Las Vegas, the only American city founded in the 20th century to now have a population of more than 1 million people, grew up in fits and spurts as an expanse of urban sprawl surrounded by desert and mountains before exploding in the latter half of the 20th century. The key Las Vegas neighborhoods for tourists boil down to two basic areas: the four-mile-long Strip, once a two-lane highway to Los Angeles that became one of the most famous thoroughfares on Earth when the big casino-hotels got a foothold, and Downtown, the older core of classic casinos and newer bars where the city was founded and the Rat Pack once held court. Once in Las Vegas, you’ll find that the vast casino-hotels are deceptively farther apart than they seem and that the city is surrounded by a landscape almost as stunning as the Strip itself. For more suggestions on what to see and do on the Boulevard, check out our Top 10 Tourist Trap Tips.
Las Vegas Neighborhoods
North StripRunning from the Space Needle look-alike Stratosphere to the posh twin resorts Encore and Wynn Las Vegas – and dotted in between by older, once-hip hotel-casinos and souvenir shops – this area has been in transition for years. Gone are the legendary Desert Inn, Stardust, and New Frontier, imploded to make way for a Trump Hotel-Condo Tower and a Vegas version of the Miami landmark Fontainebleau, whose construction was paused due to the recession. Another blow to the area: Owners of the nearly 60-year-old Sahara closed its doors in May 2011due to lack of business.
Central StripSome of the most famous themed resorts in the world stand out – the Mirage, Venetian, and Treasure Island among them – in this most dense cluster of diverse properties. A walk through this area will pass an exploding volcano, clashing pirates, and singing gondoliers. Indeed, despite efforts to tug attention northward, the center of gravity on the Strip remains the intersection with Flamingo Road where the Flamingo Hotel, Caesars Palace, the Bellagio, and the Bally’s-Paris complex stand sentry.
South StripStretching from the Planet Hollywood Hotel-Casino (née the disastrous Aladdin Resort until an ownership change and makeover completed in 2007) to the classy Mandalay Bay, another series of staple properties lines this section, including the Luxor, New York-New York, and the MGM Grand. In late 2009, the ambitious $9 billion CityCenter development opened with five resorts/condo buildings including a Mandarin Oriental property and the upscale Crystals shopping center. CityCenter, the most expensive privately funded project in U.S. history, features architecture by Daniel Liebskind and Cesar Pelli, commissioned art by Maya Lin and Jenny Holzer, and a Cirque du Soleil show based on the life of Elvis. A year later, another newcomer made its debut right next door: The hip-as-they-come Cosmopolitan has become a destination for young Vegas crowds who flock to free shows by up-and-coming bands, restaurants by big-name chefs, and a nightlife shrine with A-list DJs spinning to massive crowds.
DowntownThis alternative to the Strip is popular among bargain-seekers, people looking for a more local experience, and those fascinated by Vegas history. This was the original casino corridor, the place where Vegas first made its name as an entertainment destination where anything could happen. Tied together at its core by a four-block-long pedestrian plaza on Fremont Street, the casinos are capped by a canopy that displays fantastical hourly nighttime light shows set to music on its underside. In recent years, Downtown has also developed as a focal point for local art and nightlife in Las Vegas. The Fremont East district just past the casinos is bustling with hipsters, artists and tastemakers, who bounce from bar to bar at night. Downtown is home to Las Vegas’ Arts District, too, complete with antique dealers, galleries, and funky shops.
Other NeighborhoodsPicturing the Las Vegas Valley as a large circular bowl, the two most prominent regions are Henderson, a city of 250,000 due southeast, and Summerlin, a mammoth master-planned community that occupies much of the northwest and far-western reaches of the city of Las Vegas. Other than a casino here and a well-regarded restaurant there, these suburban areas are of no more interest to tourists than northern New Jersey would be to visitors to Manhattan.
The Off-Strip Resort CorridorThis vague geographical term is used to reference the various properties not actually on the Las Vegas Strip but considered part of the action. They include celeb-magnets like the Hard Rock and the Palms, popular convention hotels like the Rio and the Las Vegas Hilton, and a number of stand-alone high-end chain restaurants.
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