LOVE & LOATHING… LAS VEGAS.
I remember my first trip to Sin City like it was yesterday (don’t we all)… rolled into town all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, got drunk off one margarita (RIP those days), wore tall heels and short dresses, took off said heels at 3 am and walked through the casino barefoot – ah, the good ol’ days!
I remember those Vegas experiences (mostly) fondly, but even after 11 years of frequenting this city at least 2x a year, if not more, some things about my relationship with Vegas have not changed. First and foremost I always have and always will come to Vegas for the food, the entertainment, the shopping, and the big hotel energy.
There really is simply no place on earth quite like Vegas – it’s an American and adult rite of passage. But there is no question in my mind that there are right and wrong ways to indulge in the desert (in every sense of the imagination). So, as your friend and local-adjacent, here’s how to do Vegas right. I’m not guaranteeing you won’t have, let’s say, “a little too much fun”, but alas fun will be had and what more could you ask for.
THE GETAWAY GUIDE TO LAS VEGAS
HOT TAKES & WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
- Vegas is easy to get to from LA. I’d personally always recommend flying seeing as how the strip is so close to the airport and cabs/Ubers are a-plenty. HIGHLY recommend taking a JSX plane – you will never look back, trust me.
- Should you choose to travel by way of car from the LA/SoCal area, it will take you around 3 hours – *without traffic. If you’re coming into Vegas any time after 3 pm… expect to add at least 2 hours to your drive. And if you’re planning on LEAVING Vegas anytime after 11am (even 10am)… expect to add at least 2 hours to your drive. I cannot recommend driving at off times enough, I have experienced both miserable rides in either direction (some of which took SEVEN HOURS) so try to avoid that if you can: you can sleep when you get back to LA.
- Yeah, you know what, just fly. Hello – booze onboard?
- There are 2 options for lodging/exploring: on the strip, or off the strip – likely Downtown. If you choose to stay Downtown, there’s plenty of cool stuff in that area (especially lately) just know you’ll be about a 10-15 min Uber ride to the strip.
MORE TIPS AND SUGGESTIONS
- The temperatures in Vegas have a huge range and can change quickly. I’ve been in Vegas in the snow, and I’ve been in 120 degrees. It’s the desert, so check the weather – and remember the desert can get very cold at night, very quickly! ALWAYS bring a jacket – the casinos can be chilly, and let’s be honest you’ll be indoors most of the time.
- There are a few modes of transportation around town: walking (my personal favorite), the bus – “The Deuce” (the cheapest and can be the most effective), cabs, Uber/Lyft, or the monorail (check the stops before you get too excited)
- Bring practical shoes, seriously, you have a lot of walking to do. Even if you’re not hitting the strip, remember: these hotels are giant mazes. You’ll be walking a LOT. Don’t be that girl walking barefoot through the lobby (Trust me, I’ve been her).
- Drink a glass of water for every adult beverage you consume. It’s dry in Vegas, you’re drinking, you’ve got things to do and people to see – HYDRATE!
- Remember, Vegas is not cheap, and the house always wins. I hate to sound like your mother, again, but if you’re gambling (FUN, go for it, I love the slots) set aside an amount you’re fine with losing – “welp that was fun” money, as I like to call it.
- I don’t know who needs to hear this but, Vegas is actually super kid-friendly – since it’s not my forte, check this article out: “25 Things To Do In Vegas With Kids”
- I’ve now been to Vegas twice in the past two months (March-May 2021) and found that the only frustrating aspect has been trying to get Ubers. Right now there doesn’t seem to be a lot of them, for one, but especially Uber X drivers. Be sure to factor in a lot of extra time (at least 10 minutes) between destinations – I was late to a number of reservations and it got a bit frustrating so just keep that in mind.
- As of May, Vegas is now at 80% capacity and 3 ft social distancing. Take that as you will but now you know.
- Masks are mandatory indoors unless you are actively eating/drinking at a table (or machine) – be sure you’ve got a comfortable mask with you because you’ll be wearing it pretty much the whole time you’re there.
- Shows are officially back! Obviously not all of them, but be sure to check schedules or get some ideas HERE
- On June 1st, nightclubs and pool parties will be allowed to open again.
- Rates in Vegas right now are still pretty epic, get on booking your stay while they’re still this affordable because it won’t last long!
MY FAVORITE HOTELS
My absolute personal favorite. High-end, not pretentious, vibrant, whimsical, and they have the best restaurants and clubs in Vegas.
Second favorite hotel in Vegas, a lot more young and hip (it’s the ultimate “Angeleno” hotel), newer, and is right up there with The Wynn for me in terms of dining and fun.
I’ve stayed at the Aria more times than any other hotel in Vegas because it’s always the best value for what you get. It’s fancy, absolutely gorgeous, but always priced right. It’s right next to the Cosmo too so it’s easy to go between the two.
My latest love!! The Virgin Hotel took over the old Hard Rock space and just opened this past March. It’s off the strip but it has so many perks. The rooms are really nice, the restaurants are many that most Angelenos will recognize, the rates are great, AND – $0 resort fees. Unheard of in Vegas.
SECOND FAVORITES – GUIDE TO LAS VEGAS
I have stayed at both the Venetian and Palazzo more times than I can remember; it’s a great hotel for groups. The rooms are pretty dang big, they’re super comfortable, and it’s kind of the place to be in terms of dining/shopping/entertainment. If you want the classic Vegas experience, this is it!
I stayed here so many times in my younger years, it’s a classic. Super central on the strip, great rooms, and SHOPPING!
This might be weird to say but this is my favorite smelling hotel. It’s distinctive and super nostalgic. Anyhow, more importantly, it’s just a solid “in the middle” hotel. Nice but never overpriced, big, love the House of Blues (I used to work for this one!), Foundation Room for the views. You’ll also find lots of shopping here.
MGM is one of the most CLASSIC hotels in Vegas, and it’s old school without being outdated. If you’re into the pool party scene, their Wet Republic pool party is one of the best known and gets lots of big name DJs.
DYING TO SOMEDAY STAY AT…
Located inside the Mandalay Bay – need I say more than “Four Seasons”.
Located inside the MGM. LOVE Nomad hotels, I’ve heard great things about this one.
Does it get any more “proper Vegas” than Caesars? Plus, you can quote The Hangover with reckless abandon: “You probably get this a lot: this isn’t the real Caesar’s Palace, is it?”
Does it get any more “bougie Vegas” than the Bellagio? If you’re able to afford the pricier stay, it doesn’t disappoint: and it’s a super fun bucket list Vegas item to check off – plus, who doesn’t want to spend hours staring at their fountain?
This is a brand new hotel Downtown, I went for drinks and would TOTALLY come back for a stay. In the last decade, Downtown Vegas has seen a massive facelift and has a super fun and legit cool bar scene – so if you’re not looking for the club experience, a stay Downtown might be the place to be.
MY FAVORITE RESTAURANTS – GUIDE TO LAS VEGAS
BREAKFAST & BRUNCH
Yes, my New Yorkers or NYC goers, the same Sadelle’s as the one in Soho! Inside the Bellagio, very gram-worthy, very delicious. Get the whitefish tower with an everything bagel and a side of the blintzes. Thank me later.
Love this breakfast spot at the Wynn because you have the option of dining outside. It’s simple but effective, and it’s the Wynn so it’s the best.
Tableau is another great breakfast option at the Wynn, a bit “nicer”, more classic, but all they do is breakfast/brunch – so they do it REALLY well.
MON A MI GABI (Paris)
Mon A Mi Gabi is P O P U L A R. But I get why, it’s right on the strip, indoor/outdoor seating, great ambiance, great food, all the things. Be sure to make a reservation.
BARDOT BRASSERIE (Aria)
Word on the street is, Bardot has the best brunch in Vegas period. I’ve only been for dinner, but I’ve heard more things about their brunch than any other brunch in Vegas so, there you have it. (Available Friday – Sunday)
Latin cuisine, dim interior, love that they offer breakfast every single day starting at 8 am – it seems to be what they’re known for too. I’ve only been here for happy hour but it’s on my list to come back for brunch.
Angelenos looooove Bouchon, and this is a really good one. It’s stunning, and everything you’d expect that comes with dining here. (Breakfast/brunch is available Friday – Sunday)
Angelenos live and die by Eggslut (it’s our thing), and it’s the best option in town to get a “quick” bite. My mouth is watering just thinking about those breakfast sandos.
Fun Southern deliciousness, and the home of some of the best fried chicken! LOVE this spot, super casual, nothing terribly fancy, but damn fine Southern food and cocktails.
EATALY (Park MGM)
YES! There is an Eataly in Vegas if you can believe it! And of course, they offer a few different dining options.
One of my all-time FAV restaurants in NYC, love that they have a Vegas outpost. Who doesn’t love David Chang.
CASA CALAVERA (Virgin Hotel)
Great Mexican food, love that they’re by the pool (or what will soon be the pool that is) and it’s worth mentioning they have a great Happy Hour that starts at 3 pm. I would know, I went every day during our last trip. (Get the shrimp tacos or the tuna tostada.)
BORDER GRILL (Mandalay Bay)
Border Grill will forever and always be one of my favorite restaurants. I miss the ones we used to have in LA but I’m glad I can still get my fix in Vegas!
RED 8 (Wynn)
Proooobbabblllyyy one of my favorite lunch spots in Vegas. Probably because I have an unhealthy obsession with dumplings.
Gourmet burgers, boozy shakes, beer – the good sh*t.
BLACK TAP (Venetian)
Even bigger and more wild gourmet burgers with shakes made for the gram. Bring your camera and appetite.
WATER GRILL (Forum Shops at Caesars)
GORGEOUS seafood-centric spot at Caesars. Super chic warm decor could be great for getting business done, could be great for fuel for shopping,
SECRET PIZZA (Cosmopolitan)
It’s the coolest pizza joint in Vegas, and in my world, you’re not indulging right if there’s no pizza involved.
Arguably my favorite dinner spot in Vegas! Food is great (fish, steak, American) but the SHOW is what you come for! Lake of Dreams is a nighty show and it’s one of my favorite experiences by far. Something new happens every 30 minutes, and you’ll want to see them all.
There are a lot of great Italian restaurants in Vegas, but no one makes spaghetti like chef Scott Conant. Trust. Oh, and there are great views of the Bellagio fountains, just sayin.
NOBU (Caesars and Virgin)
There are TWO Nobu sushi restaurants in Vegas now, the Virgin location of course being the newest. We all know what Nobu is, just go if you’re craving great sushi.
SW STEAKHOUSE (Wynn)
Right next to the Lakeside at the Wynn is an upscale fancy steakhouse, SW Steakhouse. Same views of the show, just a different restaurant.
COSTA DI MARE (Wynn)
Fresh Mediterranean seafood and Italian pasta, gorgeous indoor and outdoor seating.
CUT BY WOLFGANG PUCK (Palazzo)
You an Angeleno, you love Wolfgang. CUT is of course Wolfgang Puck’s more meat-centric restaurant, very upscale very delicious. The man does no wrong and his team is always insanely talented.
MOTT 32 (Venetian)
Contemporary Chinese food, chic AF, uber fine dining.
MATTEO’S RESTAURANTE ITALIANO (Venetian)
Inspired by one of my all-time favorite restaurants in LA – The Factory Kitchen. Order the Mandilli Di Seta pasta – you’ll see.
Fine and FANCY Italian, same as the famous Carbone in NYC.
CHINA POBLANO (Cosmopolitan)
By far one of the most fun and interesting menus you’ll ever meet: Chinese and Mexican fusion. Chef José Andreas does no wrong in my opinion, and this is in my top 3 favorites in Vegas. Worth noting it’s a relatively casual option too.
Another José Andreas gem (and thus another favorite of mine) at Jaleo you’ll find a more modern tapas-type situation, a fun, casual, buzzy atmosphere, and a great happy hour – which is always welcome.
BARDOT BRASSERIE (Aria)
One of my favorite dinners in Vegas to date was at Bardot. Such a vibe, as the kids say – feels totally like a chic French brasserie, they have a gorgeous bar and INSANE bistro cuisine. Deviled eggs, burger, chicken (yes, chicken), a bottle of wine – boom.
NIGHT + MARKET (Virgin)
One of LA’s favorites and finest has landed at Virgin!! Night & Market is a great slightly more casual option with some of the best Thai food you’ll ever have. IYKYK.
MAJORDOMO MEAT & FISH (Venetian)
David Chang, at it again! This is the Vegas outpost for their LA location – just with more “meat and fish”. And what’s not to like about that?
BAZAAR MEAT BY JOSE ANDRES (Sahara)
I never fully understood what meat sweats were till I went to Bazaar Meat. Loved every second of that epic meal, and I love that we can still get our Bazaar fix!
BEST FRIEND (MGM)
LA’s favorite chef Roy Choi has a new restaurant at MGM! Expect his famous Mexican-Korean cuisine, a fun/vibrant vibe, and a great crowd.
BEAUTY & ESSEX (Cosmopolitan)
Uber trendy, but it’s pretty – solid for a date night or to emulate that feeling of a Manhattan or West Hollywood night on the town.
Right up there with Nobu, another epic sushi spot. I go to the one in Napa all the time.
BRERA OSTERIA (Venetian)
Yet another LA favorite, Brera Osteria just opened up their second location a few months ago at the Shoppes at the Venetian. It’s in a great location near the canals, the food is fantastic, and it’s another great more casual option.
SHANG ARTISAN NOODLE (off the strip)
Now, I have to be honest I haven’t been to Shang Artisan Noodle yet, but a friend on Instagram messaged me to make sure I include it (and visit myself next time) and I have to say – omg. It looks incredible. Sure it’s off the strip but whatever! They’re open for lunch and dinner too.
FAVORITE COCKTAIL BARS
PARASOL DOWN (Wynn)
Parasol Down is right near the “Lake” at the Wynn where you can catch a glimpse of the Lake of Dreams show, without necessarily having to commit to dinner. Oh, and they have the best cocktails and snacks, period. I love coming here at pretty much any hour.
Rosina is in my top 3 favorite fancy cocktail bars. It feels like a proper cocktail bar with its dim lighting, lux art deco-inspired interior, and the drinks are simply incredible.
SHAG ROOM (Virgin)
Shag Room is worth visiting the new Virgin Hotel for alone. Enter through a “photobooth” and find yourself in a luxurious, warm, and Moroccan-inspired space with private seating and if you’re lucky – LIVE MUSIC. It’s a little 70’s, a little rock n roll, and makes me want to say something to the effect of “it’s groovy baby”.
VEGAS VICKIE’S (Circa)
Vegas Vickie’s is located on the casino floor of the new Circa hotel and boasts, well none other than Vegas Vickie herself! The famous neon sign that is. She’s been totally revived and gives the bar space the total “wow factor”.
THE CHANDELIER (Cosmopolitan)
I’m pretty sure the Chandelier bar is everyone’s favorite bar in Vegas, and it’s for a good reason! Three levels literally looks like a chandelier, and yes – great drinks.
I am sad to say that I have yet to personally visit The Underground, but it’s #1 on my list for my next trip. It’s considered to be the best cocktail bar in Vegas, and it’s so fitting that it’s a speakeasy – under the Mob Museum.
GHOST DONKEY (Cosmopolitan)
If “Ghost Donkey” doesn’t scream “party”, I don’t know what does. Hailing originally from NYC, Ghost Donkey is known for its tequila and mezcal drinks, as well as their awesome “nachos especiales”.
LEGACY CLUB (Circa)
Best (and perhaps the only?) new rooftop bar in Vegas! Everyone’s talking about it! Can’t wait to see it for myself, it looks epic.
LA CAVE (Wynn)
Finally! A wine bar! And in true Wynn fashion, it’s absolutely gorgeous.
THE DORSEY (Venetian)
If Rosina is closed, go to The Dorsey. Or hit both! Do you! It’s Vegas!
THE BARBERSHOP CUTS AND COCKTAILS (Cosmopolitan)
A PROPER speakeasy, and a super fun/chic/cool one at that. Yes, it’s very reminiscent of the Blind Barber, even with the entrance (don’t let the barber part fool you), and yes, it’s just as good (maybe better?)
THE LAUNDRY ROOM (Downtown)
This super cool speakeasy is located in Downtown Vegas, but trust me: it’s worth the Uber even if you’re staying on the Strip. Strictly reservation only (the bar’s capacity is 22), this is a special experience: tucked away in the back of another bar, this little space is a legit former laundry room, which handled The Rat Pack’s and Liberace’s finest Vegas costumes. If you’re not into any of their 27 delicious signature cocktails, they’re happy to craft a custom concoction based on your favorite flavors. Plus, there’s always an awesome performer tapping away on their piano.
HAVEN’T BEEN YET BUT THEY’RE ON THE LIST
VANDERPUMP COCKTAIL GARDEN (Caesars)
BOUND BAR (The Cromwell)
LILY BAR & LOUNGE (Bellagio)
VESPER BAR (Cosmopolitan)
CLIQUE BAR & LOUNGE (Cosmopolitan)
SKYBAR (Waldorf Astoria)
JUNIPER COCKTAIL LOUNGE (Park MGM)
WHISKEY DOWN (MGM)
HAZEL COFFEE & COCKTAILS (Mandalay Bay)
OFF THE STRIP
Ok so I haven’t actually been to these, but if Eater Vegas says they’re good… they’re good:
MY FAVORITE ACTIVITIES
Just something you have to see to believe but to phrase it in simple terms, Area 15 is about 10 minutes off the strip and is self-described as “a district of immersive experiences”, including Meow Wolf’s infamous Omega Mart. It’s great for literally everyone, and I honestly can’t wait to go back to see more (especially the Drag Show on Friday nights). If you’re still like “wtf is Area15, take a look at my Area15 Instagram Reel I made that might help give you a better idea.
A walk back in time through Vegas history, by way of vintage neon signs of yesteryear. I’ve been twice, it’s a lot smaller than you’d expect but it’s pretty dang awesome (and great for snapping a pic! phones only, forewarning). If you can, try visiting around dusk so you can actually see the lights.
This past trip was actually the first time I’d ever gone to the Vegas sign for a picture, and even at 8 am there was a line of people. A hot tip I learned from my friend Amy Seder was to forget the line and snap from the side of the sign (see my photo above for reference) – you’re not in anyone’s way, and in my opinion, it’s a much better angle. If you’re lucky, Elvis will be there too.
I might go so far as to say that Cirque du Soleil shows are my favorite part about going to Vegas. I’ve seen almost all of them, but my favorite so far is definitely Beatles LOVE.
I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, Lake of Dreams is the best show *outside* that you can get for free with dinner or drinks at Parasol Down, SW Steakhouse, or Lakeside! Expect a new short “show” every 30 minutes starting at 8 pm, if you’re lucky you’ll catch the frog singing Frank Sinatra’s “New York”.
After your epic breakfast/brunch at Sadelle’s, be sure to take a stroll through the sky-lit atrium Conservatory & Gardens for the most incredible seasonal art installations made of *real* plants, flowers, and trees. The last time I was there they had a greenhouse full of the most beautiful blue butterflies too.
My second favorite thing about coming to vegas… shopping. And I hit up all the good spots. Fashion Show is the big traditional mall, but the Shoppes at the Palazzo, the Miracle Mile Shops, the Downtown Container Park, the Forum Shops at Caesars, and more. Forgot to pack something or desperately want a NEW dress to show off at night? No problem.
The Arts District is an area between The Strat and Fremont St. and is a really fun place to visit if you need a break from the typical strip stuff. It’s an epic cultural “hub” featuring a number of art galleries, performance spaces, and bars & restaurants in converted warehouses.
I haven’t actually been to the Container Park on Fremont St yet, but it looks SO. COOL. It’s a relatively new outdoor shopping/dining/entertainment center that is made up of quite literally big containers. If you could use a break from the Strip and want something new to do (*outside*), check the Container Park out.
Bright colorful art installation in the desert, trust me if you’re on Instagram you’ll recognize it. It’s about 30 minutes off the strip.
If you’re the “outdoorsy” type I suppose…?
It’s supposed to be pretty cool, they have the largest colleciton of artifacts from the Titanic.
An epic way to see 2000 sea creatures.
The one thing I am actually dying to do in Vegas. Mostly for the speakeasy but also for the history.
If you must. (There’s always a long line and it’s just so dang cheesy, but hey, whatever floats your boat.)
Live music, light shows, art installations, dining, shopping – the whole sh’bang.