Vegas: Play in America's Playground
By Terrisa Meeks
Las Vegas Local Expert
Visit Las Vegas, and one activity is a almost certainty: gambling. But what can you do when you're not being hypnotized by video poker machines or deciding whether to hit or stay on a blackjack hand? You can do some sightseeing, both in town and out of town. It's easy to spend an entire day exploring the sights along the Strip, from the impressive Stratosphere (extra points if you ride one of its thrill rides at the top) to the more sedate Bellagio Fountains. Take a drive out of town to see the historic Hoover Dam, or hike over the red sandstone in Red Rock Canyon. Las Vegas isn't the only thing in the Mojave Desert, and you'll find there's plenty of things that can take you on a day trip into rugged and beautiful terrain. If those suggestions leave you cold, you can always check into one of the many shows on the Strip. Las Vegas attracts world-class entertainers and shows, giving visitors the chance to see comedians, singers, and production shows like one of the Cirque du Soleil shows.
What's appealing about a gigantic wedge of concrete in a remote desert canyon? As it turns out, quite a lot. Hoover Dam was a groundbreaking engineering feat--it's not easy to pour that much concrete and divert a river. This massive dam created one of North America's largest reservoirs, Lake Mead, and was built during the Great Depression. Now that traffic has been re-routed around the dam on the bypass bridge, it's easier to wander along the top of the structure and appreciate its Art Deco details. Tours are also available to see inside the dam. (702-494-2517, 702-494-2546)
It's one of the tallest buildings west of the Mississippi, but the Stratosphere isn't satisfied with just being amazingly tall. The rides at the top give dare devils a chance to be dangled, dropped, spun, and shot into the air--a thousand feet above the street. The view from here is incredible, a fact that the restaurant in the tower, Top of the World, makes good use of. (702-380-7711, 702-380-7777)
Fountains of Bellagio
The Fountains of Bellagio has become an iconic part of Las Vegas. Its dancing, swaying waters draw a crowd every time they go off. Streams of water shoot into the air, dissipate into a mist and gracefully arch into curves--all while choreographed to music. While you're out exploring the Strip, make sure to stop by for a show. They start daily at 3 p.m. (noon on Saturdays and holidays and 11 a.m. on Sundays) and run regularly until midnight. Best thing about the performances is that they're completely free! (702-693-7111)
Flying through the air with the greatest of ease, these circus acts take center ring over the main casino of Circus Circus. The ringmaster announces clowns, jugglers, and many others. Be sure to stop by for a current schedule of events. Carnival games take place on the midway, which is on the mezzanine, every half hour. (702-734-0410)
Madame Tussauds Las Vegas
Ever wanted to get your picture taken with Elvis Presley or Shaq? You can at Madame Tussauds Las Vegas. The world-famous wax museum features all your favorite stars, from George Clooney and Johnny Depp to Simon Cowell and Hugh Hefner. The entertaining attraction takes visitors through several themed areas to see more than 100 popular "celebrities." Recent additions include Thor, Sofia Vergara and Whitney Houston. (702-862-7800)
Smoke, fire, and the power of geological forces present themselves every 15 minutes after dusk, accompanied by an original, percussive soundtrack. Stop by and be entertained by the sheer magnitude of the spectacular display. The eruption features 119,000 gallons of water per minute and is situated on three water-covered acres. Don't get too close or you could be consumed by the "lava" and "flames." The display is so realistic and engrossing that you can easily lose sight of the fact that this is a manmade attraction, with no help given by Mother Nature whatsoever. Another great Las Vegas spectacle! (702-791-7111)
Gondola Rides at The Venetian
Can't make it to Venice, Italy, for an authentic gondola ride? Then head to Vegas for a stateside substitute at The Venetian. Travel down Venice's recreated Grand Canal through streetscapes and past its well-known caf--s and shops. When the weather is nice, visitors may prefer taking the outdoor gondola ride to get a different view of Las Vegas. Don't go without your camera. (702-414-4300, 702-414-1000)
Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat
The Secret Garden houses absolutely gorgeous big cats, including panthers, white lions, leopards, and the white tigers that Siegfried and Roy have made famous. The habitat is festooned with tropical foliage, creating an inviting natural atmosphere for the felines. There's also a 2---million-gallon aquarium that's home to several bottlenose dolphins, an artificial coral reef, and numerous fish. Ideal for families and animal lovers. (702-791-7111)
One of the world's largest air-conditioned theme parks, The Adventuredome is the perfect place to escape Vegas' summer heat. Kids love the Canyon Blaster, the world's only indoor, double-loop, double-corkscrew roller coaster, which reaches speeds of 55 miles per hour. Tried-and-true theme park favorites like bumper cars, a swinging pirate ship and a Ferris wheel can also be found. A rock-climbing wall, an 18-hole miniature golf course, a virtual reality zone and plenty of arcade games round out the attractions. All in all, a great outing for the entire family. (702-794-3939, 866-456-8894)
About Terrisa Meeks
Terrisa Meeks is a native born, life-long resident of Las Vegas. She became a traveler long before she could walk. Terrisa has traveled throughout the United States, from Maine to Hawaii, but she especially enjoys exploring the Southwestern United States. Las Vegas is a place she's watched grow and change. While she always enjoys visiting the Strip, Terrisa's true passion is for exploring the lightly-visited Mojave Desert. She gets giddy over hard-to-find back roads, quirky museums, and ghost towns. Her happiest travel moments involve vast expanses of wilderness and a good map.
Read more about Terrisa Meeks here.