A couple of miles north of “The Strip” is the real City of Las Vegas, where the old school neon and original casinos around Fremont St. still wow visitors.
Recorded history’s first human visitors to the Las Vegas area found a series of warm springs forcing water to the desert surface. Vegetation flourished in an otherwise hostile environment and the area was given the name Las Vegas, which translates into “the meadows.” By 1844 Las Vegas appeared on maps and slowly Mormons, westward settlers, and the railroads found their way to the promising but wild location. In 1931, the construction of the Hoover Damn brought workers to Las Vegas, which in turn brought entrepreneurs. The oasis in the desert was a gem of hope to the earliest settlers and granted a promise of better things that still pervades.
On the original town planning map, block 16 was the only space where gambling and alcohol sales were permitted. This space grew and is still flourishing today as the heart of Las Vegas along Fremont St. where neon lights shine, hopes are fulfilled and dashed in glittering casinos, and visitors flock to experience the real Las Vegas. Three miles north of The Strip, Downtown Las Vegas is home to a lively arts district teeming with breweries, a surplus of chapels for spontaneous weddings, and locals who are happy to chat about the city they call home. Most of all, Downtown Vegas’ cultural, historical, and social qualities proves this city in the desert is more than the cash won or lost on the casino floor.
For being a fairly young city, there is a lot of history in Las Vegas. Several museums stand as testaments to the city’s charm, entertainment, and past affiliations. There is always something new in Vegas and because of this the past often gets lost, paved over, or destroyed. Sometimes relics of the past are saved and the best example of this is The Neon Museum (770 Las Vegas Blvd N). The non-profit museum was created in 1996 as a means to preserve iconic Las Vegas signs. In the evenings, the museum sells out, so advance tickets are recommended.
American burlesque is the theatrical presentation of slapstick, chorus numbers, and daring dances performed by scantily clad or nude women that reached its peak of popularity in the 1920s. The art still flourishes in Vegas, and the Burlesque Hall of Fame (1027 S Main St #110) is a living tribute and a collection of costumes, props, and photos. It is the only museum in the world dedicated to the “history, preservation, and future of the art of burlesque.”
Las Vegas’ ties to organized crime are well known. Visitors can learn about “Bugsy” Siegel, Moe Dalitz, and Sam Giancana at the Mob Museum (300 Stewart Ave). Fittingly housed in the old Las Vegas post office and courthouse building, the Mob Museum includes artifacts, exhibits, and interactive features. The museum also contains a distillery and Prohibition Era-themed speakeasy in the basement; the password to gain entry can be found on the museum’s website.
For those who enjoy a more standard approach to museum going, the Las Vegas Natural History Museum (900 Las Vegas Blvd N) offers an educational and entertaining look at global life forms, past and present. In 1991, the museum opened as an anchor for the city’s Cultural Corridor, which encompasses six blocks and includes the Old Las Vegas Mormon Fort State Historic Park.
The stretch of Fremont Street from Main St. to Las Vegas Blvd. is a metropolitan wonder, often shown in film and TV to depict the glitz and glam of Sin City. The street-turned-attraction is named after engineer and U.S. Army officer John C. Frémont who led a scientific and mapping expedition to the area in 1844. His report was published by the U.S. Senate and officially put Las Vegas on U.S. maps.
The hub of all things Vegas, Fremont St. was the first paved street in town and got the city’s first traffic light in 1931. Sometime in the 1940s, the downtown street earned the nickname Glitter Gulch, with everything from pharmacies to casinos lit in neon lights. Casinos were the main attraction. But by 1982, eighty percent of the casino activity was on The Strip to the south. In 1994, auto traffic was banned, and the Freemont Street Experience was born.
The Freemont Street Experience is a pedestrian’s dream, where visitors walk under a 1,375 ft. long, 90 ft. wide canopy of lights and enjoy the glitz and excitement of “old Vegas” surrounding the historic street. Viva Vision is the world’s largest digital display and shines under the canopy. The lightshow repeats hourly throughout the night from 6:00 p.m. till 2:00 a.m. The free entertainment is paired with free nightly concerts by both regional and international acts. The lightshow attracts more than 24 million visitors a year, but the best view of Fremont Street may be from SlotZilla, an 11-story slot machine-inspired zip line zooming above the crowds walking below.
Just south of Las Vegas City limits sits the Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino (3000 Paradise Rd). One of the classic accommodations of Sin City the Westgate (once the International) was home to the legendary Elvis residency. Modernized and transformed into an amenity filled resort, the Westgate offers the best of many Las Vegas worlds. Its proximity to downtown—the Arts District, Freemont St., and Brewery Row—and access to The Strip via the Las Vegas monorail, which stops at the hotel, makes the Westgate a perfect blend of everything Las Vegas. Rooms range from affordably modest to luxurious 15,000 sq. ft. Sky Villas.
Adorned in Gothic art and style, Artisan Hotel Boutique (1501 W Sahara Ave) offers an experience unique to Las Vegas, both modern and antique. Individual rooms and suites—no two are alike—complement a European pool and a lively afterhours lounge. And for those travelling with a four-legged companion, Artisan is a dog-friendly hotel.
Sleek and renewed, the Downtown Grand Hotel (206 N 3rd St) primarily attracts middle aged clients who enjoy the feel of a crisp hotel. The Downtown Grand was built in 1964, but on the inside appears to be brand new. Located one block away from Fremont Street, this bustling location is perfect for those who want to be in the heart of “old Vegas.”
The resurgence of American brewing is felt everywhere in the United States, from the small town to the metropolis. This place is no different and the center of Vegas brewing is “Brewery Row,” backed by a marketing effort from the City of Las Vegas. Brewery Row includes a handful of breweries opened since 2015 who found the arts district the perfect spot to attract locals and out of town guests.
Look for the big yellow duck on the rooftop to find Able Baker Brewing (1510 S Main St Ste. 120). The inspiration for the brewery’s name is nuclear. Able and Baker were the names of the last two test bombs dropped during the Manhattan Project. Legend has it a duck was the only thing to survive one of the last nuclear bomb drops and the bird became known as “the atomic duck.” Able Baker produces world-class beer and is also home to the Arts District Kitchen.
HUDL Brewing Co. (1327 S Main St Suite 100) is a blue-collar establishment, centered on working hard to create good beer and taking plenty of time to relax with friends, old and new. The folks at HUDL like to add imaginative ingredients to create a variety of flavor profiles in everything from cream ales to Imperial IPAs.
Just north of Brewery Row, past the Burlesque Hall of Fame on Main Street, sits Neon Desert Brewing (914 S Main St). Despite its flashy name, Neon Desert is a no-frills brewery focused on passing out quality beer along a long bar. Fridays are hot with entertainment, food trucks, and specials.
Brewery Row and the Arts District are filled with hip drink spots. Velveteen Rabbit (1218 S Main St), a craft cocktail and beer bar, is known as the trailblazer of these parts. Open daily, ReBAR (1225 S Main St) is a bar’s bar with happy hour specials, trivia nights, and live music every weekend. Servehzah Bottle Shop and Tap Room (1301 S Commerce St #130) provides an inclusive environment for local and traveling beer lovers.