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Race car
Courtesy of Dream racing

Drive a race car at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway

The Bucket List

Desert Companion

60 things every Las Vegan should do


Spring for the colossal 16-course meal at Jöel Robuchon

Kayak the Black Canyon from Hoover Dam to Willow Beach. At dawn. Savor.

Swim in a tiki drink at Frankie’s. Just one drink — whether it’s a Fink Bomb or a Zombie —  is all it will take to make the bathroom gender signs seem reeeeally tricky. And if you decide to enjoy another delicious concoction, find a driver — Frankie’s pours some mysteriously mind-altering drinks in a cavernously dark, fun, hip-Polynesian-deco den. Good times, if you can remember them.

Watch Cirque du Soleil’s Mystére. The show that started it all.

See Elton John at the Colosseum

Play golf at one of the big, dreamy courses: Shadow Creek, Royal Links, Cascata ... 

See a show at The Smith Center. (We might suggest Cabaret, June 4-19.) (But probably not Yanni, March 21.)

Skydive over the Mojave. Because no proper bucket list is complete without skydiving. And there’s no setting more majestic in which to plummet toward the ground at terminal velocity than the magnificent Southwestern desert. Pull that cord ... now!

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Bathrooms at Double DownVisit the outlandish, garish, semi-grotesque bathrooms at the Double Down Saloon. You have to see them to believe them. If you’ve imbibed one of the famous Ass Juice cocktails, a visit to the restroom might not be wholly optional. (llustration by Matty Newton)

Drop a bundle at the Forum Shops at Caesars. A really unsettling, second-guess-yourself-tomorrow amount. Here’s the deal: elegant shops, exquisite cocktails, more great shops, exquisite lunch options, more exquisite cocktails, more elegant shops. Rarely do you find such a combination under one fabulous forever daytime sky-roof.

Order bottle service at Omnia. Know what it’s like to roll deep.

See the city from the sky, on a helicopter trip over the Strip at sunset. A half-hour flight from the North Las Vegas airport takes you all the way down the west side of the Strip and all the way back up the east side, letting you see the rooftops and pools and penthouses while the sun sets and the Strip’s lights come on.

Ice skate outside at The Cosmo. Pirouette. Ice skate inside — on a far larger rink with far fewer drunken bros — at the Fiesta Rancho. Pirouette some more.

Hoover Dam

Courtesy of NPS

Tour Hoover Dam. The only thing better than marveling at a history-changing feat of engineering from on top of it, or from the bridge overlooking it (the bridge itself a marvel), is walking through its innards. Guides deftly explain the historical and geological significance of the dam, the harrowing process of building it, the dashing art deco style, and they drop cool tidbits like this: Every state contributed something to building the dam. Plus, it’s just freaky-cool to be in the dark tunnels of a building that holds back the Colorado River.

Commune with Elvis at the splashy Presley exhibit in the Westgate (formerly the Hilton and International). Get a fresh feel for the King, still one of the city’s presiding spirits.

Spin atop the Stratosphere. The elevator up is ear-popping and anxiety-inducing, and the view from atop is dizzying and awesome. Stand and gawk, ride the are-you-crazy rides, or, our best bet: Sit down for a drink and a bite and enjoy the rotating view of the valley as the whole place slowly spins the complete 360.

Also: ditto for the Eiffel Tower at Paris Las Vegas

Eat the grilled pork belly at Honey Pig in Chinatown

Attend the Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko 

Courtesy of Golden Nugget

Courtesy of Golden Nugget

Swim with sharks at Golden Nugget pool. Sure, you’ve got a Strip full of pool parties to pick from, but nothing is quite as Sharknado as water-sliding in a tube through the huge aquarium of sea creatures and landing in the water, where, for a split second, you wonder: Am I in the aquarium with the sharks? Good food-chain reminder, that. Adrenalin doubled; kitsch factor quintupled. 

Stroll through Broadacres Swap Meet. A north valley staple and usually full of shoppers and revelers, Broadacres is a bonanza of low-priced new and used stuff, upbeat live Latin music, snacks and row upon row of items you didn’t know you needed but somehow can’t leave without. A leather cowboy hat? Check. A 10-pack of tube socks? Check. A couple of 1970s Barbie dolls someone recently found in their garage? Check. Jewelry? Linens? Toiletries? Shirts? A bicycle? A sofa? Check ’em all. Fun exploring.

Staycation at a Strip hotel. Which one? Pick one.

Ditto Downtown, though here the El Cortez Cabana Suites readily suggests itself

See Lonnie Hammargren’s collection of collectibles

Take the day-long bus tour of the Nevada Test Site. You need to make reservations through the Department of Energy, and it’s well worth the wait. You’ll ride right into the otherwise inaccessible site on a charter bus, get an amazing set of stories from tour guides while black-and-white videos of the test bombs play in the bus. See Frenchman Flat, Sedan Crater and the Apple II Houses, along with the bunker where the media “hid” from the blasts. Eat your packed lunch crater-side.

Navel gaze: Get a lap dance. No? At least check out a strip, er, gentleman’s club. No? Well then at least take in a classic showgirl revue.

See a Troy Heard production. The man is the mad genius of local theater, with a flair for wringing demented fun out of weird premises, often musicalized takes on pop-culture favorites — say, the show Full House — that simultaneously honor and implode our nostalgia for the originals. Lovers of creativity, you wanna mind-meld with this guy.

Corner of Central Parkway and Bonneville

Photo by Christopher Smith and Brent Holmes

Stand at the corner of Grand Central Parkway and Bonneville and contemplate this city’s other architecture: Gehry’s Lou Ruvo Brain Center, the Clark County Government Center, World Market, The Smith Center. There’s something cool and energetic about the disjunctive energy of all those clashing styles that echoes, sans casinos, the essential visual dynamic of the Strip itself.

Sit in the Kefauver courtroom at the Mob Museum. You don’t get to get this close to mobster history just anywhere, and you don’t get this close to nationally historically significant buildings often in Las Vegas. (The exhibits are pretty good, too.)

Also: The Neon Museum is very cool

So is the Barrick Museum

Don’t forget the Lost City Museum in Moapa

Eat late-night breakfast at The Peppermill

Chug a cold one in two iconic bars beyond Las Vegas: the Pioneer Saloon in Goodsprings and Mountain Springs Saloon near Pahrump.

Take it to the mountain. Ski, snowboard, sled, or sit at the Mount Charleston Lodge and remember what trees and snow look like.

Pick your numbers. Drive to Arizona for a lottery ticket. At least once, you’ve got to know what it’s like to stand in line for a chance at a $30 million Powerball pot at Rosie’s Den, 60 miles southeast of Vegas. Ticket bought, stay for a stick-to-your-ribs meal and a biker band. 

Survive the Springs Preserve flash-flood exhibit

Volunteer to help a Las Vegan in need: Donate food (Three Square), or jackets  (HELP of Southern Nevada), work at a shelter serving food (Shade Tree, Catholic Charities, Las Vegas Rescue Mission), drive an older person to an appointment (Helping Hands of Vegas Valley), or pitch in at any of the countless other community-oriented nonprofits.

Watch night plane landings while stretched out on the hood of your car, parked in the observation pullout off Sunset and Gillespie.

Read. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, of course — outdated, but still a load of fun. We’ll let you off the hook with Learning From Las Vegas; unless you geek out on architecture theory, life’s just too short. Otherwise, zigzag through the Vegas canon without feeling you need to hit every one: but don’t miss Resort City in the Sunbelt by Eugene Moehring, Sun, Sin & Suburbia by Geoff Schumacher, The Lucky, by H. Lee Barnes, The Death of Frank Sinatra by Michael Ventura and Beautiful Children, by Charles Bock.

Watch the Super Bowl in the plush splendor of sports book in Lagasse’s Stadium at Palazzo.

Try Slotzilla. Sure, it’s ugly. But it’s also a 1,750-foot zipline that’ll shoot you beneath the world’s largest video screen and above the masses on Fremont. So why not? A thrill caused by gaudy kitsch is still a thrill.

Ride the Big Apple Coaster at New York-New York. Said to have a “180-degree ‘heartline’ twist and dive maneuver.” Having felt our heartlines twist and dive while on it, we agree.

Eat at Heart Attack Grill. Because once in a lifetime you gotta look Death straight in its lidless black eye, call its bluff and eat a Double Bypass Burger.

Vickie's diner painting

THAT painting at Vickie's. Photo by Christopher Smith and Brent Holmes

Shoot a selfie at Vickie’s with that painting. Among the in-crowd, the legendarily bad painting that hangs in Vickie’s diner (nee Tiffany’s) has achieved totemic status.

Black mailbox on ET Highway

Photo courtesy Wikipedia Commons

Electric ChairStick it to the Men in Black with a selfie at the mysterious black mailbox on the Extraterrestrial Highway, near ... (feel the feathery touch of government conspiracy) ... Area 51 ...

Snap yourself sitting in the electric chair at the Mob Museum. (Photo courtesy Wikipedia Commons)

Run in the Las Vegas Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon — the only footrace that lets you wheeze your way through a section of the Strip. You have a year to train for the next one. Go!

Catch a fly ball at the 51s game. C’mon. Nothing says *true minor league experience* like a stadium opened for pro baseball in 1983 after years of use as a rodeo field, a team awkwardly named after a sort-of secret military installation, a mascot named “Cosmo” that is, we think, an alien, and a team that ranked 7th in the Pacific Coast League in 2015. Have a beer. Have a hot dog. Have fun.

Sing karaoke at Dino’s. Still owned by Dino’s granddaughters, still filled with interesting locals and occasional tourists. Take the mic for karaoke with beloved host Danny G., and sing till your ears bleed.

Drive-inSee a double feature at the West Wind Drive-In. It’s refurbished! It’s digital! It’s retro-fun! You get to eat popcorn in your car or make a picnic in the truck bed!  (llustration by Matty Newton)

Take in Super Summer Theater outside on a blanket under the stars at Spring Mountain Ranch.

Fremont Street

Photo by Brent Holmes and Christopher Smith

Walk Fremont Street Experience at night. Cross Las Vegas Boulevard. Continue. Finish strong with a Hunter S. Mash at Atomic Liquors. Fremont is our mother street. Know it.

Photo by Christopher Smith and Brent Holmes

Take a sunrise stroll at red rock canyon. No explanation required.

Mouse's TankWalk to Mouse’s Tank at Valley of Fire. Surreal and isolated, it’s like getting back to nature and imagining a postapocalyptic future at the same time.

Drive a race car

I don’t feel the need, the need for speed. Haven’t gotten a speeding ticket since I was 16, and even that one was undeserved. But when the opportunity to drive a street-illegal Ferrari F430 GT around the Las Vegas Motor Speedway presented itself, I acquiesced. Felt like something a red-blooded American male should want to do.

I suited up, hit the track, and focused on keeping the above-mentioned red blood within the confines of my body (as opposed to scattered across the windshield of a totaled $200,000 race car). My passenger-seat instructor yelled for me to go faster. As we rounded a corner, I looked down at my speedometer: 70 mph. That’s it? I would have guessed twice that. (The instructor later explained that 70 mph on a sharp turn feels way faster than it does on the freeway.) After building my confidence I took the car to over 100 mph.

How do I feel about going that fast? Same way I feel about shooting a gun: I’m prepared to do it if necessary, but it’s not at the top of my Hanukkah list. Though I’m glad I did it at least once. Rick Lax

Charleston PeakClimb a big peak

We finished the steep 2-mile Trail Canyon trail post-haste, arriving at the North Loop junction and turning west toward Charleston Peak. For a while, it was all flat ridges, sweeping views, alpine meadows, gurgling springs. Even the switchbacks and trudge to the bald peak had rewards. But the ascent to Southern Nevada’s 11,918-foot tip was deceiving; though we’d bagged a 14,000-footer in California a few weeks earlier, the descent from Charleston felt tougher, as if the 4,500-foot elevation loss went straight down. Train hard for this one, friends, or wait for the South Loop to reopen. Heidi Kyser and Photo courtesy Wikipedia Commons


Fine Art

Photo by Christopher Smith and Brent Holmes

See fine art on the Strip
As a Las Vegan, you’re sorta honor-bound to have an opinion on the tired, glib — but still unsettled — question as to whether this is, in fact, a cultural wasteland. Indeed, the quest for essentials that is the animating spirit of bucket-list construction demands that you make up your mind on this bedrock issue. Therefore, you must go to the Strip: art-quest! Marvel at Dale Chihuly’s great glassy nest clinging to the ceiling at Bellagio. Commune with the big-ticket artworks scattered around CityCenter, by such current and future art-history staples as Maya Lin, Claes Oldenberg, Coosje van Bruggen, Jenny Holzer and Henry Moore. Lastly, let yourself be pleasantly disoriented by the Ganzfield lighting of James Turrell’s Akhob installation at Crystals mall. This is not small-time stuff. Now, how ’bout that wasteland? Scott Dickensheets

Mormon Fort

Photo by Christopher Smith and Brent Holmes

Visit the Mormon Fort

Spend $1 at the Old Mormon Fort. The museum tells more than the story of the group of Mormons who tried to settle the area and convert the Paiutes by building the adobe fort in the desert in 1856 (and ultimately fail in 1857). It’s an eye-opening little chunk of history about more efforts to settle near the creek created by the Las Vegas springs, including the fort’s future as a ranch house to city pioneer Helen Stewart and later as a cement-mixing test site for the construction of Boulder Dam. Through photo displays, an 8-minute film, and surviving portions of the original adobe fort, you see the early years of white settlement in the Mojave. Viewing the photos alone is worth a dollar: Mormon missionaries performing a baptism of Paiutes in the Las Vegas (Meadows) spring; settlers swimming in pools created by the spring; a 1950s aerial shot of the Fort and Cashman field (rodeo grounds!) surrounded by nothing but desert. For a buck, you can’t beat the history lesson, and it’s stuff that every Las Vegan can appreciate. Stacy J. Willis

NYE VegasSpend NYE on the Strip

It was my first December 31 in Las Vegas, and I had tried to arrange a dating-site first meeting on the Strip. Perhaps not my best idea. It wasn’t enough to take in the spectacle of an unhinged mob participating in the West Coast’s answer to Times Square. You may as well add some personal humiliation to the menu.

When the inevitable happened, and the girl did the entirely reasonable thing of avoiding my calls rather than deal with this madness, I was confident in my backup plan for the evening: To get cartoonishly legless with several thousand of my new best friends.

Except here’s what they leave out of the what-happens-here marketing materials: Getting a drink on the Strip on New Year’s is only slightly less challenging than getting a U.N. ration in a refugee camp, and twice as dire a situation. Six deep at the Paris center bar and 40 minutes from a cocktail is when the creeping Burgess-Meredith-in-that-one-Twilight-Zone horror hit me. “That’s not fair. That’s not fair at all. There was booze now. All the booze I needed.” Somehow I made it anyway.  Jason Scavone and illustration by Matty Newton

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