“I love that town. No clocks, no locks, no restrictions.” In decades past, hundreds of millions of people have echoed Marlene Dietrich's eternal, adoring words about Las Vegas. The city welcomes more than 41 million visitors annually, an endless stream of vacationers, partyers, convention-goers, bling'ed-out high rollers, entertainment-chasers, pop culture buffs, and anyone else who’s ever felt the allure of the brightest place on earth. Yes, there are more lights in Sin City than anywhere else. The luster can actually be seen from outer space.
A CITY OF EXTREMES
In fact, for a relatively small city, it's a center of mind-blowing superlatives. The Stratosphere, at 1,149 feet, is the tallest freestanding observation tower in the United States. The bronze lion outside the MGM Grand Hotel, the largest hotel in the US and second largest in the world, weighs in at 50 tons, making it the largest bronze sculpture in the country. The Sphinx at the Luxor is 101 feet taller than the original Great Sphinx of Giza. The Golden Gate, which opened in 1906, is the city’s oldest continuously operating hotel and casino. It would take a person 288 years to spend one night in every hotel room in the city, and that’s only a few of the fun facts.
GO FOR THE CASINOS, STAY FOR THE MUSEUMS
From Al Capone and his casino heists to the legendary performances of Frank Sinatra and the rest of the Rat Pack to Elvis’s praises and the gloriously kitschy delights of showgirls, there’s so much history here that a visit is a rite of passage for any American. The Strip, of course, is a must. The mesmerizing thematic hotels, the splendid fountain show at the Bellagio, the thrill of watching the high-rollers (or high-rolling yourself), and free drinks for anyone gambling all seem like the stuff of Hollywood fantasy until you see it for yourself. Add to that the ultra-high-end shops, which are worth a stop for the fashion-museum quality alone, even if stilettos priced in the four-digit range aren't on your pay scale.
Speaking of museums, you’ll need to venture slightly off-Strip to find them, but they're here too. The story of Vegas is, in a way, the story of our nation, as many cultural touchstones that originated here have become embedded in our national folklore and pop culture. The Burlesque Hall of Fame (burlesquehall.com) is a treasure trove of costumes and stories chronicling the rise of this sassy form of entertainment, which, in a way, has come to be seen as a form of women’s liberation. The Neon Museum (neonmuseum.org) sprawls out across six acres and features colossal old signs from casinos and hotels, many of which are iconic enough to look very familiar to anyone who’s ever seen a vintage Las Vegas movie. And in 2012, downtown Vegas welcomed the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement (themobmuseum.org), in a landmark building that housed the Las Vegas Post Office and Courthouse when it opened in 1933. Think of it as a hall of fame for an all-star lineup of nefarious criminals, and the good guys who stopped them in their tracks.