The central and southern parts of the Las Vegas Strip are a hive of activity that buzzes 24 hours a day. From sparkling high-rise hotels with enormous casinos to celebrity-chef-helmed restaurants, there are endless ways to separate yourself from your money here. If you keep heading north on Las Vegas Boulevard, though, you’ll encounter a different side of the city. Lower-key, lower-rise, and ultra-affordable, the Downtown area feels like a throwback to the Vegas of yesteryear. Counter-intuitively, though, this area is in the midst of a wave of redevelopment and is where you’ll find some of the city's newest, most interesting business and initiatives. Here’s what we saw on a recent trip.

Stay

Downtown Vegas is a haven for budget travelers, and that’s nowhere more apparent than in its hotels. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a room for more than $120 per night here, with many falling well below $100. Of course, the compromise in staying Downtown is that you’ll be a significant distance from the south and central Strip, the areas where you’ll find nearly every big-name show and restaurant. But if you’re looking for an alternative Vegas experience, it doesn’t get much better—or cheaper—than this.

Our favorite hotel in the neighborhood is the Oasis Hotel at The Gold Spike, which first opened in the early 1960s as a motel. A complete renovation in 2010 gave it new purpose, a fun pool area done in candy colors, and outdoor and event spaces. Rooms start at $28 per night with a $23 resort fee—an affordable night’s stay, no matter how you slice it.

We also like Downtown Grand, which proves that good design doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Fully gutted and rebuilt in 2013, this 600-room hotel has many of the under-one-roof amenities that you’ll find at big resorts further south on the Strip. With eight restaurants and bars, a casino with 500 slot machines, and a 35,000-square-foot pool deck, you can stay put during your stay. (We also like that you can reserve a private pool cabana for $250 per day Monday-Thursday. Prices go up by $100 on Weekends.) Rooms start at $39 per night but average out at around $60. This property charges a $26 resort fee per night.

Another hotel livening up Downtown Las Vegas is The D, which towers over the neighborhood and has a floor with vintage slot machines, a Coney Island-themed restaurant, and a high-energy pool scene. Rooms start at $37 per night with a $29 per-night resort fee that includes discounts at the property’s restaurants and casino.

See & Do

Fremont Street was the original Las Vegas Strip, the place where the first casinos and hotels opened when the city was developed at the turn of the last century. Once known as “Glitter Gulch” for its canyon of neon signs, you’ll find a different kind of scene here today—though some of the neon remains. Transformed into a covered arcade, a walk down this street today means you might encounter a projected light show, zip-liners whizzing overhead, live music, or a block party in honor of a sporting event or holiday. Many events are free to attend, so check the calendar for what’s coming up.

While you’re exploring Fremont Street, take a few minutes to drop into some of the casinos in the area. The Casinos at the El Cortez, the California, and the Golden Gate feel more gritty than flashy, and far more intimate—with lower minimum bets—than the giant casinos you’ll find on the southern Strip.

We’re also fans of Downtown Container Park, a block of shops, restaurants, clothing boutiques, galleries, and bars built from stacks of shipping containers. This area feels laid-back in ways that you won’t sense in other parts of the city, and it’s a rare place where you’ll mingle with locals and have the opportunity to patronize small local businesses. Check the container park’s web site before you visit. You’ll find a listing of promotions and discounts here that might save you some money.

Of course, we can’t mention downtown Las Vegas without giving a shout out to the Neon Museum, which features a sleek visitors' center and the famous neon “boneyard,” which is filled with old signs. Adult general admission tickets cost $19, with discounts for students and kids under six get in free. Guided tours are also available.

Eat

The streets near the intersection of Fremont and Las Vegas Boulevard comprise the heart of the neighborhood, and this is where you’ll find many of its most interesting restaurants. Forget mile-long buffets and two-for-one coupons; these establishments keep it flavorful and simple. Our favorite is Park on Fremont, which serves burgers, sandwiches, and snacks, including tater tots and wings, in a setting that’s granny-chic meets Japanese anime. Snag a seat under the trees in the beautiful garden and enjoy the many beers on tap, or the newly added bourbon flights.

For New York-style pizza, head to Evel Pie, which is named after Evel Knievel and is decked out with memorabilia honoring the famous stunt performer. Meanwhile, just across the street, you’ll find Le Thai, which is routinely voted among the best in Vegas. The short rib fried rice; a three-color curry that blends ingredients of red, yellow, and green curries; and the house “waterfall” sauce are local favorites. For classic gastropub fare with a modern spin, The Smashed Pig delivers crispy deviled eggs with cornichon, housemade bangers and mash, and Yorkshire popovers with onion gravy and maple drizzle (to name a few).

Drink

There’s no shortage of places to drink in Las Vegas, but a few of the neighborhood’s standouts include Corduroy, which has multiple small rooms, including one called The Lightbox that was specifically designed for the taking of selfies. The menu here is unpretentious—think PBR and Schlitz—though they do offer craft beers and Moscow mules (!) on tap. We’re also fans of Beauty Bar, which looks like a sendup of a 1950s hair salon and hosts live bands several times each week. Most events are ticketed.

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