Desert Companion

Best of the City: Leisure, Family and Fun

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Art & Culture

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Best big-screen movie theater

XD, South Point

Cinemascope, Cinerama, Dimension 150 … those great wide-screen formats of yore are gone with the wind. But if you want to recreate the experience of seeing a cinema spectacle on a mind-blowingly large screen, try the XD one at South Point. It’s as big as the side of a building. Seeing "Lawrence of Arabia" splashed across this canvas takes you back to the monumentalism of the good old days. And, since South Point regularly screens classic films in the large format, you just might find yourself watching "Gone with the Wind" in old-style splendor. DM (9777 Las Vegas Blvd. S., 702-796-7111)


Best place to get away from it all

Element, in Summerlin

It has all the comforts of home — and quite a few more. The clean lines, sparkling furnishings and fluid design provide a welcome escape from the Sin City hurly-burly. There are the expected amenities (free breakfast) and surprising ones (in-room DVD players; barbecue area outside). Also, pets are welcome. Each unit features a full kitchen along with all the utensils you could require. Not only is the lobby conducive to sitting and reading, Element stocks a library. You might want to get out for a while — it’s just a few exits from Red Rock — but you won’t want to leave. Some don’t: Element is home to many long-term guests. Here is restorative leisure married to natural beauty, just far enough from the madding crowd. DM (10555 Discovery Drive, 702-589-2000,

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Best disc golf course

Las Vegas Ski & Snowboard Resort

Local fans of this cult sport know that Mount Charleston isn’t just for hiking and skiing. For a challenging summertime workout, grab a Frisbee, hop on a chair lift and tee off at an elevation of 9,300 feet. You might think you’ve escaped the Vegas heat, but the next few hours will make sweat pour down your face, joining the tears of joy you’ll shed as you trudge towards the last hole. DL (6725 Lee Canyon Road, 702-385-2754.)


Best golf course for duffers

Desert WillowDesert Willow

Blowing $125 to plop Titleists into a pond is no way to spend a day off. Desert Willow has views to match any championship course, and midweek rates for locals top out at $35, including the cart. The course is light on trees and sand, heavy on playable, cut grass, and only three of its 18 holes have a water hazard. Best of all, the course is a par 60, so you won‘t wear yourself ragged chasing your slice. Added bonus: for 19th-hole rehydration, the house draft Desert Willow Brew is priced right, too. AG (2020 W. Horizon Ridge Parkway, 702-263-4653,

Best place for some cheap fun


PinballPinball Hall of Fame

Before PS3 or Playstation, there was pinball. And thanks to obsessive collector Tim Arnold, the nostalgic arcade game remains alive and well in Las Vegas. Grab your quarters and bring your A-game, because the 10,000-square-foot emporium houses more than 200 machines, with high scores that are just begging to be broken. Old-school
fun at old-school prices. DL
(1610 E. Tropicana Ave.,


Best old-school casino game

Sigma Derby

Want to beat the house? Well, you can’t — not often, anyway. But you can cause it some aggravation by playing this horse-race game. You see, casino bosses want to see you pulling slot handles as fast and often as possible. In Sigma Derby, plastic ponies canter around a racing oval under a clear plastic rotunda. The game specializes in unpredictable lead changes (it doesn’t pay to bet on long shots) and is a good way to stretch your gambling dollar to the max. Also, once a couple of people start playing Sigma Derby, it’s wont to draw a small crowd. Its survival is a testament to player ardor in an era when casino floor layout is a matter of sophisticated algorithms and confusing geography. Tally ho! DM (MGM Grand, 3799 Las Vegas Blvd. S., 702-891-1111; and The D, 301 Fremont St., 702-388-2400)


Best new slot machine

Willy Wonka

Those who never really cared for the Oompa Loompas in the classic Gene Wilder movie will discover a new affection for the little men upon playing this interactive slot, in which they dance across the screen and randomly throw down bonuses that keep you playing for hours — it happened to us while playing at South Point. And, if you get the Chocolate River bonus, you’re literally in for a bumpy (but fun) ride. JP


Best place to watch a softball game

Majestic Park

This is a favorite softball venue thanks to pristine grass in the outfield and a view that makes even the most deliberate double-headers seem enjoyable. Twelve fields are accompanied by bleachers, and from many points within the park, visitors can see the Strip in the distance. And no matter where you are — on the field or the sidelines — the mountains and palm trees are impossible to miss. Sarah Vernetti (3997 N. Hualapai Way,


Roller coasterBest thrill ride

The Big Apple Coaster at New York-New York

Never have we felt as much of an adrenaline rush as when we’re dropping, dipping and laughing our heads off on this, the longest roller coaster in town, and the only one with a heart-line twist that bobs and weaves past the replicated skyline of New York City. You might as well buy the all-day pass, because you’ll be back for more. JP (3790 Las Vegas Blvd. S., 702-740-6969,


Best place to ride go-karts

Mini Gran Prix

Go-karts for all! Two-seaters allow small children to feel the wind in their hair while their parents do the driving. Youngsters who want to race on their own can try the kiddie cars on the low-speed track. While the kids do their karting, grab a burlap sack and take the “don’t look down” trek to the top of the tall, multi-lane slide and relive your childhood. But try not to get too distracted. After all, there’s nothing like watching your daughter stare down a fellow driver as she speeds by him. SV (1404 N. Rainbow Blvd., 702-259-7000,


Best karaoke


From the sublime to the awful, they take their place before the microphone at Dino’s, an all-business, cement-floored hole-in-the-wall with Saturday-night-karaoke that’s a Vegas institution. You’ll want to get there early, not only to find a table (big crowds are routine), but also to pore over the massive songbooks. It’s not vocalism, it’s a spectator sport, even when you don’t know what the heck that last song was intended to be. Don’t be squeamish about taking the mic: We guarantee there’s someone in the crowd worse than you. DM (1516 Las Vegas Blvd. S., 702-382-3894)


Best party pool

Treasure Island

On the flip side, it’s one big dance party out here on the weekends, but never over-crowded. Partiers dance on the pool deck and in the water, grab drinks and dine on cuisine provided by the property’s Kahunaville restaurant. And the 50-seat whirlpool is affectionately dubbed the “Party Tub.” It all takes place against an immaculate backdrop of palms. Your most chic pool attire is a must. JP (3300 Las Vegas Blvd. S., 702-894-7111,


Best hotel pool for relaxation

Trump International Las Vegas

Do you remember when a dip in the pool wasn’t impeded by throngs of partiers swaying to the beat of a DJ? Lined by a row of perfectly manicured palms, Trump’s pool is the ultimate spot for relaxation, whether you want to bask in the sun with a good book or glide through the water and refresh yourself. JP (2000 Fashion Show Drive, 702-982-0000,


Best couples spa facility

Costa del Sur at South Point

This spa really knows how to treat locals. In addition to a menu of relaxing and romantic treatments for couples, what really sets it apart is its wet area and relaxation room specifically for couples. You can maximize your time together and kick back with a tray of fruit, or loosen up your muscles in the Jacuzzi together before your treatment begins. Getting used to such amenities spoils one for all other couples experiences. JP (9777 Las Vegas Blvd. S., 702-797-8030,


Best splurge-worthy spa

Spa Aquae at JW Marriott

It’s got all the things that add up to a great spa experience: a dimly lit relaxation room, luxurious water amenities, a yoga studio and picturesque view, plus rooms for individuals and couples. What makes it most worth the trip, however, is the innovative holistic treatments that include the Cabernet Crush, Healing Hydration Wrap and Shirodhara Ritual. It’s a large spa with the feel of a boutique. JP (221 N. Rampart Blvd., 702-869-7807,


Best spa gym

Spa Bellagio at Bellagio

Sweat out your cares while you undertake a session of boot camp, practice Barre Pilates or work on your core — you can even do your spinning poolside. Not your ordinary hotel gym. Bellagio seasonally expands its fitness schedule to coincide with the modalities of its treatments, so keep up with the classes offered on its website. The facility also employs personal trainers to help you achieve all of your goals. JP (3600 Las Vegas Blvd. S., 702-693-7472,


Best place to look at a 1909 cottage

Clark County Museum

The 1909 railroad cottage, once part of a 64-house community, now on the museum campus, is refurbished and ready to welcome visitors. The turquoise exterior, concrete-block front porch and flower-adorned light fixtures in the living room will make even the staunchest postmodernist smile. After you enter, turn to your right to see a photo that shows this particular cottage in its original location. During the early 20th century, it was just one building in a seemingly endless row of similar counterparts. Now it is part of an endangered species. SV (1830 S. Boulder Highway, 702-455-7955,


Best place to glimpse our deep past

Lost City

Lost City Museum

This adobe-style structure in out-of-the-way Overton doesn’t get the press that rightfully accrues to the Nevada State Museum and Historical Society or the Clark County Museum. But its displays, excavated from Anasazi sites submerged under Lake Mead, are a vivid reminder of just how far back the history of Southern Nevada’s residents goes. SD (701 Moapa Valley Blvd., Overton.)


Best place to shoot a selfie if you absolutely must shoot a selfie

The Plaza valet. The ceiling is layered with lights and gives that glitz Vegas is known for. Plus, it’s from a scene in "Casino." Shoot slightly up so the lights fill the frame.
— Sabin Orr


Top of the Stratosphere, close to sunset. Make sure you turn on your flash.
— Bill Hughes


I recommend the pedestrian bridge linking the Tropicana and the Excalibur. If you face south, you’ll get a great shot of the Strip in the background.
— Jerry Metellus





Best running trail


Duck Creek at the Wetlands Park

It’s finally open! Improvements include plentiful parking, shaded picnic tables, lights and a proper bathroom. The trails are open to joggers, dogs and bicycles, and are wide enough to give everyone their space. Tracks twist and turn through tall reeds to keep your run interesting, and with connections to the main section of the Wetlands Park, as well as the ever-expanding Vegas Valley Rim Trail, you can really rack up the miles. The area doubles as a bird and wildlife preserve, so keep your eyes peeled for coyotes, rabbits, beaver and migrating birds. AG (Broadbent Boulevard between Tropicana and Russell, 702-455-7522,


Best walking trail

Cottonwood Canyon Park

Thanks to its location below street level, Summerlin’s Cottonwood Canyon Park feels like a different world than its suburban surroundings. A winding 3-mile trail, green spaces, desert plants, shaded picnic areas and road-bypassing tunnels help make this linear park a relaxing place to spend a Saturday afternoon. Cottonwood Canyon is popular with dog-owners, so consider bringing Fido. SV (915 Canyon Bluff Circle,


Best nighttime hike

River Mountain Loop Trail near Lake Mead

Tip: Go during a full moon. This stretch of the faces Lake Mead, and when the moon reflects on the water it’s werewolf-howlingly beautiful. If you are also feeling reflective (or tired), take advantage of the benches along the way to simply sit and take it in. There are also several tunnels through the hillsides, just dark and mysterious enough that you can imagine a Stephen King story unfolding within. Thrilling! SD




Container ParkDowntown Container Park

Here’s why: The kids can frolic in the play area (33-foot slide, tree house, wet area) while you visit an art gallery, have a beer (!) or empty your wallet at a leather goods store. That is, you can, if you choose, do grown-up stuff while they do kid stuff. (Try that at most child-oriented family places.) (Especially the beer.) Then you can all eat some pork and beans from Pork & Beans and reenact that scene from Blazing Saddles — as a family. SD (707 E. Fremont St.


South Tower ParkSouth Tower Park

This Summerlin park has all of the ingredients for an ideal play date: two sets of playground equipment, a massive green space, a splash pad during warmer months and a gorgeous view of the mountains. Plus, visitors will find plenty of perfect picnic spots in the shade. Families frequent this park on sunny weekend afternoons, so there’s almost always a friend or two around to keep you company. SV (1022 Park Vista Drive,


Ode to … the pinball wizard

A friend and I went to the Pinball Hall of Fame on a whim. We were killing time, having a depressing conversation about writing — how impossible it seemed to succeed at this thing we do. Then we walked into this crazy warehouse full of games. There was Tron, Ms. Pac-Man, Evel Knievel! We reignited the Cold War for 15 minutes over table hockey. The U.S. won; Russia was bitter.      

As I wandered through the rows of machines, I noticed notes taped to the scoreboards and tucked under glass surfaces — each on an index card, each in the same handwriting. The note-taker lists the machines’ release dates, designers and artists, lists which parts are original and which are not. He comments on the artwork: “Love the blonde with the Wonder Bread bag mini dress!” The notes are meticulous and personal, each a kind of homage to the machine and the labor that went into making it. Reading them, I saw the place in a different light, not as an arcade but a project. This note-taker has a relationship with these machines. The artists, designers, the now-defunct companies, the bumpers, the gates, the wedge heads, the glass backing — every detail matters. 

Of course, I fell in love. I’m a writer. I live for details. But the heart of the operation, and the real subject of this ode, is a messy space at the back — the workshop where the wizard makes his repairs. The area is fenced off by tables, every surface covered in a jumble of parts and tools: bolts stored in medicine bottles, batteries and Q-tips and spools of wire. Notebooks, catalogs and the Machinist’s Handbook sprawl over the husk of a game in the center. Drawers line the back wall, labeled things like “shooter tips” and “drop targets.” Why did I love it so much? There is a kind of magic in this evidence of work in progress, of labor and attention. He told me he has another warehouse, 800 machines. “Someday I’ll fix them all,” he said. I thought about writing. I’d been waking up early every morning to work, and I was lost but enjoying the process. Maybe all we can ever know about the work we commit ourselves to is that it matters that we do it, matters because we do it. Whether it succeeds or fails in the larger world is so much less important than the effort, the daily work of making things whole. — Aurora Brackett


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