Even after all of the Elvis weddings, bachelor parties and buffet dinners, Las Vegas can still surprise. Take the NHL’s newest team, the Vegas Golden Knights, for example. No one expected the first-year franchise to do much on the ice. But just look at them — in mid-April, the squad became the first hockey team ever to sweep a playoff series in its inaugural season. No matter how their playoff story concludes, that spark of competitive fire has been eternally lit around the city.
But the recent cheers around town cannot be reserved for T-Mobile Arena. There’s excitement everywhere. Look down the Strip and you’ll see all sorts of hotels, restaurants and fun sprouting up. The same can be said about downtown Vegas and even further afield, too. So, if you’re looking to rewrite your next Sin City story, skip the Cher show and, instead, venture along one of these three paths to reveal a side to Vegas you wouldn’t believe exists.
When we last counted, there were more than 65,000 rooms along the Vegas Strip. That number entails everything from Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star stays to value-minded, family-friendly entries. Over the coming months, those properties will gain two new neighbors in the former Monte Carlo Resort and Casino — Park MGM and NoMad Hotel. Beyond sumptuous accommodations, these new addresses will offer a French-inspired pool, an Eataly and a Daniel Humm-helmed restaurant.
But while we await those doors to open, we have established properties more than worthy of a visit right now. Mandarin Oriental, Las Vegas is plopped right in the heart of Las Vegas Boulevard’s action, yet somehow, the Five-Star sanctum manages to muffle the noise.
A non-gaming resort with 392 rooms and suites, the hotel is where you escape to after Lady Luck leaves you for another suitor at the poker table. All of the spacious units are decked out in Asian-inspired décor and touchpad interfaces, but it’s with the suites’ spoils — leather headboards, marble baths, 480-thread-count sheets and tremendous views of the dancing lights — where you’ll feel like the night’s winner.
Mandarin Oriental, Las Vegas also shines in the culinary department, and that’s largely due to Twist by Pierre Gagnaire. This Five-Star dining experience takes the institution of fine dining to new heights in the literal (the vistas from the 23rd-floor perch are stunning) and metaphoric sense.
Gagnaire’s team has a glorious time playing with petite carrots, lemongrass and Dover sole while constructing French-tinged, multicourse tasting meals that make taste buds do things Cirque du Soleil acrobats would find impossible.
And don’t worry if you’re unable to properly pair your emulsified beef bullion with a Bordeaux; someone with the respected wine program will happily do the honors. As for finishing off the ensemble of edible art at dessert, well, you’re on your own there.
Other restaurants we adore include new spots (The Cosmopolitan’s Beauty & Essex, Park MGM’s Primrose), old standbys (Forbes Travel Guide Recommended Carnevino) and detours that fall somewhere deliciously in between (Bellagio’s Lago by Julian Serrano).
If you’re so inclined to don an apron after noshing, Caesars Palace’s Restaurant Guy Savoy has a whisk with your name on it. During the intimate cooking class, the Five-Star establishment’s executive chef, Julien Asseo, will guide you on a culinary journey where you’ll learn how to properly make salmon tartare, sear a rack of lamb and dry a plate of dill. When you finish, you’ll proudly graduate to a lunch (that you had a part in preparing) at the Krug’s chef table.
We’ve talked about the Golden Knights’ unlikely playoff run. Sports fans know that’s only the beginning of the buzz coming to the desert. But while the NFL’s Raiders won’t move from Oakland to Las Vegas until 2019 or 2020, local revelers will have plenty to cheer for when the WNBA’s No. 1 draft pick, A’ja Wilson, and the Las Vegas Aces make their debut this summer.
If you’re not much of a hoops lover, you’ll still find plenty to do over the next few months. No matter if you’re hungry for colorful stage productions (Marilyn! The New Musical, starts May 23 at Paris Las Vegas), pop star residencies (“Gwen Stefani—Just a Girl” begins on June 27 at Planet Hollywood) or lively food festivals (Vegas Uncork’d on May 10 to 13), the Strip has something filling for you.
DOWNTOWN LAS VEGAS
Though there are still nostalgic corners of downtown Las Vegas that feel like backdrops from Bugsy, there’s no question that the area is showing a renewed spirit. Restaurants are opening. Art is showing. Zip-lines are hovering above Fremont Street.
Even with the iconic Golden Nugget and Four Queens signs still illuminating the night, sleeker accommodations have started to shine. The two most polished examples of downtown’s millennial makeover are the contemporary D Las Vegas and the just-renovated Golden Gate Hotel & Casino. The former resonates with contemporary furnishings and glass-enclosed showers while the latter has doubled its casino floor and introduced 106 re-imagined rooms.
Downtown has seen a culinary renaissance, and the year-old 7th and Carson exemplifies the new direction pretty well. At first glance, the open dining area and wood-fire oven paint the picture of a run-of-the-mill neighborhood hangout. And, in a sense, it is. But when you dig into the honey-drizzled wings, hearth-charred toasts and herb-roasted salmon, you quickly realize that the informal nature of the space is in no way indicative of the restaurant’s thoughts on ingredients and imagination.
The number of buildings made from discarded shipping containers has grown exponentially around America over the past few years. One of the best examples of this new architectural medium can be found at Downtown Container Park. A healthy mix of boutiques (Vintage NV) and bold dining concepts (Jojo’s Jerky), the park makes for a unique date-night spot or great diversion for lunch.
Container Park’s Oak & Ivy may feel like one of those trendy speakeasies you’ve visited before — yes, your bartender will have on a bowtie and, yes, that is a TV sitting in the gold picture frame — but there’s nothing clichéd about its drinks. In fact, we’re still in awe over how the bartender put a torch to the fruit to accentuate our whiskey-doused Apple Pie Harvest cocktail.
Downtown’s creativity isn’t limited to libations, though. Every fall, artists of every medium meet in Vegas for the Life is Beautiful Music & Art Festival. The 2018 festivities (September 21 to 23) promise more memories, thanks to recently announced musical headliners like The Weeknd, Arcade Fire, Miguel and Florence and The Machine. While most details of the visual arts component weren’t available at press time, you can admire remnants of past festivals all around downtown structures via vibrant murals and stunning 3D works.
Keep your walking shoes on for the nearby Neon Museum. While far from a new Las Vegas attraction, the place holds up well as a shrine to the city’s golden era. With all of the bouncing colors, the museum is an absolute goldmine for Instagram posts. But between selfies, we do suggest listening in to the guide’s insightful stories about once-iconic venues like The Algiers and Stardust.
The Golden Knights’ practice facility, City National Arena, sits near Downtown Summerlin, a colorful outdoor shopping center roughly 15 miles from Las Vegas Boulevard. This fast-growing area is also home to Red Rock Casino Resort Spa, a refined, desert-modern option if you want all of the Strip’s toys (slots, suites and steakhouses) but with half the noise. Rooms range from 500-square-foot standards to Floyd Mayweather-approved penthouse suites decked out in black pool tables, full bars, marble hot tubs and massive patios that provide clear views of the city’s most recognizable buildings.
If the resort’s 60 gaming tables, 800 rooms and 25,000-square-foot Four-Star spa tell you anything, it’s that excess isn’t one of Red Rock’s shortcomings — and that fact couldn’t be clearer than at meal time. With 10 dining options, most any craving you have can be curbed on this chic campus. You won’t be disappointed with the burgers at Yard House or rice bowls at 8 Noodle Bar, but for those special evenings, reserve a table at celebrity chef Scott Conant’s Masso Osteria, an Italian eatery that opened in February.
Right near I-15, you’ll find Dig This Las Vegas, a sort of sandbox for adults. Instead of Tonka Trucks, though, you’ll play around with real bulldozers and excavators. After a quick safety presentation, you walk out to the pit, hop into your machine’s cab and begin challenges that test your hand-eye coordination and ability to listen to directions given by the safety guide in your headset. If all goes well out there on the course, you’ll leave with a participation certificate and a better understanding of how you can have a blast in Vegas without spending a dollar on blackjack.