Las Vegas is the ideal place to visit during the holiday season. You can have your choice of natural beauty or the glitz of the Strip. Get a taste of home or something totally unique that is only available in this cosmopolitan city. When industry is geared toward tourism, you can bet that every place will be aiming to please, but also remember that many spots are special traditions for local families as well. Visit the botanical gardens that are beautifully decorated for the season, go for a hike and enjoy nature or take a short drive around town and see the sights in all their splendor.
Ethel M Chocolate Factory & Botanical Cactus Garden
2 Cactus Garden Drive
Henderson, NV 89014
Nestled in the suburb of Henderson, just a hop, skip and jump from the busy Strip, is a little oasis in the desert. The Ethel M Chocolate Factory was built by Forrest Mars, Sr. after he retired to Las Vegas to live in a penthouse that is still above the chocolate shop. He soon discovered that he still wanted to keep his hands in the chocolate business. He named his operation “Ethel M” in honor of his mother, who had taught him how to make chocolates when he was just a boy. This is truly the gourmet side of Mars chocolate, with no preservatives and all of the traditional flavors, just like mom used to make. Chocolate is made in small batches to ensure freshness, and the production has been increased to include Dove Chocolate and 1 lb. Snickers Bars. The factory was built and he opened the shop in 1981. The cactus garden was expanded and opened to the public in 1989, allowing everyone the opportunity to share in Mr. Mars’ love of the desert. One bonus was since Nevada was one of the few states allowing production of liqueur-filled chocolates, he was able to make a core selection of delicious treats that still actually do contain real liqueur. During the holidays, from mid-November through December 31, the garden is decked out in all its glory, with over half a million LED lights and decorations tastefully displayed throughout the the grounds. If you have never seen cacti entwined with glittering lights or wandered the colorful pathways, this is an annual experience that is not to be missed. Enter at the M&M shop, take a leisurely self-guided tour (with videos, information displayed on the walls and an actual glimpse into the factory itself through large glass panels) and then visit the piece de resistance, the Ethel M Chocolate shop, where you can find delectable gourmet chocolate of all kinds – including seasonal favorites like peppermint bark – and the best hot chocolate in town. Who knows, you may even see your favorite M&M character or other special guests wandering around during the evenings. Hours during the holidays are from 8:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., with the lights going on at dusk (about 4:45 p.m) every evening except Christmas day.
Whether you have children or not, Christmas is incomplete without the charm and magic to be found at the Magical Forest. This beloved Las Vegas charity was created to support, educate and train people with severe intellectual and related disabilities, helping them to become the very best they can be. During the holidays, Opportunity Village is transformed into a winter wonderland of lit displays, sponsored light shows and other exhibits that create the perfect setting for a stroll through the forest. There is even a little train that runs throughout the grounds – perfect for the kiddies – and kiosks, games, a carousel, an elf show, mini-golf and a dazzling display of decorated gingerbread houses. Enjoy the Forest while sipping on a beverage and take advantage of the photo ops galore as you enjoy the wonder on the face of the children (and adults) as they enter the tree-framed pathways. It’s well worth the cost and drive from the center of town, especially when you consider that this display is largely due to the mass group of volunteers who dedicate their time with love each year.
Bellagio Conservatory & Botanical Gardens
3600 S. Las Vegas Blvd.
Las Vegas, NV 89109
The beautiful indoor Bellagio Casino and Hotel is home to one of the most enduring, amazing displays of horticulture in Las Vegas, but during Christmas, the Bellagio Conservatory & Botanical Gardens is transformed into an enchanting festive kingdom. The displays are artfully designed to enhance the warmth and wonder of the season and the colors are outstanding. If you are up for a bit of entertainment on the Strip that doesn’t involve gambling, eating or an outpouring of cash (this is free, 24/7), take a stroll through the indoor gardens and enjoy this feast for the eyes, truly ringing in the holiday season in a unique way.
Related: Top Hot Chocolate in Las Vegas
Sam’s Town Mystic Falls Park
5111 Boulder Highway
Las Vegas, NV 89122
Sometimes you want to enjoy something simpler during the holidays, an event that isn’t necessary bustling with folks and isn’t as over the top as other seasonal displays. That’s when it’s time to visit the Christmas Laser Light Show at Sam’s Town Casino’s Mystic Falls Park. All year there are daily shows that feature animatronic “animals” and laser lights projected against the waterfall at this charming “forest park.” But at Christmas, all of the stops are pulled, with glittering “snow” enhancing the critters and trees as Christmas music plays and holiday-themed colors glisten against the waterfall. Families of deer nestle among the shrubs, moving their heads to gaze at you as you pass. This event is free, charming and offers something special for everyone in your group.
7000 N. Las Vegas Blvd.
Las Vegas, NV 89115
The Gift of Lights at the Las Vegas Motor Speedways opens on November 14, 2014 and continues through January 4, 2015. This year promises to be the most exciting ever, with live Nativity scenes on featured evenings, and with even more corporate-sponsored light displays. This is the place to go when you have a car full of guests who want to experience a Vegas Christmas or when you just feel like taking a drive with the kids. As you slowly meander through the wandering pathways, the Christmas music that plays through your car stereo only adds to the magic of the experience. The light show is fantastic but the spirit is all geared toward the holidays.
333 S. Valley View Blvd.
Las Vegas, NV 89107
Springs Preserve will be offering Train Rides with Santa from December 22-24, 2014. The train will run at 11 a.m., noon, 1 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. each day. Santa will read holiday stories and give out candy canes as the “Polar Express” train takes a special short journey through the preserve. The cost is reasonable – just $3 for members and $5 for non-members with Springs Preserve general admission. There are no reservations, so be sure to arrive early to ensure your child gets a place. This is a wonderful way to explore the displays and exhibits at the Preserve, and you may even want to enjoy a treat at Divine Cafe or make a seasonal craft at one of the workshops. Don’t forget that the Nevada State Museum is also on the premises, where you can take a trip back in time to celebrate the prehistory of the region plus the 150 years of Nevada history.
Sharon Damon is a preschool specialist, avid reader, passionate writer and creative baker/ cook. She has been a cooking instructor at a local Rec Center in Henderson, NV since 2011, and has written for Examiner and other publications since 2010. She knows her way around the keyboard and the kitchen! Sharon moved from a small city in Canada to Las Vegas 6 years ago, to marry the love of her life, and has since been swept up in the whirlwind known as Sin City. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.