If someone had told me four years ago that I’d be living in Vegas, I would have thought they were crazy. I’m not a party person, hate extreme heat and never wanted to leave Seattle. However, after meeting, marrying and moving with my Air Force husband here we are! Having lived here for four years now, I’ve really come to embrace it. Las Vegas is full of tourist attractions, which has its pros and cons for locals. It’s nice to always have the option of an eventful weekend or a spur-of-the-moment dinner at a celebrity chef’s restaurant, but the crowds and prices on the Strip can get a little overwhelming. We definitely enjoy going there occasionally, but there are so many great places that are just as fun and delicious off-Strip. We’ve done a lot of exploring over the last few years, so I decided to put together a Las Vegas guide with some of my favorite finds!
Carson Kitchen is the first restaurant we suggest to locals and visitors. It has a cool, casual vibe and rooftop dining in the heart of Downtown Las Vegas. Rob and I have tried about 90% of the menu and have been impressed by everything. They are also really good about updating the menu with seasonal items, so we are usually able to try something new, too. One dish you must try is the bacon jam with brie! It’s unlike anything I’ve had (here’s my attempt to recreate it). I also love the crispy chicken skins, cocoa-espresso NY strip steak and bourbon fudge brownie.
Honey Salt is another restaurant where everything is so fresh and flavorful. Even their chicken breast, which seems like a boring thing to order, was SO good! And their bread and butter (made with honey and salt, hence the name) that they serve to start with is addicting! My favorite dish so far has been the caramelized sea scallops in a vanilla bean truffle sauce and I’m also a big fan of the desserts. I recommend the brookie (chocolate chip cookie meets fudge brownie topped with McConnell’s salted caramel chunk ice cream) and brown bag baked apple pie.
Leticia’s Mexican Cocina. This Mexican restaurant in the northwest part of the valley serves some of the best chips and salsas you’ll ever taste! Plus their margaritas are out of this world and are buy-one-get-one free on Tuesdays. The food is very authentic, such as the Mexican-style Fajitas called El Molcajete that Rob always orders. I’ve ordered quite a few items, but one of my favorite dishes is their award-winning QuesaTaco (a mix between a quesadilla and taco). It’s one of the few restaurants that we go to over and over again.
Naked City Pizza. We fist saw this hole in the wall on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, and it definitely falls under the “Dives” category. Sometimes we are disappointed by Guy Fieri’s finds, but this one lives up to the hype! We always get The Guinea, which was featured and is made with ricotta cheese, homemade meatballs, spinach, white garlic sauce and mozzarella. It’s a great casual option if you just want some beer and amazing pizza.
Atomic Liquors had been on our Vegas bucket list for a long time since it’s the oldest free-standing bar in Las Vegas. I always saw the iconic sign while driving downtown, so one day Rob and I decided to stop in. We both ordered a cocktail from their menu of unique items, which were really good! Another fun place for a cocktail is Frankie’s Tiki Room. It has a dark, loud atmosphere, but the tropical concoctions are delicious—and strong!
There are also a lot of great beer options in Las Vegas. Rob and I really like trying local craft beers, so for his birthday one year I took him to the Booze District where we enjoyed flights from CraftHaus and Bad Beat Brewing. Some other local breweries that we really like are Banger Brewing (try the jalapeño hefeweizen!) and Tenaya Creek.
If you’re looking for something more active and outdoorsy, try hiking at Red Rock Canyon. I’m not much of a hiker, but I’ve really enjoyed the trails we have tried. Calico Tanks is kind of a rocky climb and has a cool view of the Strip and Vegas Valley from the top. Another trail to try in the early spring is Ice Box Canyon, which has a waterfall at the end if we’ve had enough rain. If you’re here in the summer, Mt. Charleston is a fun place to hike because it can be about 30 degrees cooler and the scenery drastically changes (more green and mountainous). Another way to spend the day outdoors is by checking out Gilcrease Orchard. I suggest going in the fall when they have pumpkins, apples and freshly made cider and doughnuts.
There are also a lot of museums to explore, such as The Neon Museum. It’s an outdoor exhibition where you see iconic, preserved signs on a guided tour. They teach you about the unique stories behind the signs and how they play a role in Las Vegas’ history. To learn more about the city’s past The Mob Museum is also a great way to spend the afternoon. There are three stories of exhibits, videos and artifacts about the mob, law enforcement and how it all ties into Sin City. Another interactive exhibit is the Pinball Hall of Fame, which is full of old games that can still be played. Both kids and adults will love this stop!
If you’re on the Strip, I suggest seeing the Bellagio fountains. It’s one tourist attraction I will never get tired of watching! It’s also fun to walk up and down The LINQ. This outdoor promenade and the High Roller are some of the newest additions to the Strip. Along the way you’ll find the Sprinkles cupcake ATM, Ghirardelli sundaes, several unique shops, a variety of restaurants/bars and live entertainment at Brooklyn Bowl.
I have explored every shopping area in town and they each have their own unique reasons to visit. Fashion Show is the number one reason I visit the Strip. The mall has everything from Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus to Topshop and Zara. It also has a pop-up runway where they host numerous fashion shows and events, such as this one hosted by Rachel Zoe that I attended last fall. One of the newer shopping destinations is Downtown Summerlin. It’s a beautiful outdoor mall filled with stores like Nordstrom Rack, Dillard’s, Lululemon, Trader Joe’s and an H&M on the way. Plus it has a variety of delicious restaurants like Public House 702, Shake Shack and Wolfgang Puck’s Bar & Grill and a farmers market every Saturday. I also frequent Town Square on a regular basis since it is so close to my office. My usual stops include Old Navy, H&M, Saks Off 5th Ave, LOFT and Banana Republic. There is also a cute bath and body shop called Sweet Bubbles, which sells soaps and bath bombs that look like baked goods! The District at Green Valley Ranch is another outdoor mall where I go for stores like Anthropologie and West Elm. Plus I really like their restaurants like Whist Stove & Spirits and Lyfe Kitchen.
For a more unique, local shopping experience Container Park is a great stop. It’s literally three stories of containers, each filled with a different boutique-style store. Products range from cute clothing and handmade jewelry to cupcakes and jerkey. It’s located in the heart of Downtown Fremont, so there are also a lot of restaurants and fun street art nearby. If you’re looking for an outdoor experience with some European flair, Tivoli Village is your best bet. The storefronts and streets are beautiful, plus they have a farmers market every weekend with all sorts of goodies. There are a lot of boutiques inside The Market (including a delicious candy store!) and fun shops like Gypsy 05.
There are a lot of festivals that come through town. I’m a big country music fan, so the ACM Party For A Cause festival is a must! This year it was a three-day event at the Las Vegas Festival Grounds with performers like Dierks Bentley, Carrie Underwood, Maren Morris, Kenny Chesney, Kelsea Ballerina and many more. Route 91 Harvest Festival also sounds fun and brings big names, although I’ve never been to this one.
I’ve also attended Life Is Beautiful a couple of times, which has more alternative music. Imagine Dragons and The Killers have been my favorite performers, but there’s also been other big names like Kanye West, Hozier, Duran Duran, Kendrick Lamar and Stevie Wonder. Plus the food is outstanding! A lot of locally owned restaurants and celebrity chefs participate in the culinary village. Food and music lovers will also like the Bite of Las Vegas hosted by a local radio station, Mix 94.1. We’ve gone every year and it’s a one-day event filled with food booths and a great musical lineup.
For beer lovers, you’ll want to attend the Great American Beer Festival. One year they had a doughnut and beer pairing class that I loved!
Is there anything I should add to this Las Vegas guide? I’m sure I’ll be updating this post as we find more great places!