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Desert Companion

Best of the City 2020: Leisure & Community

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Park
Courtesy Las Vegas Ballpark

"Flicks on the Field" at the Las Vegas Ballpark

Best of the City: Leisure and Community | Shops & Services | Arts & Entertainment | Food & Drink

People, Places & Things: In Praise of Aerosmith's Residency | In Praise of Ghost Adventures | In Praise of the Barrick Museum

Whoa. It’s Best of the City 2020. Sorry. We’re a bit frozen with awe by the momentousness of it all — the compressed hype packed into the “best” premise, the gravid ta-da of the year 2020. Indeed, what better way to kick off a new decade than by celebrating Las Vegas’ most excellent people, food, places, and experiences? Happy best year!

Best Date Night

Vetri Cucina

Mark Vetri makes unique, elevated, and surprising food. Think oxtail lasagna or smoked goat with soft polenta. But it’s not just the food that makes Vetri Cucina the most romantic restaurant in Vegas. The room is all soft chandelier lighting, blonde wood, tans, and muted browns, so elegant that it never feels clubby. Then there’s that view, as dramatic as flying into McCarran. Vetri is the restaurant where, late in the evening, you lean over your taleggio with housemade jam and honeycomb and say the thing you’ve been wanting to say but haven’t. Or ask the thing you’ve wanted to ask but haven’t. Your love will never forget it. And I’m betting they will totally say yes. KF The Palms, vetricucina.com

 

Best Interactive/Hands-on Attraction

Wreck Room

Chinatown’s Wreck Room offers visitors a unique service: the opportunity to bust shit up for 30 minutes or longer (prices start at $55). Staff outfit you in safety gear, give you a bat and a crowbar, and turn you loose on printers, TV sets, bottles, ceramics, and other goods sourced from local recyclers. Is this the sign of the end times, or our salvation from it? TRW

4090 Schiff Drive, wreckvegas.com, 702-405-6407

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Best New Way to Rewatch an Old Flick

Flicks on the Field

This summer and fall, instead of dialing up a cinematic classic on Netflix, head to Las Vegas Ballpark for “Flicks on the Field.” On select Saturday nights from mid-August to mid-November, the home of the Las Vegas Aviators invites families to plop on the field and enjoy a popular film shown on the massive (126-foot by 31-foot) LED scoreboard. Last year’s flicks included Top Gun and original versions of Ghostbusters and Jurassic Park. Admission is just $2 per person, concession stands are open, and — perhaps best — the state-of-the-art sound system blows away your home theater! MJ thelvballpark.com/events

 

Best Lifestyle Classes

Sur la Table

The Downtown Summerlin outpost of cookware shop Sur la Table offers a vast array of fun cooking classes on just about every kind of cuisine or dish you can imagine. Try a paella or a Moroccan stew. Make pumpkin pie or pad Thai. Pick up some knife skills. Learn a few pointers on the art and science of cooking. Also, make new friends, impress your date, and enjoy a well-cooked meal — provided you followed the chef’s instructions. TRW

1980 Festival Plaza Drive #155, surlatable.com

 

Best Place to Teach Kids Some History

Mob Museum

Mob MuseumAncient history? World history? U.S. history? Eh, the Clark County School District has those subjects covered. But if you want your kids (preteens and older) to get a true glimpse of what life was like in their hometown “back in the day,” take them to the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement, a.k.a. the Mob Museum. Through dozens of artifacts and interactive exhibits (including a crime lab and firearms training simulator), the Mob Museum fascinates as it educates. As history lessons go, this one is certain to hold a youngster’s attention. MJ

themobmuseum.org

 

Best Family Photo Backdrop

3-D Trick Art Museum

Located alongside the escape rooms and ax-throwing joint in the HeadzUp complex at the Boulevard Mall, the 3-D Trick Art Museum is 28,000 square feet of eye-popping visual illusions — all designed to make it look, in photos, as if you’re part of the 3-D action. Sixty backdrops in all. Cheesy? As hell. But a lot of silly fun, too, which makes it ideal for kids and adults to cut loose. SD

3542 S. Maryland Parkway, $25 adults, $13 kids, headzupvegas.com

 

Best Places for a Selfie

Downtown Murals 

Look, if you’re into selfies, you gotta go someplace cool. Because selfies are all about showing to the world that you got It, that indelible grace of being in the right spot at the right time while making it all look easy. So grab your phone, skip the Strip, and go find a mural Downtown. There are dozens of stunning works to choose from; they’re sure to up your style points. TRW

 

Best Staycation Spot 

The Cosmopolitan

This place built its reputation on being the ultimate urban, millennial kickback spot on the Strip. But it’s also the best place to do your holiday in town, which everyone really should once a year. Why the Cosmo? Proximity. It’s a pedestrian-friendly, (relatively) human-scaled stroll to the Bellagio Fountains, CityCenter, Eataly and the revamped Park MGM, and the pleasing pedestrian ramble of The Park, plus all the beautiful shops, restaurants, spas, and clubs you need. TRW

thecosmopolitanlasvegas.com

 

Best Sports Venue

Las Vegas Ballpark

Las Vegas BallparkWe’re still on the fence about the Aviators’ name and logo. But one thing we all agree on is that our longest-standing professional sports team knocked it out of the park with its new Downtown Summerlin stadium. From the mesh seats to the posh suites, from the party zones to the kids’ zone, from the outfield swimming pool to the insanely huge video board, Las Vegas Ballpark was a huge hit with baseball fans during its inaugural season. In fact, the season-long attendance figure of 650,934 not only led all of Minor League Baseball, but it shattered the 37-year-old franchise’s previous high mark of 387,815 set in 1992 at Cashman Field. MJ

 

Best Sports Book

Mandalay Bay

Plenty of worthy candidates, including the SuperBook at Westgate and a pair of top-notch Station Casinos-owned books at opposite ends of town (Red Rock Resort and Green Valley Ranch). But Mandalay Bay’s race and sports book gets our nod for being the complete package: It’s a spacious room with plenty of seats (about 300 in all); the main wall features 17 big screens and an easy-to-read betting board; and a full-service bar and the Sports Book Grill offer stadium-style eats and drinks. It’s the premier place to enjoy all the action. MJ

mandalaybay.mgmresorts.com

 

Best Example of a Public Agency Serving the Public

Golden Knights Express

If we’re going to criticize public agencies when they fail, we should praise ’em when they get something right. So big-time kudos to the Regional Transportation Commission for offering shuttle buses that transport Golden Knights fans to and from T-Mobile Arena. Not only is the Golden Knights Express cheap ($4 round trip), but it’s convenient (pickup/drop-off locations in Summerlin, Green Valley/Henderson, Southwest, and Centennial Hills); efficient (the nonstop trip takes 20-35 minutes); and stress-free (Express riders don’t have to navigate the Strip or pay absurd parking fees). One of the best perks in town. MJ

rtcsnv.com

 

Best Public Building

Clark County Government Center

Las Vegas has few public spaces to be proud of, but the Clark County Government Center is one. Partly, it’s the Red Rock-inspired architecture, but the real attraction is the government center’s stuffed calendar of public events: music and food festivals on the amphitheater-like grounds, art exhibits in the cavernous, 100-foot tall Rotunda. TRW

500 S. Grand Central Parkway

 

Best Place for a Stroll

Fox Hill Park

At the far western reach of Summerlin is a surprisingly urban network of parks. The northernmost, Fox Hill Park, is a hilly expense with cool kids’ ziplines and a commanding view. Then, unexpectedly, the park joins a narrow and cozy arroyo-like trail that winds for a mile between several neighborhoods before joining leafy Paseos Village Park. The beauty is the sense of discovery, the way the neighborhood closes in and then opens up. TRW

Antelope Ridge Drive

 

Best People Watching

The Park

If there was a governing body for the sport of people watching, Las Vegas would be a first-ballot Hall of Famer — there really is a sight to behold around every corner. That said, our preferred hangout spot is The Park. A winding path that funnels people to and from the Strip to T-Mobile Arena, The Park is the one of the few places where locals and tourists regularly commingle, especially before and after Vegas Golden Knights games.  MJ

 

Best Place to Enjoy Time by Yourself

State Route 159

I’m always amazed at how little traffic you encounter on the road through Red Rock Canyon — I’m talking State Route 159, not the 13-mile loop inside the conservation area. It’s an easy, beautiful drive for car lovers whose idea of alone time is getting behind the wheel. Or pull over for tranquil hikes that head toward the majestic Wilson Cliffs — no entrance fees down here, and no crowds. And, come to think of it, no city, either. TRW

 

Best Ongoing Revival

Water Street in Henderson

Water StreetA stretch of road long known for dilapidated (if not shuttered) storefronts, smoke-filled casinos catering mostly to nickel slot players, and a frequently vacant convention center, the Water Street District is now a bustling hub of activity. New restaurants and bars have joined popular mainstays; ramshackle buildings and storefronts have been spruced up (as has the street itself); and the convention center has been demolished to make way for the district’s forthcoming crown jewel: a new ice arena dubbed Lifeguard Arena in Henderson, which is a partnership with the Vegas Golden Knights and slated to open in July. It’s all led to a new slogan few would’ve bought into a decade ago: “Water Street District — You Should Be Here.” MJ

 

Best Place to See the Real Las Vegas

UNLV Student Union

Walk into UNLV’s Student Union when classes are in session, and you’ll see exactly why UNLV in recent years has been ranked as one of the most ethnically diverse campuses in the country. That the school is now being hailed as a melting pot seems only appropriate, given the dramatic demographic shift our community at-large has experienced in the 21st century. So let the outsiders continue to define the “real” Las Vegas by a 4.2-mile stretch of boulevard. Those of us who call this place home know better. (MJ)

 

Let Us Count the Ways

Best Day trip

St. George, Utah

1 The easy drive.

2 The weather. Although the topography is similar to Las Vegas’, and the elevation climb is only about 850 feet, St. George’s climate is much milder. The spring and fall seasons are longer, and the summer heat less intense.

3 The outdoor adventures. Did we mention the temperate climate? It makes hiking, biking, off-roading, paddleboarding, horseback riding, and golfing all the more enjoyable. 

4 The plentiful festivals. From the St. George Art Festival in April to the Enterprise Cornfest in nearby Enterprise, Utah, in August to the Dickens Christmas Festival in December, St. George hosts a slew of annual events.

5 The square of history. The past meets the present at Ancestor Square, which is billed as “The Art and Soul of St. George since the 1860s.” Located in the city’s historic district and financial center, the square is home to five restaurants (try the Painted Pony), several shops and galleries, and a Saturday farmer’s market. It’s all spread across 12 buildings, six of which have historic registry designations.

6 The Broadway musicals. It’s an annual tradition at the spectacular Tuacahn Amphitheater, which is nestled in the shadows of 1,500-foot red rock cliffs. From mid-May through late October, the amphitheater stage is home to post-sunset performances of classic musicals. On the docket this year are Beauty and the Beast, Annie, and The Count of Monte Cristo. MJ

 

Best Old School Vegas Experience

Classic Night Out

If you’re of a certain age, you’ve undoubtedly uttered this phrase: Boy, I really miss Old Vegas. Good news: You actually can enjoy Vegas as it used to be (even if just for a night), and you don’t even need a time machine. You just need a carefully curated itinerary, and we’ve got you covered:

1 Leave the jeans, stretch pants, and T-shirts in the closet. This is old-school Vegas, and you need to dress the part. Guys, that means a sleek suit (yes, including tie); gals, that means a classy dress.

2 Dinner tonight comes with a side of history. Located on Sahara just west of the Strip, the Golden Steer Steakhouse opened in 1958 and is the “joint” where Frank, Dean, and Sammy used to hang on the regular (and where Elvis, Joe DiMaggio, Natalie Wood, and Tony “The Ant” Spilotro are known to have frequented). 308 W Sahara Ave, Las Vegas, NV 89102

3 What follows dinner in old-time Vegas? A show, of course. Frank, Dean, and Sammy may be gone, but their legend lives on through The Rat Pack Is Back. This tribute show in the Copa Room (of course!) at the Tuscany Suites & Casino has played to rave reviews for nearly two decades. 255 E Flamingo Rd, Las Vegas, NV 89169

4 There’s only one way to cap an old-school Vegas night on the town: with a nightcap … in a basement speakeasy … that requires a “secret password” to gain entrance. We’re talking about The Underground, the Mob Museum’s downstairs ode to the Prohibition era. After slipping through the side door, order an era-specific cocktail (we’re partial to the Old Fashioned served in a bottle tucked inside a hollowed-out book), enjoy nightly entertainment, peruse the 1920s artifacts … and see if you can find (and access) the secret VIP room. (Now that’s old-school Vegas!). 300 Stewart Ave, Las Vegas, NV 89101

MJ

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