This is part one of a two-part series. For part two, please click here.
Visiting Las Vegas can be a slightly overwhelming experience. There’s so much to do, see, eat, drink, and explore that planning a first visit can be a pretty daunting task. But we recently had the opportunity to visit the city over a long weekend, and we enlisted the help of none other than Visit Las Vegas, the city’s tourism board, to help us plan the perfect getaway. If you’re thinking about getting away for a few days this winter and want to go someplace warm, exciting, and full of things to discover, Las Vegas should definitely be on your list. Here are our suggestions for must-dos in Vegas.
Where to Stay: The Venetian
Located in the heart of the Strip, the Venetian is one of Vegas’ most lavish and luxurious hotels. The Italian Renaissance-inspired design is certainly eye-catching (as well as the shops, a façade that’s a replica of Venice’s St. Peter’s Square, and an indoor gondola ride), but not many people realize that every single one of the hotel’s rooms is a suite. Standard King Rooms clock in at 650 square feet (the largest standard rooms in the city), and they have a separate sunken living room, remote-controlled shades and curtains, large marble bathrooms with an oversized tub, and super-comfortable beds. It’s not just a great hotel to explore, it’s also a great place to spend the night.
Where to Eat: Breakfast/ Brunch
Located just off the lobby in Caesars Palace, the breakfast menu at Café Americano (which has a window-lined dining room that lets in plenty of sunlight) offers something for everyone. Griddled options include buttermilk pancakes, Belgian waffle with berries, and Captain Crunch brioche French toast; egg dishes include omelettes, breakfast sandwiches, and Benedicts; the corned beef in the hash is housemade; and there are plenty of healthy lighter options as well, like fruit platters and egg white wraps. For those looking for something hearty, there’s the Hair of the Dog, with ham, bacon, shaved pork, eggs, American cheese, and white Cheddar on a jalapeno waffle. To drink, there are several smoothies and fresh juices, as well as a large variety of cocktails and bloody Mary variations; bottomless mimosas are also an option. Read the full writeup here.
Also located in Caesars, Bacchanal Buffet is arguably the best buffet in the city, and its breakfast spread is incredible. The 25,000 square foot Bacchanal Buffet opened in 2012 after a $17 million buildout, and it’s a bright and spacious, well-designed room with seating for 600. There are nine distinct stations, each with its own open kitchen and designated executive chef: Latin, Italian, Chinese, seafood, pizza, deli, American classics, and a massive dessert section. During breakfast/brunch hours, a massive selection of breakfast items came out to play: red velvet pancakes, eggs Benedict, chicken and waffles, crepes, bananas Foster doughnuts, parfaits, French toast, churros, breakfast pastries, bacon and other breakfast meats, various egg preparations (including made-to-order omelettes), croque-monsieurs, scalloped truffle potatoes, frittatas, bagels and lox, hash browns, fresh-squeezed juices… it goes on and on. Read the full writeup here.
Chef Brian Malarkey’s Aria Resort & Casino restaurant is a great place to start your weekend day. There’s a large buffet with several different stations scattered throughout the restaurant, and like all great brunch buffets there’s a carving station, an omelette station, bagels with lox and other toppings, shrimp and other shellfish, freshly-shucked oysters, fruits and vegetables, salads, and desserts. This would all be well and good in itself, but they also wanted to showcase what the kitchen could prepare to order, so eight different items can be ordered for no additional fee. Read the full writeup here.
Where to Eat: Dinner
Chef Lorena Garcia’s brand-new Chica, located inside the Venetian, accomplishes the difficult task of effortlessly grafting the diverse flavors of Latin America into one menu, and it also happens to be a whole lot of fun. The lively space is located just off the Venetian’s casino floor in the hotel’s “Restaurant Row,” but it’s fully self-contained in a funky, modern space with a lively bar, a spacious raw bar, an open kitchen showcasing a massive wood-burning oven and plenty of Latin American decorative touches. Read the full writeup here.
Chef José Andrés’ Cosmopolitan Hotel outpost of Jaleo, one of four in the country, is his homage to traditional Spanish tapas, and it puts all those newfangled “small plates” places to shame. A million-dollar open-fire wood paella grill, which is constantly manned and turns out a steady stream of each day’s paella special — chicken and mushrooms on the day we visited. Other must-orders include the coveted jamón ibérico de bellota, croquetas de pollo, gambas al ajillo, and patatas barvas; make sure to wash it down with some sangria or a porron of gin and tonic. Read the full writeup here.
There’s no shortage of steakhouses in Las Vegas, but none are quite like Delmonico Steakhouse, also located inside the Venetian. The reason? Emeril Lagasse. The legendary chef and restaurateur, who opened this steakhouse as an offshoot of the original in New Orleans, puts his signature twist on everything coming out of the kitchen, and a recent visit at the restaurant’s invitation proved that there’s not a clunker in the bunch. Some steakhouses focus only on the basics — porterhouse, creamed spinach, etc. — but when Lagasse is involved you know that’s not going to be the case. This doesn’t mean that the steaks get short shrift — the beef is USDA Prime and it’s dry-aged on the premises — it just means that there are lots of other very tasty items on the menu, including some Emeril classics. Read the full writeup here.
In the world of Las Vegas dining, there’s Joël Robuchon, located inside the MGM Grand, and then there’s everything else. The famed French chef’s 17-table American flagship has racked up just about every conceivable accolade — five stars from Forbes Travel Guide, five diamonds from AAA, Wine Spectator’s Grand Award — and it also boasted three Michelin Stars until Michelin suspended Las Vegas reviews in 2010. Robuchon’s 18-course prix-fixe menu, which was rolled out to much fanfare two years ago, changes seasonally and is prepared by chef Christophe de Lellis and his team. Instead of each course coming out individually, which would lead to an excessively long meal, they’re brought out in several different “services” of two to three individual dishes. Adventure awaits around every turn, and each dish has an element of surprise and whimsy. Being able to experience a three-Michelin star haute French meal is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and should you decide to make the splurge, it’s not one you’ll be forgetting any time soon. Read the full writeup here.
Where to Drink
Located right off the Venetian’s Casino floor, The Dorsey is a high-end bar and lounge that’s the perfect spot for a pre-dinner cocktail or an evening of sampling creative libations in a very sleek and sexy setting. Cocktails were developed by renowned mixologist (of New York’s Attaboy and Milk & Honey), and include Tony Rocky Horror (two rums, lime, falernum, orgeat, and absinthe); Penicillin (Scotch, fresh lemon, ginger, honey, and Islay float); Apologies, Wilson (tequila, coconut, watermelon, lime, and Champagne); Harajuku (Japanese whickey, Byrrh Quinquina, Gran Classico, and chocolate bitters; along with several punch bowls and drinks for two (including a mojito served in a giant copper pineapple).
If you’re looking for an excuse to get off the strip (besides the Fremont Street Experience), make your way to the fun and funky Downtown Container Park. It’s an open-air shopping center complete with a dozen or so cool shops, seven bars and restaurants, live entertainment, plenty of green space, and a massive fun zone for kids. Tucked into the side of a shipping container is the surprisingly upscale Oak & Ivy, a tiny bar serving some of the city’s best cocktails. When you visit, make sure you seek out master mixologist Terry Clark, who’s the bar’s “creative lead” (pictured). He’s poured his heart and soul into this bar, and has crafted a truly unique (and fun) cocktail experience. There are more than 40 whiskeys on offer, and Clark’s cocktails are fun and exciting. Find the full writeup here.
Things to Do
The 550 foot-high Linq High Roller is the world’s tallest Ferris wheel, and it affords some of the finest views of the city you’ll find anywhere. But if you take advantage of the Happy Half Hour, you can have your fill of beer, wine, and mixed drinks from a fully-stocked bar cart inside your cabin during the 30 minutes it takes the enormous wheel to make one full rotation. It’s available every day of the week from noon to 1 a.m., and it’s one of the city’s lesser-known seriously fun attractions. Find the full writeup here.
Located on the far northern end of Las Vegas Boulevard, the Neon Museum is home to some of the city’s most legendary neon signage. The two-acre open-air museum has been here since 2012, and includes neon signs that date as far back as the 1930s; nine have been painstaking restored to their former glory, but most are rusted relics that are nothing short of incredibly cool. We suggest you take a guided tour in order to learn the history of the signs as well as about neon’s unique place in Vegas lore.
Before booking your trip, you should plan on doing some research into special events taking place on the weekend you’ll be in town. We discovered that the For the Love of Cocktails Gala was taking place when we were there, and it was an extraordinary way to spend an evening: A walk-around cocktail tasting offering creations from some of the country’s most talented mixologists, all on the top floor of the Delano Hotel, with stunning views of the city below. Also, if you’re not too jazzed about sharing a pool with large groups of kids and families, check to see if your hotel has any private pool clubs. At the Venetian and Palazzo, for example, The Aquatic Club is a smaller, more exclusive pool that’s geared towards couples and smaller groups.
Hopefully this guide will help you plan the perfect Las Vegas vacation. Just make sure you don’t forget the most important rule about Vegas: Have fun!
All the experiences described above were provided at no cost to the writer.