Image and text by Gabrielle.
Waving hello from Las Vegas! We’re staying at the Golden Nugget — it’s in the old school downtown part of the city. And we’re having a fabulous time!
I have such nostalgic feelings for Las Vegas. Growing up in St. George, Utah, meant Vegas was our nearest big city. St. George has grown like crazy in the years since I left for college, but while I was a kid, it was a small town. So when we needed Costco, or a mall for school shopping, we drove to Las Vegas. My first concert was in Las Vegas. And the Las Vegas airport is the one I would fly in and out of.
We didn’t spend a ton of time in the casinos, but we’d drive by all the neon with wide eyes. And I remember a family vacation where we stayed at a hotel/casino called The Imperial Palace.
The Fashion Show Mall would also draw us to Las Vegas Boulevard, fondly known as The Strip. That mall had expensive stores like Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue. We couldn’t afford those stores, but my mom would make a point of having me window shop there so I could see the current styles — those window shopping trips were part of my early design education.
I also came to understand that gambling was infused into life in Las Vegas — that even in the suburbs, there were slot machines everywhere — in the grocery stores and the pharmacies and every possible spot.
I remember the Vegas skyline changing when I was in my teens. I remember the Luxor pyramid being built, and the Mirage and the MGM Grand. But the next big growth spurt — the Bellagio and the Venitian — happened after I’d moved away from St. George. The whole strip has continued to develop like crazy and when I’m in Las Vegas I no longer feel oriented. The suburbs have also grown like crazy and it’s easy to imagine that most residents of the Las Vegas area probably rarely interact with the touristy, casino part of the city.
My kids haven’t ever really been to Las Vegas. Since my hometown is so close, we usually just drive through on our way to see cousins. But we thought on this roadtrip is would be a good destination. Vegas feels very American. Lots of neon and shopping and commercialism. A contrast to the very natural National Parks, and something fun for our exchange students to see. This is also the main spot on our trip where they’ll be able to shop.
Vegas is contrasts. The shopping is as good as the biggest cities in the world — I think I counted 6 Louis Vuitton shops over about a mile of the Las Vegas Strip. Hah! The newest growth spurt brought in fine dining, and luxe spas. Of course, the city has always been known for great concerts and performers. There are even world class art exhibits now. And all of that shares real estate with endless, dark, smoke-filled casinos and the trashiest shows you can find anywhere. In the same brochure where you can get info on Seigfried and Roy, you can also find tours to the Grand Canyon. Much of the city is for adults only, but at the same time, there are a surprising number of attractions designed to attract families with young kids.
Our hotel is on Fremont Street. Sassy Sally and Vegas Vic of my childhood are now part of a walking district. There is a roof over the whole street making it a semi-indoor space, and the entire ceiling functions as a giant screen. The whole outdoor walking area is air conditioned! I mentioned Vegas not being eco-friendly on Instagram and there were comments that Vegas has actually done a ton with water recycling — which I was comforted to know! But when you’re in this desert oasis, surrounded by a million light bulbs and outdoor air conditioning, it’s hard not to wonder how much energy it takes to power this crazy place. (No judgment from me, I promise. I can’t pretend I’m awesome at being earth-minded. I’m a tourist here just like everybody else.)
Our hotel, The Golden Nugget, has a real live gold nugget on display. The biggest ever found. From Australia. But it’s not much of a draw. Instead the pool is the thing. First, because it’s super hot out and cool water feels amazing. And second, because the pool surrounds a salt water aquarium full of sharks. But that’s not all. There’s a water slide at the pool and it goes through the shark tank!
We were laughing with the kids and wondering what it would be like to be part of a Vegas hotel/casino planning team, trying to come up with more and more jaw-dropping attractions. We imagined a conversation like this: This pool is pretty nice, but it needs something more. Hmmm. How about a giant aquarium that you can see when you swim? Wait. How about a giant aquarium full of sharks?! And what if there’s a water slide that goes by the shark tank? No. Even better: What if the water slide goes through the shark tank?! Bingo!
Las Vegas is a city where creativity and talent abound. And at the same time, everything gross about our country is present there and in full view. But one thing that I observed on this trip: Everyone in Las Vegas seems like they’re in a good mood! There are no desks in the Golden Nugget hotel rooms. No one comes here to work. Vegas is all about play.
Have you ever been to Las Vegas? Have you ever been there with kids? What are your favorite spots in the city, or favorite attractions? And whether you’ve been there or not, I’d love to hear about your impressions of the city. I think it’s so much fun! But I can only handle a couple of days and then I’m ready for something a little less neon. : )
P.S. — When we lived in New York, our neighbors would be wowed when they heard we were flying into Vegas (on our way to a family reunion). To them, Vegas was the coolest possible destination. Is that how you think of it, too?
31 thoughts on “Epic Roadtrip Stop #2: Las Vegas”
I have fond memories of Vegas. My grandpa lived there so it was one of the two family road trip vacations we took each year from Colorado (the other being St. Louis — almost the exact same amount of drive time!)
I remember praying that we’d get there late at night so we could see all the lights, and even though my grandpa lived out in the desert suburbs, from his backyard we could see neon Strip shining (it was an especially good view from the treehouse he built for us!)
We were there on one memorable 4th of July where we watched at least five fireworks shows happening at the same time at various hotels — I just thought that was amazing as a wide-eyed nine-year-old.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve returned many times — it seems to be the go-to location whenever my husband or friends or family and I need a quick, fun trip (flights there are cheap from Colorado!)
I went through a period of time trying to convince myself that I hated Vegas because of the rampant consumerism and waste and sexism, but I just can’t hate it — there are too many childhood memories there, and whenever I fly in or out, I try to make sure it’s a night flight so I can feel that same sense of excitement and wonder I felt as a kid. I do just feel so HAPPY there. It’s a weird, weird, magical place.
It does seem to be an easy place to fly to. Even if you have no plans, there’s always something fun to do!
This sounds like a fantastic trip! I too love Vegas. I grew up about 4 hours away in Central California and it was a regular vacay spot for us when I was young, and I still go at least once a year. My daughter’s first flight one of those trips last year. We stayed at the Venetian during a winter wonderland extravaganza in July, complete with fake snow and fireworks. It was amazing. Only in Vegas!
Its a place that so easy to hate on, even by folks who’ve never been. But I think its one of the few places where there’s something for everyone and can be a TON of fun for kids.
Hah! Fake snow in July. I would have liked to see that.
The only time I have been to Vegas was on our babymoon before kiddo #1 arrived. We wanted a fun adult adventure and Vegas seemed like a great place. We chose Mandalay Bay because it had a wave pool and lazy river (pregnancy safe activities). While neither of us are big drinkers, I certainly enjoyed virgin daiquiris. My husband even won money in a poker tournament! But after three days, we had certainly had enough which was good timing since we had plans to go to Phoenix to stay with family. We chose Vegas since it didn’t seem kid friendly but it’s nice to know you are finding ways to make it more so!
Las Vegas seems like a good place for a babymoon — a change of pace before the little one arrives!
Gabrielle – my family lived in Las Vegas from late 2010 until last summer (2013). When we moved there our daughters were 2 1/2 and 2 months. I had never been there before (with the exception of a whirlwind 2 day house hunting trip 3 weeks prior).
You’re right about the suburbs. We didn’t really feel the vibe of the city on a daily basis. We lived in the far northwest corner and were close to Red Rock and Mt. Charleston. We spent so much time enjoying the outdoors. The hiking, parks, etc is amazing and our family really loved it there. And it was AMAZING to have The Strip just 30 minutes away for the fabulous restaurants, shows, and concerts right at our fingertips when we wanted them
But, after we moved, our kids thought it was really strange that the movie theaters we’re stand-alone, not inside a casino. Same for many of the restaurants we used to visit. It wasn’t unusual to see kids all over the casino floor because so much of our social lives existed there. Especially in the smaller casinos off the strip or away from downtown.
I remember getting plenty of strange looks on flights to and from other places. So many people looked at me wondering, “Why is she taking those small children to Vegas?!” They were always shocked to hear that we lived there. We were often coming from the Midwest and more than once my children were the only little people on the plane.
I’ve had those same strange looks on our flights from New York to Vegas. Too funny!
We had a great time in Vegas with our three kids. I made a Findery map of our favourite places.
I checked our your findery (what a cool site!!) and it’s so great! You found some things I never knew about. So excited to take my kids again! Thank you!
Thank you, Kate! So helpful.
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My husband and I got married at Graceland Chapel 10 years ago. It was a planned elopement. I figured as newlyweds we would be common enough but that night everyone in Las Vegas treated us made a fuss over us that night. Happy memories and we’ll hopefully get back for a visit.
A Vegas wedding! So fun.
Our French exchange student was fascinated by all the wedding chapels. He wondered if the marriages were considered “real”. : )
Hope you got to see the Neon Museum – awesome place for Vegas history. It’s downtown near Fremont.
It was on our list! But we couldn’t find any discount tickets, and the price x 11 people was too much. : ( Next time!
I’ve only been to Vegas as a kid – it was a lot of fun! I’ve meant to go back as an adult, but the sliminess just kind of turned me off (and I’m not a big gambler, so meh). This post makes me want to give it a shot though!
It’s true, it seems like the sliminess isn’t 100% avoidable. I ended up having to put on mental blinders when I’m there. But I also have to remind myself that all cities have similar sliminess. In Las Vegas, the city is just honest about it and everything is out in the open.
We love Las Vegas! It’s so much fun, even with little, little kids. We’ve taken our boys there a few times at ages 1,2, and 3. They love it. We go to Circus Circus, play with the light/water sculpture and look at other crazy sculptures are Crystals, watch the water show at Bellagio, run through the mall at the Venitian, eat at buffets where the kids choose what they want, the pool with a river at the Monte Carlo, and the M&M store. There’s too much to do with little one’s. People always think we’re crazy taking little one’s to Vegas, but there are so things to do with them.
I agree. So much to do there with families! And many attractions (like water slides) are clearly geared toward kids.
At really young ages it’s also nice, because I’m guessing the sexism goes right over their heads.
As an event planner, I only go to Vegas for work! :) I’ve done events at Mandalay, Bellagio, Las Vegas Convention Center and the Sands-all great venues with great staff. However, for such a tourist and travel based town, it’s a surprisingly challenging place to plan events, since the hotels have such strong revenue through the casinos-they aren’t super motivated to fill hotel rooms with conference attendees at a good rate! When I’ve ended up in a hotel room with no desk, it bums me out-because I’m there to work!
Oh man. Trying to work in Vegas must be so tricky! Even finding a quiet place where you can concentrate seems impossible. Our hotel room was high, but we could hear festive noise outside all night.
I lived in Vegas for a summer in college as a PR intern (too many stories to share… ; ) and have also attended multiple work conferences there over the years. One of my favorite ‘work-related memories’ was when I was walking down the Strip around 8 a.m. to meet up with clients for a breakfast meeting. A guy hovering in the doorway of a casino yelled: ‘Hey you, in the cardigan!’ I turned, thinking I had dropped something. ‘Lighten up!’ He yelled, and then laughed. I thought it was rude but then realized he had probably been out, living it up since last night, and my work-clothes wearing, folder-and-notebook-carrying self really looked out of place there at that time. There are lots of good things about Vegas. But I’m with you and after a few days, I’m ready for less neon (and more cardigans, ha!)!
My husband and I got married in Las Vegas on our 10th anniversary of being together. Shortly after midnight, we got a cab to the court house to get the marriage license and the cab driver said he would make all the arrangements with a wedding chapel while we were inside. The cab driver ended up being our witness and photographer! We still like to tell people that we went to New York, Paris, Venice and Monte Carlo for our honeymoon.
A few years later when I tagged along with my husband for a convention, we planned to spend 1 day in Vegas and then we headed out to Zion and Bryce National Parks for about 6 days! WOW! We can’t wait to go back. It is so great to have the 2 extremes in 1 vacation!
I am following your trip with great enthusiasm. Hope you continue to have fun and be safe, while making wonderful lifetime memories!
Though we live in Miami my husband was an executive with the company responsible for building Town Square, over a 5 year period we were in Vegas over forty times. We stayed at every fab hotel and ate at every amazing restaurant. The one place I always tell people about is The Peppermill. One of the architects on the project took me there for breakfast one day saying all I had been exposed to was the ultra glam new Vegas and The Peppermill was the epitome of the “read deal Vegas.” I absolutely loved it, crazy mix of people, huge yummy breakfast, wowsza decor including multi-colored sugar in the dispensers on the table. Soooo much fun.
This post was well timed – we’re stopping in Vegas with the kids on a road trip next month and can’t figure out where to stay. I haven’t been in years and I’ll be there twice in the next few weeks, the second time for a week-long stay for work. For that, I’m staying in one of the few places without a casino. Hopefully less smoke, too!
i was born and raised in vegas and both my parents were born and raised here to. i have vegas pride. i left to utah for college but my husband and i moved back to vegas after he finished law school. there are so many good places to eat and shop and there are some really great things to do with kids. plus my husband and i love to get a hotel room on the strip for a night to celebrate our birthdays or anniversary, it’s a nice little get away.
We are heading there today for the very first time! We are spending one night and then onto AZ and the Grand Canyon. I thought it would be fun to experience Vegas even if it was only for a short time. We will be on the gondola this evening with not much time for anything else but gazing in awe I’m sure. Have a great trip!
I have driven by Vegas a few times and we stayed there over night, one time. That was enough:) The reality is such a let down.
My mom did window displays at the Fashion Show in the 80’s and early 90’s, I’ll have to tell her about getting your design education there! She will love that. I was raised in Vegas but haven’t moved back after college because of the lack of environmentalism as you’ve mentioned. I love visiting my parents and climbing at red rocks, but I can only tolerate surviving on bottled water and driving everywhere for so many days before I get too eco-anxious.
We went on our honeymoon to Vegas and as we drove into town a guy in a taxi opened his door street-side and slammed into our car. I thought we’d been shot at because I didn’t see the taxi door open and it shattered our passenger-side window. I was covered in glass. We got out and he gave us his name and then disappeared into a casino. His info was (obviously) false and the taxi company wouldn’t pay, so here we are, young newlyweds, and I’m crying because I don’t know how to fix our window…ugh. So we get to our hotel (The Aladdin, which isn’t there anymore I guess?), we have to valet park the car so nothing gets stolen through our broken window. We went in to check in and my husband told the girl what happened so she upgraded us to a suite for free! It was AMAZING, seriously the most amazing hotel room I’ve ever seen before or since. We called a company that came on-site to fix the window and it all worked out. So now I love Vegas. :) As long as I get upgraded to a suite for free.