Las Vegas was never particularly high on my list of places to visit; huge casinos, glitzy nightclubs and flashy resorts aren’t really my cup of tea. But I’m always up for exploring new places, so when my other half suggested adding it to our American road trip last summer, I couldn’t say no (it helped that friends from Australia were going to be there at the same time).
Once I started research, where to go and what to do, I realised that there is so much more to the ‘City of Lost Wages’ than meets the eye. To broaden our experience of the city we decided to split our stay; spending 3 nights in one of the big hotels on the strips (for a bit of luxury) and then two nights in a retro style motel Downtown. I will tell you all about my love of Downtown Las Vegas in part 2 of this mini guide, for now I will concentrate on the first 3 days of our trip.
We chose the Delano hotel mainly because we got a good deal. As we were arriving on a Sunday and staying mid week, there were a lot of offers available, it’s definitely worth shopping around, but prices can shoot up if you are coming to Las Vegas for the weekend.
The Delano is part of the Mandalay Bay resort, at the southern end of the Strip, near the iconic “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign designed by Betty Willis in 1959. It’s also very close to the airport…. some might say a little too close! We were slightly worried when we came in to land and saw that our hotel was practically overlooking the runway, but this a wasn’t a problem, I am pleased to report that the soundproofing in the rooms is excellent.
All of the rooms at the Delano are suites. We had booked ourselves into their most basic room, so momentarily wondered where our bed was when we entered our spacious and comfortable lounge room, then delighted in the discovery of our adjoining bedroom and enormous bathroom (bigger than our actual bedroom in London!)
To get anywhere in Vegas, you generally have to walk through a casino. This one of my least favourite aspects of the city/the Strip. There is no natural light on the vast gaming floors and smoking is allowed in many areas. They do their best to filter out the smoke and cover up the smells, but it was still fairly unpleasant. We are so used to most places being non smoking now, that it’s strange to think that this was once the norm. The casinos are also incredibly easy to get lost in, even with a map it took us a few days to work out the best way to get to the Mandalay Bay swimming pool, restaurants and tram stop.
With all of the casinos and resorts competing for your attention there is so much to see and do along the Strip, and a lot of it is totally FREE to enjoy! So, of course we couldn’t come to Las Vegas without taking in some of the spectacular, crazy and over the top sights; The Bellagio Fountains, the indoor canal at the Venetian, the half sized Eiffel tower at the Paris, The roller coaster at New York, New York and the list goes on.
But you don’t need me to tell you about all the showy delights of Vegas, I would like to draw your attention to some of the quirkier attractions that are a little off the beaten track.
When my husband first expressed an interest in coming here, I must admit, I was a little dubious…..but it was actually really interesting. It is scary to think that atomic bombs were being tested just 65 miles Northwest of Las Vegas as recently as 1992! This museum (affiliated with the Smithsonian institute) traces the history of atomic testing in Nevada. In the 1950s, these test were conducted above ground and the mushroom clouds were visible from Las Vegas. Far from putting people off visiting the city, they were actually a bit of a tourist attraction, people would gather on the roof tops of the Downtown hotels and bars to watch the explosions!
As a fan of mid century style, I loved all the period details and memorabilia from the Atomic Age, it was fascinating to see how the American public embraced and even celebrated these events. There were toys, comic books, breakfast cereals and even a beauty pageant (Miss Atomic Bomb).
One of my favourite exhibits was A is for Atom a very informative animated film from 1952, explaining exactly how atomic energy works. While digging around on You Tube to find this video for you, I also found this amazing vintage home movie from 1953, which provides a little glimpse of Vegas in the Fifties, including an atomic blast (I’m a sucker for archive footage!)
The museum is open daily (Monday- Saturday 10am-5pm, Sunday 12-5pm. It is located a little way off the strip at 755 East Flamingo Road, and would be about half an hours walk from the Flamingo/Caesars Palace Monorail station, but I highly recommend you take a cab from your hotel (it will be scorching hot and there’s not much shade on the route)
The Pinball hall of fame is another off the beaten track gem which will appeal to retro loving design geeks and nostalgic game fans over the age of 30. Located in a large, no frills warehouse 2.4 miles east of the Strip (1610 E Tropicana Ave), this not for profit museum/working arcade houses the world’s largest collection of pinball machines, dating form the 1950s to the early 90s. There is no entrance fee or admission charge, they are open from 11am-11pm (midnight on Fridays & Saturdays) and unlike other museums you are fully encouraged to play on the exhibits, so grab a bucket of quarters and go crazy!
Okay, I know this doesn’t really have a vintage angle, but this was definitely one of the highlights of our holiday. It’s a bit of an extravagance (but think of all that money we saved by not gambling!) We really wanted to visit the Grand Canyon, but driving there would’ve taken at least a couple of days out of our schedule and we just couldn’t spare the time, so we managed to justify the expense to ourselves. And as neither of us had ever been in a helicopter before it truly was a once in a lifetime experience.
We opted for the sunset tour which included a champagne picnic in the Canyon and meant we also got to experience a birds eye view of the of the Vegas strip at night, in all its luminous glory.
After seeing the spectacular Hoover Dam from the air, I knew that I had to get a closer look. So on our fourth day in Vegas we headed out on a road trip. I was going to talk about this day trip now, but have run out of time, so I’m afraid it will have to wait till part 3 of my mini guide to Las Vegas!
National Atomic Testing Museum: 755 E. Flamingo Rd, Las Vegas, NV 89119
Pinball Hall of Fame: 1610 E. Tropicana, Las Vegas, NV 89119
Sundance Helicopter Tours: sundancehelicopters.com/