Las Vegas Off the Beaten Path

Photo by Lord Jim

Where locals, artists, hipsters, barflies, and curiosity seekers hang out in Las Vegas

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Some people think Las Vegas is nothing more than a strip of casinos made for wild gambling and nightlife, over-the-top shows, star chef’s restaurants, and gluttonous buffets. but there are places to get off the beaten path. True, that is exactly what most of the Strip is about. But there are many other faces to this modern city.

If you’re the kind of person who digs local art, cool bars, vintage shopping, and quirky sights, you could have a great trip to Vegas without ever visiting the Strip.

After dark, galleries and the “Naked City”

The easiest spot to start exploring is in the Fremont East Entertainment District. Just east of the tourist-packed Fremont Street Experience, this neighborhood is no more than a five-minute walk from some of downtown’s low-roller casinos. After dark, follow the neon signs to drinks and live music or DJs at spots like Beauty Bar, the Griffin, Commonwealth, or the speakeasy-style Laundry Room and Downtown Cocktail Room. Don’t miss the Downtown Container Park, which has a changeable mix of boutique shops, local eateries, casual bars, and an outdoor concert stage. Inside the Emergency Arts complex at the Beat Coffeehouse, pop your head into the Burlesque Hall of Fame exhibition.

Another big chunk of the city that most tourists ignore lies between the Strip and downtown. Nicknamed the “Naked City,” a lot of this area admittedly has a down-and-out vibe, or else it’s overrun with kitschy wedding chapels. But the 18b Art District is different: that’s where you’ll find local artists’ galleries and workshops, as well as creative restaurants and crazy dive bars. A good time to visit is during First Friday Las Vegas events, happening on the first Friday evening of every month, with gallery openings and chances to meet the artists. From the landmark Arts Factory, the district spreads south of Charleston Avenue to Wyoming Avenue, west to Commerce Street, and east to 3rd Street.

Downtown and off the Strip

Some of Vegas’s most eclectic shops are also located around downtown, including Retro Vegas, the Gamblers General Store, and Gold & Silver Pawn (as seen on the History Channel’s Pawn Stars reality TV series), to name just a few. In the opposite direction, north of the Fremont Street Experience, you’ll find a few of Vegas’s most interesting daytime diversions: the multi-floor, indoor Mob Museum and the outdoor Neon Museum, which offers walking tours of its fascinating neon sign “boneyard” (try to reserve tours in advance, since they often fill up).

Elsewhere off the Strip, several more oddball sights await. Some of the most unusual attractions include the National Atomic Testing Museum and truly bizarre Erotic Heritage Museum, which stands in the shadow of a strip club. The most popular ticket these days is a tour of Casa de Shenandoah, the golden-gated estate of entertainer Wayne Newton (aka “Mr. Las Vegas”). A much tamer diversion for families or history nuts is the Clark County Museum, built out in the suburbs. It’s on the way to Hoover Dam, another unexpectedly strange sight in the middle of the Nevada desert.

Are you getting hungry as you drive all around the city? Day or night, you can dig into authentic Asian food – from Japanese izakaya (gastropubs) to Hong Kong barbecue kitchens to Vietnamese noodle soup shops – in Chinatown, located west of the Strip in strip malls spread out along Spring Mountain Road. Then cap off the night with a Zombie cocktail at Frankie’s Tiki Room.

Where else do you like to hang in Vegas that’s not on the Strip? Leave us your tips and hints below.

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