The Surprising Appeal Of Las Vegas

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LAS VEGAS| Las Vegas is an interesting proposition, a place that, depending on who you speak to, either meets or confounds expectations. Before I visited Las Vegas I had a lot of preconceptions about the place and was expecting that it would be “a bit shit”. For someone who likes to “travel like a local” and tends of eschew tourist sights, what appeal could the self proclaimed “Entertainment Capital of The World” and one of the world’s most visited tourist destinations have to me. As it turns out, quite a lot.

My first taste of Las Vegas was the approach driving along the US-95 after an overnight stay in the Californian town of Bishop, about a four and a half hour drive away. Giant billboards line the freeway advertising guns, lawyers, insurance, politicians, housing developments and more, quite different to what I’d just experienced in California. As the Mojave desert gave way to buildings, I stopped by the Las Vegas North Premium Outlets for a bit of shopping and stocked up on clothes, all much cheaper than I’d seen elsewhere in the USA and considerably cheaper than anywhere in Australia. I’d heard about the great outlet shopping in Las Vegas before, so this one was a case of expectations met.

After parking the car at my hotel, about a 10 minute drive from The Strip, it was time to make my way into the heart of town. It might seem obvious, but what really gets you when you first visit Vegas is the sheer scale of everything. It was night time and everywhere I looked there were big buildings, lights, huge screens, sounds, and people. Fire spews from volcanoes, water shoots from fountains and a cacophony of sound hits you from all direction. It’s all very fake, over the top and gaudy, but there’s something mesmerising and oddly appealing about the spectacle.

Despite the massive multi-lane roads cutting their way through the city, Vegas is a surprisingly walkable place with lots of pedestrian overpasses and underpasses. Pedestrian-friendly isn’t exactly the right term, but it’s better than I expected. Of course walking around isn’t always ideal as the city does get quite hot during the day, owing to the fact that it’s in the middle of the desert and all.

After a bit of a walk around and a fantastic dinner at Bazaar Meat by José Andrés, it was time to leave the strip and explore Freemont Street, the historic heart of Las Vegas and home to what were (and in some cases still are) some of the city’s most famous casinos. It’s where you’ll find the “Freemont Street Experience”, a covered section of the westernmost five blocks of Fremont Street that’s pedestrianised and full of more sounds and lights (including a 12.5-million LED display). It’s even more of a sensory experience than The Strip, due to the fact that it’s semi-enclosed and built at a much more human scale. The historic signs and lights that evoke images of old Las Vegas also add to the appeal of this part of town. Being a fan of craft beer, I was also happy to discover a craft brewery, Banger Brewing, on Freemont street. In fact, Las Vegas has a great craft beer scene, much better than I’d anticipated.

The next day it was time to properly explore The Strip. A bit more shopping via the The Venetian’s canals and further fantastic meals (at two places which have since closed down – this city moves fast) were interspersed with bars, general wandering around, and a little bit of gambling. I’m not a big gambler but do like Blackjack, and after seeing the water fountain show at the Bellagio, headed inside for a few bets. A very short while later I found myself $20 up and was happy to stop gambling – a small amount of winnings to put towards dinner that night was enough for me.

The day finished with craft beer and dinner at Aces & Ales, one of the best craft beer venues I’ve been to anywhere in the world, located on the outskirts of town. Driving here showed me another side of Las Vegas – the suburbs, which were extremely quiet and a world away from downtown.

The next day it was time to pack my bags and head back onto the road – Williams, Arizona and the Grand Canyon awaited. I left Vegas with my mind changed on the city. I didn’t think I’d like it but I did. I only had a full day and two nights in town but in that time I had a lot of fun. I like to learn when I travel, see what the locals do, and get under the skin of a city, but there’s nothing wrong with not doing this all of the time. Sometimes you just want to have a bit of fun and Vegas certainly caters to this. It’s also a great place just to walk around and take everything in as there’s nowhere else quite like it in the world.

Vegas left we wanting to return to get to know it better and see what’s beyond the surface. The city is over 100 years old, the 28th-most populated city in the USA, and has a population of 650,000 people. I clearly has a lot of stories to tell, and a lot of people who do things other then spend all of their time on The Strip. I enjoyed the superficial side of the city, and hopefully I’ll one day have the chance to see what else makes Vegas tick.

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Paul
Paul
Paul founded The City Lane back in 2009 as a place to share photos of his travels around Europe with friends and family. The City Lane might have changed quite a lot since those early days but one thing that’s remained constant is Paul’s passion for food, travel and culture, and a desire to photograph and write about his experiences. Paul has a strong inquisitive nature that drives him to look beneath the surface in order to discover what really makes a city and its people tick, and what better way to do this than over a good meal or drink, with a city’s locals, at places that people who live in that city actually frequent. Paul is also a co-host of The Brunswick Beer Collective, a podcast that may or may not actually be about beer.

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