I like Las Vegas as much as the next person, but not necessarily for the reasons you might think. Las Vegas, Nevada is one of those few places in the world that nearly everyone wants to visit at least once in their lives. It’s a bucket list destination and spending a week or so enjoying everything that the city has to offer is how many people relax and enjoy their time off. While that’s fine, there’s a lot more to both the city and the surrounding region than buffets and roulette tables. The region is one that is rich in natural as well as cultural beauty, so when planning your own visit be sure to add in experiences that you won’t soon forget, even leaving the city a couple of times to witness the dramatic beauty of Nevada for yourself. I’m partnering this year with Marriott International to share some of my favorite spots to visit around the U.S., including the always fascinating city of Las Vegas.
I recently visited Las Vegas as an overnight stop en route to Southern California and while my time in town was brief, there was one place I knew I wanted to visit – the Neon Museum. I had missed visiting on previous visits and I was determined not to let that happen again. Booking my tickets online weeks before arriving, I was excited to finally visit this quirky museum about which I had heard so much. Created in 1996, the Neon Museum is a non-profit dedicated to collecting and preserving iconic Las Vegas signs for both educational and enjoyment purposes. The museum’s most popular feature is its Boneyard, home to some of the city’s most important neon signs from a not-so-distant past. In danger of being lost forever, the museum has thankfully saved these colorful pop culture icons and today anyone can spend an hour visiting the collection. The Boneyard is also a mobile photographer’s dream and so today I want to share some of my favorite images from my self-guided tour of the Neon Museum in Las Vegas.
National Atomic Testing Museum
Since 2011, the National Atomic Testing Museum – located just east of The Strip – has been a national museum affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution, making this small site one of just 37 national museums in the country. The extremely well curated exhibits cover the history of the nuclear age, from the first test at the Nevada Test Site through to the modern era. It’s informative, interactive and incredibly engaging and I’m really happy that I spent some time visiting. It’s a place that frankly is easy to drive by, but I think this should be near the top of every visitor’s to-do list. In addition to their main exhibits, they also host special collections, including one I toured all about Area 51. The exhibit was the perfect introduction to better understanding not only the history of this military installation, but the cultural impact that the belief in aliens has had on our country and the world. It’s an interesting, quirky place and a lot of fun to discover.
Wayne Newton’s Home: Casa de Shenandoah
For many, Wayne Newton is the epitome of old Vegas, and now that he has opened up his mansion and estate to the public, anyone can see what this lavish lifestyle is like in person. The mansion was built in the 1970s and is the centerpiece of what is now a 55-acre estate that includes 8 homes, 2 barns, 60 horse stalls, 3 arenas and a plane. At $50 million, it’s also one of the country’s priciest celebrity retreats and touring this opulent compound is a rare opportunity to look at how the other half truly lives. It’s hard not to be impressed walking up to the main house itself. Immaculately manicured lawns and gardens lead guests through the massive main doors of the house, and believe it or not but “Danke Schoen” is pumped through an outside speaker system, just to add to the effect of entering the sanctuary of Mr. Las Vegas himself. Walking through those sparkly front doors – Baccarat crystal is everywhere throughout the house – that sense of awe and wonder was everything I had hoped for and more. The tour is campy and fun, but it’s also educational and active – which I didn’t expect. It’s a great way to spend a couple of hours and to get outside and enjoy the sunny Vegas weather.
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area
A very easy drive from Vegas, this is a great way to spend half a day or even the entire day if you’re into hiking and nature walks. The Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is just 20-minutes from Vegas and can even be seen from The Strip, which is probably why more than 2 million people visit every year. Another reason for the incredible number of visitors is thanks to the stunning scenery and how easy the site is to explore, making it an ideal daytrip. Driving up to the refuge, I kept wondering if I was in the right spot, but then I saw the massive red peaks and knew that I had arrived. Paying a nominal fee to enter the site and the driving loop, I was excited to see one of the country’s most iconic landscapes for myself. The site includes a 13-mile, one-way driving loop providing access to the key features of the area. With plenty of parking and scenic overlooks along the way, the road has been perfectly designed for anyone who wants to experience Nevada’s stunning natural treasures. There are also a number of hiking paths through the area, also easily accessed from the main road and while I didn’t avail myself of those options, this is a dream getaway for anyone who likes to hit the trails for a few hours. I was surprised in every way by Red Rock and can’t recommend it highly enough.
I’ve wanted to visit this engineering marvel since I was a kid and was thrilled to actually make that a reality not too long ago. Located on the border of Nevada and Arizona, Hoover Dam was built in the 1930s during the Great Depression and was an incredible effort involving thousands of workers over 5-years. It was, and is, also an amazing feat of engineering and man’s ability to work with the land to provide life where none existed before. Today the dam still provides incredible amounts of power to nearby states, most notably southern California that depends on the dam for much of its power. But it’s also a visually beautiful site, the massive dam itself has a sort of architectural allure that’s hard to ignore. Touring the power plant as well as walking the wall of the dam itself, it was hard not to be impressed by the power of this site. Just opposite the dam is another architectural marvel, the Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Bridge. Completed in 2010, the goal of the bridge was utilitarian, a bypass to draw highway traffic away from the top of the dam. In the process of solving this transportation problem, designers created what I think is one of the most beautiful bridges in the country. Soaring 900 feet above the river below, the bridge incorporates the widest concrete arch in the Western Hemisphere and is the world’s highest concrete arch bridge. But after spending the afternoon here, that incredible scale is just par for the course. Everything here, the dam, the power plant and now the bridge all seem impossibly large. Oversized structures in an oversized landscape. It’s an industrial type of beauty for sure, but one that incorporates natural elements in a perfect fusion of man made wonders and those given to us by Mother Nature.
Where to Stay
There are of course no shortage of places to stay in Las Vegas, but here are a few to consider.
On my most recent visit I stayed at the incredibly glamorous and luxurious Renaissance Las Vegas Hotel. Located just off the Strip, it’s a non-gaming hotel that offers a kind of relaxation that can be hard to find in the city. Without the omnipresent sound of slot machines, staying at this incredible property felt like a true getaway, even though everything there is to see and do in Las Vegas was just a stone’s throw away.
This luxury resort hotel on 50 acres of grounds is 8 miles from the 18-block Arts District and 9 miles from Downtown Las Vegas. Amenities include a seasonal outdoor pool with waterfalls, a fitness center with a sauna, and a spa with a steam room and treatments. There’s also a casino, a comedy club and an 18-hole golf course, plus 10 restaurants and bars, including Japanese, Italian and Mediterranean restaurants.
This lavish resort on the Lake Las Vegas waterfront is half a mile from Reflection Bay Golf Club and 19.6 miles from the Las Vegas Strip. Luxe, Moroccan-inspired rooms have flat-screen TVs and free Wi-Fi, plus coffeemakers and minifridges; some offers lake views. There’s a day spa, a fitness center and an outdoor pool with cabanas, plus 4 restaurants, a cafe and a bar.
There’s a lot to see and do in Nevada even if you don’t want to stray too far from the bright lights of Las Vegas. However, from my own personal experience, I can attest to the fact that there’s a lot more to the state than first meets the eye, you just have to get out there and explore to capture a little bit of that magic for yourself.