Lifestyle

A Local’s Guide to Doing Las Vegas the Right Way

From hidden gems in strip malls to the desert wilderness just a short drive from the Strip, there's so much more to Sin City than debauchery.

Thrillist
Thrillist
Thrillist

With a year of unparalleled activity and worldwide attention ahead, Las Vegas is in the midst of a major transformation. This week, all bets are off as we head to the desert to explore this exciting moment and what it means for the future of Sin City.I’ve lived in Las Vegas for nearly a decade. Sometimes when I say this to people, I see their eyes light up with the memory of a horrible mistake they made here: an all-night bender, a relationship-ending indiscretion, a financially devastating bet. If you, too, associate Vegas with an experience you regret or an outstanding warrant for your arrest, you might not think Vegas is for you. But there’s so much more to Las Vegas than lawless debauchery.

As a proud Vegas resident, I implore you to open your mind to what exists outside the realm of Buffalo Gold slot machines. It’s a city without hangovers, crowds, or even resort fees. From hidden gems in strip malls to the desert wilderness just a short drive from the Strip, below are some of the best perspective-shifting activities for experiencing Las Vegas anew.

Photo by Mikayla Whitmore for Thrillist
Photo by Mikayla Whitmore for Thrillist
Photo by Mikayla Whitmore for Thrillist

Avoid the Crowds and Walk the Strip Early in the Morning

More than 40 million people visited the city in 2023. Not all simultaneously, of course, though it can feel like that. The best way to avoid the crowds? Go in the morning. In that elusive time between last call and breakfast, a kind of peace exists on Las Vegas Boulevard. The streets are still, the sky is pink, and even the glittering neon seems somehow softer. It’s a surprising time of solitude in one of the busiest places on Earth.

If you’d like to do something very non‚ÄďSin City on the Strip, attend mass at the Guardian Angel Cathedral. This distinct blue A-frame church designed by Paul R. Williams is a mid-century architectural gem in the shadow of the Wynn. The church’s founder, Reverend Richard Crowley, was known for offering 4:30 am mass to casino workers. Mass is a little later these days, giving you extra time to take in the sunrise.

Bow Out of Big Shows to Experience Off-Strip Theater

From Cirque du Soleil to the latest happenings inside the Sphere, there’s no shortage of incredible shows in Las Vegas. But given the ticket prices, the lack of free parking, and the $25 cocktail you will inevitably imbibe, the well-known shows can be a lot financially and emotionally. Instead, opt for a smaller, off-Strip theater experience. Specializing in immersive theater, everything at the Majestic Repertory Theatre in the Arts District is creative, heartfelt, and a little bit wild. The unauthorized musical parody Scream’d is back for a reason. May it run forever. Vegas Theatre Company, another Arts District gem, is an intimate venue surrounded by galleries. Over in Chinatown, you’ll find Las Vegas Little Theatre, the oldest operating small theater in the city, which produces both classic and innovative new plays.

Spend Less Money by Visiting a Lesser-Known Museum

While Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition at the Luxor is a great way to see a full-scale re-creation of the Titanic’s grand staircase in a casino, we understand this is not for everybody. So if you’re looking for a museum that’s not inside a casino, consider visiting one of Las Vegas’s lesser-known museums, which are often more affordable, less crowded, and just as interesting as their better-known counterparts. The Pinball Hall of Fame, which recently relocated to a bigger space, houses an extensive restored pinball collection-and yes, you can play the machines. The Erotic Heritage Museum offers a sociological, historical, and artistic journey through human sexuality. It is also home to the world’s largest sex bike, which is a fun thing to post on your Instagram with zero context. The Office of Collecting & Design in Las Vegas’s burgeoning Commercial Center is a velvety, library-like space containing a whimsical collection of miniature objects curated by the filmmaker Jessica Oreck. The Lost City Museum, located near Valley of Fire State Park, was constructed on the prehistoric site of the Ancestral Puebloans and contains excavated Pueblo artifacts and reconstructed houses. It’s an important testament to the desert’s Indigenous people and well worth the hour-long drive.

Cancel Your Reservation and Head to Gilcrease Orchard for Harvest Season

On the far northwest side of Las Vegas, the city quiets, opening up to large horse properties and views of the mountains. It’s here where you’ll find Gilcrease Orchard, a wholesome farm where locals go pumpkin picking, eat apple cider donuts, and take home half-gallons of fresh pear juice. If you’re feeling bucolic, join them, and afterward, consider a steak dinner at the nearby Bob Taylor’s Original Ranch House & Supper Club. The “Place for Steaks Since 1955” is the oldest restaurant in the city. Its wood-paneled walls, mesquite-cooked steaks, and swinging doors feel like stepping into a country Western-a far cry from the sleek (and often pricey) steakhouses on the Strip.

Photo by Mikayla Whitmore for Thrillist
Photo by Mikayla Whitmore for Thrillist
Photo by Mikayla Whitmore for Thrillist

Trade Sportsbooks for Actual Books by Shopping at Small Businesses 

If you prefer actual books to sportsbooks, find your way to the Writer’s Block, an independent bookstore, cafe, and self-described artificial-bird sanctuary on a quiet street in Downtown Las Vegas. In 2023, the Beverly Theater, the city’s first independent film house, opened next door to provide arthouse cinema and Nicholas Cage movies because, you know, balance. In addition to showing the kind of movies you’d typically have to drive to Sundance to see on the big screen, the Beverly Theater offers live music, literary events, and occasionally some truly unhinged programming-Leprechaun 3?!-that one has no choice but to respect.

Save Your Money and Take Advantage of Free Programming at the Library

The Clark County Library District has 25 locations and tons of excellent, free, and deeply underrated programs and amenities. Several branches have used bookstores and art galleries-the Sahara West location is especially great for this. Many locations also have theaters for lectures, readings, and performances. Last year, the Library District offered a one-person show, a reading series, and a lecture from a ghost expert who claimed Tupac Shakur haunts Flamingo Road, and none of it cost attendees a dime.

Instead of a Wine Pairing, Enjoy a Chocolate-and-Cacti Pairing

You’ve probably seen the Ethel M Chocolates store at Harry Reid International Airport-one of the nation’s most unique-while you were hungover, leaving Vegas, and swearing never to return. On your next visit, do things right and visit the factory in Henderson. Founded by famed candyman Forrest Mars, who named the company after his mother, Ethel M Chocolates is known for its gourmet truffles. It’s free to visit the factory, and in addition to learning how the chocolate gets made, you can wander the three-acre botanical cactus garden. During the holiday season, the cacti don Christmas lights. The desert holiday cheer is whimsical, but if you want to avoid the crowds, visit during the other months of the year.

Leave Your Hotel to Find Green Space in the Heart of the City at UNLV

Situated surprisingly close to the Strip, the UNLV campus is a green alternative to the concrete of the Strip. Sit on a bench and read a book within the xeriscape gardens, which feature drought-tolerant plants and occasional visits from cottontail rabbits and coyotes, then step inside the Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art, a free gallery with exhibitions featuring local and visiting artists as well as workshops, artist lectures, and an annual art walk.

Flee the Neon Lights and Drive (or Hike) to a Somewhat Obscure Piece of Art

In 2022, land artist Michael Heizer debuted City, a large-scale sculpture he’d worked on since 1970. The popular artwork-which requires a reservation to visit and is a long drive away from Vegas-isn’t the most accessible. But if you’re into land art, you can see Heizer’s Double Negative about 90 minutes from the city. Constructed in 1969 on Mormon Mesa near Overton, Double Negative consists of two trenches cut into the land, and the view beyond them is sweeping and impressive. You can easily make it to Double Negative if you have a high-clearance 4×4 vehicle with good tires. If you don’t, you’ll want to hike the last few miles on foot. This is a good thing to do if you like art and solitude.

Photo by Mikayla Whitmore for Thrillist
Photo by Mikayla Whitmore for Thrillist
Photo by Mikayla Whitmore for Thrillist

Escape the Heat and Go Skiing Less Than an Hour from the Strip

This isn’t a euphemism for cocaine. I’m talking about literally going skiing at Lee Canyon. If you retrieved your car from the valet at Caesars Palace right now, you could be there in 57 minutes. Located in the very same mountains you’re likely looking at from your hotel room, this ski resort sits at an elevation of 8,660 feet and has 31 trails. It sees an average of 129 inches of snowfall a year. There’s a restaurant, a bar, and a coffee shop, plus other activities like snowshoeing and snowplay, which is just playing in the snow. Lee Canyon does not have lodging, but you can stay in a cabin at Mount Charleston Lodge in neighboring Kyle Canyon. All of the cabins have fireplaces and sundecks overlooking the snow-covered peaks. For those who aren’t a fan of winter, the Mount Charleston area becomes a paradise in the summer-perfect for hiking, camping, and eating charcuterie in a meadow alongside wild horses. And it’s a good 30 degrees cooler than on the Las Vegas Strip. Just remember to keep a respectful distance from the horses, and don’t bogart the cambozola.

Replace a Pool Party With a Dip in the Colorado River

Lake Mead is so much more than the body of water where we keep finding human remains. There’s also the Colorado River, which offers some of the best kayaking in the Southwest, just an hour outside Las Vegas. If you want something a little more natural than a lazy river at a casino, this is it. Willow Beach Marina & Campground, located just over the Arizona border, rents single kayaks, tandem kayaks, and canoes. Reserve the vessel of your choice and paddle to the Emerald Cave, where the water lights up bright green when the afternoon sun is above the canyon. If you’d rather spend your time on dry land, hike the five-mile Liberty Bell Arch trail and see-you guessed it-an arch that looks like the Liberty Bell, plus an excellent overlook of the Colorado River snaking through the Black Canyon. The five-mile Arizona Hot Springs trail, which leaves from the same parking lot, takes you to hot springs nestled inside a slot canyon.

Opt Out of Gambling With a Day Trip to Boulder City

With its Lake Mead views and quiet streets, Boulder City is a decidedly mellow alternative to Las Vegas. It’s just 30 minutes away and is one of only two towns in Nevada where gambling is prohibited. Stroll the peaceful, tree-lined downtown area, browse antique shops, get a latte and a novel at Dam Roast House & Browder Bookstore, try the truffles at Grandma Daisy’s, and order the brisket at Fox Smokehouse BBQ. Once a year, the Dam Short Film Festival takes over the town with a few days of documentaries, dramas, horror, and more. And no trip to Boulder City is complete without a visit to Hemenway Park, where you can often spot bighorn sheep grazing. Until you get there, you can watch the Ram Cam.

Ditch the Lazy River and Relax in a Date Palm Oasis

The word “oasis” gets thrown around a lot in the desert, but China Ranch Date Farm on the edge of Death Valley earns the descriptor. If you’re up for a 90-minute drive out into the wilderness of the great Mojave, you’ll find palm trees, a mysterious desert river, and the best date shake you’ve ever tasted. The road to China Ranch is winding and narrow as it drops down into a canyon, revealing a lush green wonderland. China Ranch is a working farm founded in the 1920s. Take a hike along the Amargosa River (stay on the trail to be respectful of the fragile desert ecosystem), and when you return, reward yourself with a date shake, a date cookie, some date bread, or just a pound of dates. If you’re looking for a good place to read a book in the shade of a palm tree, this is it. And if you don’t yet have a preference among Medjool dates, Halawi dates, and Khadrawy dates, you will soon.

Snub the Club to Meet Burros in Red Rock Canyon

Whenever I’m hosting a friend who doesn’t like the stereotypical Las Vegas itinerary, I take them for a hike in Red Rock Canyon, 30 minutes west of the Strip. My go-to trail is Pine Creek Canyon, toward the end of the Scenic Loop, which meanders alongside a creek surrounded by impressive Aztec sandstone cliffs. Approximately a mile from the trailhead, the ruins of a homestead appear in a meadow. Afterward, I take said Vegas skeptic to Cottonwood Station, the only restaurant within the charming village of Blue Diamond. The menu has freshly made pizzas, panini, salads, and baked goods, plus beer, wine, and cider. The spacious patio is often full of hikers, climbers, and mountain bikers, but if you’re really lucky, you’ll catch a herd of burros passing through. It’s not the kind of luck most people think of when planning a trip to Las Vegas, but for visitors who want something a little different, it’s exactly right.

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Krista Diamond¬†is a freelance/fiction writer who lives in (and often writes about) Las Vegas. Her writing has been featured in¬†The New York Times,¬†HuffPost,¬†Eater,¬†Business Insider,¬†Fodor’s, and¬†Desert Companion.

Lifestyle

The Best New Bookstores in LA are Curated, Specific, and Personal

Discover a new favorite book, join a book club, and maybe even do some karaoke at the new wave of LA bookshops.

Photo by Innis Casey Photography, courtesy of Zibby's Bookshop
Photo by Innis Casey Photography, courtesy of Zibby’s Bookshop
Photo by Innis Casey Photography, courtesy of Zibby’s Bookshop

A couple of years ago, the legendary Powell’s Books in Portland released a perfume designed to evoke the smell of a bookstore. The scent has notes of wood, violet, and the lovely and unusually precise word biblichor, the particular aroma of old books. The reality of the scent is what it is-mostly sweet and floral-but more important is the imagery it conjures. The best bookstores are both cozy and mysterious, familiar and surprising, with endless potential for discovery.

Los Angeles has a wealth of independent book sellers, including beloved legacy shops like The Last Bookstore, The Iliad, and Chevalier’s. But a new wave of bookstores has been growing over the last few years, shops that eschew the traditional one-of-everything mindset to focus on specificity, curation, and point of view. There are bookstores with themes, bookstores that double as event spaces, bookstores that reflect their neighbourhoods, bookstores that take inspiration from a specific person-whether that’s the shop owner, a historical figure, or a little bit of both-and so many more.

Like the niche-ification of the internet and the culture at large, these new and new-ish bookstores provide a space to discover books, ideas, and perspectives led by an expert, the kind of things that you may never have found on your own. They can also be a safe harbour for pure nerdiness, a place to dive deep into your favourite category or cause. To help you on your way, we’ve put together a list of some of the best new bookstores in LA, with a focus on curated shops with their own specific perspectives.

Photo courtesy of Octavia's Bookshelf
Photo courtesy of Octavia’s Bookshelf
Photo courtesy of Octavia’s Bookshelf

Octavia’s Bookshelf

Pasadena
Pasadena is a famously book-friendly city, with bookstore royalty in the form of legendary Vroman’s and its own literary alliance. Now it has one of the most exciting new bookstores too. Octavia’s Bookshelf is owner Nikki High’s tribute to the science fiction master Octavia E. Butler, who was a Pasadena native herself. The name of the shop provides a clue into High’s inspiration, titles she imagines Butler would have had on her shelves, with a focus on BIPOC authors. The storefront is small, but the collection is impeccably curated and the space is cozy and welcoming for readers of all backgrounds.

Photo by Mads Gobbo, courtesy of North Figueroa Bookshop
Photo by Mads Gobbo, courtesy of North Figueroa Bookshop
Photo by Mads Gobbo, courtesy of North Figueroa Bookshop

North Figueroa Bookshop

Highland Park
Vertical integration can be a beautiful thing, especially when it allows independent creators more control over their products. The new North Figueroa Bookshop is a shining example of the concept, a storefront built on a collaboration between two publishers, Rare Bird and Unnamed Press. North Fig features titles from those presses, of course, including lots of striking literary fiction and memoir, but it also features a curated collection of other books. They’ve made it a point of emphasis to serve the needs of the local Highland Park, Glassell Park, Cypress Park, and Eagle Rock community-there’s lots of fiction from fellow independent publishers, other general interest titles with a focus on California history and literature, and plenty of Spanish-language books.

Photo by Karen Cohen Photography, courtesy of Zibby's Bookshop
Photo by Karen Cohen Photography, courtesy of Zibby’s Bookshop
Photo by Karen Cohen Photography, courtesy of Zibby’s Bookshop

Zibby’s Bookshop

Santa Monica
Speaking of vertical integration, there’s another new combined publisher and bookstore on the other side of town. Zibby’s Bookshop is the brainchild of Zibby Owens, Sherri Puzey, and Diana Tramontano, and it’s the physical home of Zibby Books, a literary press that releases one featured book a month. That system is designed so that each book gets the full attention and resources of the press. Owens is an author, podcaster, and book-fluencer, and she has become something of a lit-world mogul with a magazine, podcast network, event business, and an education platform too. The shop has a unique sorting system, built around a feeling for each book-in store many of the shelves are labelled by interest or personality type, like “For the foodie,” or “For the pop culture lover.” On their webshop, you can browse for books that make you cry, escape, laugh, lust, or tremble. There are recommendations from Owens and the staff, sections for local authors, family dramas, and books that have just been optioned. If this all seems a little overwhelming, you should probably avoid the section dedicated to books that make you anxious.

The Salt Eaters Bookshop

Inglewood
Inglewood native Asha Grant opened The Salt Eaters Bookshop in 2021 with a mission in mind-to centre stories with protagonists who are Black girls, women, femme, and/or gender-nonconforming people. Over the last year and change that it’s been open, it has also become a community hub, a place for Inglewood locals and people from across town to drop in, to see what’s new and to discover incredible works in the Black feminist tradition. They also host regular events like readings, discussions, and parties.

Lost Books

Montrose
Thankfully, legendary downtown bookshop The Last Bookstore’s name is hyperbole, and owners Josh and Jenna Spencer have even gone so far as to open a second shop, Lost Books in Montrose. Instead of the technicolour whimsy of the book tunnel at The Last Bookstore, Lost Books has a tunnel of plants that welcomes you into the shop, which opened in the summer of 2021. They sell those plants in addition to books, and coffee and vinyl too, which makes Lost Books a lovely destination and a fun little surprise in the quaint foothill town just off the 2 freeway.

Photo by Claudia Colodro, courtesy of Stories Books & Cafe
Photo by Claudia Colodro, courtesy of Stories Books & Cafe
Photo by Claudia Colodro, courtesy of Stories Books & Cafe

Stories Books & Cafe

Echo Park
Ok, this one is fudging the criteria a little-Stories has been open for almost 15 years. But over those years the shop has become a pillar of Echo Park community life, hosting readings, discussions, and events, and their cafe tables function as a de facto office for about half of the neighbourhood on any given afternoon. After the tragic recent passing of co-owner and Echo Park fixture Alex Maslansky it seemed like the shop’s future was in doubt, but thankfully after a brief hiatus co-owner and co-founder Claudia Colodro and the staff were able to band together to reopen and keep the beloved cafe and bookstore going strong.

Page Against the Machine

Long Beach
The name alone makes it clear what you’re getting at Page Against the Machine-revolutionary progressive books, with a collection centred on activist literature, socially conscious writing, and a whole lot of political history. The shop itself is small but the ideas are grand, with fiction by writers like Richard Wright, Colson Whitehead, and Albert Camus next to zines about gentrification and compendia of mushroom varieties. They also host regular readings and discussions.

Photo by Viva Padilla, courtesy of Re/Arte
Photo by Viva Padilla, courtesy of Re/Arte
Photo by Viva Padilla, courtesy of Re/Arte

Re/Arte Centro Literario

Boyle Heights
Boyle Heights has its own small but mighty combined bookstore, art gallery, gathering space, and small press in Viva Padilla’s Re/Arte. Padilla is a poet, translator, editor, and curator, and as a South Central LA native and the child of Mexican immigrants, she’s focused on Chicanx and Latinx art, literature, and social criticism. Re/Arte’s collection has a wide range of books, from classic Latin American literature to modern essays and everything in between. Re/Arte is also now the headquarters for sin cesar, a literary journal that publishes poetry, fiction, and essays from Black and Brown writers. There are always community-focused events happening too, from regular open mics and zine workshops to film screenings and more.

The Book Jewel

Westchester
Most bookshops host events, but few host them with the regularity of The Book Jewel, the two- year-old independent bookstore in Westchester. Their calendar is so full with readings, several different book clubs, signings, and meet and greets that there are sometimes multiple events on the same day. The shop also hosts a ton of family-focused readings, with regular storytime on Sunday mornings often followed by a talk with the author. It’s a great fit for the relatively low-key (but not exactly quiet) suburban neighbourhood, and it’s no coincidence that storytime lines up with the Westchester Farmers Market, which takes place right out front.

Reparations Club

West Adams
Most bookstores lean into coziness, aiming to be a hideaway for some quiet contemplation or maybe a quick sotto voce chat-not so at Reparations Club, the exuberant and stylish concept bookshop and art space on Jefferson. Owner and founder Jazzi McGilbert and her staff have built a beautiful and vibrant shop full of art from Black artists, including books but also records, candles, incense, clothing, and all sorts of fun things to discover. There’s a perfect seating area to sit and hang out for a while, and they host a range of wild and fun events from readings to happy hours, panel discussions to karaoke nights and more.

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Ben Mesirow is a Staff Writer at Thrillist.

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