Las Vegas for a nerd
August 16, 2022 3:23 PM   Subscribe

I’m going to Vegas for the first time this fall! I’m a solo 40ish lady and not planning to have a car. I’d like advice on inexpensive places to stay (hostels are on the table), eat, other things to do, and what to pack/wear. I’m in a bit of a rut since 2020 and want to see new things for a bit. My only must-do right now is the Meow Wolf Omega Mart.

I’m in decent shape and open to an outdoorsy excursion or two, although I dislike how the desert feels like it's actively trying to dessicate me. I’m excited for spectacle in general and will wander the Strip a bit, but I get sensorily overloaded, so tips for managing that would be helpful / I need to stay somewhere quietish. I might try to find a place with a pool suitable for lounging. I like art and walking around semi-aimlessly. I’m on a budget, but open to splashing out on a few excellent things - Omega Mart is a medium splash for me, the back row of a Cirque show is approaching maximum splash amplitude.
posted by momus_window to Travel & Transportation around Las Vegas, NV (27 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
Non-Strip recommendations: Downtown Las Vegas (north of the Strip, Fremont Street area) has fun stuff to do that will not necessarily break the bank. Container Park is cute, Fremont Street is trashier old Vegas, the Mob Museum and the Neon Museum are around there. The National Atomic Testing Museum is a bit to the east and off the beaten path but it is very nerdy (and disturbing!)

If you're into the outdoors but not necessarily hiking, the Seven Magic Mountains art installation is striking and only about a half hour outside town. You will need a car, though.
posted by kingdead at 3:47 PM on August 16, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Do: For sure the Neon Museum if it appeals to you at all. It's my favorite thing in Vegas, a city I end up visiting way more frequently than I'd prefer. I don't gamble and I also have some sensory stuff but I find the Strip pretty delightful as like, an anthropological experience. Know that it will take far, far longer to walk anywhere than it ought to, and it's weirdly hard to cross the street. If you get overloaded, you don't have to walk far off the Strip for it to get real quiet. (OR: try walking around in the morning. There will be less spectacle but also just...less generally, and that can be nice.)

Eat: I always recommend the Cornish Pasty Co, for the best pasties you'll get outside the UP (or probably Cornwall). It's in the Arts District too!

Stay: I wish I had a good answer. If you're envisioning a pool suitable for lounging, it'll take some research; this is always my goal, and yet I always end up at a "party pool" where I'm fighting people for lounge chairs and listening to the screams of drunk 25-year-olds. Next time I'm thinking I might like, airbnb a condo that has a pool in the complex rather than risk another hotel.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 4:04 PM on August 16, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Do you like Thai food? Lotus of Siam has a very good reputation. I've only eaten there once (I don't get to Vegas a lot) but I enjoyed it.

I wouldn't make this a major focus of your trip, but if you want to walk around to get some Vegas feel, I think the Fremont Street Experience is visually more interesting than walking up/down the Strip.

Depending what kind of nerd you are, you might enjoy reading Tim Powers' "Last Call" ahead of time to get you in the mood before your Vegas journey. It's a very well done modern fantasy novel that uses Vegas and its environs not just as setting but as significant elements of the story.
posted by Nerd of the North at 4:28 PM on August 16, 2022 [4 favorites]

Re: walking the strip - it’s almost 4.5 miles from one end to the other and I echo the above comment that it does seem to take forever. And it can be really hot. The hotels are not all that close together. The times I’ve done it we started in the middle and walked to the end and then another day did the other half. We also wanted to see the different casinos and that takes a lot of additional steps. The casinos/hotels are enormous.

Re: what to wear - literally anything you are comfortable in. Plus comfortable shoes. There are so many people dressed in so many different ways no one will bat an eye at whatever you like.
posted by MadMadam at 4:30 PM on August 16, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The Bellagio has this atrium garden that they decorate each season and I found it unexpectedly charming.

I really enjoyed my meal at the Taiwanese restaurant, Din Tai Fung, in the Aria--it was reasonably price by Vegas standards (entrees starting at ~$18).
posted by TwoStride at 4:50 PM on August 16, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: For Omega Mart, spend the extra couple bucks for the extra interactive feature. It's like $2 and gives you a card that unlocks a bunch of interactive features. There's a few other interactive art exhibits in the same place (Area 15) so check those out ahead of time and decide if any of them are of interest.

You might consider staying at the Tuscany or one of the other hotels right near it. It's walking distance to the strip but quieter and cheaper.

If you have a car, a Red Rock Canyon is nice and has some sheltered trails that aren't intensely hot. Zion in Utah is day trippable if you're ambitious.

I would not splurge on food. I was there last week and none of the fancy dinners I went to were worth the money. Both the service and quality of food were lacking compared to pre-pandemic. With being on a budget, the best way to eat inexpensively if you're near the strip is to get a hotel room with a fridge and just have some groceries delivered. The starting price for lunch on the strip is around $25 with tax/tip most places. Making a few sandwiches etc. for lunch will leave you with a budget for dinner. You can also find cheaper premade stuff at the drug stores on the strip. Overall, the biggest cluster of bang for the buck restaurants is the Linq Promenade between Linq and Flamingo. I'm particularly fond of the pizza place.

Off strip you can find good food at good prices but that requires a car, expensive cabs/Ubers, or a slow public transit system.

If you do the neon museum I recommend one of the evening tours.

If you're Covid averse, keep in mind that virtually no one is wearing masks at this point. A ton of people I know who were pretty good about wearing masks themselves have come down with it in the days since the big 30,000+ person set of conferences last week. I would consider anything inside the strip high risk at this point and unless you can afford to stay for an extra week if you do get sick suggest that you avoid it.
posted by Candleman at 5:10 PM on August 16, 2022 [1 favorite]

If you can go mid-week, it’ll be quieter. If you stay on the strip, there are hotels without casinos and those tend to be much much quieter (Vdara and the Waldorf are both examples, though more expensive, but there are others). The pools at these hotels will also be quieter. (I have stayed off-strip, including at the Tuscany, and I prefer the beds on strip or at the bigger chains off-strip.) I used to use Priceline or Hotwire to get a good deal on strip.

To Do:
Neon Museum, particularly the night time tours, where they light up some of the old signs.

I did this Pink Jeep Bright Lights tour ($100 for 3 hours) and loved it. Got to see a bunch of touristy Vegas stuff but it didn’t get overwhelming (except maybe the bit at Fremont street).

If you’re there mid-week, you can also often get a spa day pass to one of the fancier hotels for around $50 (I like Qua at Caesars, Canyon Ranch at the Venetian/Palazzo, and the spa at the Wynn/Encore).

If you’re into Meow Wolf, you may like Particle Ink, another immersive thing that’s gotten great reviews.

I like Lotus of Siam as well but it’s kind of hard to order for just one person. I also usually wander over to Spring Mountain road for other Asian food.

It often gets really dry there so my first stop is usually a drugstore to buy a giant tub of moisturizer. The temperature can get a little insane - either high AC indoors and heat outdoors, or warmth inside and cold temps outside, so I usually bring a jacket or cardigan. If you drag your feet like me, watch out for the static electricity. Also, I always wear comfortable shoes.
posted by loulou718 at 5:21 PM on August 16, 2022 [2 favorites]

I was there on a solo trip in 2019 so some things might have changed, but I did find the bus system to be pretty easy to use. There's also a monorail -- it doesn't go far, but it's a monorail!

Las Vegas Arts District has some cool things, although it's pretty quiet during the day. I however loved Rockin' Bettie and Glam Factory Vintage. I felt very comfortable being around there during the day as a solo woman & I would say most of the Las Vegas locals are all very friendly but in a good way.

I think Circus Circus may have been renovated a bit but I imagine it's still good campy fun even beyond the whole Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas thing. (For me, it was the one place I remembered as a child and it was still the same so ... it was surreal. Even more than Vegas is surreal.)

I am pretty introverted and I stayed in one of the big hotels and it seemed pretty quiet, at least in the room itself (in the hotel, not so much). Hotel rooms are mostly cheap because they want people to gamble. Vegas is never going to be cheap but even staying near most of the action may be cheaper than you think.

One of the things I wanted to do but did not was to do the whole CBS Television City Research Center thing where you get to watch TV pilots.

If I had to do it again (and I hope to do it again), I would try to spend less time off the main strip, but even that was pretty fun (certainly overwhelming). Food is expensive, though, so just be prepared for that.

But yes, drink more water than you think you need to (especially if you'll be drinking) and wear sunblock. Expect to walk a lot more than you thought you would.
posted by edencosmic at 5:24 PM on August 16, 2022 [2 favorites]

Two thoughts in regards to sensory overload. First, you may not want to “wander the Strip” as aimlessly as you would wander around any other city neighborhood. Things can be surprisingly far apart, and can feel even farther what with the heat, the sun, the crowds, the construction, the distance between crosswalks, etc. I am a veteran city wanderer, but my usual approach was poorly matched to the Strip. I would definitely recommend walking around, just do it with a bit of a plan. There is also a monorail, which can be convenient. Oh, and it is often difficult to find your way out of places on the Strip; I wish that I had started trying to leave most places well before I was reaching overload point, so I wasn’t totally overwhelmed by the time I eventually made it outside.

Second, I had a lot of trouble with the amount of cigarette smoke that just seemed to be everywhere (including a lingering smell in my hotel room). I spent the entire weekend with mild lung irritation and a headache, and wish I had done more due diligence with my hotel (don’t stay at Circus Circus no matter the kitsch value!) and spent a lot more time outside.

But lest I leave you with only bad things, I also thought O was extremely cool. It was probably my favorite part of my trip.
posted by CtrlAltDelete at 6:09 PM on August 16, 2022 [3 favorites]

I went once about 25 years ago and again just a few years ago, for a work trip. The difference between "walking the Strip" in 1996 vs 2017 was pretty dramatic. I think they have been trying to separate people and vehicles as much as possible. Consequently there is a lot of going up and down stairs and crossing bridges so you end up walking a lot farther than if you were on a regular sidewalk. During the day there are fewer people but it is also considerably less...spectacl-ey...than at night. Frankly felt a little grotty and not in gritty-realistic vibe. Nighttime is VERY spectacl-ey indeed and the Strip is a lot prettier (and cooler) at night, but also quite a bit busier. I'm not at all happy about being in crowds, even before Covid, but it was good in a "glad I've seen this once in my life" type of way. I was with a group of colleagues and so felt quite safe, but once I was physically grabbed by a mostly naked guy trying to get me to go to some show. Fortunately I was able to shove him off easily and I don't think he was intending any harm, but if you are walking alone, you will need some situational awareness. It is easy to get turned around or stuck in some concrete limbo.

The theme casinos are pretty neat so pick a few that look interesting to you and go there to wonder at the chocolate fountains and working canals and suchlike. But the casino floors themselves are pretty much all the same, down to the same carpet, and it is VERY easy to get lost in them (they are designed to keep you there). I'm not at all a gambler but promised myself I'd drop a quarter in a slot somewhere. Unfortunately I never found a machine that took coins, so I broke even there.

Definitely get to Fremont Street and downtown Vegas which is pretty cool. I had to go out to the Nevada State History Museum (Las Vegas) which had some good exhibits and the Springs Preserve is in the same complex. You'd need to find public transport or taxi/Uber, but once you arrive there will be enough to keep you busy for a while.

Honestly cannot remember where we stayed except for it was an extended-stay type place with multiple small buildings, somewhere east of the Strip.

Nthing Lotus of Siam, if you can get there, the food was great, but I was underwhelmed by my meals on the Strip.
posted by Preserver at 6:31 PM on August 16, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I know I’m just a simple, small town girl, but I was delighted just riding the monorail.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:05 PM on August 16, 2022 [1 favorite]

The monorails and trams make it easier to get around the Strip than with walking alone, though it requires some strategizing. Don't bother with casinos that aren't themed (although I'd make an exception for the weird botanical garden at the Bellagio—Bellagio baccarat bar also has genuinely good drinks, though not cheap), but Caesar's Palace, the Venetian, and the Luxor are well worth seeing. The Neon Museum is as great as everyone says. Fremont Street is, to my mind, way more overwhelming than the Strip but absolutely worth it checking out for a little while; afterwards you can go play Sigma Derby at the D, the only good game in Vegas. Downtown there's also a parking lot full of ex-Burning Man art. (The Neon Museum is downtown too, so give yourself a day there at least.) I got a kick out of happy hour on the High Roller but it's spendy for what it is and if you're covid-cautious, it's definitely a small bubble that you breathe in with several other people while drinking. Lotus of Siam is good but I've also had some of the worst Thai food of my life in Vegas (at the Golden Nugget)—food is not a high point if you're not into steakhouses but I do remember getting a good sandwich at the Container Park. In the Arts District there's a great little bar called the Velveteen Rabbit which should be nice and quiet on off days/off hours.

Finally, this is going to be way outside your budget and mine, but for the sake of posterity I will mention that the Underground House is now open for tours.

I thought I'd hate Vegas because I hate being around people and hearing too many sounds at once, and instead as you can tell I've been there several times. Still haven't made it to Omega Mart, though, so I'm very envious. Have fun!
posted by babelfish at 7:06 PM on August 16, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I know you said you don't plan on having a car - but I'm going to make a case for you renting one for just one day, and getting out to the Valley of Fire State Park. It's just shy of an hour's drive from Vegas, much of it on a dull and quiet highway driving through a dull tan desert landscape. You hit the exit for the Valley of Fire and you drive through more tan desert go up one hill, down that go up a second hill, and then suddenly you will swear you are on the surface of Mars.

In fact, Valley of Fire has been used as a shooting location for a handful of sci-fi movies, because that's how alien it looks - this patch of red sandstone, with some unusual wind patterns having carved all these weird holes in the cliffs and etched other rocks and boulders into freaky shapes. And there's a lot of petroglyphs there as well, and several easy short hikes. It's also far enough away from the Strip that it will should be relatively quiet; most day trippers opt for Hoover Dam, and when I went to Valley of Fire I think I saw only like twelve other people during the whole hour and a half I was wandering around there.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:39 PM on August 16, 2022 [5 favorites]

We went to a Cirqu du Soleil show, the Beatles-themed one, and it was really great. The Strip is apparently always mobbed, just tons of people, so make a list, watch the programmed animated fountain at Bellagio, have drinks at different fancy places, but it's not a place to wander.
posted by theora55 at 8:03 PM on August 16, 2022

I hate to pile on with "you should rent a car for a day", but it really is the best way to see some really great outdoor stuff. In the summer, it's not so bad if you leave early (like 4-5AM) and bring enough water!

I've also enjoyed taking the buses (known as the RTC) out into the neighborhoods; they're air-conditioned so you don't feel like you're going to die in the heat and there's something I find fascinating about experiencing the city in such a mundane way.
posted by Brassica oleracea at 8:10 PM on August 16, 2022

Definitely check out weekday prices at the big hotel/casinos. They have some amazing prices just to get people in.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:38 PM on August 16, 2022

The Pinball Hall of Fame is a good time, though I'd recommend earplugs.
posted by isauteikisa at 8:47 PM on August 16, 2022 [3 favorites]

Another vote for Valley of Fire State Park if it's at all possible to get a car for the day. Mind-blowingly beautiful!!
posted by mccxxiii at 9:55 AM on August 17, 2022

my first time in vegas we did a pink jeep tour to red rock. it was GREAT. they picked you up at the hotel and dropped you back off. the jeep pulled off many times for 5 minute "hikes" which was my perfect level of activity. 100% worth the money and i hope to do it again someday.

neon museum for sure, though i sadly haven't been yet.

the nuclear museum was interesting, but you will need to uber/lyft to get there.

i don't generally enjoy "wandering" but the bellagio and the venetian were SO COOL inside that it was enjoyable.

as others have noted, it's not as straight forward getting around at street level in vegas. my first time i literally cried because i JUST WANTED TO CROSS THE STREET but instead had to go up a shit ton of stairs, walk across a bridge, walk back down a shit ton of stairs and repeat forever. (i tire easily and was probably hangry haha.)
posted by misanthropicsarah at 10:14 AM on August 17, 2022 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: These are all helpful! Thank you and I’m so excited for my trip!

1-2 of my friends are interested in joining me for a November trip, so that makes renting a car / transport easier, if you were holding back multi-person things, give me the deets! They will probably make me hike and go to the nuclear museum. :)

(Yes, we will be wearing masks indoors / in crowds when not actually eating and it wouldn’t ruin any of us if we had to stay extra time to isolate / recover. We are all vaccinated and boosted.)
posted by momus_window at 12:20 PM on August 17, 2022

Zag Bagan's Haunted Museum is fun if into spooky stuff, as is the Saw Escape Room.
posted by Unsomnambulist at 1:20 PM on August 17, 2022 [1 favorite]

I second the Pinball Hall of Fame - I have only visited Vegas once and I really, really enjoyed my time playing wonderful old pinball games. (I began by asking the staff which games I had to play - unique, very interesting, historically important, etc. - during my one visit and they were very helpful in providing me with their recommendations.)

I did not enjoy the nuclear testing museum very much. The topic is in my wheelhouse but I found something about the museum to be a letdown.

If you enjoy bookstores, Unicorn Books is a really good used bookstore. It's in a strip mall but don't be put off by that. I talked to the owner for a bit and he was kind enough to unlock the suite next door where they have more books and let me look through it for a while all by myself.
posted by ElKevbo at 5:04 PM on August 17, 2022

Best answer: You want a cheap place to stay in Las Vegas? You want the Downtowner Boutique Hotel. It's just past the end of the Fremont St. Experience in downtown, and it's a great little hotel. No casino (they do have a six hole mini golf course!), but fantastic decor, great proximity to the aforementioned Fremont St. and Container Park (and my favorite bar in Las Vegas!), and it's a good retreat from the sensory overload that is all of Las Vegas.

Caveat: I do not like the Strip. Downtown Vegas is more my speed. the Strip is fine for a day of wandering, but it's really all just flavors of the same thing. Downtown Vegas' casinos and hotels are that, too, but the prices are waaaaaaaaay more reasonable and it's unapologetic about being what it is - the affordable part of Las Vegas.
posted by pdb at 5:15 PM on August 17, 2022 [1 favorite]

Speaking of ex-Burning Man art, I wouldn't make a trip just to see it, but if you're near the T-Mobile arena on the strip, Bliss Dance is gorgeous and worth checking out.
posted by Candleman at 6:00 AM on August 18, 2022

When you go to Omega Mart do the Lost Spirits Distillery Tour. It starts in the same building and is a lot of fun.
posted by a dangerous ruin at 7:46 AM on August 18, 2022

No idea of the geography, but did you see this one?
posted by adekllny at 1:44 PM on August 19, 2022

LOL never mind, it's a 4 hour drive from Vegas.
posted by adekllny at 1:56 PM on August 19, 2022

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