The first time I stepped foot here, I wept as if I were looking up at the Sistine Chapel…and I wasn’t even inside the Venetian. Everything was so far-fetched and over the top, yet so perfect at the same time. Is that a real life lion in the middle of a casino? Yes. Is that my waiter rappelling while holding a bottle of wine? Yes. Did a volcano just explode on Las Vegas Boulevard? Yes. Is that really Minnie Mouse doing something obscene to Sponge Bob’s nose? Yes.
I can’t help but love everything about this silly town. I’ve been lucky to return many, many times (it helps to have a bff in Sin City) and have seen its many sides, from the touristy to the kitschy, and from the lowbrow to way, way lowbrow. If I were to list the top ten meals of my life, two of them took place in Las Vegas. This place is also home to my most indulgent spa experience, my greatest gambling win and my most extraordinary night of partying.
The only terrible thing about the Las Vegas experience is that it’s book-ended by a long and tedious day of air travel when you’re on the east coast. But if you’re already west and you have some time, I say drive.
“No one thinks Las Vegas is real; it is an illusion, but visitors willingly suspend disbelief and pretend.” Hal Rothman in Neon Metropolis.
Hit the Road
I left the city behind and set my course toward that huge bright light in the desert for a weekend of adult fun. But as soon as I started driving, the feeling became very familiar – and it wasn’t because driving to Vegas is the most common trope in every movie and TV show. It was familiar because it felt exactly like driving to Disney. World, that is.
There are a lot of parallels between driving from Los Angeles to Las Vegas and driving from Miami to Orlando. Both drives take approximately 4 hours. On both drives, the mood is always more fun on the way there than on the way back. And on both drives you inevitably have to stop in the middle of nowhere to pee.
Plan a Detour
One way that Vegas is unlike Orlando is that while Orlando is the main destination, Vegas is the gateway to so much more, like the Hoover Dam, the Grand Canyon and Lake Mead. In many ways, Nevada is a road tripper’s dream.
On this particular venture, I took a pause from the illusion and headed into the Valley of Fire.
Valley of Fire is Nevada’s oldest and largest state park, dedicated in 1935. Ancient trees and 3,000 year-old Indian petroglyphs can be found throughout the park…but other than the temperature, where’s the fire? The park gets its name for the magnificent red sandstone, which look like they are on fire under the sun. The stones were formed from shifting sand dunes during the age of the dinosaurs more than 150 million years ago – right around the same time as Wayne Newton’s first concert.
Park at the Pool
After a gorgeous morning of exploring, I was back in Sin City within the hour, cooling off with a frozen drink at a very loud pool party, taking in all of the puteria y chanchullo that Las Vegas is known for. This place is a dream I tell you!
If you go: The drive from L.A. to Las Vegas is approximately a little more than 4 hours, but it will feel like 6, as the scenery on I-15 is plain, boring desert with an occasional burro walking on the side of the hill. It’s very similar to the drive from Miami to Orlando, so bring a chatty Cuban with you to keep you entertained.
Pro tip: Save a little money and stay off the strip. You can always drive to your favorite mega hotel, as many of them do not charge for self-parking. Even better than driving around and clogging the main street, you can take the monorail and not have to worry about finding a parking spot or being the designated driver.
Valley of Fire: Less than an hour from the strip, you can explore Nevada’s oldest state park in the Mojave Desert at 29450 Valley of Fire Road, six miles from Lake Mead and 55 miles northeast of Las Vegas via Interstate 15 and on exit 75. The park is open all year, check out their website for more: valley-of-fire.com
Looking for something a little less adventurous and away from the strip? Hit the Neon Museum Las Vegas. You won’t find petroglyphs, but there’s a ton of history here that is highly Instagrammable.