There's just something about Las Vegas. The city is the backdrop, and often a character itself, in hit television shows and major movies. It's a hotbed for celebrity gossip and a home-away-from-home for Average Joes and Josephines.
What is it about this relatively young city that has made it such a focal point? From The Strip that slices through this rapidly growing city to the shores of Lake Mead to the south, there's more to Las Vegas than most travel-destination cities.
In fact, there's a great deal that many don't know about Las Vegas. There's a tender side to go with its star-filled history. Mormon settlers came from Salt Lake City in the mid-1800s, and railroad developers made tracks to Las Vegas in the 1890s. A town began to form, and the city was founded May 15, 1905, as a railroad stopover for those heading west.
The real growth spurt of Las Vegas can be traced to 1931, when the Nevada Legislature formally legalized gambling. Gangster Bugsy Seigel opened the Flamingo Hotel in 1946, and the Las Vegas that's now known as the "Entertainment Capital of the World" was born.
From the fledgling art community downtown to the million-dollar suites on Las Vegas Boulevard, this is a city that grew from 5,000 to nearly 2 million in one century, growing from a watering hole for gold rushers to a play destination for the world. In 2005, a record 38.6 million people visited this jewel in the desert.
The Best of Las Vegas
The Las Vegas metropolitan area is 600 square miles of stores, offices, and other buildings just like any other small downtown. But if you look closer, this town is undergoing major development projects in multiple areas.
New condo high-rise buildings are being planned, the Union Park Development Project will mix residential and high-rise buildings, and municipal officials have agreed to change the zoning rules on Freemont Street so more bars are allowed closer together. These changes are under way in the hopes that more tourists will explore the downtown area instead of limiting themselves to the Las Vegas Strip.
The Las Vegas Strip is only a four-mile stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard, but it is glamorous with its luxurious resort hotels, lavish pools, acres of casino floors, Mobil Five-Star restaurants, and seemingly endless number of major attractions. That's why The Strip oftentimes defines this city to the world.
The anything-goes vibe is apparent here, from the Egyptian artifacts at Luxor on the south end of the boulevard to the XScream thrill ride that shoots riders 800 feet over The Strip at the Stratosphere on the north end of the boulevard.
There are also the wildlife attractions that have continuously been voted the best by locals, such as the Lion Habitat at the MGM Grand, Siegfried & Roy's Secret Garden, the Dolphin Habitat, the Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay, and bird-watching at the Wetlands State Park in the southern part of the valley.
Another draw is the food. Celebrity chefs such as Bobby Flay, Emeril Lagasse, Tom Colicchio, and Wolfgang Puck have restaurants in Las Vegas. A favorite of the stars is Flay's Mesa Grill at Caesar's Palace, where you can nosh on coffee spice-rubbed rotisserie filet mignon with wild mushroom-ancho chile sauce.
Whether coming for a well-earned vacation or building an itinerary to see the sights around your convention schedule, you'll want to make the most of every minute you spend in this bright city. Be aware that many visitors leave feeling they only sampled a small amount of attractions, shows, restaurants, and outdoor activities compared to the vast array available. There's simply too much entertainment and activities to keep you busy no matter how long you choose to stay.
Fast Facts & Info
Geography and landscape: Las Vegas, which means "The Meadows" in Spanish, was once abundant in water and brush. The valley is an arid basin surrounded by mountains that range in color from pink to ash gray, which makes for picture-perfect sunrises and sunsets.
Spring Mountains and Red Rock Canyon are located to the west, Frenchman Mountain and Lake Mead to the east, the McCullough Range to the south, and the Sheep Mountains or Range to the north. The surrounding area is rocky and dusty, but within the city of Las Vegas itself, travelers will find an urban oasis filled with a lot of greenery and buildings.
The Las Vegas Strip, often called The Strip, only stretches four miles on Las Vegas Boulevard, from the Stratosphere at the northern end and the Mandalay Bay on the southern end. This short stretch houses many of the largest hotels, casinos, and attractions. For those flying into town, McCarran International Airport is conveniently located on the southern end of The Strip.
The city of Henderson, an old mining town, is a bedroom community located just 15 minutes away from the Las Vegas Strip. Henderson is the second largest city in Nevada, so don't think it's a sleepy little town. Henderson has become one of the fastest growing cities in the nation, with nearly 250,000 people currently calling it home.
General orientation: Las Vegas is divided by the bustling Strip, which runs north to south through the valley. Most new residents choosing to move to the city opt to settle far from the tourist action and into the tony Summerlin in the west and Green Valley in the east.
The main highway, Interstate 15, parallels The Strip and feeds California, Utah, and Northern Nevada residents in and out of the city as well as the trucks that carry fresh flowers, uniforms, paper products, and other essentials for the various hotels in Vegas.
US 95 crisscrosses Interstate 15 at the head of The Strip and serves the community by carrying residents from the east and west areas of the valley. The most recent addition to the valley's road systems is the Interstate 215 Beltway, which loops around the city and lightens the arteries feeding in and out of the city.
Safety: Just like many other major cities, Las Vegas prides itself on its security measures and, as a result, the city is generally safe. Visitors, however, should be careful when traveling in the darker, less populated areas on both the north and south ends of The Strip. The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department patrols The Strip on bikes and is quick to control any rowdy revelers.
Also be prepared for direct marketers who will constantly approach you with fliers and handbills. They aren't a safety concern, but they have the potential of being an annoyance, particularly if you prefer to be left alone.
Population: Las Vegas is the most populated city in the state of Nevada, with 1.8 million people calling the valley home, mainly due to its weather, the supply of jobs in the hotel business, and the lack of sales tax. However, fewer than 600,000 people live within the city limits of Las Vegas.
Climate/weather: Bring your sunscreen no matter what time of year it is because Las Vegas is host to an average of 310 sunny days annually. Although the temperatures can climb to well above 100 degrees Fahrenheit during the late summer months, the nights are on average a cool (for the desert) 84 degrees Fahrenheit.
The average annual temperature is a rather pleasant 66.3 degrees Fahrenheit, with low humidity. Winter temperatures can dip into the 40s on occasion but usually hover around the high 50s or 60s, with lows in the 30s.
Although rainfall is sparse, averaging a mere 4.19 inches annually, flooding in the summer months can strand visitors who have ventured into the desert for a little outdoor rest and relaxation. Flash floods are common in July and August, and warnings are prevalent, urging people to stay high and dry when outside.
If you stick to The Strip, you won't have much trouble navigating this city. However, there are some must-see attractions that lay beyond the main drag, so check out the next section for tips on getting around Las Vegas.