Viva Las Vegas!

This desert oasis has more to offer than ever before. Read our expert guide to start planning your ideal Vegas vacation now.

It is fun to watch a kid grow up, but it is rare to watch a city mature. A few years ago Las Vegas was a randy teenager, trying to be sexy, cool and sophisticated, but often slightly missing the mark. All of the sudden, however, it’s like Vegas came home from college, all polished and full of youthful confidence. Still not as culturally rich as other cities, the town seems to be hitting its stride. Michelin just published its first-ever Las Vegas guide, along with its first guide for Los Angeles—and Vegas is the city with a three star chef.

Scintillating Entertainment

Of the 39 million visitors who came to Vegas last year, more than half said they came for entertainment, with food and wine at the apex of the list.

Not only has Vegas popped to the top of the culinary scene (we have more master sommeliers than any other city in the country), Vegas is raising the bar for entertainment. Now a must-stop for any touring band or comedian, performers of all styles fill huge showrooms like the MGM Grand Garden Arena and intimate venues like the House of Blues or the Railhead in Boulder Station.

But it isn’t just music. Top named sports competitions and Tony Award-winning shows also fill thousands of seats per year. The Producers, Mama Mia! and Jersey Boys vie with the new Vegas showgirls (and boys) who perform in the surreal, fantastical productions of Cirque du Soleil. Vegas’ love affair with magic and spectacle is far from over. From comedy magic to giant illusions and mesmerists, Vegas enchants kids of all ages.

Off the Beaten Track

For those willing to venture off the Strip, another kind of magic awaits. Red Rock Canyon is a fifteen minute drive away. There world-class rock climbing, horseback riding, mountain and street biking, hiking, photography and petroglyphs await the intrepid traveler. Kids love to stop by the Desert Tortoise Habitat to see palm-sized newborns along with their parents.

Another Vegas-area attraction is Lake Mead National Recreation Area, located about 45 minutes from Las Vegas, which offers a variety of outdoor activities including kayaking, canoeing, desert hiking and some of the best sports fishing in the United States. [Read A Need for Mead to learn about renting a houseboat at Lake Mead.] If you’re visiting Lake Mead, be sure to stop by that marvel of modern engineering, the Hoover Dam, located 30 miles southeast of the Strip. The Depression-era dam stand 726.4 feet tall and can supply more than 2.8 million kilowatts of electricity to California, Arizona and Nevada. Take a helicopter tour to see sweeping views of the grand structure and the recreation area; the Hoover Dam Tour Company offers 1.5 hour heli tours from $324 per person.  

Valley of Fire State Park, the Spring Mountains and Death Valley National Park all lie within a two-hour drive, with many tour companies happy to provide the transportation, lunch and narrative.

And for those really willing to take a risk, the valley is filled with small museums, cultural festivals, little-known artists’ groups, parks, biking trails and restaurants run by chefs looking to escape the Strip frenzy. We may not have huge history and art museums that have benefited from a hundred years of patronage, but if you want to observe culture in its exciting, unfettered infancy, few cities can compete with Vegas. 

Where to Stay

Hotel options in Las Vegas run the gamut from budget to over-the-top indulgent. Here’s a look at some favorites:

Luxury Digs

Luxury accommodations also have taken a leap forward. Wynn Las Vegas hit a home run with several awards when it debuted in 2005, and its newly opened sister property, Encore Las Vegas—with its 2,034 suites (the smallest of which is 700 square feet), five signature restaurants, a full-service spa with 37 treatment rooms and 14 garden suites, and a shopping esplanade with Hermes and Chanel—is poised to receive similar accolades. Popular Las Vegas performer Danny Gans will relocate to the new Encore Theater when it opens in February 2009. Midweek starting rates at each for rooms in January are $149 and $159 per night, respectively.

The hotel that really turned the tide though for upscale properties is the Bellagio, which recently celebrated its 10th anniversary. Also noteworthy: Four Seasons Las Vegas (located within the Mandalay Bay complex) and The Venetian.

Non-gaming Properties

A growing trend in recent years has been the increase in the number of properties that do not have casinos.

At one time, the Four Seasons was the only non-gaming hotel on the Strip. Now a number of newer hotels leave the slot machines and blackjack tables to the big resorts and focus strictly on hospitality. As a parent, I love this. The Four Seasons welcomes kids with special check-in packages and cookies and milk at bedtime.

Carriage House Deluxe Suites Hotel is within walking distance of the Strip and offers a classic pool and tennis courts. Late one night, I saw two young gentlemen chatting together in the oversize lounge of the funky Artisan Hotel and Spa, listening to live jazz and sipping martinis while their toddlers nodded off in their strollers. It looked like a wonderful way to spend a night, but be warned. Some of the rooms may be noisy. 

Vacationers can also opt to stay at a luxury condo, instead of with the masses. Condos typically offer small kitchens with high-end appliances, spa facilities, concierge services, excellent restaurants and lounges. Platinum Hotel and Spa, Las Vegas Cay Club and Signature at MGM are among the newest properties.

Finding Vegas Hotel Deals

Being flexible in your travel dates and booking early can literally save you hundreds of dollars. As Vegas fills up, hotel prices skyrocket. Even the top resorts have huge variations in room rates, although with the current economic climate, occupancies are low, so great rates are easier to find.

Avoid the popular holidays like New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day, and you can get a room at the Bellagio or Venetian for as little as $129 or $139 per night.

Off the Strip, a traditional hotel may offer fewer in-house goodies, yet it will cost significantly less. Rooms at the Hard Rock start at $63 in 2009. Or consider the Suncoast Hotel and, which offers a nice spa and rates starting at just $38 per night.

Lake Las Vegas and Other Outlying Options

Another choice is to concentrate on resorts removed from the noise and clamor of the action on the Strip, but near enough to easily spend a day in Vegas proper. The Red Rock Resort Casino and Spa is set in the desert with gorgeous views and a terrific spa. It offers adventure packages and is next door to the magnificent Red Rock Canyon Conservation Area, a world-class destination for rock climbing, biking, hiking and viewing petroglyphs, as well containing as a desert tortoise habitat.; per night rates start at $150. The Lake Las Vegas development is about 45 minutes from the Strip and has three top-notch hotels that also offer kids programs as well as condo and vacation home rentals. The area is spectacular and offers a variety of activities including fishing, star-gazing, hiking, biking, golf, tennis, beaches, kayaks, Segways, gondolas and shuttles to the Strip. Resorts include Loews Lake Las Vegas Resort (rates from $159 per night) and the Ritz-Carlton (rates from $259 per night). [Read more in our Lake Las Vegas article.]

Best Las Vegas Pools

The only reason I would stay on the Strip would be to spend the day in an elaborate swimming pool, which resorts always reserve for guests only. There are a number of pools with sandy beaches, water slides, wave pools and more.


Among the best is the 15-acre Flamingo Las Vegas pool complex, which includes a wildlife habitat and three pools with water slides, water falls and dense foliage that wrap around each other and safely allow kids to pop from pool to pool all day.

Four Seasons 

The Four Seasons Resort pool is a quiet oasis with two whirlpools and an abundance of lounges and arbors for shade. Attendants glide by offering light meals and smoothies, Evian spritzes, fresh fruit, chilled water or icy cucumber slices to refresh your eyes. Four Seasons guests also have access to the pools at Mandalay Bay, which include a wave pool, lazy river, three swimming pools, jogging track and 2,700 tons of real sand.

Monte Carlo and The Golden Nugget

The pool at Monte Carlo Hotel and Casino remains one of our all-time favorites with a winding lazy river, 11,000 square-feet of waterfalls and four pool areas, as well as a wave pool.

All pools offer cabanas for an additional fee so that you can eat and stay cool all day. Downtown, the $30-million tank at Golden Nugget is open year around—as are many, but not all, Vegas pools—with a three-story water slide that swoops through a 200,000-gallon shark tank. Kids can swim alongside the sharks, separated only by a thick (we hope!) Plexiglas barrier as adults sip Cosmopolitans at a shaded cabana.

A number of resorts now offer “European bathing.” Meaning topless. These are not open to the under 21 crowd, but may be adjacent to all-ages pools. And while all hotels offer some kind of pool, many would be more aptly labeled “wall-to-wall cement lounge areas surrounding a puddle.” So, if you are booking for the pool, call to ensure that it will be open and kid friendly, and be sure to ask what kind of features it offers. 

Vegas Still Great for Families

In the 1990s Vegas began to make an attempt to accommodate adults traveling with kids by adding childcare facilities, family-friendly swimming spots and game arcades. The national press went wild. At its nationally touted “family-friendly” peak, about 10 percent of its 35 million visitors per year were under the age of 21 (the only demographic statistics it keeps for “kids”). Now that "What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas" targets freewheeling young adults, about 10 percent of the 39 million visitors per year are underage.

When most people say “Vegas” they mean the Strip, which is made up of multibillion-dollar casino resorts. The CEOs of these resorts decided a few years ago to return to the model of the Sin City adult playground. World-class restaurants replaced cheap buffets. Broadway and Cirque du Soleil shows, luxury shops and high tech nightclubs have almost made the two-drink-minimum lounge show a thing of the past. Although 87 percent of visitors still gamble, most visitors say they come for entertainment, rather than gaming.

There is very little on the Strip for preschool children, but as they approach and enter their teens, Vegas’ eye-popping visuals, extensive arcades, concerts, magic, museums, shows, shopping and thrill rides make a family Vegas vacation like no other. Off the Strip, you’ll find breathtaking landscapes, festivals, small museums, spray parks and playlands, all of which are surprisingly family friendly. [Read about Kid-Friendly Activities in Las Vegas and Museums for Teens in Vegas.]


[This article has been updated since it was initially published on our test site earlier this year.]

Destinations: Las Vegas

Themes: Family Travel, Gaming, Urban Endeavors

Activities: Sightseeing

User Comments

Wow! Amaizing A red rock window!

Helpful tip I'm always surprised by how many people turn their kids loose in Vegas. Comparing it to Central Park gets the message that kids should be supervised across. Thanks!