I hate how so many people love Vegas. It’s a superficial oasis. Nothing natural about it. Going to there was never on my list until earlier this year…my two cousins, Maria & Belle, suggested that we all see Mariah Carey’s concert at Caesar’s Palace in August. I’ve only been there as a kid and I didn’t think much of it.
Oh whale. Why knot. It’s another opportunity to hang out with them and that was worth the alcohol I’d have to consume to feel part of the group.
I booked my ticket and the boyfriend and his roomie joined us. Fast forward to two weekends ago, I was nervous about going and being a party pooper. I secretly strategized my getaway plan for when we go to a bar and shots magically show up in front of me, eyes staring me down to tank my drink and down the shot. Ugh. I’m too old for this, I told myself.
We arrived at the Bellagio and the first thing I smelled was smoke. Cigarette smoke. Ugh. Disgusting. I couldn’t handle how strong it was (I’m probably spoiled by Hawaii’s no-smoking within 50 feet of a building law). I’m so sensitive to smell, guys. I can’t stand it and it makes me feel nauseous. I’d say it’s the number one reason why I would never stay at the Strip again. Aside from going out with my cousins, boyfriend, and his roommate, I avoided Las Vegas Boulevard at all costs. I didn’t care how glamorous people dressed or how grandiose the hotel displays were…I wanted to get out of there. The whole experience was a bit impersonal, to be honest, which is why I forced my cousins and bf to join me in my search for real experiences.
I’ve compiled a list of places and eateries that I did enjoy. This list is for anyone who dares venture off the infamous Strip. Thanks to Yelp for saving me money and my sanity.
Chinatown, Las Vegas
Chinatown in Las Vegas? Yeah, I never heard of it before. But it’s like brand spanking new. This is the first clean and oddly spaced out Chinatown I’ve ever been to. It looks like everything was built a couple of years ago. Most of the shops and eateries are located on Spring Mountain Road, a convenient three minute ride from the swanky Strip.
We walked around and ate at Magal BBQ, which was obviously not Chinese, but they had great Korean bbq and our server so happened to be from Saipan. Score! He treated us to a bottle of soju, which he happily drank with us. We walked our full bellies off across the street to J’s Karaoke Bar, a Korean (there’s a pattern here, we go to Chinatown for Korean food and soju, obviously) hiphop themed bar. My cousins and boyfriend had a great time singing and taking shots in the dimly lit room we reserved for ourselves.
On another night, we went to Sushi Kaya, where you can eat unlimited sushi for $28. Let’s just say they lost money with us. I never order sushi inland, but this place obviously flew in their fish and uni. I was peer pressured to try uni for the first time here and it wasn’t bad.
I promised myself I’d try a good Chinese restaurant, the Pho Kim Long pho restaurant, and the tea shops next time I visit.
Seven Magic Mountains
Prior to arriving in Vegas, I noticed at least four people that have been here in the last few months. I read up on it here. You can see the colorful rocks from the freeway and it’s only fifteen minutes away from the Strip (without traffic). It’s really in the middle of nowhere and that’s the beautiful part. The art installation will be up for the next two years. I highly suggest visiting this if you need a break from the casino.
The bf rented a car specifically to drive me out here because it’d be ridiculous to Uber it and have our driver wait until we were done taking photos. We spent about 45 minutes here taking photos, touching the rocks and talking to a few locals.
Downtown Las Vegas – Arts District
I learned that Downtown Las Vegas was the “old Vegas.” The bf took me through Fremont Street, which was a tackier-but-cheaper version of Vegas. It still wasn’t for me. We then rolled through the arts district and saw lots of murals and hipster-esque eateries with no lines (yay! no waiting!) and free parking. This is where the locals are. I was sold. This is my kinda place.
Venezuelan food was not on my list when planning our weekend getaway to Vegas. By the third day, I was over the endless lines at eateries on the Strip and I wanted food that was authentic and an atmosphere that was less chaotic. I quickly Yelped “best cheap lunch” and came across Viva Las Arepas, a Venezuelan eatery that had five star reviews and it was just a five minute Uber ride away from the Bellagio.
Can I just say arepas top burgers any day?! I loved it. Everything was cheap too. We saved a lot of money on this trip and still ate to our hearts content. We ordered the roasted pork butt, reina pepiada, and the wood fire beef arepas with an empanada. I can’t even describe how satisfying it was after a night of peer pressured drinking and debauchery. It definitely beat long lines and mass-cooked dishes.
Neon Boneyard Museum
I know this section merits more than what I’ve experienced, which was just a side tour of the museum, but it’s really worth checking out if you’re exploring Downtown. We pulled up to the half empty parking lot at the Neon Museum and walked into the main lobby. The girl at the counter told us that they are booked for tours for the day (really….the parking lot was barely filled). Apparently, they try to take care of the old neon signs by limiting the amount of visitors. The only section that was open was a small section of their property that had the old Golden Nugget sign and a bunch of others that were neat to see (touching is prohibited).
That’s my list of non-traditional Vegas things to see and eat. If I was given a ticket to Vegas, I’d definitely stay at a smaller hotel and eat at Chinatown and Downtown daily. I’m sure there’s lots more Vegas can offer to those weary of large crowds and glam lifestyle.
Note: All photos taken with my iPhone 6+. Not bad, Apple. Not bad at all.