12 Things to Do in Vegas that Don’t Involve a Casino

By Nomadic Matt | Published July 29th, 2013

the las vegas signA lot of people tell me they hate Vegas or never want to go. “I don’t gamble, I don’t want to get drunk, it’s overpriced,” etc., etc. The excuses are numerous because Vegas is always portrayed through the glitz and glamour of its famous strip, yet there is so much more to Vegas than just this stretch of hotels, casinos and restaurants — and letting this one aspect of the city keep you away is a mistake.

Every time I go to Vegas, I get sucked into the famous Strip. I hardly ever leave. Days at the pool and nights (doing poorly) at the blackjack table go by quickly and before I know it, it’s time to go home. It’s easy to lose track of time. I often don’t mind. I enjoy all the restaurants, shows, bars, and people watching one can do on the strip.

But each time I leave, I vow to see more of Vegas than just the strip. Las Vegas becomes synonymous with strip but there’s plenty to do in the city that doesn’t involve the casinos. And every time I go to Vegas (and I go a lot), I try to break away from the glitz and see something new, something different, and something that doesn’t involve me putting twenty on red.

If you are thinking about heading to Vegas and the idea of sitting around a casino’s pool doesn’t appeal to you, here are some options that prove there is far more to Vegas than just buffets, free drinks, and blackjack:

Visit the Grand Canyon
riding horses in the grand canyon
Though far from Vegas, there are many companies that offer day trips and joint helicopter rides to the canyon. Because of the time involved, you don’t get to spend much time at the canyon but if you wanted a quick peek and knew you weren’t going to get there another time, this could be an (expensive) option.

Hike Red Rock
red rock canyon, nevada
Right outside of city is the beautiful Red Rock Canyon that offers plenty of both easy and strenuous hiking and mountain biking trails. The canyon is ringed by a road and each trailhead has a parking lot where you can leave your car to go hike and then drive to the next trailhead. I really liked getting off the Strip, walking around the desert, and working off all that buffet food. Make sure to come early in the morning before it gets too hot and bring a lot of water. The entrance fee is $7 per car.

Go to the Hoover Dam
hoover dam
The world famous Hoover Dam lies about an hour from Las Vegas. There are guided tours of the dam, a museum that includes a history of the dam and the region, and of course, plenty of opportunities to walk across the dam and take lots of pictures. As a history buff, I loved the tour and learning about the mechanics behind constructing the dam. And, as someone scared of heights, I enjoyed the scenery far back from the overlook’s edge!

Hang out in Boulder City
Along the way to the Hoover Dam, this suburb can give you a taste of local life in the area. Milos is the hot restaurant in this town. There’s a main street and some shops but not much more than that. Yet, despite the lack of “things to do”, strolling around this quiet little community is a nice contrast to the crowds of Vegas.

Visit the Mob Museum
the mob museum in vegas
Located in downtown Las Vegas, the Mob Museum showcases both sides of the notorious battle between organized crime and law enforcement. It opened last year and was inaugurated by Mayor Oscar Goodman, who also happened to be the lawyer for all the mobsters in town. (Side note: his steak restaurant, Oscar’s, is really good.) There are high-tech theater presentations, one-of-a-kind artifacts, and interactive exhibits. It will teach you about the Vegas so immortalized in movies like “Casino.”

Go eat with the locals
food in vegasThe Strip has some of the best food in the entire world, and with the amount of money flowing through that street, it’s easy to see why. I’ve had some world-class meals here but if you want to get a taste of local Vegas food, be sure to wander off the beaten path and try some of these places:

Head downtown to Freemont Street
freemont street in downtown las vegas
The glitz, the lights, and the high prices of the Strip are all a far-off land compared to Downtown Vegas. Here you’ll find sketchy bars, sad casinos, cheap drinks, and more of a New Orleans Bourbon Street vibe. It’s a great area for entertainment, people watching, cheap slots,cheaper drinks, and a more laid-back atmosphere. Be sure to also check out the Golden Nugget where you can see the shark tank.

Golf
shadow creek gold course in las vegas
There are many golf courses in the Vegas, including Shadow Creek, one of the best in the world. If you aren’t a member of any local clubs, many of the casinos can arrange day passes.

Visit the Neon Museum
signs at the neaon museum
This outdoor lot is loaded with the huge signs that once beckoned you into casinos like the Silver Slipper, Stardust, and El Cortez. Now this casino graveyard lets you explore the city’s sinful past. The museum recently expanded and now features more signs, a park, and guided tours of their collection. It’s pretty cool wandering through these old signs and learning the history of the city as go. It gives you a different perspective on Vegas.

Relive the Past at Bonnie Springs
Bonnie Springs historic old west city
Pure tourist cheese (but that can be fun), Bonnie Springs Ranch is a former mining town that is now a “ghost town” where you can experience life in the old west, ride horses, and watch reenacted gunfights.

Have fun at Lake Mead
Have fun at Lake Mead in Nevada
The lake that Hoover Dam built features any kind of water-based activity you can think of, and a visit here is a great way to enjoy some time on the water without having to jockey for pool space from some drunk college kids. You can organize a lot of activities with the help of guest services at the casino but for cheaper prices, search online or walk into the tour shops along the strip.

Get Artistic at First Friday
Las Vegas First Friday
On the first Friday of every month, the downtown area fills up with exhibits and displays from local artists called First Friday. It’s free and a great way to get a sense of the local art scene as well as mix with locals. Be sure to also check out Arts District 18b, the arts center of Las Vegas that’s home to cool bars, shops, galleries and more.

It’s easy to focus on Las Vegas as the bright and glitzy casinos and resorts that line and surround the main boulevard. After all, that’s what most people see in the ads; everything else is simply an afterthought. But I always find that there is far more to Vegas than the casinos of the Strip – there’s food, good shows, entertainment, and plenty of nature activities. It’s not all slot machines and experience meals and if you let that image stop you, you miss out on a dynamic and every changing city surrounded by beautiful desert landscapes.

For more on visiting Vegas and saving money, read these other articles on the blog:
An In-Depth Guide to the Strip Casinos
How to Be a High Roller in Vegas on a Low Roller Budget
Affordable and Delicious Restaurants in Las Vegas

comments 39 Comments

Great list! Lake Mead looks beautiful!

I adore Vegas, although not so much the strip.

My total favorite vegas thing is the Pinball Hall of Fame. http://pinballhall.org/. I’m kind of obsessed with it.

Rene

This is exactly what I LOVE to do in Vegas. Old school pinball with old school prices. I love it, did I say I love it? Also it isnt far from the strip.

Great list. We’d also point out that you don’t need to gamble or go to shows or even drink to have a great time on the strip. Travelers, in particular, should appreciate all the faux cities they’ve built. We liked bopping around “Paris”, or “New York”, or wherever just to see how much they got right, or wrong.

This is a great post! I’ve been to Las Vegas a few times, but my husband has never. Neither of us is very into gambling, so if we plan a trip, I’d love to have more options available… Even though we might just end up sitting by the pool with drinks!

I have never been to the Mob museum but I can attest for the great food in that city.

i definitely say the same thing too! i always tell myself i am going to go hiking when i visit vegas, but i usually always end up spending most my time on the strip. luckily, we’ve made some friends who live off strip that we’ve been able to explore some more food options. sushi mon is pretty good for being so cheap. :)

What a great list. I’ve been a dozens of times and still wasn’t aware of everything you covered. Thanks!
- Suzette, trysomethingfun.blogspot.com

The best Vegas vacations happen off the Strip. These are great ideas for getting an all inclusive look of a beautiful city!

NomadicMatt

Sometimes they happen on the strip too….I think. Those nights get pretty hazy! :)

I love Fremont Street. It’s my favourite part of Vegas. Cheaper than the strip, seedy casinos with some personality and that great roof screen with booming music! Love it all! Next time we go we are trying the zip lining that they have there now.

This is great! I’ve been telling people for YEARS that they should do other things than gambling when in Vegas but they don’t seem to get it. I’ll be sending them this article every time they mention their trip!

I’m a Vegas junkie too. Anytime I get a chance to go, I’m there. I hit the poker tables hard, and I have to admit I never really get much more done while I’m in Vegas except gambling, but I always have a great time. This is a great list of things to get out and do if the tables aren’t your thing though! Thanks for putting this together.

Now, this is a Vegas I could do. I’ve never been a fan of the bright lights and loud streets and smoky casinos but I do LOVE the outdoors.

I see many of my favorite places on here. I visited the Neon Museum this year and really liked it. You show a picture of the Peppermill but do not have a link. I always make sure to eat there when I am in Vegas.

Ray

I’ve done a few of those “Off the Beaten” path suggestions myself, and couldn’t agree with you more, Matt! I have been to Vegas 4 times myself within the past six years. After my last trip (July 2012), the city seems to have grown on me as a perfectly balanced vacation between fun, food, scenery and a bit of culture.

A few more suggestions I would add to that list include:

(1.) Visit Death Valley (located midway between Vegas and LA – 2 hours Northwest). Perfect place for photography and geology buffs! Not to mention that Death Valley has both the lowest point in all of North America – Badwater Basin – and highest point of the contiguous United States – Mt. Whitney McKinley – located within this unique and fascinating National Park!

(2.) See a Vegas show (I saw “Phantom of the Opera” with my Girlfriend. I am not usually that big into theater production, but this version at the Venetian totally blew my mind away. It ended its run in September 2012, however, so I would suggest asking your Concierge for suggestions).

(3.) Go to any Gun Range!

(4.) Watch the Bellagio Fountains Show, but do it at the top of the Eiffel Tower at Paris-Paris Casino & Resort. Gives you a 360 degree view of the Strip, and an eye opening experience of how high those water fountain are blasted during the show!

Thanks for the tips! Brings back fond memories! :D

Excellent – a side to Vegas and the surrounding area that definitely appeals more to me than casinos and pools. The grand canyon is fantastic, I have been and would really recommend a helicopter ride over it – the best views EVER!
Lake Mead looks beautiful and so does that golf course, even though I don’t play golf! Thanks for sharing :)

Jo in NJ

Our next trip is to Vegas for six days at the end of September, so this is timely! Our third trip there. Great tips!

Will have to check out the Mob Museum. I think I’m taking the plunge and doing the helicopter over the Grand Canyon – one of my bucket list items.

Do they still have the bus that goes up and down the strip to Fremont and back?

The Grand Canyon is really worth while, and you can take multi-day camping trips through the various trails there.

Lake mead would be fun to as I imagine they have a bunch of watersports you could do.

Hi Matt,
Great post – I’ve been wanting to go to Las Vegas precisely to see the attractions in the surrounding area. Grand Canyon at the top of my list, but I was also wondering about Zion National Park and Glen Canyon. Did you exclude them because they’re a little further away? Never heard of Red Rock Canyon, thanks for the tip!
Frank (bbqboy)

Hey Frank ~ Zion National Park and Bryce National Park are actually both closer to Las Vegas than Grand Canyon. Joshua Tree National Park is also closer than Grand Canyon. Matt is right in that it is a long drive to get to Grand Canyon, so I actually often recommend that people hit up one of the other closer national parks when they visit. Red Rock is fab, but if you like outdoorsy stuff, I also recommend Vally of Fire, which is just north of the city.

Thanks Joanne, much appreciate! Yes, I thought it was closer. I’ve noted Valley of Fire, thanks!
Frank

Some great tips! We are visiting Las Vegas later this year during our 6 month road trip around the USA – we’ll be sure to check out these spots. Gambling isn’t really my thing anyway…

I was definitely one of those people that said they had no interest in ever seeing Vegas, until some family members moved to Boulder City and I finally spent some time there. There’s actually a great entrepreneurial culture in the city, with co-works and cheap offices. And if you want to go out for a drink and just get lost in a mob of people at 11:00 PM on a Tuesday, it can’t be beat.

Great post! Definitely will keep it in mind for my next LV trip.

We were recently in Vegas and did a night out in the Grand Canyon North Rim (less crowded than South and West, still mesmerizing). It’s less than a 5 hour drive, through mostly magnificent scenery. If willing to spend a night away from the blackjack tables, it’s a brilliant option and highly recommended. If too short on time but loose on the dollars, there’s always the helicopter… Still on a road trip frame of mind, on the opposite side lies Death Valley – less than 3 hours away, also stunning and a thrilling drive.

Your article reminds me of Macao… actually many places or people are absolutely not just what we think of.

This is a great list, I’ve always wanted to go to Vegas but I didn’t want to spend the whole time in the casinos. Thanks!

There are some major renovations going on in downtown Las Vegas to make the place the next Silicon Valley. I’m going back to LV soon so I’ll find out if it’s worth a second visit.

Great tips Matt, I really wished we went to the old sign museum when we there this year! Oh well, next year I guess…thanks!

Nice one Matt. I haven’t been to Vegas but it’s on my long list. Good to know it’s not only Casinos! Safe travels, Jonny

Tom

The Grand Canyon is a must so looking for seeing when you travel Las Vegas in October, we got a super deal with Tour America. The Mob museum also looks worth a look.

Great list! I have been to Vegas a few times in my life, but never realized that there is so much to do outside of the strip. I need to plan another trip there soon and check these places out!

Thanks for sharing Matt!

Michael

I’m with you, we love to visit Las Vegas…for a short time then it’s off to enjoy all the other wonderful things in the area so worth seeing. Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam, Red Rock Canyon are all great choices and ones so worth the time if you’re into outdoor activities. This is a very informative list for those looking for interesting things to do other than the strip.

My wife and I will be spending our 20th anniversary in vegas this October, and we have a full schedule of events to keep us busy. Two concerts, three shows, three tours, a weekend of NHRA races, and three great dinners already planned. Not sure if we are going to have any money left to eat or gamble, but we should have a great time! It’s been 32 years since I’ve been to vegas, and my wife has never been. I’m sure it’s changed a little.

Great post, it made me reconsider Las Vegas…

I’ve been wanting to go to the Neon Museum for ages. It’ll be my first stop… after the casino. :)

Don Lewis

Great info! I especially enjoy playing golf in Las Vegas, there’s such a huge variety of courses there. Golf definitely relaxes me and takes away the everyday stresses of life (work, family, among other things). My favorite places to golf in Las Vegas are the Eagle Crest and Aliante. They are very affordable without sacrificing quality.

Great article Matt! I am moving to Vegas next week from the East Coast, and I couldn’t be more excited to explore everything off the strip. Red Rocks, Grand Canyon, and all of Southern Utah (Zion and Bryce) which one of the previous commenters suggested, are high on my list. Also Havasu Falls is about 4 hours from Vegas. A challenging hike, but one of the most iconic waterfalls in the world. I’m sure you’ve seen the pictures. We are headed to Havasu Falls in early April and can’t wait!

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