A trans-con plane trip and here we are in Las Vegas. No, we're not gamblers, but there's something electric and exciting about being in Las Vegas anyway. Although it's a destination spot for folks around the world, it's home to David's mom and sister. It's just “the hood” to them … a place to live, shop and work. And, yes, sometimes play … they enjoy the slots once in awhile as a diversion and you can't beat the buffets.
So what can you do in Vegas if you're not a gambler? Here's our best picks of 13 fun, free or relatively low cost things to do:
1. Experience The Strip
There's lots more to Vegas than gambling. Even if you're not a gambler, you need to spend a little time on The Strip just seeing the lights of this neon megalopolis. Take in all the thematic hotels and casinos from pyramids to the Eiffel Tower and from the Statue of Liberty to the Venetian canals. Watch a pirate ship battle, see a fountain light show. It's amazing and it's free.
2. Fremont Street Experience
This is a huge pedestrian mall in downtown Vegas and there's always something going on in the evenings … free stage shows, street entertainers, bars, gambling casinos, shops. It's a hopping place to visit.
3. Catch a show or be amused
Vegas is a mecca for hot talent. There are shows galore, world class boxing matches, amusement parks and magic shows ... whatever floats your boat. If you're saving money by not gambling or if you came out of the casino ahead, you might as well spend a few bucks on top shelf entertainment.
4. Hoover Dam
There are tours available, but it's a quick drive (32 mi/50km) to this national landmark which straddles the Colorado River on the Arizona-Nevada border. There's a Visitor's Center, dam tours and great views of dam.
5. Valley of Fire State Park
Only 55 miles (88km) northeast of Vegas, Valley of Fire is Nevada's oldest and largest state park. It offers a Visitor's Center, a scenic drive that showcases the park's outstanding sandstone and limestone formations, diverse desert fauna and flora, petroglyphs, fossils and breathtaking views. The small admission fee ($10/car) is well worth it.
6. People watch
Las Vegas must have the biggest collection of odd people per capita than any other place in the world. People watching is free and amusing and you just never know what you're going to see.
7. Mount Charleston
At nearly 11, 916' (3,632m) Mount Charleston is the highest of the Spring Mountains in Southern Nevada and stands sentinel over the Sin City. You can drive to the top for great views and a pleasant, mountain respite from the heat and frenzy of the city below.
8. Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve
We visit this tiny preserve in the middle of the Las Vegas Wash every time we're in Vegas. The bird viewing, especially in morning and evening, is outstanding. Besides the 288 identified species you might spot, we've seen lizards, coyote, desert cottontails and snakes. Free entry and lots and lots of well-maintained trails.
9. Ethel M Chocolate Factory Tour & Cactus Botanical Garden
Believe it or not, the factory is right in the middle of town. This is a fun, free tour and great for adults as well as kids. The cactus gardens surrounding the factory are beautifully maintained and the self-guided tour of the chocolate factory is free … and so are the samples!
10. Clark County Heritage Museum
This is a funky little, open-air museum with a Visitor's Center that features the history of Nevada from pre-historic to modern times. The highlight is Heritage Street with actual period buildings and bits of Americana from different decades of local history. The $2 admission fee is a bargain.
11. Lake Mead activities
The largest man-made lake/reservoir in America, formed by the damming of the Colorado River (Hoover Dam), this national recreation area offers all sorts of lake and water activities, plus picnicking, hiking, biking and sightseeing. Entrance fees apply, but NPS Senior Pass holders get free entry.
12. Conservatory at the Bellagio
If you're on the Strip, this is a particularly lovely place to visit in the Bellagio Hotel. The floral displays and themes change with the season. Sometimes nearly overwhelming, they are knock-your-socks off imaginative and beautiful … and of course, free.
13. Take your picture next to the iconic Welcome to Las Vegas sign
Prove you've been here! There are several signs actually, but the “official” sign and most convenient for photo-taking is the one just south of the Strip on Paradise Road. There's a small parking lot so you can get up close and personal.