Old is New in Las Vegas’ Original Downtown

Las Vegas
When in Nevada’s most famous city, forego the The Strip and check out these five must-sees in Old Vegas.

By Craig Distl

Old Vegas is new again.

Sin City’s original Downtown, long an afterthought to the glitzy, glamorous and more highly-lauded Strip, is roaring back to life. Thanks to a public/private partnership called the Downtown Project, tourists and locals alike are finding Old Las Vegas to be a fun place to visit, hang out and even live.

Chef Marlin Moreland, 26, is a prime example. Born and raised in Vegas, Moreland creates upscale casual dishes at The Perch. It’s a trendy Downtown eatery in a unique project called Container Park, where all 37 businesses are housed in repurposed shipping containers.

“We’ve turned Downtown into a whole new place,” says Moreland. “Now it’s like a hip crowd of younger people. And older people, too. It’s starting to be a nice place again.”

So what is the allure of Old Vegas for adult travelers accustomed to The Strip? It’s friendlier, more authentic and less intense. There’s actually space to walk on the sidewalks, and the prices are way better.

Remember all those stories about prime rib for $8.99 or steak and lobster for $11.99? That’s still the case Downtown. Martinis for less than five bucks are possible, too.

“Better prices,” Moreland says with a nod. “I don’t go over to The Strip because it’s more for tourists. We have our fair share of tourists here, but it’s like a nice mixture of locals and tourists.”

Of course, Downtown isn’t completely devoid of the revelry that makes Las Vegas what it is. There’s a reasonable supply of casinos, lively nightspots and debauchery.

But all of that comes interspersed amidst a real, living and breathing American city with cultural activities, performing arts venues, a burgeoning arts district and a canopied five-block entertainment attraction known as the Freemont Street Experience.

For a refreshing, adults-oriented change of pace on your next trip to the Nevada desert, check out these five spots in revitalized downtown Vegas:

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1. Neon Museum – Yesteryear’s famous Vegas signs reside on two acres of grounds known as the “boneyard” at the site of the former La Concha Motel on Las Vegas Boulevard. There are more than 150 signs, though many are not in working order. Note: This is not a typical drop-in and browse museum; visitors must sign up for hour-long guided tours.

2. SlotZilla – High above Freemont Street is a zipline adventure emanating from SlotZilla, the world’s largest slot machine. Thrill seekers choose between a shorter zipline or a longer zoomline. Either way, it’s an exhilarating ride underneath the LED digital canopy of the Freemont Street Experience.

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3. Mob Museum –Former three-term mayor Oscar Goodman, who worked as a defense lawyer for mob leaders prior to elected office, was a driving force behind this museum, which opened in 2012. It occupies a neo-classical building that was once a courthouse and a post office. It’s a quality museum that tells the tale of organized crime in America, along with the story of law enforcement officials who fought the bad guys. The museum includes the bullet-pocked brick wall that was the backdrop for the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre on February 14, 1929, in Chicago.

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4. Container Park is a two-story horseshoe of shops, specialty stores, galleries, restaurants and pubs made entirely from repurposed shipping containers. Adults may well want to avoid the courtyard’s jungle gym area for kids and head instead to the live music stage. Make sure to check out the giant, fire-breathing metal praying mantis that greets people entering the park.

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5. Aquarium Pool at Golden Nugget – Named one of “America’s Most Amazing Hotel Pools” by CNN Travel, The Tank at Downtown’s Golden Nugget is an impressive sight. The waters of this opulent pool lap against an aquarium filled with large fish, sharks and more sharks. The best place to watch the sharks is in comfy lounge chairs partially submerged in the pool. The second-best place to watch the sharks is while whooshing through the tank in a clear tube waterslide. VIP shark tank tours take place each Wednesday at 1:30 p.m.

Where To Stay…

Downtown Grand Las Vegas consists of two towers on opposite sides of North Third Street in the center of Old Vegas. It is just across the street from the Mob Museum and a short walk to Fremont Street Experience, the SlotZilla Zipline and Container Park. The hotel has been completely renovated, from guest rooms to common areas to a luxury pool on top of the second story overlooking Downtown. There are multiple dining options, including The Commissary Market & Café, which is great for grabbing a quick breakfast or reasonably healthy lunch. It’s not an adults-only hotel, but the clientele skews towards the 21 plus crowd.

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More Information…

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-Photos courtesy Travel Nevada and Craig Distl. Click on individual image for specific details.

Featured products, services and/or travel arrangements may have been complimentary in part or in full; this affords the research opportunity but does not sway opinion.

Craig Distl is an award-winning journalist and a long-standing member of the Society of American Travel Writers. In 2010, he received the Charles Kuralt Award from the North Carolina Travel Industry Association. He is the author of Insider’s Guide to Charlotte.

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