Las Vegas is a town that begs you to make an entrance. Lights! Sequins! Action! The Stratosphere looks like a Google pin drop on the Strip from miles away. Even Wayne Newton announces his (currently shuttered) “Casa de Shenandoah” with a gilded gate AND a thundering herd of half-horses. Danke Schoen, Wayne!
All part of Vegas’ bigger-than-life charm, yes. But if you’re looking to venture off the beaten Strip, here are five best bets in Sin City.
Let’s start with #1 Valley of Fire State Park because if I had come to Vegas for this alone, it would have been worth it. About an hour drive northeast of downtown, Valley of Fire is the largest state park in Nevada. I didn’t even go at the most “fiery” time of day for photos–I can only imagine this place at sunset–but STILL, the rock formations are gorgeous.
Sandstone erodes more quickly than limestone and that difference makes for some fascinating textures. People invariably describe the terrain here as something you’d see in a “Star Trek” episode. Which I guess is to say “otherworldly.”
There are lots of short hikes, all with incredible views, so sample a few. I recommend driving the length of White Domes Road to the White Domes loop trail; it’s 1 mi. in length. The Rainbow Vista trail, also about a mile in length, lives up to the description on the sign: “an adventure in color.”
Back to downtown’s Arts District for refreshment. The creative neighborhood comprises about 18 blocks of galleries and bars. For that reason it’s sometimes called “18b” but my friends who live in Vegas call it the “always burgeoning Arts District.” I’m not sure how up-and-coming the area is, but I can tell you this: There are two stops you must make across from each other on South Main Street: #2 Rebar and #3 Oddities.
Rebar, at 1225 S. Main St., has an unbeatable combo: drinks and antiques. Everything’s for sale in the joint. It’s dog friendly with a menu of cocktails that benefit local charities. And, as my local friend demonstrated, you can’t beat the mystery beer. Like the “Unknown Comic” of beverages, mystery beer is presented in a brown bag. For three bills, you don’t know what kind you’ll get, but it’s always great ‘n crafty–take a gamble!
“Welcome to the weirdest store in Vegas!” was the greeting at the store across the street, Oddities. They’re not lying. For both looky loos and curio cabinet curators, there’s rogue taxidermy, animal bits and bones, some vintage prosthetics…really, no list would ever do this place justice. I overheard a customer’s query regarding the provenance of the taxidermy. The clerk assured her all the critters in the cases died naturally. In case you were wondering. Oddities should not be missed at 1228 S. Main St.
Las Vegas, ever an avatar for somewhere else, is a hotbed for Tiki culture. The Sands Hotel operated from 1952-1996, with the famed Aku Aku tiki lounge hula’ing it up in the 60s and 70s. (Check out pictures on critiki.com and weep.) Turns out, a bit of Aku Aku history is acting as a soiled bird roost in #4 Sunset Park in Henderson. It’s a giant Moai, a primitive Easter Island-like head. This is one of a pair that once stood outside the restaurant and was re-homed to an island in Sunset “Lake.”
Aku Aku might be long gone but there are still plenty of spots you can sit under a thatched roof and share cauldron-sized rum drinks. Two Vegas standards carrying the tiki torch of authenticity are Frankie’s Tiki Room and #5 The Golden Tiki. Find the Golden Tiki in a Chinatown strip mall at 3939 Spring Mountain Rd. It has its own mini “Museum of the Strange,” and contemporary artwork from Tiki Bosko.
And that’s a whirlwind weekend in Vegas. Leave the Strip to find your own strange and wonderful trip. And by all means, leave your suggestions for next time in the “Comments” section below!