It has been about a decade and a half since I’ve been to Las Vegas, and never since i passed the gambling/drinking age of 21. Had I been when i was 21 I’m sure my experience would look a lot different than 28-year-old me. Patrick and I are not big into the typical Vegas activities of gambling, drinking excessively and high end shopping. There was still a taste of those activities without it being our entire vacation. Hopefully the not-so-mainstream activities and itinerary below can give you some inspiration for your next Las Vegas trip too.
Trip Dates: Memorial Day Weekend, May 29 – June 1, 2021
Accommodations: Mandalay Bay
Activities: Flight out, Welcome to Las Vegas Famous Sign, Walk the Strip with Truly in hand, explore The Bellagio Shops, explore Caesar’s palace shops, explore The Venetian, Breath Modern Wellness Oxygen Bar
Lunch: Gordon Ramsay Burger (reservations required or 2hr wait!)
Dinner: Momofuku at The Cosmopolitan
Dessert: Milk Bar at The Cosmopolitan
We started the day with an early flight out of Dallas, enabling us to land in Vegas at 9am on Saturday. After a quick drop and change at the hotel, we took a 15min walk down to the famous Welcome to Las Vegas sign. There was a gentleman there taking pictures for tips (and a weirdly long line??) but we didn’t need anything fancy so we just walked straight up, took a picture each and a selfie and were on our way back up the strip. The Mandalay Bay is located at the very end of the strip, so on our fresh legs and souls the walk up to Planet Hollywood for lunch was easy despite the heat. We grabbed a few tall boys (Truly + Twisted Tea) and took in the sights on our stroll.
Our noon reservation at Gordon Ramsey was much needed as they had a line of folks with an anticipated 2hr wait. We both hadn’t eaten for the day and thankfully the reservation got us immediately in. Fantastic burgers! Yes, they were expensive ($20-ish) but so good and hit the spot for strip fuel.
We continued walking up the strip after lunch, poking into various resorts and did some window shopping. The shopping stroll took us about 2mi from our hotel, and once we tuckered ourselves out exploring, we began the trek back on foot to check into the room and get freshened up for dinner. Given our hotel was far away from the action, we purchased a 24hr The Deuce bus pass, ($8 each) allowing us to hop on / off at different points of the strip. We took the bus back to the hotel, and used it the rest of the night to and from dinner.
The highlight of our Vegas food experience was Momofuku. We were blown away by how good each dish was, and relative to a nice date night of ours in Vegas, it really wasn’t terrible in price ($150-ish). We had the pork belly buns followed by a ramen and the fried chicken. Odd choice, i realize, but each dish held its own. The view was overlooking the strip, specifically the Eiffel Tower and hot air balloon. My favorite of the evening was the ramen itself. We each signed up for The Cosmopolitan loyalty program (Identity) and that gave us $15 off dining of our choice at the resort. Patrick applied it to dinner and I applied it to dessert. After dinner, we walked next door to Milk Bar, an experience i was looking forward to greatly. Such an odd experience, the treats were full price, but meant for a doll party. The slice of “crack pie” was good, but was about the size of an oyster. We finally tried the Cereal Milk Ice cream, known to be polarizing, and the verdict? Not a fan. Worth it to try however the outcome!
After exploring the Cosmopolitan, we both agreed that would be the place to stay next time we go to Vegas. It was a young, hip vibe, and the location was optimal in the middle of the Strip.
Activities: Red Rock Canyon Hiking (Calico Tanks Trail), Fremont Street, Las Vegas Neon Museum, PepperMill for Happy Hour, Gambling at Mandalay Bay
Lunch: Wicked Spoon Buffet
Dinner: Slice of Vegas Pizza in the Mandalay Bay / Luxor Connection tunnel
Our 6am alarm felt painfully early as we had to get up and going to hike Red Rock Canyon before the sun destroyed us. Hoping for room service coffee, we called not realizing it doesn’t open until 7am…. what hotel doesn’t have 24/7 room service, especially a Vegas hotel?? Infinitely disappointed, we got our hiking gear on and went downstairs to get our own coffee at the Coffee & Cocktails stand near the elevator bank. We took a 20min uber out to a neighborhood to get our rental car (via Turo) and then drove another 20min out to Red Rock Canyon. It was a beautiful and easy drive. More suburban, we saw a ton of cyclists riding up to the canyon. The roads were really well maintained, it looked like a cyclists dream. I was shocked with the amount of road bikes (not even mountain bikes) i saw on the way there and back.
We made a quick stop at the visitor’s center (really well maintained!) and drove up to Calico Tanks Trail to start the day. Calico Tanks is only 2.2mi round trip, and from what we heard, the best trail to start with. We were stunned by the variety of rock formations and views we had with the mountain scape as we hiked along. It may not be fully appropriate for dogs or kids as there were some points of scrambling up rocks and steep /precarious hiking. The end of the trail treated us to a great overlook of the strip in downtown Vegas. The view alone was worth the trek out to the canyon. We took many pictures outbound and inbound, and the whole hike took us about 2hours. We considered another trail (ice box canyon) but wanted to get back and clean ourselves up before Wicked Spoon reservations at noon. We were strategic about the day we hiked being the same day as our buffet!
Thankfully all self-parking is waived due to COVID at all resorts, so we were able to drive straight back to Mandalay Bay, get changed, and drive back to The Cosmopolitan for lunch. We arrived at the Wicked Spoon but had to wait an additional 30min for someone to seat us. Folks without a reservation were waiting 2hrs so I can’t really complain.
Wicked Spoon was fantastic. I prioritized my belly space – going for the crab legs, raw tuna, duck legs and other proteins I wouldn’t get at home. They had a BBQ and brisket that i entirely passed on (lets be real, it wont be better than Texas BBQ) and I took advantage of the Asian food as well. The crab legs were a time investment. They don’t offer crackers, so everything was cracked by hand. I stacked up legs upon legs, so i earned my crab meat and became proficient in hand cracking. After my protein sampler, i had my other priority: dessert. Gelato, peach cobbler, tarts, s’mores, chocolate strawberries and more. The winners were gelato and chocolate covered strawberries. After considering gelato the day before (a small was $8???) i took advantage of the “free” gelato and got two scoops.
We had a bit of a beverage surprise at the Wicked Spoon. Patrick ordered a bailey’s and coffee, which was $20 (!!) and i had a normal coffee, which came out in a massive mug (YAY!). I was used to overpaying for small items at this point, that my complimentary coffee actually stunned me with how large it was.
After lunch, we hopped back in the car and headed over to historic Fremont street. Parking was easy on the street, and we strolled to the overhang, walking down toward the Golden Nugget. I stayed there as a child, and for fun we popped in and did a few slot. Fremont was more lively than i had anticipated, and it was fun to get a peak into the past of Las Vegas. After the stroll, we drove over to the Neon Museum of historic Las Vegas signs. Blazingly hot (3pm) we did the outdoor exhibit in 30min. It was really neat to see the old signs and styles of historic Vegas. The evening reservations were snatched up too quick for us to secure one, and that would have been even more fun to see all the lights shining for an evening tour. Either way, it was short and sweet and I’m sure we were in the way of many instagrammers out to get their perfect shot. I am glad we finally went too, as we were invited to a wedding at the Neon Museum and on another trip at the time (Everest base camp) so we sadly had to miss it.
The final historic Vegas Strip activity we wanted to do was visit the PepperMill. PepperMill is a bar and restaurant known for their breakfast, that we stopped in to get happy hour and take a break from the sun. While there was a wait for dining, we got right in with seating in the bar area. The servers dressed in costume long black dresses, putting off the classic Vegas vibe. Drinks were amazingly cheap on happy hour ($6!!!) and we double fisted water and cocktails.
We returned our vehicle and ubered back to Mandalay Bay (still with very full bellies from lunch buffet) so we got cleaned up and spent time gambling downstairs. It was a holiday weekend, so all the table minimums were $25/hand. Patrick enjoys card games, but given we had a gambling budget of $150 each, he didn’t want his fun to end after a few hands. We both played slots (I won, Patrick lost) we parted ways and did some independent casino walk abouts. Patrick found a great pizza by the slice restaurant in the tunnel between Mandalay and Luxor, and we each had a slice before calling it in.
Activities: Mandalay Bay beach and pool day, Stroll the strip and window shopping, Bellagio Fountain Show
Lunch: House of Blues at Mandalay Bay
Dinner: Hell’s Kitchen
By the time Day 3 rolled around, we were toast and ready for a relaxing pool day. Resort fees (extra on top of hotel price) were paying for access to the pool that we had yet to use. We tried (at 7am) to get room service coffee, only to find out they charge $9 delivery charge, which once again we went downstairs to get our own butts coffee ourselves. We were changed and at the pool at 8:30am to enjoy play time and relaxing. Thankfully we were able to bring our own alcohol in without any complaints from the resort, and they provided free water and ice. We made ourselves a mixed drink and played in the wave pool, lazy river and normal pool before settling into a shady spot on the pool chairs. We thought we would camp out all day, but 3 hours later our shade was gone and we were too pale and too exhausted from the sun to continue laying out in it. We packed it up after a few hours outside, and hit House of Blues for lunch. I heard Vegas nachos were a thing, so we shared the nachos and Brussels sprouts which were both surprisingly good.
After lunch we took a power nap and strolled back up the strip to do more window shopping. Patrick had an eye on a Monte Blanc wallet at Caesar’s Palace, but decided to think about it a bit more and get it in Dallas if he really wanted it. We considered hitting the Mob Museum as well, but given it was 8mi off strip, we decided to take time to relax back at the hotel prior to our dinner. We took a cab from Caesar’s to Mandalay for about $13, great price considering how exhausted we were at the opposite end of the strip.
Once more we took The Deuce to dinner, riding back up to Caesar’s palace for Hell’s Kitchen reservations. The thing about the bus, is you are on their time. We weren’t in a hurry much of the trip, but did cut it a bit close to our reservation time leaving Mandalay later than we should have. Dinner was awesome – we both got the prix fixe menu which was scallops, beef Wellington, and sticky toffee. Patrick got the oh-so-fancy smoked bourbon which came out in a box that you open and floods out with smoke. We were eager to try the Wellington after Patrick’s attempt to make it several years ago. The restaurant (although kinda gimmicky) was actually really good and the decor was less cheesy than i was expecting. Overall a great last hurrah meal for Vegas. We then walked along to see the Bellagio fountain show, and road the deuce back home.
Activities: flight home!
Three full days in Vegas was more than enough for us (and most people) and in talking about our trip we both agreed it was a truly diverse Vegas experience. In a post-COVID world we would have loved to see a show (cirque de soleil) and perhaps hit the mob museum on our next trip as well as other trails in Red Rock Canyon.
Patrick did sign up for the MGM MLife credit card prior to our arrival, which enabled us to have $110 either towards gambling or dining, which we applied towards our food. The stay was pricey with all the extra fees, so it was nice to slightly offset with that MLife perk. Worth opening a credit card for? Debatable. Now it will sit in a drawer until cancelled.
We are still on the look out for cheaper hands ($5 anyone?) where Patrick could actually play and not run out of money instantly. Let us know if you have any hidden gems of Vegas that still have low minimums!
Our final tally of wins / losses: Allie +$80, Patrick -$100.
We would love to hear from you, any activities off the beaten path that you enjoyed as part of your Vegas experience?
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