Las Vegas obviously is known for its bright lights, gambling and party options for soon-to-be grooms and brides. But Las Vegas is more than just what is depicted in the movies and commercials hyping up the "What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas" mantra. It's also home to some of the best restaurants, entertainment and shopping in the nation. And, to the surprise of some, there are plenty of options if one is bringing the kids along as well. After all, there's a reason why George Clooney called the city "America's Playground" in the remake of the Rat Pack film "Ocean's Eleven." And though not everything worth seeing is on Las Vegas Boulevard, "The Strip," it's a fun way, not to mention the easiest way, to begin your entertainment adventure.
There are a number of ways to enjoy Las Vegas without breaking the bank. Chief among them is walking up the strip in the late afternoon and early evening to watch some of the free entertainment along the way.
Among the most visited attractions on the south end of the Strip are the Lion Habitat at the MGM Grand and resort developers' take on two iconic cities at New YorkNew York or Paris-Las Vegas. Shuffle (or cab) up to the Bellagio to see the famous fountain water show, set to classical songs and occasional contemporary hits, with the epic hotel as a backdrop. Across the street, in a small outdoor area between Harrah's and Imperial Palace, various tribute and cover bands rock the stage nightly if you're looking to hear a little live, and free, music.
A little farther north on the Strip, Treasure Island presents its Sirens of TI show in the waters surrounding the hotel-casino several times nightly. Clocking in at just over 20 minutes, the free show is like a miniature pirate movie - albeit slightly skewed toward adults - complete with explosions, singing starlets and mid-air stunts. Not far away, the Mirage offers options indoors (the White Tiger Habitat) and outdoors (The Mirage Volcano, which explodes every 15 to 30 minutes amid tribal dancing and drumming) to snare passers-by.
Those looking to go to a show, like one of many presented by Cirque du Soleil, or at places like the Rio, which hosts comedie celebrities Penn & Teller, can often do so for up to half off face-value through Tix 4 Tonight, which has about 10 kiosks in the city offering discount seats. Tickets to some of the hottest shows won't always be available - rarely does one see Cirque du Soleil's Beatles- inspired "Love" on the list, for example - but generally plenty of Vegas-style musical shows, performances by magicians and comedians and showgirl-style adult fare are accessible.
If nostalgia is the order of the day, take a short drive, shuttle or cab ride out to Freemont Street, also known as Old Vegas or Glitter Gulch. Perhaps the best unofficial moniker would be "Vegas on the cheap." The area is filled with mid-street vendors and gift shops that feel more like a street festival or flea market than Las Vegas. Starting at 8:00pm nightly, there's a series of music and light shows, with neon images flashing on screens that hover over a three-block stretch of the city's downtown area. They're a bit cheesy, perhaps, but definitely fun and worth taking in. It's also about the cheapest place to grab a to-go snack in the city with various specials in the hotel-casinos along the pedestrian way. Among the most famous is Golden Gate's $1 shrimp cocktail or $0.75 hot dog.
Las Vegas has been a magnet for luring celebrity chefs to open trademark restaurants in hotel-casinos on the Strip. From Wolfgang Puck to Emeril Lagasse to Bobby Flay, many of the world's most renowned restaurateurs have put their sumptuous marks here. With that, of course, some of the best steakhouses in the nation can also be found in Vegas. Among them are Lagasse's Delmonico at The Venetian, simple and elegant in its décor with a bit of Louisiana flare in the menu; Peter Glazier's The Strip House in Planet Hollywood, very modern looking with its red décor and oozing character of his flagship New York City steakhouse in atmosphere and flavor; and the off-strip elegance of N9ne at the Palms, which mixes its classic steak options with some offthe-beaten-path compliments such as the lobster mashed potatoes. …