Laughlin, Nevada: An Undiscovered Gem With Unexpected Charms
Looking for a fun-filled, laid-back, affordable alternative to Las Vegas? If so, Laughlin, Nevada, may be just your ticket — literally. With the arrival of American Airlines’ convenient, daily non-stop service from hubs like Phoenix, this resort town on the river is just beginning to emerge as a long-standing but relatively undiscovered tourist destination.
Historically known for its gaming persona, Laughlin is being reimagined as a family-friendly vacation town that has something for every taste. It is nestled right alongside the year-round playground of the Colorado River, the watery boundary between the states of Nevada and Arizona. Visitors will be treated to views of the majestic Newberry Mountains to the west and the craggy Black Mountains to the east.
The nearby Bullhead City, Arizona, and many other delightful diversions ensure that travelers will have an abundance of indoor and outdoor activities from which to choose. These include casual to fine dining at 50 restaurants, water activities such as jet boat tours, entertainment headliners at nine hotel casinos, excursions to nearby historical towns, and even a soft-sand beach with 500 feet of shoreline.
Named after Don Laughlin, who built the first casino in the area in the 1960s, Laughlin’s main drag runs north to south and is dotted with casino hotels. With classic car museums, renovated outdoor pools, a host of dining options, and diverse musical acts from Willie Nelson to KISS, Laughlin is now broadening its consumer base.
Unlike other resort areas, most of the hotels here don’t charge exorbitant resort or parking fees, which can save a lot of money over several days. Visiting the various properties is easy via the scenic Riverwalk or water taxi service. The latter pulls right up to many locations near the hotels and offers quick service for individual tickets or an all-day pass at a mere $15 per person. If you had a beach vacation in mind, then you’ve come to the right place. The backyard of Harrah’s has 500 feet of soft sand in a protected cove, complete with palapas, similar to tiki huts, where you can relax with a cool cocktail.
Dining options abound, including the Mexican-themed El Burro Borracho restaurant, created by celebrity chef Guy Fieri. Guests are typically wowed by the quality and creativity of the menu and its offerings from homemade ingredients. Among the signatures here are the
Trash Can Nachos made with crispy corn tortilla strips, black beans, crema, melted queso casero, pickled onion, Cotija cheese, and cilantro. The silo of nachos is presented in a small trash can before being deconstructed and consumed by hungry diners.
Other eateries include the Claim Jumper inside the Golden Nugget, the Pints Brewery and the Sports Bar at the Colorado Belle (the only microbrewery in Laughlin), and the Vineyard in the Aquarius, known for its elegant Italian fine dining. For breakfast, locals rave about Bumbleberry Flats serving up American comfort food such as their Bananas Foster Mancake. For any fast-food deprived, transplanted West Coasters, there’s an In-N-Out Burger right on the main strip. You can also find some incredibly low prices here for meals including all-you-can-eat buffets for around $13.
Not to be outdone in terms of local libations, you can sample some award-winning, barrel-aged rum at the Desert Diamond Distillery in Kingman, Arizona, about a 40-minute drive. (Its gold medals prove you can distill great spirits in the desert!)
The Colorado River offers beautiful recreational water activities all year long. Even during the winter months, the average temperature is a mild 65 degrees. The 1,400-mile river makes its way from the Rocky Mountains all the way to the Sea of Cortez, providing plenty of fun for all ages. Sea-Doos and jet skis can be rented for around $65 for some high-octane aquatic fun.
Fishing, boating, and dinner cruises are also popular, but be sure to book a ride on the London Bridge Jet Boat Tour. The six-hour excursion takes you on an unforgettable journey all the way to Lake Havasu City at 42 miles per hour. You’ll travel 58 miles through sections of the beautiful Colorado River bordered by spectacular rock formations that are only accessible by its emerald waters.
As you arrive in Lake Havasu City, the magnificent London Bridge with its iconic arches stretches across the river. The bridge was painstakingly transplanted to this location brick by brick and dedicated in 1971. Even the lampposts were recast from the metal of the canons that originally lined the bridge. To complete your London experience, try some fish and chips at Shugrue’s Restaurant & Brewery then browse the shops at the English Village.
For the ultimate in desert luxury, pay a visit to the Laughlin Ranch Golf Club where you can play a round of golf, dine, or spend time in their full service spa, all at prices lower than what you might find at other upscale resorts. Enjoy a manicure, facial, or a body massage in this serene and lush desert oasis.
One day trip you won’t want to miss is to the historic town of Oatman, Arizona. Located along the old Route 66, Oatman is a throwback to the Old West’s days of mining and gold fever in the 1800s, and at one time, there were as many as 3,500 people living here.
But what really secured this former ghost town in history was a lady by the name of Olive Oatman. Coming west as a young girl, Olive and her family were ambushed, and Olive and her sister were taken by a tribe of Southwest Indians. Her brother survived the attack and later was able to reunite with her after a ransom secured her release in 1857. Oatman became a minor celebrity after a book was written about her experiences, and prospectors named the town in her honor several decades later.
Today, the town is more popular than ever. Burros, descendants of the ones the miners used, freely roam the streets, stopping traffic and coming up to tourists looking for food. (Pellets can be, of course, purchased for this purpose.) Rustic shops sell local handicrafts like handmade knives, rocks, and souvenirs.
The turn-of-the-century Oatman Hotel is still standing and is where Clark Gable and Carol Lombard spent their honeymoon in 1939. Their room has been preserved and some believe that their spirits haven’t left. There is a photo over the door showing a ghostly apparition above the bed — spooky!
Laughlin today is akin to the Las Vegas of 40 years ago — only with a host of activities that the whole family can enjoy. Many who visit say that they didn’t know that Laughlin offered so much more than gaming. All of this awaits at this easygoing, budget-friendly, little-discovered gem with unexpected charms in southern Nevada.
Where to Stay:
The Aquarius Resort Casino, like many of the hotels here, offers free Wi-Fi and no resort fees. They have large, comfortable rooms, many of which have views of the river.
FTC Disclosure: This was a sponsored trip, however, all opinions herein are the author’s.