The past few years, I’ve been able to visit Las Vegas for a business conference. On each trip, I’ve left the city to see something else, like the Hoover Dam, Death Valley, or Mojave National Preserve since most of Las Vegas’ attractions just aren’t my thing.
However, being able to see Las Vegas up close has been fascinating. Like most heavily marketed destinations, it’s not quite what I expected in person. Here are 10+ observations from visiting.
The Strip is a Cruise Ship…On Land
A cruise is one of the few activities that I’ve never done, but I’m also 99% certain I would not like. I’ll take David Foster Wallace’s word on it. However, I completely understand why cruises are so popular. They are all-inclusive, familiar but novel, very affordable, straightforward, and have so much choice right there, all the time.
The first time I walked the Las Vegas Strip, I realized that Las Vegas is a cruise ship on land.
The resorts are massive and all-inclusive. Unlike other travel destinations, you don’t have to hunt for restaurants, entertainment, etc – it’s all right there. It’s simple, straightforward, and brilliant.
And unlike a cruise ship, Las Vegas doesn’t ask you float on the ocean or deal with all the other unspoken downsides of cruise ships.
The Strip Is Actually Exciting at Night
Before experiencing it in person, I was skeptical that Las Vegas actually had the vibe that it promotes. But, I have to say that all those lights, the people, the showmanship, the sheer size – it all adds up to a pretty exciting atmosphere.
There are things that take away from it, like the pamphlet guys, loud cars, heavy security presence, etc – but by in large, it’s a pretty exciting place to be – even if you aren’t into the Vegas-scene.
The Strip Owns Its Weirdness
The Las Vegas Strip is bizarre, especially in the daytime. Plenty of people have written about how garish, ridiculous, over the top, etc the Strip is.
But here’s the thing – it owns that image. Las Vegas comes full circle in being so ridiculous that it’s actually pretty cool in its self-confident ridiculousness.
I mean, between the need for water and oil in the desert, it’s still a boondoggle. But as far as aesthetics go, I like it. More cities could learn from its self-confidence. I think the best cities & towns are the ones that don’t try to copy everyone else.
The Strip Is Enormous…and Car-Focused
The Las Vegas Strip is much, much bigger than I expected. I don’t know what I expected, but I didn’t expect it to be so enormous.
The Strip goes for miles with hotel after hotel after hotel. And every hotel is bigger than most cities’ downtown areas.
Also, the actual road is an eight lane monster with a median and regular parking pull outs. While the hotels are walkable….the actual Strip is like anti-walking.
It’s like they’ve engineered their own taxi & Uber industry.
The airport is only 2 miles from the Strip. I naively thought “oh, awesome! I can just walk from the airport on a nice 45 minute stroll” – it’s a walk that can be done…but it’s not friendly in any way.
On every trip, I either walked to or from the airport – but not out of joy, but out of quixotic spite for how car-centric the Strip is, when the city could be super-walkable and nice.
The Strip Is Surreal at Daytime
The Strip is as weird in the daytime as it is energizing at night. The only thing making up for it is the incredible Las Vegas weather (err…at least in the not-summer). It’s quiet with lots and lots of obviously hungover people desperately trying to find the couple Starbucks in either the Cosmopolitan or Planet Hollywood. Also, most stuff is closed and there’s nowhere to walk. So…
The Strip Is Built Out of Nothing
The Strip is literally that – a strip of development still surrounded by actual, flat desert. It’s bizarre. This picture is *one* block off the Strip beside the new Top Golf facility.
The empty lots helped me understand *why* Las Vegas ended up here –
- the land is *super-cheap*.
- the land is pre-graded. There is nothing to bulldoze.
- there is so much of it! You are only limited by the water pipe.
- the views are incredible.
- it’s surprisingly close to Los Angeles…with its crazy *expensive* and limited land.
Anyway, unlike New York with its harbor or even like Dallas or Atlanta with their railroad junction – Las Vegas was truly built out of nothing but sheer salesmanship.
The Strip Is Far from Las Vegas
I knew that the Las Vegas Strip isn’t in the City of Las Vegas. But I didn’t realize just how far the city is from the Strip. It’s a full-on Uber ride – not a stroll or quick bus ride.
The Strip Is a Perfect Fly-In Destination (for business)
The Las Vegas airport is right there at The Strip. I had no idea. It’s the perfect fly-in, fly-out destination. There’s no long commute.* There’s no airport hub amenities. The airport is built for flying in and flying out tourists.
*That said…it’s also positioned to make resorts more money. It’s *just* far enough away from the Strip that it’s a very inconvenient walk. But – I think it’s by design that there is no direct public transportation. There is a bus line that goes to the rental facility…but even it doesn’t go to the Strip.
To get to the Strip via bus – you have to ride to the rental facility, walk a 1/4 mile to the bus hub, then wait 10 to 30 minutes for the bus to arrive, only then to get routed down to the Las Vegas sign and have to sit in Strip traffic all the way up to your hotel. It’s deviously awful and obviously designed to push people onto resort shuttles, taxis, and Ubers.
The Strip Is It’s Own World
I didn’t realize that each casino / resort on the Strip doesn’t just have its own theme – they have their own self-contained world, with faux skies and everything.
It’s so bizarre that it’s kinda cool.
The Strip Exists To Take All The Money
From the airport shuttles to lighting to casino walkway design (it’s impossible to not walk through the casino) to the spacing of restaurants to ticketing to Wifi network design – the entire Las Vegas Strip is brilliantly / maddeningly designed to do one thing – extract more money from your wallet.
It reminds me a bit of Disney World – all-inclusive fun at a cost that you didn’t expect.
Las Vegas for People Not Interested in Las Vegas
Other than poker tournaments with friends, I’m not really into gambling. I’m also not really into shows, shopping, drinking culture, etc. I also try to be fairly frugal. So, the Las Vegas Strip as a destination isn’t really my thing.
However, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my short visits there while attending a profitable & useful business conference.
If you’re like me, here’s a few tips for enjoying Las Vegas…even if you aren’t into Las Vegas.
- If it’s daylight and not above 90F, the walk to the airport is not great, but also not horrible. From Paris to Departures, it’s a 45 minute walk that’s dependable and free. Outside of the summer, the weather is stunning. Like most cities, you also learn more on foot or bike.
- Go off-Strip for a few meals. There is *incredible* food out there at great prices. I took an off-peak Lyft to a New Mexican restaurant for tortilla soup with *fresh* Hatch Valley chiles that was amazing (an unavailable outside the Southwest).
- Get a rental car to explore the region. The rental car center is very convenient. Hoover Dam, Death Valley, and Mojave are all amazing. Closer destinations like Valley of Fire, Red Rock Canyon, and Lake Mead are all one of a kind.
- The Chipotle, CVS, and Starbucks at Planet Hollywood are your friends for breakfast, lunch & groceries. Yes, those are national chains. But I found the food at the casinos to be just as generic…and crazy overpriced. Head off-strip for real local food.
- The people watching is second to none. Las Vegas brings in people from around the world for conferences and entertainment.
- Just walking the Strip at night is fun & free. Just watch for cars and pamphleteers.
- Don’t stay at your event’s recommended hotel without price shopping other hotels.
- I don’t think an off-Strip hotel would be worth it. I think it would have all the sadness of Las Vegas without any of the upside. I’d rather have a cheap, interior room on the Strip than a hotel even just a few blocks off the Strip. Those undeveloped blocks are sketchy to walk at night to and from. Staying on the Strip means you can walk.
- There are lots of fun, non-gambling one-of-a-kind entertainment places in Las Vegas that are worthwhile. Most are off-Strip, but worth the drive / Uber.
The Las Vegas Strip is really something else. It’s not what I expected, but I’m glad I got to experience it!