Viva Las Vegas – The Ultimate Guide to LV
Sin City. Lost Wages. The Entertainment Capital of the USA. What happens in here, stays here. Well, not always….
Vegas is easily one of my favorite places. I’ve been to LV seven times in the last four years, and just returned from my most recent trip a few weeks ago, where some girlfriends and I celebrated my 26th birthday. Since Vegas has seemingly become my second home, I thought I would put together my own “Guide to Vegas” and share some stories and suggestions from all my experiences in Sin City.
There’s something for everyone in LV. Whether you go to gamble, to party, to sight-see, for the shows and concerts or to shop, you will never be bored. I’ve done a little of everything in Vegas – I’ve seen magic shows. I’ve been to Chippendales (worth it). I’ve learned how to play Blackjack and Craps. I’ve met celebrities. I’ve zip-lined over historic Downtown. I’ve been to countless pool parties and nightclubs and I’ve even come back to my hotel room to find my friend got MARRIED to a guy she’d just met THAT DAY (yes, this actually happened).
WHERE TO STAY:
I’ve stayed all over the city – my friend has a timeshare about 10 minutes off the strip, which is where we stayed during our last trip, but I usually stay on the strip and strongly recommend this to any first-timers. Depending on your price range, you can find a hotel on the strip that fits your budget.
Here’s a map of all the major hotels on the strip (blue = 5-star, yellow = 4-star, red = 3-star)
If you’re a big baller, Wynn/Encore, Bellagio, The Cosmopolitan and The Cromwell are the most stunning 5-star casino hotels on the strip. The Mandarin Oriental is also incredible, but it’s a non-gaming hotel. All of these hotels will set you back approx. $300+/night for a traditional one-king or two-queen room on a weekend. You may also choose to stay in Flagstaff hotel in Arizona where you can re-energize and realign after a long day’s travel.
While still beautiful and equally as entertaining, there are many 4-star hotels (The Palazzo, Caesar’s Palace, The Venetian, Mandalay Bay, MGM Grand, The Mirage, The Linq, New York New York, Park MGM (formerly Monte Carlo), Planet Hollywood, Paris) that are slightly more affordable. Sometimes you can find decent deals at any of these resorts, depending on the duration of your stay. Most of these hotels run $150-$250/night on weekends, and a few may dip below $100/night on weekdays.
If you know you’re not going to spend much time in your hotel room and would rather your money go towards other experiences, 3-star strip hotels are the way to go. For the price and the location, it’s hard to beat The Flamingo. It’s an older hotel; the rooms are nothing spectacular, they’re funky but comfortable and very pink, but it’s located smack-dab in the middle of all the action. If you get a room facing the strip you may even have an amazing view of the Bellagio fountain! Bally’s is also a super affordable option in a great location. I’ve personally never explored Luxor or Excalibur, but I’ve heard from others that while cheap they’re not the best bang for your buck.
I’ll let you in on a little secret: One of my favorite hotels, The Jockey Club (purple on the map), is actually really small and quite unknown – it’s tucked between the Cosmopolitan and The Bellagio. While The Jockey Club doesn’t have a casino or really any tourist attractions, the rooms are all suites with fully-equipped kitchens and open living areas and are a fraction of the price of any surrounding strip hotels. They also don’t charge a ridiculous “resort fee” like all the big hotels, but you get full-access to all of the Cosmopolitan’s amenities, like their gorgeous pool. I’ve stayed here several times, and will definitely stay again in the future.
Walking: The Las Vegas Strip is longer and much more exhausting than it looks on a map. From the iconic Welcome to Las Vegas sign to The Stratosphere, it’s a 5-mile walk. But it’s not a direct walk – you’ll go up and down escalators and stairs, in and out of buildings, and get distracted along the way by semi-talented street performers and scantily-clad showgirls who may trick you out of $20 for a picture. I’ve walked most of the length of the strip, and you’ll want to nap afterwards. But walking to a neighboring casino or hotel is so convenient when you stay on-strip
Vehicles: Again, if you’re ballin’ out, there are luxury SUVs and limousines outside of almost every hotel and casino anxiously waiting to take your money…. I mean, waiting to take you to and from your destination. I’ve done this a few times. It’s kind of a bucket-list thing to take a limo ride down the Las Vegas strip, while sipping champagne and yelling out of the sunroof. A limo ride down the strip may cost $100, so if you’re with a large group perhaps it’s worth it.
How do I usually get around? UBER/LYFT. I can’t say that enough. Sure, taxi’s in LV are abundant, but the rates are absurd since you pay by time, not mileage, and they charge an extra fee if you don’t pay with cash. Uber/Lyft is extremely affordable, $7-10/ride from one end of the strip to the other. It would cost you easily $20+ in a taxi. Uber/Lyft drivers are also nicer, from my experience.
Airport: McCarran International is conveniently located 2-3 miles away from the LV strip. As I just mentioned, I strongly recommend Uber/Lyft rides to and from the airport. Taxis will cost you around $30-$35, because traffic getting to the strip is always heavy. An Uber/Lyft might be $15-$20 tops.
Okay, now on to the fun stuff… WHAT TO DO:
Shopping: If you travel to Vegas to shop, you will be in heaven – LV is home to some of the best shopping in the world. There’s a designer shop around every corner, tons of local boutiques, pawn shops and gift shops all up and down the strip. You could easily spend an entire day, and your entire savings, at the two largest malls on the strip: Fashion Show Mall, across from the Wynn, and Miracle Mile Shops, attached to Planet Hollywood.
Shows: Whether you’re into magic, music, naked people, comedy, acrobatics, large productions or small intimate performances, you can find a show that fits your preferences. I’ve only seen a small handful of shows, but a can’t-miss is any of the Cirque de Soleil performances. They’re spectacular and will leave you in a state of awe. See the options here. Vegas is also home to rotating resident performers, like Celine Dion and Jennifer Lopez. This means they have shows that run for months at a time, so it’s easy to score tickets to one of their shows. Britney Spears had an extremely popular residency at Planet Hollywood until recently.
It’s fairly easy to score tickets to the show of your choice. Purchasing online is the easiest way. There are also kiosks scattered around the strip that sell same-day discounted tickets and sometimes you can get amazing deals if there are tickets still available for your desired show. For example: Chippendales usually costs $60+, but we bought same-day tickets once for about $40 each. You can try to barter with the street vendors too.
Free shows: if you don’t want to spend much money or time, here’s a few free shows that won’t break the bank and will hold your short attention span:
- Fountains at Bellagio – one of the most picturesque & touristy spots on the strip. The fountain show occurs every 15 minutes, and lasts about three. It’s a can’t-miss.
- The Mirage Volcano – explosions happen nightly at 8 & 9pm
- Flamingo Wildlife Habitat at The Flamingo – I’m bias, flamingos are my favorite bird, so I enjoy visiting the habitat and snapping some pictures of my feathered friends.
Attractions: I feel like I’m repeating myself, but there are one-of-a-kind attractions around every corner. Here are a few of my favorites:
- The Gondola Rides at The Venetian – free to watch, about $50 per person to ride.
- High Roller at The Linq – this is the largest ferris wheel in the world, and the view from the top is unmatched. Go during Happy Hour for an open bar while you ride. Prices vary from $30-$50. (View pictured below).
- Slotzilla Zipline over Downtown Fremont Street – not on the strip, but worth the venture to historic downtown. $20-40/ride
- The Big Apple Roller Coaster at New York New York – I did this when I was 9-years old, and LOVED it. I wouldn’t do it now, because my motion sickness has become worse with age, but I highly recommend it if you’re fearless. $15 for the ride of your life.
- The Welcome to Las Vegas sign – Duh. And it’s free.
DAY POOLS, DAY CLUBS & NIGHTCLUBS:
I felt like this deserved it’s own section. One of Vegas’s biggest draws is their club scene. Day clubs and nightclubs are all over the city, and I’ve probably been to most of them. If you visit Vegas during the winter, you unfortunately won’t be able to enjoy the daytime pool parties, but the nightclub scene is still in full-force. Here’s a list of my favorite Day Clubs:
- Encore Beach Club, Encore @ Wynn – One of the largest day clubs, hosting the most popular DJs.
- Wet Republic, MGM Grand – also hosts some of the most popular DJs, and draws a famous crowd. I’ve met a handful of celebrities at Wet Republic.
- Drais Day Club, atop The Cromwell – an elevated, intimate beach club with incredible strip views (pictured below, on a quiet weeknight)
- Daylight Beach Club, Mandalay Bay – smaller club, but equally as fun with the right crowd.
These are a few of the biggest day clubs in Vegas. They’re usually open Thursday – Sunday, with performances from some world-famous DJs during the weekends. The headlining DJ usually plays around 3-4pm, but capacity fills quickly especially in summer months, so I recommend going early. Make sure to stay hydrated – you’ll be exhausted by 5pm if you’re drinking and dancing in the peak summer heat.
Day Pools: Most strip hotels will have their own version of a daytime beach pool party, but some are more wild than others. All the hotels also have a quiet, relaxing pool area. If you’re looking for a relaxing, picturesque pool experience, I suggest checking out the Boulevard Pool, on the 4th floor of the Cosmo (pictured below), or The Mirage Pool, which features lagoon-style tropical landscaping and gorgeous waterfalls.
Nightclubs: I’ve been to more than I can remember, but here’s a list of the best:
- XS, Encore @ Wynn – an award-winning nightclub, XS is huge, set mostly outdoors with glistening pools (that yes, you can get into at night) and stunning surroundings. Usual music is EDM, but sometimes they host hip-hop DJs.
Surrender, Encore @ Wynn – a slightly smaller version of XS, EBC turns into Surrender at night. The option to party indoors or outdoors is the best. There’s a giant snake on the inside wall that you sometimes think is moving to the electronic music coming from the DJ booth.Never mind, it’s closed now apparently. Sad face.
- Drais Nightclub, atop The Cromwell – If you like R&B, rap & hip-hop, Drais is your spot. Drais is well-known for hosting the best hip-hop parties and performers in Vegas. Ty Dolla $ign and Migos (pictured right) are said to begin residencies at Drais starting this year. Chris Brown also performs here a lot….. I haven’t seen him yet, but it’s on my bucket list.
- Intrigue, The Wynn – used to be Tryst, it’s a smaller, beautifully intimate nightclub experience that sometimes surprises it’s guests with hugely famous performers from Diplo to Ne-Yo.
- Omnia, Caesar’s Palace – a club for everyone. Omnia is huge, with an outdoor terrace that is part of the club, and three different clubbing rooms. The Main Room is where the world-famous dance/EDM DJs perform and where Calvin Harris plays a set about once a week. The Heart Room is where all the hip-hop heads will go, as this room plays consistent rap, hip-hop and R&B.
- Marquee, The Cosmopolitan – Plays Top 40. DJ Mustard has a residency here, and in the summer the doors open to the outdoor club area.
- Hakkasan, MGM Grand – Pretty much exclusively plays EDM/Electronic music, but also has several smaller intimate rooms suited for drinking and conversation.
- More options that I’ve been to only once: Bank (The Bellagio), Jewel (Aria), Tao (The Venetian) and Light (Mandalay Bay). I actually don’t like Light, it’s stuffy and claustrophobic, but my friends enjoy it….
Ladies: If you’re alone or with a group of all-women, there’s a strong chance you will get approached while wandering the strip by club promoters. It can get really annoying, but if there’s a club that interests you and a promoter approaches, use it to your advantage. You can usually get onto, at the very least, a guest list that will get you free club entry, and sometimes you can even score free drink tickets, depending on the popularity of the club. If you’re lucky, your promoter may even be able to get you a table, or seat you at one, where the alcohol will flow freely. Out of all the times I’ve been to Vegas clubs, I’ve only had to pay club entry once; it was during Labor Day Weekend, one of the busiest weekends of the year, I was with a group of guys, and there was a huge headliner (I think it was DJ Snake?). Being a girl in Vegas kind of rocks. #TheForceIsFemale
Guys: Unless you know the right people, you’re most likely going to have to pay entry to all the clubs, whether you’re on a list or not. Sometimes if you’re in an even-or-better ratio of girls to guys, you can get free or discounted entry, but not always. Club entry can be anywhere from $20 – $150. I’ve found that for guys, it’s almost worth it to buy a table with bottle service if you’re with a big-enough group. You get into the club without waiting in long lines (also waving your entry fee), the alcohol comes to you, and it’s a more enjoyable experience. But you will end up spending more.
A question I get a lot: How much are bottle-service tables? Well, it varies from club to club, the location of the table, and also depends on the performer that night, but I’ll give you an estimate. At some of the bigger clubs like XS or Omnia, a decent table for six people with 2-3 bottles is about $3000. For a 15+ person table in a great location with 10-12 bottles, the damage is upwards of $10K. Smaller clubs will be less expensive, but generally have an idea of spending about $300-$500 per person if you’re going in on a table.
WHERE TO EAT/DRINK:
Vegas is home to hundreds of restaurants, many of them featuring award-winning dishes and chefs. When I’m in Vegas, eating is usually just an essential to supplement the drinking, but I have had a few incredible meals worth mentioning.
Beauty & Essex, The Cosmopolitan: During my last trip, my girls and I enjoyed an extravagant birthday dinner here. (Pictured below). The restaurant sits on the 3rd floor of the Cosmopolitan. Upon arrival, you are greeted with a glass of champagne and ushered through a pawn shop-inspired store front to the entrance of the restaurant. The restaurant interior is a work of art, elaborately designed with faux fur walls, gold frames adorned with jewelry and plush velvet furniture. And of course, the food is spectacular. Their menu is family style, which is the best because you get to try a number of various dishes. I highly recommend the Thai style deep-fried shrimp and the Mexican street corn ravioli. Plus, they give you a free dessert if you’re celebrating a birthday! Strongly recommend eating here, it’s one of my absolute favorites.
Searsucker, Caesar’s Palace: Less about the experience and more about the food, Seaksucker is an affordable, delicious dining option right next door to Omnia Nightclub. They serve American classics, with a twist. You can chose whether your meal is family-style or not, but sharing is encouraged. Get the honey-glazed calamari to start and the drunken skirt steak for your main course. You’ll want to lick the plate.
Hash House A Go Go, The Linq: Hands down the best place for an after-clubbing meal, this All-American diner is open 24 hours. Their portions are HUGE, I can easily get 2-3 meals out of one dish. The chicken and waffles are world famous – they put crumbled bacon IN the waffle, and grilled leeks atop a perfectly crisp hunk of chicken. Eat here when drunk and go “home” happy and very full.
Purple Zebra Daiquiri Bar, The Linq: If you enjoy sweet frozen alcoholic drinks, you won’t want to wander far from Purple Zebra. It used to be self-serve, but recently changed (wahhh), but you can still try every flavor and choose from regular to elephant-sized (100 oz) souvenir container of frozen beverage. Easy and fun way to get drunk.
TIPS & TRICKS:
Have I mentioned that drinking on the street, in public, is legal in Vegas? Weirdly a lot of people don’t know this, but it’s actually encouraged to drink at all times of the day, no matter what you’re doing or where you are.
If you gamble at all, even at a $5 table or the penny slots (check out the Top 10 Slot to increase your chances of winning at slot machines), cocktail servers wander around casinos religiously and will offer you a drink. This is one of the cheapest ways to drink in Vegas – since you’re gambling, your drinks are comped so no need to pay for them, you’re just expected to tip the waitress a buck or two. Do this for a few hours or so before you hit the clubs.
If you don’t know how to gamble but want to learn, go to an amateur casino with very inexpensive tables – learning how to play Craps at one of the fancy casinos will get you some serious glares and eye rolls. One of my favorite cheap casinos is O’Sheas, which is nestled underneath The Linq. They have $5 casino games, and they also have beer pong tables! If it’s open, play the Blackjack-War table – I’ve won a bundle of money here before, and it’s super fun.
If you carry a purse, make sure it’s a small one and keep it on you AT ALL TIMES. People in Vegas are shifty and WILL snatch your belongings in a second if unattended. Side story: My very first night in Vegas (as an adult), I went to a club with my friend and was carrying all of my money AND her money in my wallet. My purse opened very easily and somehow someone managed to snatch my wallet within the first hour of arriving. We had no cash, no identification, and no way to get back home! After crying through the entire night, in the morning we took a bus with change we found on the street to the nearest bank where I called my parents and asked them to wire me money. With no identification, this was tricky, but thankfully it worked. As we were walking back to our hotel, completely defeated and ready to get on the next plane back to Portland, I got a phone call from an unknown number… someone had FOUND MY WALLET, with all of its belongings and returned it to me….. it was the worst and LUCKIEST few hours of my life. On this same trip, I won over $400 at a Blackjack table in one sitting and my friend got married (remember reading this earlier?) Really, anything can happen in LV.
WHAT TO WEAR:
Your sexiest, most extravagant outfits. Go big or stay home. It’s Vegas – the more glitzy and glamorous, the better! Here’s a quick recap of what I wore where during my latest trip.
Friday night, at Omnia: wearing a mint green romper from Tobi with an iridescent double buckle belt from Pretty Little Thing, the Meena iridescent snake platform from Simmi London and the DIY rhinestone bralette I made (see my post about that here).
Saturday daytime, at Encore Beach Club: wearing this hilariously awesome strappy pizza bathing suit from FabShopperwith my favorite pool wedges by Y.E.S. from Solestruck (which sadly went out of business).
Saturday night, at Drai’s Nightclub: wearing this eye-catching blue-green sequin ring detail dress from Pretty Little Thing with coordinating metallic blue-green strappy pumps from Privileged Shoes.
Sunday night, at Bank in Bellagio: wearing a strapless Pomme Chan x UO bodycon dress from Urban Outfitters that I bought for only $5 (steal of the year! Also someone asked me if it was a Versace dress, HA!) with matching strappy red heels from ZooShoo. Purse and jewelry is all from Francesca’s.
If you’ve read this far, you’re amazing and you should also probably take a trip to Vegas now, because you’ve basically become an expert. Did I forget something, or do you have a question that went unanswered? Do you want to hear more of my wild stories? PLEASE feel free to comment or send me an email (see Contact) and I’ll be happy to answer any of your further questions. Las Vegas is incredible, and there really is no right or wrong way to experience the city. But using some of my suggestions, you’ll have the time of your life!
THANK YOU FOR READING! Xoxo
SO much GREAT information in here! Let’s go back! ❤️
The Pretentious Guide to Vegas
Do yourself a favor and skip Chippendales for Magic Mike. You’ll be glad you did!
Ahaha! I wanted to see that during this last trip but didn’t find the time. Next time for sure!! Thanks for reading 🙂
Wait is Surrender really closed?! I’ve spent more than one NYE there, I’m so disappointed.
Yeah isn’t that a bummer?? I loved Surrender!