Las Vegas is famous for gambling and the Strip, but there are many other cool things to do there that are often overlooked in the afterglow of the casinos. If you aren’t into gambling, or you ran out of money, or you’re just plain tired of the madness of the strip, here are some awesome ideas to check out!
Red Rock Canyon
Just a thirty minute drive from the Strip is the Red Rock Canyon scenic drive. It’s a one-way thirteen-mile loop not far from highway 215. The sole purpose of this road is for recreation and to take in the scenery.
In my opinion, every visitor to Las Vegas should drive this loop at least once. In the summer, the best time to go is early morning or late afternoon to avoid the mid-day heat. But, when I went in late August, the canyon seemed about ten degrees cooler than the city, perhaps due to the elevation.
Admission is $7 per car. You’ll get a map with all of the points of interest. The first stop is the visitors center with a panoramic view of the brilliant red Calico rocks. The visitor’s center closes at 4:30PM, so if you miss it, don’t worry – the real attractions are yet to come.
I recommend stopping at each point the map. Each has something different to offer. You can hike as much or as little as you want. You can get some great views and photos just a few steps from your car. Of course, hiking further will give you better views. The Calico 1 and 2 trails seemed most impressive to me. The brilliant red rocks at these stops are simply incredible. I did a 360 panoramic shot at the Red Rock Wash Overlook, about half way through the loop:
Red Rock Canyon offers a quiet, tranquil escape into awesome natural beauty which is ideal when you’re burned out from the lights and noise of the casinos. I highly recommend it!
The Neon Museum of Las Vegas
I am fascinated by history and old, abandoned locations, so I was eager to check out the Neon Museum of Las Vegas, which displays some of the most iconic signs from the Strip’s past. I was looking forward to this and was not disappointed!
Admission and guided tour is $19. You must take the tour – you can’t wander around by yourself. Entry is timed and can sell-out, so book your reservation beforehand online.
The grounds are only two acres, but they are so packed with signs that I felt like I got my money’s worth. A guide will take you on a one-hour tour explaining the history many of the signs, as well as Las Vegas itself.
Note that most of the neon at this museum is not lit up. Many of the signs are too broken and damaged to work without incurring tremendous expense. But, the signs are still impressive when not lit because you can see the details of the paint and weathering. There is a night time tour which displays some signs lit up, but just don’t expect all of them to be.
I found the Neon Museum to be super interesting and another Las Vegas “must see” in my book.
The Downtown Container Park
In the early 2010’s, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh had an idea to create a renewable shopping and entertainment center constructed from shipping containers. Just a few years later, the Downtown Container Park opened.
I love this place, especially at night. It’s got a really cool “night-market” vibe with three levels of shops and restaurants. But, it’s not just a shopping center. In the center is a towering multi-level play area for kids. In the front is a fire-breathing praying mantis originally constructed for Burning Man (and yes – it really does breathe fire during the evening show when it comes alive). Oh, and there is a stage for musical performances in the back.
I really hope this is the future of outdoor shopping malls in all cities. Wouldn’t it be great if the corner mall, which most often is an eyesore, became a gathering place where kids could get some exercise, and adults could see live music as well as dine and shop? Oh, and don’t forget the fire-breathing praying mantis!
Clark County Wetlands Park
If you crave natural beauty as a respite from the man-made intensity of the strip, check out the Clark County Wetlands Park. Stop by the nature center to learn about the wildlife that live here, or go directly to one of the newly-renovated walking trails.
The park is open daily and there’s no entry fee, so just go already!
Fremont Street Experience
Fremont Street is not exactly a contrast from the craziness of the strip, but it does offer a more historical alternative. After a long period of decline, Fremont Street, where Las Vegas gambling originated, is undergoing major renovation and is becoming more and more popular.
It’s best to go at night when you’ll see the light show above (the “Fremont Street Experience”), zip liners flying down the street, and live bands on weekends. But mostly, it’s close to several of the other attractions on this list, so it’s worth walking a few extra blocks to check it out, even if you’re burned out on the Strip.
If you’re a fan of the “Back to the Future” movies, you can find the hotel that was the basis for Biff’s casino in “BTTF Part II” at the west end of Fremont Street. A miniature version of the Plaza hotel was created to serve as Biff’s casino in the film.
The Pinball Hall of Fame
Not everyone will be into this, but if you have any nostalgia for old-school arcades, you should check out the Pinball Hall of Fame, which features pinball machines from the 1950’s to the 1990’s. It’s not just a museum – you can play the games at 25 to 50 cents per play.
National Atomic Testing Museum
This is another somewhat geeky attraction, but I like the National Atomic Testing Museum, which focuses mostly on cold-war-era nuclear weapons and testing.
There are usually discounts on Groupon for this museum, so check before you buy.
Shelby Heritage Center
Even if you’re not a huge car fanatic, I think you’ll still find this collection of bright and shiny Shelby vehicles interesting. The Shelby Heritage Center is just a short Uber ride from the Strip. Check their website for tour times. They are free!
Las Vegas Natural History Museum
Las Vegas is no longer quite as kid-friendly as it was back in the 90’s. If you are looking for a way to entertain kids, take them to the Las Vegas Natural History Museum. They won’t be disappointed!
The Mob Museum
The Mob Museum is just a short walk from Fremont Street and there is a money-saving deal if you buy tickets for it along with the Neon Museum.
The Mob Museum is housed in what was the Las Vegas courthouse, an appropriate location for a museum about crime. The museum is well executed, and has some cool artifacts like an electric chair, Tommy guns, and so forth. But, I found this museum to be very text-heavy, with a lot of reading involved. If you’re fascinated by the subject, it’s great, but if you’re not really, or if you’re with kids, this may not be your cup of tea.
The Springs Preserve
The Springs Preserve is part nature center, part concert venue, part event center and part science/history museum all in one. It offers yet another quiet respite (except for the school kids who sometimes visit on weekdays) from the Strip.
Some folks love this place while others complain about the confusing signage and nickel-and-dime additional charges for exhibits after you’ve paid for admission.
The Gold And Silver Pawn Shop (from Pawn Stars)
If you’re a fan of History Channel’s Pawn Stars, the Gold and Silver Pawn Shop is a must-see. The cast is usually not there, but you can take some selfies at familiar spots in the store. This is just a short drive from Fremont Street.
If you don’t watch the show, on the other hand, then you should probably skip this.
Casa de Shenandoah (Wayne Newton’s Estate)
If you’re a millennial, you might not know or appreciate Wayne Newton, but older Vegas regulars definitely will. His ranch, Casa de Shenandoah, is on the other side of McCarran Airport and is now open to the public. At $79, the tour is pretty darn expensive, but you can get general admission tickets for $25, with a semi-guided tour which lets you see the cars, and the jet, as well as parts of the mansion.
Valley of Fire State Park
Valley of Fire is an amazing but little-known attraction (except to the locals, who like to keep this secret) just an hour away from Las Vegas. It has brilliantly-colored rocks and arching formations similar to what you’d see at Zion. If you have the time to make the drive, it is a must-see. The only reason it’s last on my list is the distance, but do try to make this if you have time!
As you can see, there are tons of things to do in Las Vegas which don’t involve the Strip or gambling! I hope this has been helpful to you.
What other activities do you like to do in Las Vegas which are not on The Strip? What did you think of these? Please comment below! – Brian