Vegas! Vegas! Vegas! 3 Days, 3 Ways
On the Strip, off the Strip, and out of town—native Geraldine Campbell reveals insider tips to make your next trip a win-win-win proposition.
DAY 1: The Strip
Imagine Times Square on steroids. Navigating the strip and its many characters requires some fortitude, but the rewards go beyond the light show: museum-quality artworks open to the public, a smartly designed hotel that winks at history, and the best dining deals this side of the buffet.
In a city full of facsimiles, Todd English P.U.B.'s take on a traditional British watering hole is updated in all the right ways—with 26-foot ceilings, a flood of natural light, and far tastier food. From prime rib chili to rotisserie sandwiches of roast duck, you'd almost forget where the culinary inspiration comes from, were it not for the presence of bangers and mash on the menu. At the bar, Newcastle pints are poured alongside local microbrew Tenaya Creek Nut Brown Ale. Crystals at CityCenter, 3720 Las Vegas Blvd. S., toddenglishpub.com, entrées from $12.
Although cultural pursuits have never been a strength of the Strip, a new contemporary art collection situated among the hotels and casinos of the 8-month-old CityCenter complex has made an afternoon of art appreciation a viable addition to any itinerary. Fifteen big-name artists are represented—from Maya Lin to Claes Oldenburg—and all the pieces are accessible to the public, with free maps available at the Aria Resort & Casino concierge desk. Las Vegas Blvd. S., citycenter.com, free.
At CityCenter's Vdara Health & Beauty spa, a 50-minute pedicure comes with a flute of Veuve Clicquot and unlimited access to the sauna, eucalyptus steam room, and hot plunge pool. It's not cheap, but if you come early and make a day of it (especially midweek, when you're likely to have the place to yourself), the investment more than pays off. Vdara Hotel & Spa, 2600 W. Harmon Ave., vdara.com, champagne pedicure $75.
If dinner at Chicago chef Shawn McClain's opulent new modern-American restaurant, Sage, in the Aria Resort & Casino, is more than you'd like to spend, mark your calendar for the last Monday of each month, when the front lounge hosts Prohibition Mondays. Bartenders in 1920s garb serve discounted cocktails and free bar snacks like fried pickles, crispy pork skins, and house-made pretzels. Aria Resort & Casino, 3730 Las Vegas Blvd. S., arialasvegas.com, cocktails from $10.
For such an all-hours town, finding great greasy-spoon food after midnight can be surprisingly tricky. The best bet for post-party provisions is First Food & Bar at the Palazzo, where graffiti-tagged nooks and wacky chandeliers set the scene for wee-hours feasts of Dr Pepper–glazed ribs or chicken and waffles with honey-bourbon maple syrup. The Shoppes at The Palazzo, 3327 Las Vegas Blvd. S., firstfoodandbar.com, entrées from $12.
At 64 years young, The Flamingo is the Strip's oldest operating casino and hotel, and its block of 1,032 recently redesigned "Go" rooms combines the best of then and now: iPod docks with surround-sound speakers, white tufted-vinyl headboards, and faded photos from its Rat Pack past. 3555 Las Vegas Blvd. S., flamingolasvegas.com, doubles from $90.
DAY 2: Off-Strip
Most visitors never leave the strip—and that's exactly why you should. From downtown to chinatown, you'll discover treasured insider standbys like a chef-tested Japanese grill, forgiving slot machines, and the city's best—some say, only—bar crawl.
It takes a game spirit to get past the silk robes and boxer shorts at the pajama-themed poolside Sunday brunch at the Simon at Palms Place restaurant. But this all-day graze-fest still stands out from the rowdy pool parties you'll find elsewhere in town. Here, you can settle into a lounge chair and order an endless stream of tasty treats from chef (and Plaza Hotel alum) Kerry Simon—everything from pulled-pork Benedict and Anson Mills graham pancakes to wood-fired pizzas and sesame rice rolls. A $38 charge covers pool access and all-you-can-eat food; add bottomless champagne and Bellinis for just $16 more. Palms Place, 4381 W. Flamingo Rd., simonatpalmsplace.com, brunch $38.