8 Things You’ve Never Done in Las Vegas

Think outside the Strip – boating, biking, museums and art galleries – when you plan your next visit to Las Vegas

Credit: Flickr / Gregory Moine

Boating, biking, museums and art galleries might not be the first things that come to mind when you think of Las Vegas, but the city has a few unique tricks up its sleeve to keep you entertained

You’ve played the slots, dined on buffets and seen the Cirque and the Blue Man Group. Not to mention attempting to win back your expenditures. But that’s not all there is to Vegas.

If you broaden your Las Vegas horizons beyond the casinos, restaurants and bars on the Strip, what happens in Vegas wouldn’t have to stay in Vegas! Plus you’ll marvel at the natural wonders, hidden gems and fascinating history that you probably didn’t even know existed in Sin City. Click through for our roundup of top stops for your next Las Vegas itinerary.

Credit: Catherine Roscoe Barr

Get a Fascinating History Lesson

Located on Las Vegas Boulevard, just past the northern boundary of the Strip, the two-acre Neon Museum is not only a wonderful visual treat, but an unexpectedly comprehensive and fascinating look at Las Vegas history.

The one-hour guided tour begins in the outdoor Neon Boneyard, housed in the reclaimed lobby of the former La Concha Motel (built in the Googie architectural style) – and winds its way through the collection of nearly 150 colourful signs, organized by time and geography, starting downtown (with relics from the Golden Nugget and the Moulin Rouge), then moving onto motel row (the Yucca Motel, pictured above was my absolute favourite), and restaurant row (the Green Shack sign is the museum’s oldest), followed by the Strip (you can see the skull from Treasure Island on Google Maps’ satellite view).

The St Valentine’s Day Massacre Wall, pictured above,is located in the Mob Museum. (Image: Jeff Green, Mob Museum)

The Mob Museum, half a mile south of the Neon Museum – 15 minutes away by foot, or 5 minutes by car – is located in a former federal courthouse designated as a national historic building, and details the mob’s influence on Las Vegas history.

Set aside a couple of hours to explore the museum’s three-stories of grisly tales and telling artifacts, or sign up for a 90-minute guided tour (for an additional $10 on top of the $19.95 admission fee). Be sure to catch the short film America Fights Back, shown in the very courtroom where members of Las Vegas’ organized crime scene were tried in the 1950s during the Kefauver Committee hearings.

Also, stop by the St Valentine’s Day Massacre Wall, the bloodstained brick wall where Al Capone’s henchmen executed seven members of Bugs Moran’s gang, which coincidentally was previously located in Gastown’s former Banjo Palace, now the Alibi Room.

Credit: Catherine Roscoe Barr

Discover the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

The Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area lies in the Mojave Desert, a beautiful yet harsh landscape home to desert tortoises, hares, bighorn sheep, and the curious Joshua tree.

Nearly 20 trails attract hikers, world renowned routes draw rock climbers, and the meandering scenic 13-mile loop invites cyclists and motorists to experience the canyon’s vivid rock formations and hardy flora and fauna.

If sitting back and relaxing while you take in the magnificent views is more your style, sign up for a four-hour Pink Jeep Tour ($97, includes complimentary Las Vegas hotel pick-up and drop-off), which not only takes you around the scenic loop but heads off-road into the backcountry where you’ll have time to get out and stretch your legs, and do a little exploring while your guide points out fun facts about the area’s natural and cultural history.

Credit: Smith Center for the Performing Arts

Catch a Show at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts

Las Vegas’ shiny new Smith Center for the Performing Arts is set on five acres downtown, and has three separate performance venues – the 2,050-seat Reynolds Hall, 258-seat Cabaret Jazz (pictured above), and 250-seat Troesh Studio Theater – with a rotating cast of international music, theatre, dance and speakers.

The masculine art deco building is Gold LEED certified and flanked by the beautiful Symphony Park, which is used for outdoor concerts or for guests to mingle and enjoy the fresh air before or after a performance.

Upcoming shows include The Tenors, Jewel, and the Audi Speaker Series featuring Frank Abagnale, “America’s most gifted con man,” who inspired the movie Catch Me If You Can.

Credit: Catherine Roscoe Barr

Explore Lake Mead, Black Canyon, and the Colorado River

A national historic landmark and a symbol of American ingenuity, the Hoover Dam(pictured above, from both sides), constructed in the 1930s 30 miles southeast of Las Vegas, is an engineering marvel, built with 3.25 million cubic yards of concrete, 726 feet high and 660 feet deep at its base.

The surrounding natural landmarks – Black Canyon, through which the Colorado River flows, to the south, and Lake Mead (slightly less natural due to its manmade nature) to the north – are equally impressive and can be explored by foot, bike or boat.

The Hoover Dam is one of the largest dams in the world and was built to control the Colorado River, which created Lake Mead (one of the largest reservoirs, or artificial lakes, in the US) as a result. Exploring these watery wonders by boat gives you the opportunity to view the dam straight on and up close.

(Image: Catherine Roscoe Barr)

The Black Canyon Raft Tour (pictured above) with Black Canyon and Willow Beach River Adventures is a five-hour interpretive float trip ($87.95 or $131.95 for round-trip transportation from Las Vegas, includes lunch) that starts at the Hoover Dam and follows the Colorado River downstream to the newly renovated Willow Beach Marina. Keep your eyes peeled for bighorn sheep drinking at the water’s edge or scampering up the rocky slopes.

(Image: Catherine Roscoe Barr)

On the other side of the dam, Lake Mead Cruises offers leisurely excursions aboard the Desert Princess (pictured above), a three-level, Mississippi-style paddlewheeler, with commentary on the construction of the Hoover Dam and the natural history of the area. Mid-day sightseeing cruises are $26, the champagne buffet brunch cruises are $45, and the dinner cruises are $61.50, or $109 including roundtrip transportation from major Las Vegas hotels.

Credit: Catherine Roscoe Barr

Eat in Summerlin

Summerlin is one of Las Vegas’ fastest growing communities and a number of restaurants that rival the Strip’s supremacy are cropping up on its streets.

Located in a nondescript shopping plaza, the Vintner Grill first dazzles with its outdoor terrace (pictured above), a collection of bistro tables, cozy tents andlanterns. Inside, white and black checkerboard floors and whitewashed walls create a clean palette, with pops of colour in granny smith apple green and tangerine orange.

The “American bistro with Mediterranean influences” has no freezer, and much of its produce is delivered daily from farmers’ markets in Los Angeles. Specialties include the Dungeness crab ravioli, $25, with fresh English peas, crimini mushrooms, baby tomatoes and pecorino cheese (Rachel Ray was apparently a huge fan), the seared halibut, $30, with couscous, spinach, toasted orzo, and lemon gremolata, and executive chef Matthew Silverman’s specialty mix-and-match cheese plates, $25 (includes five cheese selections plus grilled bread, house-made jellies and mustards, and fresh fruit), featuring a wide selection of international cheeses as well as half a dozen cheeses made in-house by Silverman and team (the light-as-a-cloud chevre is too dreamy to miss).

Honey Salt’s gorgeous, chabby chic dining room. (Image: Honey Salt)

Also located in a neighbouring nondescript shopping plaza is Honey Salt, designed by co-owner Elizabeth Blau, who opened the restaurant with husband and chef Kim Canteenwalla.

A buffet table stacked with tantalizing desserts greets you at the door, and once you’re seated in a mismatched chair, you can see executive chef Joe Zanelli and his team in the open-concept kitchen preparing dishes like the Bigeye tuna tartar, $15, with avocado, ginger, and crunchy quinoa, My wife’s favourite salad, $14, with duck confit, pine nuts, and pomegranate (a nearby farm supplies the arugula), or the Colorado lamb porterhouse, $32, with bacon sofrito, pea tendrils, and roasted fingerling potatoes.

Be sure to save room for one of the decadent desserts, like the selection of Santa-Barabara-made McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams (the salted caramel chunk was my favourite).

Due Forni’s dual brick ovens churn out authentic Neapolitan and Roman pizzas, as well as decadent dessert pizzas and a range of delicious entrees. (Image: Catherine Roscoe Barr)

Due Forni is named for its dual brick ovens – one at 900 degrees Fahrenheit for chewy Neapolitan pizza, one at 500 degrees Fahrenheit for crispy Roman pizza, to suit every pizza personality.

Many of the outstanding dishes are inspired by executive chef Carlos Buscaglia’s family recipes, and every hot menu item (like the braised Mediterranean octopus, $11.95, with arugula, piquillo peppers, taggiasca, and mint vinaigrette, the Semolina gnocchi, $11.95, with Nueske’s smoked bacon, peas, and black truffle crema, and the Branzino sea bass, $25.95, with arugula, toasted pine nuts, and salmoriglio) is oven-fired.

Just as Buscaglia has perfected authentic Neapolitan and Roman pizzas (fresh Italian mozzarella is flown in multiple times each week), he’s also crafted an incredible wine list, with over 40 wines by the glass, and the uber passionate and knowledgeable staff, many of them sommeliers, can help you decide on the perfect pairing.

Credit: Catherine Roscoe Barr

Experience Fremont Street

Two blocks south of the Mob Museum you’ll find Fremont Street, the area referred to as downtown Las Vegas, or the Old Strip.

The most notable attraction on Fremont Street is the Fremont Street Experience(pictured above), a massive light and music show projected onto a canopy that covers the pedestrian walkway lined with casinos, restaurants and shops.

Beyond the canopy, more restaurants and bars dot the street, including two of Fremont’s newest venues, sister properties Park on Fremont and Commonwealth.

(Image: Catherine Roscoe Barr)

Park’s whimsical backyard terrace (pictured above), with a large tree as its centerpiece, is draped with twinkling lights, decorated with feature walls of mismatched antique plates and door knockers, and features a hidden teeter totter where you can sip a Pillow Talk cocktail and snack on sweet potato teeter tots (yes, you read that right). Go there for Sunday brunch when bottomless mimosas are only $20.

(Image: Catherine Roscoe Barr)

Commonwealth channels a similar Gothic elegance and its cheeky cocktail menu is divided into Common and Wealth selections. Before heading upstairs to its fabulous rooftop patio (pictured above), where a rotation of resident DJs rock the roof, see if you can charm your way into the secret speakeasy or make a friend who’ll show you the secret knock.

Credit: Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art

See an Exhibit at the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art

The Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art attracts internationally renowned art exhibits (last year Claude Monet: Impressions of Light graced its walls) and from now until October 27, 2013 the Warhol Out West exhibit, featuring over 60 of Andy Warhol’s iconic paintings, prints, and sculptures spanning the 1960s to 1980s can be seen in one of Las Vegas’ most iconic resorts.

Admission to the gallery is $15 and includes a self-guided audio tour, with fascinating insight into the peculiar artist’s life and work.

If you happen to be in the neighbourhood on the second Wednesday of any month from now until October, plan to head to the gallery for its Art and Wine night, $38, during which Bellagio’s director of wine, Jason Smith, pairs wines from Bellagio’s cellar with featured artworks, and joins art gallery director Tarissa Tiberti in an interactive discussion about the quirky exhibit.

Credit: Station Casinos

Stay at an Off-strip Resort

You may not associate Las Vegas with rest and relaxation, but a long weekend at the Red Rock Casino, Resort and Spa can be just that. Located 10 miles west of the Strip, the Red Rock is one of the city’s few resorts off Las Vegas Boulevard and was designed to offer a quiet oasis away from the hectic pace of the high-traffic city centre, while still offering many of the amenities you’d expect in Sin City.

The standard guest suites, facing either Red Rock Canyon or the Las Vegas Strip and featuring mid-century modern decor, are more spacious than you’d expect to find elsewhere, but upgrade to one of the resort’s villas or penthouses (like the rooftop one-eighty suite, pictured below) and you’ll never want to leave your personal retreat with its separate-entrance service pantry for your butler and other extravagancies like a private outdoor infinity pool or onyx wet bar with all the trimmings.

(Image: Station Casinos)

When you decide to tear yourself away from your personal retreat, the resort has plenty of options for sustenance, including nine restaurants, many of them with outdoor dining, and a food court for grabbing a quick snack on your way to the casino, pool deck or 25,000-square foot spa. There’s also an onsite movie theatre and bowling alley, as well as an adventure spa which arranges offsite outdoor activities like horseback riding, rock climbing, biking and kayaking.

Or maybe you’d prefer to do Las Vegas on the cheap.