The Vegas Hater’s Guide to Las Vegas

By @ 05/15/17 in Gay travel, Las Vegas

Millions of people love Vegas, with its over-the-top “what happens here, stays here” spectacle. If you’re not one of them, you might still find yourself visiting, reluctantly and repeatedly. It doesn’t matter if you’re a rocket scientist or an Avon Lady — If you attend any kind of meeting or convention, you’re bound to end up in Sin City. If Vegas isn’t your thing, and you’re dreading your next visit, This guide is for you.

At least once — sometimes twice a year, I’m off to Vegas for a conference. When I choose a travel destination, I’m drawn to places rich in natural beauty, indigenous culture, and local food. Could someone like me find something to love in Las Vegas? Determined to make Vegas more tolerable – even enjoyable, I put my travel skills to the test, enlisted the help of my local friends, and discovered a Vegas I’m now looking forward to revisiting.

Here are ten ways to change Vegas haters into lovers:


Big gamblers get big perks in Vegas, while the rest of us stand in long lines for check-in, buffets and nightlife. Without placing a single casino bet, I scored VIP status with both MGM and Caesars Resorts. Now I skip every line, get free cocktails — I even get my resort fees waived at every Caesars property. The Strip is much more pleasurable when you’re treated like I am now. And you might be able to buy your way in like I did: Total Rewards Diamond status is yours with a Founders Card membership, available on referral to entrepreneurs and innovators. If that’s you, use our referral link to join.  For MGM Resorts, Mlife Pearl status isn’t nearly as rewarding as Total Rewards Diamond, but it is available to Hyatt Gold Passport Discoverist members, and Gold Passport Discoverist is automatic when you have the Hyatt credit card from Chase


There are an increasing number of non-casino hotels on the strip. And while staying too far from your convention or meeting can be a pain, being able to come and go from your room without walking through a casino can help restore sanity to your stay. There are 20 non-gaming hotels in Vegas now; my favorites: Vdara, The Mandarin Oriental, and Nobu Hotel at Caesars Palace.


If you’ve done this and ended up at the Fremont Street Experience and the Heart Attack Grill, you’ve made a wrong turn. Just one block across Las Vegas Boulevard in the opposite direction you’ll find “East Freemont” a still-gritty-but-up-and-coming downtown neighborhood, with street art, a container park of popup businesses, and small chef-driven restaurants catering more to locals than tourists. Congratulate your discovery of this counter-culture with a proper cocktail at Downtown Cocktail Lounge, serving a speakeasy vibe and a seasonal cocktail menu, or the by-reservation/membership-only 365 Tokyo, or the (you’ll need the secret password) Laundry Room.


Taxi monopolies raise my blood pressure, and the price of stepping into a taxi in Vegas used to drive me crazy. Fortunately, Vegas made peace with shared ride services, Not only are Uber and Lyft allowed, but they have dedicated pickup zones at the airport and the casino resorts, making it easy to find your driver. Those zones may be a little less convenient than the taxi line, but the savings are big.


Spending a half-day with a local is a great way to connect with Vegas in a new way, and I’ll connect you with some great ones: Babs and Richard at Pop Culture Tours offer scheduled and custom tours, filled with knowledge of the city’s history from arcane to salacious. Whether you want to discover the strip, or escape it, they’ll enhance the experience 1000%. Babs is a legend in the gay/lesbian travel industry, after having been Frank Sinatra’s social secretary and Mia Farrow’s personal assistant. You’ll come away with a much broader perspective on the city.


With more than 300 restaurants, dining on the strip is a minefield. It’s easy to wait too long and pay too much for a disappointing meal in search of the transcendent meal you know Anthony Bourdain would find. It’s kind of like casino odds. Here’s how you beat them: Lip Smacking Foodie Tours offers tasting-based tours of downtown and the strip. Donald Contursi and his restaurant-industry-veteran team members share  their access to some of the city’s best dishes. Their tours include A-list celebrity haunts, small downtown restaurants helmed by the chef alumni of those celebrities, and hidden local gems. Over the course of the tour, they share their insider knowledge of the city’s dining scene, and help you make a culinary game plan for the rest of your visit.


You’d be forgiven for thinking the Neon Museum is some kitschy tourist trap. But you’d be so wrong. The Neon Museum is a revelation. Home to an extensive collection of illuminated signs from the very beginnings of Las Vegas through the recent past, the museum tells a story of the city history. Tours are led by museum docents – in my case, a university art professor – who illuminate the technical and artistic mastery of lighted signs, and explain their roles in the growth of the city and the culture of its people.


Take a day before or after your conference and experience the Grand Canyon. For about the same price as a VIP ticket to J.Lo, you can enjoy the ultimate Grand Canyon day trip. Papillon, which pioneered aerial sightseeing 50 years ago, offers many tour options and combinations. My friends and I flew from Boulder to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, enjoying bird’s eye views of the Hoover Dam, Lake Powell, and the canyon. And those were nothing compared to the views of the canyon from our 30 minute helicopter ride: Truly breathtaking. Literally. I’ve been on a few helicopter rides, but none compared to swooping around the Grand Canyon. There was time to walk the edge of the canyon at sunset, take lots of selfies, and get back to Vegas in time for dinner or a night flight home.

Even closer to Vegas is the engineering marvel that is the Hoover Dam. Most visitors tour the dam itself, but I recommend a boat ride on the Colorado River below the dam with Black Canyon Adventure. You’ll learn about the river, the history of and motivation for building the dam, and you’ll get the perfect postcard selfie with the dam. You can easily combine the river adventure with a tour of the Dam, and with a little private transportation, you can do both the river and the Grand Canyon in the same day.  


Boulder City is just 20 miles from the Vegas, one of only two cities in Nevada where gambling is illegal, and as quaint and charming as the Strip is bold and flashy.  It’s a popular stop on the way to Hoover Dam (the city was built to house dam construction workers), and a worthy excursion for breakfast. The Coffee Cup was a local phenomenon until the Food Network featured it on “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.” Now you’ll have to get there before ten to avoid a long wait on the weekends. Work off the calories with a stroll down historic Main Street and marvel at the different pace.  


Las Vegas was built in a desert, and it’s surrounded by natural desert beauty. Red Rock Canyon Conservation Area is just 17 miles from the Strip, and boasts 30 miles of hiking trails, rock climbing, horseback riding, mountain biking, road biking, and a 13-mile scenic loop with views of the rocks and the city.

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