Think you know the Las Vegas Strip? Maybe you do, but maybe you could learn a thing or two. The Strip has entered another period of rapid evolution, meaning more dynamic, innovative attractions and destinations are on the way … along with potentially more inconvenience and expensiveness. But let’s be honest, you’re still gonna go. There are plenty of amazing Vegas experiences you have yet to uncover, and we’ve got tips, tricks and hacks to help maximize your time, money and enjoyment while you’re there.
GET ON TRACK The Las Vegas Monorail, once dismissed as a colossal failure, has been the butt of many local jokes since launching in 2004 (and it still doesn’t serve what should be its primary purpose: transporting tourists from the airport to the Strip). But … it’s undeniably useful and affordable. With stations at five casino resorts on the east side of Las Vegas Boulevard (SLS, Harrah’s/Linq, Flamingo, Bally’s/Paris and MGM Grand) plus stops at the Westgate and the Convention Center, there really isn’t a spot on the Strip the Monorail can’t get you near, and extended hours have the train running until 2 or 3 a.m. every night except Mondays. Single tickets cost $5 ($1 for locals!), and multi-ride passes range from $12 for one day to $56 for a full week. Children 5 and under ride free, and trains arrive every 4-8 minutes.
NAVIGATIONAL ADVANTAGE Industrial Road. Koval Lane. Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra Drives. These are the Strip-adjacent surface streets everybody knows and uses to avoid the Boulevard as much possible, and they’re still highly effective alternative routes, especially during busy nights and weekends. Our favorite Strip sneak attack: coming in on Harmon Avenue from the west. You can take Tropicana to Dean Martin to Jerry Lewis Drive, or you can use Flamingo’s weird Hotel Rio Drive access point to get to Dean Martin and then Jerry Lewis. Once you find yourself on Harmon, you can slide into Aria’s north valet or Cosmo’s garage—a prime Strip arrival to be sure—without having to cross Las Vegas Boulevard.
LUNCH TIME Whether you’re vacationing or working, the Strip is a beautiful place to rediscover the lost art of the power lunch—and it’ll allow the sampling of fabulous fare at a lower price point than at dinner. Don’t sleep on the original powerhouse, Spago at the Forum Shops at Caesars, but also check out bustling bistros like RM Seafood and Burger Bar at Mandalay Bay, the Country Club at Wynn and DB Brasserie at the Venetian. Cosmo’s twin dynamos Estiatorio Milos and D.O.C.G. deserve spots on your lunch list, too.
SHOWS WE LOVE “Spectacularly insane demonstrations of offensive and astounding human behavior. It was love at first sight.” That’s how one of our favorite websites, VegasTripping, characterizes Absinthe at Caesars Palace. We couldn’t have said it better, and we couldn’t agree more, which explains why we keep going back and dragging everyone along. Absinthe will move to the Cosmopolitan in the fall, so catch it while you can at Caesars. Next door at the Mirage,The Beatles Love just celebrated a decade as everyone’s favorite Cirque du Soleil production on the Strip, and recent strategic show revamps are a good reason to check it out again.
PASS THOSE KEYS MGM Resorts’ new pay-to-park policies extend to the beloved amenity that was free valet. It’s a tough transition, but there are still a couple of opportunities to valet for free at MGM destinations. Leave your car at the Shops at Crystals (the high-end mall in front of Aria) or the Shoppes at Mandalay Place (between Mandalay Bay and Luxor), and you won’t have to pay … Another tip: Don’t forget to.
ANTE UP The Strip has a poker room for every budget and mood. Beginners looking for a convivial vibe should head to MGM Grand for 2-4 limit or 1-2 no-limit hold ’em. Wanna play with the big boys? There’s no better place to burn through your bankroll than Bobby’s Room at the Bellagio.
ASSISTANCE FOR ALL We’ve all heard hotel concierges can get things you can’t get yourself, and this is one cliché that’s actually true. After we struck out online, MGM’s concierge scored us a great seat for The Rolling Stones’ October T-Mobile Arena concert. You typically don’t have to be a guest of any hotel to take advantage of these resourceful Vegas pros.
GENERAL ADMISSION If you’re ballin’ out at the club with booth and bottles, count us in—that’s the best way to maximize the head-spinning Vegas nightlife wonderland. But there’s still something to be said for bouncing between the bar and the dancefloor, mingling with the masses and embracing the insanity of total sweaty/strobey immersion. If that’s your vibe, your megaclubs are XS at Encore, Light at Mandalay Bay and Omnia at Caesars Palace, and your more intimate faves will be Hyde at Bellagio, Foundation Room at Mandalay Bay and the shiny new Jewel at Aria.
SOMETHING BREWING Think cheap beer doesn’t exist on the spendy Strip? Think again. Casino Royale—you know, the place next door to the Venetian with the Best Western hotel and the only White Castle in Vegas—still offers $1 Michelob and Michelob Light bottles. Another beer hack: You can find solid stashes for half the price of casino brews at any of the many Strip convenience stores. And if you’re all about selection, visit Pub 1842 at MGM Grand or the new Beerhaus at the Park.
SOCIAL EATING If you’re like us, you love to gather your squad and attack multiple restaurants, ordering lots of food and passing plates around until you can’t eat another bite. To apply this strategy to the Strip, aim for lounge and happy-hour menus. This way you can sample dishes from different restaurants instead of committing to a long night in one seat. A few suggestions: At Caesars Palace, bounce between Gordon Ramsay Pub, Border Grill and Searsucker; At Aria, shuffle through Bardot Brasserie, Herringbone and Sage.
THE BACK LOT In a stretch of road stacked with towering parking garage structures, it might seem counterintuitive to go the blacktop route. But the massive lot behind the Linq (access from Koval Lane) has become our go-to parking place when Stripwalking is on the agenda. Before you arrive in the heart of the action, check out what’s new along the Linq Promenade across from Caesars while snapping selfies along the way with the High Roller in the background.
CIRCUMVENT THE ROAR Due to its magnificent size and tendency to host massive events, MGM Grand can be a bit of a beast when it comes to parking. Both the garage along Tropicana Avenue and the main valet can hit their capacities on big Vegas weekends, slowing traffic to a dribble. Consider parking at the Tropicana or New York-New York resorts, or better yet, make an evening at Hakkasan part of your MGM Grand plans and use the private valet located west of the main entrance—just look for the blue-light Hakkasan logo. You should be going to Hakkasan anyway; the food’s incredible and the club is always bumpin’.
STEP INTO THE LIGHT The Strip has its own art scene, and we’re not talking about the Bellagio gallery (though that’s obviously cool, too). Striking installations are all over the CityCenter complex; our favorite is “Akhob,” one of James Turrell’s largest light-field installations, on the fourth floor of the Louis Vuitton store at the Shops at Crystals. It’s free to see, but you have to schedule a visit by calling the store (702-730-3150). You can experience Turrell’s work at Crystals’ tram stop, too.
HIGH-SPEED SPOT Those of us who spend lots of laptop time on Las Vegas Boulevard know it’s not easy to find a chill location with great wifi on the Strip. There are, however, about a million Starbucks, and many are big enough to find a quiet nook. Our top pick for comfort and Internet access is the ’bucks in front of Mandarin Oriental, next to Bobby’s Burger Palace. It’s never crowded, the connectivity’s reliable and the people-watching’s an added bonus.
FRESH PERSPECTIVE No matter how many Vegas visits a tourist tallies or how many times locals hit the Strip with friends and relatives, the iconic dancing fountains at Bellagio remain the thing to see. But next time you go, try changing your point of view. Grab a glass of wine or a cocktail at Bellagio’s Prime steakhouse or Hyde Lounge (or go brunching on Lago’s patio) to get a glimpse from the back, or spend some time at Paris’ Eiffel Tower Restaurant or Beer Park or the Cromwell’s Giada restaurant. The show feels just as grand from a different angle.
BEER BREAK Don’t skip the classic Vegas adventure of walking the Strip simply because it’s hot outside; just take a breather every few hundred feet and drink something frosty. One great pit stop: Sin City Brewing Co. at Harmon Corner, serving deliciously underrated local brews in the middle of the Boulevard.
A BAR APART Mandarin Oriental’s understated but posh cocktail bar isn’t cheap or easily found (best to valet at the hotel itself), but it’s absolutely worth the hunt. Largely free from casino cacophony, this gem provides respite from the Boulevard’s bustle, and 23 floors up, offers one of the most romantic and private date spots in Las Vegas.
APP IT UP Wouldn’t it be great to punch up the perfect Strip guide on your phone and know where to go, what to do and how much it’ll cost? Hit the app store and get VegasMate. It’s free and loaded with info on hotels, shows, restaurants, clubs and activities, even stuff off the Strip.
CELEB SPOTTING The Strip is still the playground of the rich and famous, but this sort of Vegas VIP tends toward exclusive experiences we commonfolk won’t be able to access. If you want to spy some stars, consider this simple equation: Famous people are mostly good-looking, and good-looking people love to eat sushi. It sounds goofy, but it’s reliable. Spend some time at Nobu at Caesars Palace, Andrea’s at Encore, Kumi at Mandalay Bay or Mizumi at Wynn, and keep a list of found rock and movie stars.
ISLAND RETREAT One locals’ pick for a Strip staycation is Mandalay Bay. It has easy access at the southern tip. It’s a quick skip to Town Square in case the shopping on property is missing anything you might need. The sprawling pool complex, complete with beach, wave pool and lazy river, is every kid’s dream come true. And the breakfast buffet is pretty badass.
EAT LIKE AN EXPERT
We’ve spent years dining up and down the Strip’s culinary wonderland; now, we’re sharing our sorta-secret, lesser-known loves, fancy and not so much.
“I always order rice at Noodles, a casual Asian café at Bellagio that’s ideal for a post-poker feast. Specifically, I get braised beef brisket rice, an offal-good union of slow-cooked meat, chewy tendon and rich gravy. It’s a perfect one-plate meal. Meat and fat and starch also contribute to what might well be the city’s best post-party gorge-fest: theadobada fries at Tacos El Gordo, a glorious, gargantuan mess overflowing with spiced pork and shredded cheese. Come with a group so you can share the fries and still have room for beef-head tacos and chorizo tostadas. Go Gordo or go home.” –Andy Wang
“Celeb chefs Mario and Giada tend to dominate the press, but just outside the limelightPortofino chef Michael LaPlaca is dishing out some of the Strip’s best Italian at the Mirage. From lasagna with oxtail ragu to his very own pasta (‘ripatelli’) in wild boar Bolognese, LaPlaca hasn’t found a classic he can’t reinvent. Across the Strip at Harrah’s,Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill serves an outrageous fried bologna sandwich. A thick slice of seared lunch meat, melted American cheese and a slather of Miracle Whip are layered between buttery slices of Texas toast. Gourmet grub is great, but this hefty Southern classic just hits the spot.” –Jim Begley
“High-end Strip restaurants are often so hyped I sometimes leave my meal asking, Was that it? A notable exception: dinner at Harvest by Roy Ellamar at Bellagio. No other place has managed to strike a balance of great food (I could live on the naan alone), locally sourced ingredients and polished presentation. The dim sum-style snack wagon for eclectic small plates is another genius detail. And for those nights when I’ve had one too many cheap frozen cocktails, and a formal meal is out of the question, I grab a New York slice from Secret Pizza at the Cosmopolitan, douse it in red pepper flakes and devour it from a seat in the third-floor common area while I gawk at tourists.” –Debbie Lee
“There are so many great, somewhat forgotten fine-dining spots on the Strip that have been victimized by new, hip hype. Andre’s at Monte Carlo, always near the top of my list, has delicately approached, classic French cuisine executed beautifully in old-school swank; I’m hoping this institution makes it through the property’s upcoming massive renovation. If you’re talking top-to-bottom best food resorts, I’m still partial to Wynn, where even the quick bites are luxurious. You might catch me sneaking into the sports book deli Zoozacrackers for an indulgent hash of pastrami, poached eggs, diced latkes, Swiss cheese, peppers and onions and chipotle ranch.” –Brock Radke
WHERE TO BEGIN
When Steve Wynn expanded his third-generation Strip resort by opening Encore in 2008, no one could have predicted how the new casino would find its nightlife focus. But the massive success of XS, paired with the multi-format experience of Surrender and Encore Beach Club, has done just that, turning the luscious red casino into one big, never-ending pre-party on weekends. It’s an interesting alternative to Wynn Las Vegas, but in a strange way, it recalls past eras of life on the Strip, when you didn’t have to plan out your every move from drinks to dinner to show or club. Encore is where the action is, and it’s not the only Strip destination where you’ll find a good time even if you haven’t spent a lot of time looking.
Big, blazing nightlife isn’t for all of us. If you really want to go with the flow, check into one of the Cosmopolitan’s creative cocktail bars (the multi-level Chandelier or the lobby-area Vesper Bar or Clique Lounge), order your favorite drink and keep your eyes open, because something is about to happen. If you want to float closer to the casino, Bellagio’s classic Petrossian Bar or Venetian’s Bellini Bar (just under that escalator to Tao) are still great meeting spots. Planning to bounce beyond a single casino in one night? I dig that. If you’re gonna get out on the street—maybe catch a volcano erupt or something—start the night at super casual spots like the rowdy Bar at Times Square at New York-New York or the rowdier O’Sheas Casino at the Linq Promenade. –Brock Radke