By Bill Bradley
Las Vegas Review-Journal Sports Editor
Las Vegas is a tale of two cities. The Strip has one personality. The rest of the city has another.
It’s Phoenix with a gambling district.
If you want to see the rest of the city, there’s more than enough to keep you occupied. From downtown to the Red Rocks on the west side to a dam on the southeast side, take a ride and enjoy the scenery.
Here’s 11 ways to do it.
1. Find the best sportsbook. You haven’t strayed too much from the Strip, but you can enter the local debate: Which is the best sportsbook, Westgate or Circa? Is it the Westgate, which has been around for decades and is coming off an awe-inspiring renovation with TVs about the size of your house? Or is it Circa, which opened just last year with the mission of dethroning Westgate with a theater for a sportsbook and an adjacent swimming stadium.
2. Fremont Street Experience: Downtown on Fremont Street you’ll find a video experience like none other with a mile-long video canopy that connects the area casinos. The video boards were recently updated so it’s an HD event.
3. Container Park: Amid the colorful murals and the electric restaurants downtown, there’s Container Park, which is a collective of small businesses created from shipping containers. What makes it a must-see is the 40-foot fire-breathing metal praying mantis sculpture, which was moved here from the Burning Man festival about eight years ago.
4. Springs Preserve: It’s the city’s nature preserve showing off all of the things about desert habitat you never knew. It’s an early morning treat to walk amid the cactus and wildlife — and it’s only a few miles from the Strip. If you go at lunchtime, the café is a hidden gem with a creative menu.
5. Gold & Silver Pawn Shop: If you’ve ever watched the History Channel, then you know that this is the home of “Pawn Stars.” You might see Rick Harrison on Chumlee, and it’s free to tour the famous shop. Heck, you can always bring in your own rare item to pawn.
6. Hoover Dam: The famed water and power facility again is open to tourists as is the Boulder Dam Museum. It’s one of those sights that is worth making the half-hour drive south.
7. Ethel M Chocolate Factory. In Henderson, the famous chocolate maker offers self-guided tours of the facility. If you come back during Christmas, the grounds offer a kid-friendly lighted holiday walk.
8. Mob Museum: Named one of the top 25 U.S. museums, this ode to the mob features a greatly detailed history and links it all to Las Vegas. The artifacts are fascinating. You’ll want to take a photo in the electric chair. You need to visit the hidden speakeasy in the basement.
9. Neon Museum: While tourists love the Mob Museum, the locals love the Neon Museum. Full-size neon sculptures of past Las Vegas resort signs are displayed on the “boneyard” grounds. It’s fascinating to walk around a Sahara or Aladdin neon sign and know that you’re seeing a huge piece of the city’s history. You’ll know you’re near when you see the neon Hard Rock Café guitar.
10. Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area: Drive past the city’s western edge you will find some of the most interesting rock formations, hiking trails and rock climbing areas in the West. Stay on Highway 159 or drive into the Conservation Area to look closer at the breathtaking scenery.
11. One more thing – the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign: Oh, go ahead and do it. Find time at 3 p.m. or 3 a.m., drive down just south of Mandalay Bay on Las Vegas Blvd. and get your picture taken beneath the famous sign. It’s kitschy but you know you want to do it.