If your usual Las Vegas stomping grounds include only the Strip, or if, like me, you think ‘been there, done that’ when it comes to a Las Vegas getaway, a stay (or even just a day) in historic downtown Las Vegas may be just what you need to see this city from a different perspective.
Downtown Las Vegas is located toward the ‘top’ of the Strip, above the Stratosphere, and retains some of the original roots that made Vegas such a glittering, fun-loving city in the 1950s and 60s. We recommend spending time here only during an adults-only Las Vegas getaway, as its authenticity includes more than a dash of grittiness.
What to do during the day:
You’ll want to center your downtown Las Vegas day on and around Fremont Street. Head to the Downtown Container Park, located at 707 Fremont, and check out this artsy and interesting outdoor shopping and dining area created out of shipping containers and box cars. You’ll see a huge praying mantis at the entrance (an art piece, perhaps?) and layers of fun boutiques, coffee houses, and bistros in the area surrounding shaded seating. Expect good music, a clean, friendly atmosphere, and even a big playground for kids.
Next, go to the Mob Museum, located at 300 Stewart, just a few blocks from the Container Park. Built as a nod to Vegas’ mobster past, the Mob Museum includes true stories of organized crime, including crimes in Vegas history. It’s put together in an interactive, immersive way, with several levels of exhibits and displays.
Where to eat:
In the daytime, head to the Commissary, located at the bottom of the Downtown Grand, for great breakfast burritos, espresso, and sandwiches. Do yourself a favor and skip the hotel buffets at old-school casinos like the Golden Nugget or the Fremont. In the evening, try Itsy Bitsy, located at 150 Las Vegas Blvd. This ramen house offers up steaming bowls of ramen noodles and rice dishes, served alongside amazing sake. Try the cucumber sake for a refreshing, light drink.
For an after-dinner cocktail or two, avoid the ‘street’ drinks in plastic cups found along Fremont in favor of the Griffin bar, which surprises with a cozy English pub interior (with a pretty bare bones exterior). As an alternative, the Downtown Grand’s Art Bar, located on the ground floor, has great drink specials and a bright, tasteful, and airy atmosphere.
What to do at night:
You won’t find world-class shows or impressive hotel interiors downtown, but you will find a slice of Vegas culture unlike even that you see on the Strip. The Fremont Street Experience includes the massive, bright, neon-canopied pedestrian-only street where zip-liners fly overhead, bands play live, and casinos beckon on every corner. In the street, the people watching is fantastic; expect to see everything from half-naked people to open drunkenness to beggars and street performers (both talented and untalented). As noted above, this is not an atmosphere for children, but can certainly be a fun culture shock for an adult getaway.
Zip-lining above the crowd will set you back $20 per person for the lower, slower line and $40 for the high line. Plan to buy tickets at the start of the Fremont Street (where the covered area starts) well before you want to zip…the wait time tends to be about an hour. You don’t have to wait in line; rather, you’re issued a time to return.
Live music is generally fun and loud, and on the hour, the entire neon ceiling of the Fremont Street Experience comes alive with images and video to coordinate with music. For a non-gaming, non-partying crowd, one evening (or even one hour) on Fremont will be enough, but I can certainly see the authentic appeal for the wilder set.