shaded areas to escape the sun and Wet’n’Wild even provides free sunscreen at stations around the park.
ExperienceTake the dam tour
Named after Herbert Hoover, the US’ 31st president, Hoover Dam is said to be an engineering marvel. It supplies water to Nevada, California, and Arizona and is visited by more than a million visitors each year. Even Clark Griswold took the Dam Tour in Vegas Vacation and though the jokes are just as bad and cheesy as in the movie, it’s fascinating to see the inner workings of the dam 530 deep in Black Canyon.
The tour starts with a short film in the visitor center before an elevator whisks you deep into the canyon. Once below, the guided tour takes you to a viewing platform where you can observe one of the four huge pipes that transports 90,000 gallons of water every second from Lake Mead to the generators. You’ll also get to check out the generators and some views tourists that only traipse over the top of Hoover Dam ever see.
ExperienceHike at sunset
Want a Vegas view that few get to see? Go for a hike up Frenchman mountain for the sunset. Frenchman mountain is also referred to locally as Sunrise mountain in Northeast Las Vegas, although Sunrise mountain is actually the shorter adjacent mountain. The hike starts just right off of Lake Mead Blvd 8.5 miles east of I-15. From the parking area you will see a gravel road heading up the mountain. It will climb steeply for 1600′ to the summit, but you also lose 300′ in between the saddle and peak so just over the 1.5 miles to the summit you gain almost 2000′ which makes it a heck of a workout. My advice is to bring a headlamp and stay for the sunset from the peak. Watching Las Vegas transform and turn on the lights at night is a sight to see. Be careful on the way down as it is quite steep, but still just a gravel road. While parking is fairily safe at the trailhead be sure not to leave any valuables in site in your car.