Get vaccinated and get out on the town.
Photo courtesy of Petrossian Bar at Bellagio
Sin City is gearing up for a summer boom. Coronavirus vaccines are like tequila in this town: everybody wants a shot. The sooner we fight off the pandemic, the sooner we get back to what Vegas is all about—having fun. Under the guidance of Nevada and Clark Country, Las Vegas is slowly easing up on social distancing with a plan in place to be 100% open by June 1. That means the return of shows, restaurants, bars, and casinos as we used to know ’em, adding up to a wild, crazy summer on and off the Strip. Just keep in mind—masks are still required in public spaces until further notice. Enjoy your summer, but use your brain. Be safe and don’t take any unnecessary chances. We’ve come a long way and there’s a lot of cool stuff to do over the next few months.
See a show in Las Vegas
It’s not the most original suggestion for a Vegas activity, but hey—it’s nice to see the return of large-scale entertainment on the Strip. O at the Bellagio, Mystere at Treasure Island, and Blue Man Group at the Luxor are the first Cirque du Soleil productions to resume performances since the pandemic. We’re also seeing big-name residencies back in action, starting with Bruno Mars, whose six July dates at the Park Theater are the first shows at the venue in well over a year. Of course, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. You’ve got the magic of David Copperfield at the MGM Grand, Penn & Teller at the Rio, and Mat Franco at The LINQ, plus comedy with Carrot Top at the Luxor, Terry Fator at New York-New York, Piff the Magic Dragon at the Flamingo, and the Aces of Comedy series at the Mirage… and even saucy topless revues like Fantasy at the Luxor, X Burlesque at the Flamingo, and X Country at Harrah’s. You can also skip the Strip and head to the Downtown Arts District for Hot Trash, a socially distant variety show, presented in a vintage New York-style peepshow format by the Majestic Repertory Theatre. The audience is limited to private booths with Champagne included.
There’s nothing quite like a crazy new hotel to make Vegas feel “normal” again. Resorts World officially opens on June 24 with 3,500 rooms and suites in partnership with Hilton. It’s the first hotel on the Strip built from the ground-up in more than ten years—and easy to spot with a giant video screen on the exterior. Resorts World is already acting like a player. Its theater will host residencies by Celine Dion, Katy Perry, Carrie Underwood, and Luke Bryan—but expect those later in the year at the earliest. Tickets are currently on sale for Tiesto and Zedd, however, who have residencies of their own, beginning in July at the hotel’s Zouk Nightclub and AYU Dayclub. Somewhere in the middle of all this find time to drink craft cocktails at Gatsby’s and grab food at Brezza, an Italian restaurant featuring Vegas chef Nicole Brisson.
Lake Mead Cruises
Still no word on when tours will resume at the Hoover Dam, but there’s another cool way to see the giant hunk of concrete in person. Lake Mead Cruises has an afternoon Hoover Dam Sightseeing Cruise that runs seven days a week. The 90-minute tour departs from the Lake Mead National Recreation Area with food and booze served on board. The vintage-style paddleboat is even better during the summer, when you can hang out on the rooftop deck while snapping nonstop photos.
Take a sip of low-intervention wines
Do you know what’s really in your wine? Most of ’em are full of additives. (Just google “mega purple” for starters.) Fortunately, low-intervention wines—which often cross over into natural and/or biodynamic wines—are taking hold in Las Vegas. You just need to know where to look. Garagiste Wine Room is a great resource for low-intervention wines in the Downtown Arts District. Enjoy a glass at the bar or take a bottle home (with a 50% discount on retail sales). Khoury Fine Wine & Spirits is expanding its selection by the day. Just look for the white stickers on bottles to identity low-intervention options. Sample a few by the glass at the in-store bar (especially on weekends when food trucks pull up outside). Ada’s at Tivoli Village is another spot that takes its wine seriously. Every server on the floor is a certified sommelier who can go into detail about what is (and isn’t) in every bottle on the wine list.
Photo courtesy of Bang Bar by Momofuku
Block 16 Urban Food Hall brings together regional dining concepts from throughout the country (like District donuts and coffee from New Orleans, Lardo pork sandwiches from Portland, and Hattie B’s Hot Chicken from Nashville) and puts them together in one place. David Chang’s Bang Bar by Momofuku is the latest addition, serving up U-Wraps with spit-roasted chicken or pork wrapped in perfectly charred (and very addictive) bang flatbread. Ghost Donkey, a secret speakeasy in the back that specializes in tequila and mezcal, recently reopened for the first time since the pandemic—and suddenly, Block 16 feels whole again.
Off the Strip
Allegiant Stadium opened in the middle of the pandemic last year, which meant the Raiders played their first Las Vegas games without any fans in attendance. That will hopefully change with the upcoming season, although Garth Brooks plans to host the first sellout with a long-delayed concert in July. Meanwhile fans can get an up-close look at the 65,000-seat venue with a private tour. A VIP option includes a drink with a view through the stadium’s lanai doors facing the Strip. Be prepared to trek about a mile overall.
Photo courtesy of One Steakhouse
Need a good excuse to get familiar with the brand-new Virgin Hotels property? Try drinking your way through the casino with your own boozy crawl. Start with Night + Market, where Kris Yenbamroong’s SoCal spin on Thai food is complemented by a carefully selected list of natural wines. From there, head to One Steakhouse and order the Bootlegger (with Macallan 12-Year, all-natural apple syrup, and barrel-spiced bitters) to complement the restaurant’s dry-aged bone-in New York Strip. If you prefer agave spirits, stop by Casa Calavera, where the jumbo-sized Lickity Split Margarita is made with añejo tequila and comes with a frozen fruit pop as garnish. Finish things off with the one-two punch of the Bar at Commons Club (an overachieving lobby bar) and the more secluded Shag Room, which has Moroccon-style tents as VIP booths. Ask for the Double Decker (bourbon topped with aperol foam) at the former and the Ziegler (with goji berry gin) at the latter.
Photo courtesy of Richard Hay
Take a road trip to Lake Havasu
Lake Havasu City
Lake Havasu is known as a Spring Break destination, but the action actually picks up in the summer. Boating is the top activity, whether cruising on the channel underneath the London Bridge, heading off to do some rock jumping at Copper Canyon, or pulling up to a small beach at some random cove. You can always lean back, relax, and let someone else do all the work with a sunset cruise. Lake Havasu is just a two-hour drive from Vegas and a great vacation spot for scoring an Airbnb rental.
Despite its upscale image, the Bellagio has two of the best free attractions in Las Vegas: the fountain shows out front and the Conservatory & Botanical Gardens in the lobby (which debuts a summer exhibit May 29). But if you want to hang out and get fancy, book a table at the newly renovated Petrossian Bar, which just debuted a new menu of cocktails, caviar, and other small bites to go along with the luxe atmosphere and live piano music. Try the best of both worlds with “Poof!”—a libation of rye, brandy, and sweet vermouth, served next to duck confit croquettes in the same smoky glass presentation. Afternoon tea service is available on Saturdays and Sundays.
Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience | Photo by Laurent Velazquez
Las Vegas has two options this summer for seeing the works of an iconic artist in a whole new way. Read carefully. The Portal inside AREA15 is hosting Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience through July 5, with more than 300 pieces by the Dutch painter brought to life via 360-degree projection mapping, animation, and custom-scored classical music—plus cool special effects like simulated raindrops on the floor. A VIP upgrade includes virtual reality goggles to simulate a walk through a French village. Here’s where things get confusing. Another totally different exhibit, Immersive Van Gogh, debuts July 1 at a yet-to-be-announced secret location “in the heart of Las Vegas.” It’s a similar experience with 90 million pixels worth of images projected onto the surrounding walls with a custom score by Italian composer Luca Longobardi.
Photo courtesy of Smith & Wollensky
Lip Smacking Foodie Tours knows how to do culinary crawls the right way, whether it’s the Strip, Downtown Arts District, Fremont East, or Chinatown. The company teams up with top restaurants to offer the dishes and drinks you really want to try—all at one price without a wait for tables. The newest tour is perfect for summer: an afternoon visit to four restaurants inside the neighboring Venetian and Wynn resorts. Between Smith & Wollensky, Sugarcane, Estiatorio Milos, and Cipriani, guests will enjoy more than ten dishes with the option to add on a drink package. It could be the most delicious 2.5 hours you spend in Vegas. Along the way, a guide will share details about each destination, plus a little bit of Vegas knowledge. The company also introduced Finger Licking Foodie Tours during the pandemic last year, which offers more casual, socially distant self-guided excursions.
Photo courtesy of Marquee
Lounge by the pool and order bottle service
The Las Vegas pool party scene is getting ready to heat up this summer with music, food, and bottle service by the water. Day clubs like Wet Republic at the MGM Grand, Liquid at Aria, and Encore Beach Club at Wynn have been following a limited lounge-style format, but are picking up the pace as COVID restrictions are loosened. Marquee is going a step further, recently launching “Drenched After Dark,” late-night parties on its rooftop pool deck at the Cosmopolitan. The summer also promises the debut of Azilo Ultra Pool at the Sahara, AYU Dayclub at Resorts World, and Elia Beach Club at Virgin Hotels.
The Fremont Street Experience remains a must-see Downtown tourist destination, combining bright neon lights and iconic imagery (like the Vegas Vic smoking cowboy marquee) with popular attractions like the Slotzilla zipline and overhead high-def Viva Vision video canopy. At some point, grab a beer at Banger Brewing, play the penny slots at Binions, and sit down for dinner at Vic & Anthony’s. The newest addition to the promenade is Circa, the largest resort in Downtown Vegas. Step inside (if you’re 21 or older—no kids allowed) and check out the world’s largest sportsbook, Barry’s Downtown Prime steakhouse, or The Legacy Club—a rooftop lounge that’s proving to be a great place to impress a date in Las Vegas. Ready to drink your way down Fremont Street? Sign up for the Royal Crawl, an app that guides participants to five different bars at three different casinos with beer, wine, or a cocktail included at each stop.
Founded by Jolene Mannina, Secret Burger is a Las Vegas success story based on a simple concept: team up with top restaurants to offer one-night-only “secret” dishes with sales made in advance online. Even when the pandemic made things complicated, Secret Burger continued to move forward with a series of take-home dinners, pop-up events, and online cooking classes with accomplished local chefs. Mannina also founded the Vegas Test Kitchen, a new kind of food hall with a series of rotating culinary concepts under one roof. The regular Taco Tuesday meals with Masazul provide some of the very best Mexican food in Las Vegas.
Lake Las Vegas Water Sports
Lake Las Vegas
Outdoor activities are in hot demand right now. Get away for the weekend at Lake Las Vegas, where you can enjoy boating, kayaking, and paddleboarding courtesy of Lake Las Vegas Water Sports. If that’s not enough, bounce and slide on the Aqua Park inflatable playground and zoom around on a flyboard, which propels you into the air with the power of water beneath your feet. Think Iron Man and you’ve got the right idea.
The Neon Museum packs a lot of Vegas history into one place, offering guided tours of old neon signs and marquees from casinos and other businesses long departed. The attraction is especially engaging at night. Make sure to check out “Brilliant”—a 30-minute light, video, and music display that brings some of those signs back to life without a single one being plugged in. A special exhibit dedicated to the legacy of the Moulin Rouge, the first integrated Las Vegas casino, is on display in La Concha visitor center until at least late summer (while its restored marquee can be viewed outside). If you prefer to stay home, download the official Neon Museum app (using the password NEON) to digitally explore 25 exhibits.
With recreational cannabis legal in Nevada, Las Vegas is loaded with dispensaries. Most of ’em—including favorites like Planet 13, The+Source, Acres, Thrive, Oasis, ShowGrow, and Curaleaf—now offer curbside pickup in addition to delivery services. NuWu takes the idea one step further with its own drive-thru window. And if you’re coming from out of town, Cannabis Tours can be a great resource for tracking down 420-related activities. Most hotels, however, are legally off-limits for consumption. You may have better luck with an Airbnb, but check directly with individual owners on policy.
Photo courtesy of Meow Wolf Omega Mart
Off the Strip
There’s so much cool stuff constantly opening at AREA15, it’s almost hard to keep track of it all. Almost. After a long wait, the entertainment complex is finally welcoming its anchor tenant, Meow Wolf, with a large-scale art installation called Omega Mart. The expansive exhibit is a trippy take on a grocery store (which doubles as the gift shop) while opening “portals” to the fictional corporate entity behind it, including a factory and offices where nothing is quite as it seems. There’s even a few slides to travel between levels. Give yourself at least an hour to fully appreciate the whole thing. If that’s not enough, pay a visit to the smaller-scale Wink World: Portals To The Infinite. The attraction was created by Chris Wink, one of the brains behind Blue Man Group—and you’ll notice a few minor similarities, especially with the music. Guests walk from room to room for colorful infinity-mirror experiences with music, lights, and special effects. It’s not a major production, but it’s a fun little detour that takes about 20 minutes to complete.
Feast on high-end Japanese cuisine
The Las Vegas version of Chinatown is a top destination for Asian cuisine–and one of the highlights is the recent wave of elevated Japanese dining. Kabuto set the standard for omakase presentations-–carried out with precision, expertise, and fresh fish flown in daily from around the world. Eventually, Chef Gen Mizoguchi left and started Yui Edomae Sushi, which raised the bar even higher, crafting multi-course meals in a quiet, minimalist dining room. Newer additions include Sushi Kame (with a choice between omakase at a secluded private counter and a regular menu in a larger dining room) and Kaiseki Yuzu, which relocated to Chinatown from its original home in Silverado Ranch. Which one is best? Don’t try too hard to figure it out. Just make a point to visit each one and enjoy a personalized meal that will be among the best you have all year.
Adrenaline Mountain is an outdoor entertainment complex that has everything you need to go wild and crazy in the middle of the desert. Shoot machine guns, go off-roading in an ATV, get behind the wheel of a monster truck, and nail a bullseye with archery or axe throwing. Go even more extreme by blowing up a car with a sniper rifle (or crushing one with construction machinery). As you can see, the options are endless—with new ones being planned as we speak.
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Rob Kachelriess has been writing about Las Vegas in Thrillist for more than seven years. His work has also appeared in Travel + Leisure, Trivago Magazine, Sophisticated Living, Modern Luxury, Leafly, Las Vegas Magazine, and other publications. He’s eating chocolate as he writes this. Follow him on Twitter @rkachelriess.