Moving to Las Vegas: Life After The Strip

The allure of the Strip faded, hasn't it?  It took, what, two months?  Maybe you were pretty persistent and the allure held on for four or five months, but the end result is the same:  You're a local now, and fuck neon lights.  So, what now?

My advice?  Travel.

The best thing about Las Vegas isn't Las Vegas Boulevard, but it's the centrality of the the entire Midwest, and cheap nonstop airfare to almost anywhere you could want to go in the United States, makes it a perfect place to live for those of us with the travel bug, which after a few weeks into the summer, will be all of us.

 

1:  Explore the city

Arguably one of the first things you should do after moving to a new city is to explore it, and while moving to a tourist trap like Vegas may make that challenging (Google "things to do in Vegas" and tell me it doesn't lead you back to neon lights and slot machines!), it shouldn't be overly difficult.  This Trip Advisor guide isn't all inclusive, but it has one great strength that most other guides don't:  It's not Strip Centric.

Photo by Danial Hallock.

Photo by Danial Hallock.

That trip advisor guide does spend some time on the strip, but with other destinations like indoor sky diving, the downtown container park, and Fremont Street, it's a fantastic way to acquaint yourself with the city.

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While that guide is great for acquainting yourself with the "things to do" in Las Vegas, it (understandably) doesn't tell you some of the pitfalls of living in Vegas.  Like how the water is so hard it's virtually undrinkable and requires a special dishwasher detergent, or how shopping at Wal-Mart is a recipe for getting shot.

Unfortunately, there's no substitute for good old fashioned experience in learning those local secrets, but I would (a) shop at Costco and Smith's, (b) eat at Thai Basil, (c) Live in Henderson or Aliante, and (d) invest in lotion and a humidifier as soon as possible.

 

2. Visit Mount Charleston

A quick way to beat the searing summer heat in Las Vegas is to visit the nearby Mount Charleston, only an hour north of the strip.  With scenic vistas perfect for picnics in the summer, or sled worthy hills for the youngsters in the winter, the mountain is a perfect excuse to get out of the valley for the day.

 

3.  Visit San Francisco

While the eight hour drive might be a drag, the city can't be beat.  This Trip Advisor guide has a great collection of must-see venues for a quick and pain free trip but, while we used it as a starting point, it needed some tweaking to make it a perfect weekend get-a-way.  We actually went over Memorial Day (arriving around 5pm Friday and leaving around 10 am Monday), and you can see our trip below.

The map is a little hard to read, but the plan was very loose (Alcatraz was sold out about two weeks before we got there) and left a lot of time for exploration.  San Francisco is extremely walkable and with the number of shops, markets, and street performers, you would be making a huge mistake to itemize your trip too much. We only itemized about half of our trip and ended up spending only about 3 or 4 hours in our hotel (mostly to recover), and we felt like we still missed some great sights and eateries.

During our first day we took the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) to the Wharf, where we walked along the NE coast before heading south to Lombard Street and then walking back to the hotel.  Our second day involved taking a cab to the Golden Gate Bridge where we walked half of it, then taking a cab to The Conservatory of Flowers, before walking to a Vietnamese sector of town where we took lunch and enjoyed a farmer's market before busing back to Union Square and Chinatown.

A few points of advice, should you decide to travel to San Francisco (especially as a Vegas local):

  • Bring a fleece jacket, it's about 30 degrees colder (plus windchill) than Vegas.
  • Take advantage of the public transportation system; it's not as shady as it is in Vegas.
  • Bring a reusable grocery or tote bag; California will charge $0.10 per plastic bag used.
  • Bring $6 in cash for the bridge toll.
  • Prepare to walk (about 7mi/day).  While you can ride transit, you'll miss most of the city.
  • Bring a cooler of snacks and drinks, but do not bring fruit across state lines.
  • Eat at Burma Superstar, but get there before the lunch rush (e.g. 10:45).
  • Watch the street performers; they're simply better than those in Las Vegas.
  • Go to a local comedy club!  We went to a hole in the wall for $10 and loved it.

 

4.  Take a Full Moon Hike at Bryce Canyon

A full moon hike is a remarkable way to spend an evening, and with Bryce Canyon being less than three hours north, the two to three hour hike is truly breath taking.  It's an extremely long day, and probably an overnight stay in Southern Utah, but it's really something that you have to do; nothing else is like it.

Photo by Wally Pacholka, who has a fantastic store, where you can get this photo and more, here.

Photo by Wally Pacholka, who has a fantastic store, where you can get this photo and more, here.

 

5.  Visit Los Angeles

At a cool four hour drive, Los Angeles is the closest weekend destination for a Vegas resident.  Whether you're a first time visitor that's looking to capture as much of the city in three days, or a beach bum looking for a cooler way to spend the summer, this is a great destination.  We didn't personally make it to Los Angeles during our six month stay in Las Vegas, but it was a common destination for all of our coworkers.

 

6.  Visit San Diego

Only an hour further than Los Angeles is San Diego.   While San Francisco is too far away and Los Angeles is too large to enjoy over two days, San Diego offers a unique opportunity to pull a "Leave Vegas at 5 AM on a Saturday and come back at 12 AM on a Monday" whirlwind of a trip.

Which is, of course, what we did and while it made the drive a little exhausting, the entire trip cost us about 1/3 what San Francisco did and we felt like we still go enough of the city to have had our fun.  Unlike San Francisco, which required a fair amount of planning to capitalize on a four day trip, in San Diego we just went to Point Loma and the downtown's farmer's market Saturday morning, followed by the Museum of Man and Gas lamp district in the afternoon and evening, and then the San Diego Zoo for most of Sunday.

Personally, I preferred visiting San Francisco, but could never consider living there, and my wife and sister were the exact opposite, preferring San Diego over the larger and more urban bay area.  This might have been because of the short notice and lack of planning in the San Diego trip, but the main point is that these are two completely different cities.  

I think the largest difference between San Francisco and San Diego is the culture.  San Diego has its fair share of ethnicity, but San Francisco is molded by its inhabitants. You needn't look much further than the top rated restaurants of the two cities to see the difference:  Mexican and BBQ versus Burmese and Sea Food.  A visit to San Diego is absolutely a must-do for any American living in the west, but San Francisco - in my opinion - still ranks as a must-visit for anyone.

A pieces of advice though:  

  1. Don't think you're going to "beat the heat" here.  While it was 20 degrees cooler in San Diego than in Las Vegas, the reintroduction of humidity made for a nasty surprise.  Besides, at 75 degrees, San Diego isn't exactly what I would consider "cool" even in comparison to Las Vegas.
  2. If you're a photographer, bring a camera to San Diego.  As you can see, we were able to grab far more attractive photographs in San Diego than in San Francisco.  San Francisco is surprisingly clumped and... dirty; whereas San Diego is just, well, pretty.
  3. Bring sunscreen and a floppy hat.  Sun screen is a big deal in Las Vegas, but even with the abundance of trees in San Diego, sunburn is almost instantaneous.

All-in-all, it was a fantastic trip, but it does leave you with an overwhelming sense of exhaustion.


7.  Visit The Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon is pretty low on the list because it's just so damn far away, and there really isn't much in between Las Vegas and the Canyon.  I visited the southern/eastern rim during my cross-country move and loved it, but we only got to spend about three hours enjoying the enormous national park.  Drive down Friday after work and crash in a hotel in Flagstaff before heading up to the Canyon for an all-day hiking excursion!

Photo by Danial Hallock.

Photo by Danial Hallock.

 

8.  Take a cruise

Do you have any idea how many cruises leave out of Los Angeles or San Diego?  Hint:  It's a lot of them.  Visit the three big cities in Southern California one year, and then take a four day cruise up the coast the next to hit the highlights of each city as your cruise ship docks at each stop along the coast the following year. Alternatively you can cruise to Hawaii, around the Panama Canal, or Alaska all by driving five to eight hours into Southern California.

 

9.  Visit Salt Lake City

Known for its iconic ski slopes, and the large Mormon Cathedrals, the city is truly breath taking.  A trip here may not be as busy or exciting as one to Southern California (unless you plan on skiing), but a trip to Salt Lake City, and its neighboring Park City and Provo, will give you a unique and enjoyable way to take advantage of Las Vegas' location.

 

10.  visit santa fe

Santa Fe is kind of a stretch goal, because it's incredibly out of the way; it's just as far away as San Francisco, but it doesn't have nearly the appeal..  If you couple it with another, larger, trip (e.g. driving Interstate 40 back East), then it's a fantastic stop along the way (far better than Albuquerque, in my opinion).  With some of the best Mexican food I've ever had, fantastic heritage and churches, and a large Native American population, it's an excellent city to spend a day and night in. 

Make sure to stop on a weekend during the spring, and bring a jacket and a comfortable pair of shoes so you can walk the downtown district to look at the indigenous art and crafts available for sale.