When Matt mentioned he might want to go to the Amazon Re:Invent conference several months ago, my first question was—where is it? My disappointment that his answer was not Seattle was short-lived by the fact that Vegas in October was going to totally hit the spot. The conference happily coincided with our 4th anniversary and conveniently hit a mere two weeks before the estimated delivery window from my overseas printer. Hooray.
People often tell me they hate Vegas. Obviously, they’re doing it wrong. Sure, it’s loud, it’s smoky, it’s tacky, there’s a ton of T & A—that’s all part of the charm. Embrace it. Or completely avoid it and treat the city like the perfect getaway for R&R that it is. Being my 8th trip to Vegas since 2001, I’ve learned how to avoid the common pitfalls of Sin City.
Here’s how I do it.
Treat Vegas like a city, not an amusement park.
I know it’s hard to do when you’re surrounded by so many indicators of the latter, but Vegas isn’t a bizarro-Disney, and it has a history and a culture of its own. Check out the Neon Museum for example—this place is by far one of the coolest places I’ve ever been. It’ holds a collection of over 150 signs starting from the 1930s and is housed in a mid-century modern hotel lobby that had been relocated and restored for the purpose of the museum. To see the collection, you are taken on a guided one hour tour where you get to learn the history of the signs, the designers who created them, and the general facts and politics of the city at the time in which they were standing, and when they were being replaced. Man did I nerd out.
I booked the twilight tour because I thought it would be cool to see the lights and I’d get to take pictures at dusk. However, I think a day trip would be just as impressive. Make sure you get tickets in advance. I had reserved mine about two months before we left and a few nights were already completely sold out.
Do not stay in a shitty hotel.
Here are my recommendations:
- The Vdara in City Center: Matt and I stayed here right after it opened. Our room had a full kitchen, a phenomenal bath tub, and no casino to maneuver every time you came and went.
- The Palazzo: I've stayed here more than just this past trip. Big rooms with sunken living rooms and a super convenient location.
- The Signature at MGM Grand: This one is a little out farther away from most things since it's tucked behind the MGM, but the views are great from the higher floors, and it has an apartment-like setup.
Yes, you can find great deals, and sure you can rationalize that you’re not there to spend time in a hotel room—but Vegas is continually updating and outdoing the last best thing when it comes to grand hotels. Check out the latest hot spot and discover what new bathroom technology you’ve been missing.
Do not eat shitty food.
The easiest way to not screw this one up is to plan ahead, do your research, and don’t wait until you’re hungry to go in search of food. Everything in Vegas is essentially a 4-mile walk from where you started. That’s how kiosk club sandwiches at 10pm happen. If you see the word buffet, just keep moving.
Here are some recommendations for great meals I’ve had over the years. (I’m sure there are non-celebrity chef options out there too, but these are worth the hype.)
- Bouchon: Hand’s down the best breakfast I’ve ever had. I’d be able to live on the baguettes and OJ alone.
- Carnevino: You know you’re in trouble when you order gnocchi as a second course.
- Cut: Maybe it’s the interior design that won me over here.
- Craft Steak: Yes, another steak house. And yes, Tom Colicchio is a jerk (opinion sealed during the Top Chef season 11 finale), but the side dishes alone in this place make it a standout for me.
- Todd English P.U.B.: When we stayed at the Vdara in 2010, this was our best find. Homemade Twinkies. Good enough for me.
- B&B Burger & Beer: We walked into this place because we were tired. But a basket of fried pickles and a hazelnut milkshake later, I’m now a huge fan.
- Spago: yeah, yeah, Puck again—cliche. But I love these damn salads and sitting on the “patio” in Caesar’s Palace at lunchtime is a treat in its own.
- Flour & Barley: Matt and I walked over to the Linq later in the evening after his conference wrapped and tried this one out on a whim. Maybe I was just super hungry, but it hit the spot.
- Jaleo: My favorite DC restaurant Vegasified—come on!
Do not stay up all hours of the night thinking great things are going to happen.
In my younger years I used to think this was the way Vegas worked. I also hadn’t learned the shitty hotel rule, so I guess that’s also why I didn’t want to go back to my room ever. If you’re tired and getting irritable, get away from the hoards of people who are equally as miserable as you are. One of my favorite trips to Vegas included a night of room service cheeseburgers and a BravoTV marathon. My feet didn’t hurt that night one bit.
If you’re throwing money away, you might as well splurge on things that you enjoy.
We also went to see Rock of Ages. I was skeptical of this decision because musicals make me uncomfortable, but it was totally worth it. Matt scored super close seats that enabled us to hear every quick-lipped side comment the narrator had to say (especially in response to hecklers), and I laughed for 2 hours straight. Bonus: A LOT of Bon Jovi.
I spent two entire days at the Canyon Ranch Spa. I haven’t felt that relaxed in years. Totally worth the price of admission (which I think was only $30 a day anyway—a major steal.)
I also like to spend as much time in the sun as possible when I’m in Vegas. This isn’t for everyone when it’s 95 degrees, but I love it. It’s a dry heat! And the people watching CANNOT be beaten. So many plastic parts (especially when the Californians come in for the weekend)—good times.
This last trip I got up every morning, threw on my headphones, and went outside to workout. The strip is a totally different world at 7am. At times I felt like I was the only one in the city—which was awesome. You also realize how many sets of stairs are required to cross streets—which may or may not remind you how out of shape you are. And that you live in a ranch-style home. I digress.
So, the moral of my long-winded story here is: The next time you’re in need of a getaway don’t rule out Vegas.
Please add your tips and recommendations in the comments. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before trip #9.