Having fun in Las Vegas off the strip: 6 things to do on your next visit

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Me at Hoover Dam

Go Visit Hoover Dam

About 45 minutes away from the strip, the Hoover Dam draws over a million visitors a year. While a tour runs $30 you can just park and walk around on your own, or visit the Visitor’s Center for just $8.

We opted to park in the garage for $10 and then just walk around. I’m not a huge history buff, instead opting to luxuriate in the experience versus trying to read about everything while I’m there.

Just walking around provides incredible views of the dam and Lake Mead beyond. Make sure to walk across about halfway where you can stand in Nevada and Arizona at the same time. Also, be sure to take a water bottle and carefully (don’t litter!) pour water out over the dam and watch it fly up instead of down! You can see videos of this on YouTube but it’s much more fun to experience in person.

IMG 3054There are so many great pictures it’s hard to choose just a few.

I went in September and it was hot but certainly bearable. I’d hate to try it in July or August though. Once you’re finished at the dam, consider driving about 20 miles to this next spot.

Spend a few hours relaxing at Lake Las Vegas

About 30 minutes from Hoover Dam and 35 minutes from the Las Vegas Strip, Lake Las Vegas is a welcome change of pace.

IMG 3069The drive up to the Westin.

Home to numerous housing developments, it also boasts two hotels, the Westin and the Hilton, as well as lots of shops and restaurants.

A friend and I drove out one lazy Saturday and started with drinks at the Westin overlooking the water.

IMG 3077Having drinks on the patio at the Westin.

Only a few other patrons were taking advantage of the beautiful day so it felt like we had the place to ourselves. After sitting a while, we wandered around the hotel exploring the common areas and finishing our drinks before continuing on.

We could’ve walked but instead took a short drive over to the Hilton and repeated the process. Drinks and wandering the hotel and grounds. A wedding photo shoot was in progress below complete with an actual horse clomping around and we stood on a balcony and watched the production for a while.

IMG 3086A wedding photo shoot at the Hilton at Lake Las Vegas.

While the Westin is a bit separated from everything else, the Hilton is right in the thick of the action with shops and restaurants all attached to the sprawling complex.

IMG 3103Map of the shops and restaurants scattered next to the Hilton.

As wandering is kind of our thing, we continued through the entire place. Getting hungry as the evening wore on we stopped into Luna Rossa Ristorante and (with eyes bigger than our stomachs) ordered both a sausage and a pepperoni pizza.

The small place was getting crowded and we sat at the bar and also ordered white sangria which the bartender took his time to carefully prepare, laughing and joking with us, and adding garnish after garnish until the drinks resembled works of art. Finally, after adding the cherries on top, he declared the drinks “Perfecto!” and told us to enjoy. At that point I laughed that the drinks were “too pretty to drink” and then made my friend wait even longer while I took photos (my friends put up with a lot of this since I never know what pictures I’ll need for the blog post).

IMG 3097(Almost) too pretty to drink! Delicious white sangria. Perfecto!

Dinner was delicious and afterward the sun had set so we walked around the lit up streets, feeling like we were anywhere but Las Vegas. With Christmas lights strung up year round twinkling in the dark it’s a really romantic environment and I’d definitely recommend it for a date night.

We wrapped up the night at Mimi’ & Coco’ Bistro, an amazing venue with beautiful stonework and wrought iron, and an outdoor patio overlooking the water. We sat at the bar again here and relaxed with a glass of wine to wind down the night.

wine barView from the bar at Mimi’ & Coco’ Bistro.

IMG 3101The view behind us at the tables. Gorgeous ironwork throughout.

Parking is free at the Hilton garage and you can wander around the hotels and shops for free so if you aren’t looking to spend a lot this is a great way to while away a relaxing couple of hours. Even if you are interested in eating and drinking the prices are quite reasonable and I can’t wait to visit again!

Check out, well, everything at the South Point Hotel and Casino

I know, I know, this post is supposed to be about things off the strip so why would I include a casino? Because this place isn’t just a casino. It’s like a small city!

With a 64 lane bowling alley, 16 screen movie theater, 4,400 seat equestrian center, 8 restaurants, a bingo hall, and over 100,000 feet of exhibit space, there is always something to do at South Point!

The bowling alley is open 24 hours which makes for a great change from all the stationary action sitting in the casino. Friends and I have been tipsy bowling at 2 a.m. (not my best scores) but still a blast. My favorite part is that they kick any and all teenagers out at midnight!

IMG 3105Quiet after midnight until we start getting strikes!

The equestrian center is huge and at the time it was built, was the only one to be connected to a hotel (it still may be). Just wander down the long aisle connecting it to the casino area and see what’s going on. There’s almost always something! I’ve checked out the gorgeous Clydesdales at Christmas time and stopped in for smaller rodeo events related to the Professional Bull Riders tour.

IMG 6204A small event associated with the PBR World Finals just wrapped.

IMG 6211A Clydesdale! They’re so big up close!

Some events are free, you’ve just got to go inquire. Beyond equestrian events there are a number of basketball tournaments hosted there as well including the Thanksgiving Shootout for Women’s NCAA D1 basketball and the Las Vegas Holiday Hoops Classic.

See what’s going on at T-Mobile Arena

I took a quick glance at their upcoming events page before beginning this post and just in the next three weeks they’ve got everything from the iHeartRadio Music Festival, to preseason games for the brand new hockey team the Vegas Golden Knights, to an Imagine Dragons concert, UFC fights, and even an NBA basketball game! No there’s not an NBA team in Vegas (yet anyway) but the Lakers are playing the Kings there, just because I suppose.

On one of my trips in 2016 the Professional Bull Rider’s World Finals were going on and that was quite an experience! From smaller events at the Southpoint Hotel and Casino, to free street concerts by Colt Ford, Jerrod Niemann and others, it seemed like there was something related to the event going on everywhere. Cowboys … real live cowboys were all over the place and I’ve never seen as many horse trailers as I did that weekend.

IMG 6282Colt Ford performing at one of the free concerts outside the event.

I’ve never watched any bull riding in my life but with an event live and in the flesh, why not? (I’m pretty open to new experiences that allow me to observe from a seat without actually participating.) We got tickets on November 2nd and watched George Thorogood perform Bad to the Bone live before the bull riding action got underway.

IMG 6291The event is about to begin … and then my phone died!

Right from the get go I was enthralled by how long even 2, 3 or 4 seconds seems when you’re watching someone’s entire body get rattled around on top of an insanely bucking bull. I’m sure many in the crowd came to cheer on a particular rider but we cheered for everyone hoping against hope to see riders stay on for the full 8 seconds. Some did, but many did not!

It’s wild that some riders choose to wear cowboy hats instead of a helmet and having never been to any type of rodeo event before I was amazed at how much the rodeo clowns figure into the show. Darting around to distract the bull from stomping all over a thrown rider, they were absolutely amazing. During the time we were there we did see one rider dragged and stepped on a bit and he had to be carried off in a stretcher. That dimmed the excitement in the arena for a bit but the announcers provided updates as they received them and fortunately he wasn’t hurt too badly.

The wild part is that these guys aren’t just coming out there to ride one time. They go home for the night then come out and ride again and again, day after day, in the tournament. Granted, some rides are as short as a few seconds but the bone jarring shaking they take is absolutely unreal. If you shook me like that I’d be down for weeks, or, like Humpty Dumpty, unable to be put back together again.

Having no idea what to expect, this was an unbelievably good time. Being that it was the world finals, riders hailed from numerous countries, including a good number from Brazil and their ardent fans waved flags and cheered them on. Flint Rasmussen, the head clown I guess you could say, told stories, jokes and pulled stunts during the downtime between riders. I guess I’d describe the atmosphere as a rodeo meets a comedy show meets a monster truck rally. And I’d definitely do it all over again.

If you go make sure to book flights and hotels early as a crazy amount of people come into town for this event. It takes place the end of October into early November and while we got our tickets on the day of the event with plenty left, it wouldn’t hurt to reserve in advance. Packages for the entire 5 day event start at $180 and go up to $5000 and single tickets start around $45 and go up.

Gravady Extreme Air Sports

IMG 3662The main trampoline area.

Sure you can go to a trampoline park anywhere. But when’s the last time you went? I’d never been to one and wasn’t even sure what it was until dragged by a friend (kicking and screaming inside!). I hated the idea of it. Me? Jump around on a trampoline? In front of people? Are you kidding me?

I’ll hop on a plane, fly somewhere new, walk into a brewery and make friends with the people around me without a second thought but jumping around like an idiot on a trampoline? Way out of my comfort zone.

Still. I’m glad I was dragged because I had an absolutely amazing time (one my friend will never let me hear the end of)!

We went on a Friday arriving a little before 4 p.m. We signed our waivers and purchased a 1 Hour Flight Pass as they call it for $14.00. Your session time starts on the half hour so take note of that when you’re planning to go so you don’t end up having to wait a full half an hour for your turn. We had about ten minutes to kill once we were done with paperwork and purchasing so I watched all the kids (no other adults) jumping around and felt a little sick to my stomach.

On the far side all the soccer moms were sitting in groups, just like they do at playgrounds, laughing and chatting amongst themselves and half-watching their kids. I was terrified. These moms were going to be watching me, judging me, wondering what the hell I was doing flailing around like an idiot amongst their children. I firmly told myself it didn’t matter because I wasn’t jumping. I’d just get up there and stand around, maybe bounce once or twice to appease my friend and then just watch.

Yeah, OK. I got up there. Bounced a few times to get used to a feeling I probably hadn’t felt in 10 years. Seriously … when’s the last time you were on a trampoline!? I bounced a little higher, then a little higher, getting scared mid-air and falling and laughing my ass off.

Boom! Just like that! In the span of three minutes the soccer moms were gone, everyone else was gone, I didn’t give a single solitary crap about anyone watching me and I was having the time of my life. We went everywhere! The gigantic main trampoline floor, bouncing over to the basketball hoops that more coordinated folks than I could dunk on, exploring the back area which included Ninja obstacle courses and even a trapeze over sponge pits. It was insane. Hands down the most fun I’d had all year!

IMG 3631One of the obstacle course areas.

IMG 7296This was much harder than it looks like it’d be, especially coming back down.

While I hope to experience Gravady again sometime there will never be another time like the first. It was such unexpected fun and caused me to totally let down my guard and just let loose and have fun (without alcohol!) which doesn’t happen everyday. An hour was plenty of time and we drug our tired selves out to the car, huffing, puffing and sweating like crazy. It’s an amazing workout and a ton of fun.

If you go you can purchase tickets and fill out the waiver in advance online. They’re open seven days a week with varying hours and be sure to check the schedule in advance because sometimes they have jump time reserved for specific age groups. Also, beware Friday and Saturday between 9 p.m. and midnight when they have Club Gravady for ages 15+. (I actually shuddered at the thought of walking into that!)

Cowabunga Bay Water Park

With the successful experience at Gravady under my belt you’d think I’d have been a little more open to new, albeit long forgotten childhood-like experiences but such was not the case.

Two days later when the same friend tried to drag me to Cowabunga Bay I stubbornly dug in both heels resisting. He cited the fun I’d had at Gravady while initially thinking I’d hate it while I argued back that I’d expanded my horizons plenty enough for one weekend and had zero intention of expanding any further. We’d just have to come back another time. He was driving however so we soon found ourselves parked as he insisted he just wanted to “check out the price.”

Stubbornly shaking my head and insisting that the price didn’t matter because I wasn’t going, I followed him up to the ticket booth wondering how in the world we’d gotten here. One minute we’d been out on a lazy Sunday drive and then, spying the slides looming in the distance, he’d beelined for the park.

The girl at the ticket booth informed us that it was normally $39.99 for general admission but as it was the last day before the park closed for the season, admission was 2 for 1. He turned to me triumphantly grinning as we were getting a great deal and there went my argument for coming back another time. I was sunk. I was already wearing my swimsuit (as I often do in hot climates because it’s just comfortable) and we had always had sunscreen and flip flops stashed in the car for whenever.

Just like at Gravady I was grumbling, a little scared, and completely uptight at first. We lined up for Surfin’ USA, a slide where you race other riders face first down a series of hills that start 50 feet up in the air. I’m not particularly scared of heights … I just don’t mind being on the ground either. The park wasn’t very busy and it didn’t take long for our turn. Nervous as hell, I got set, and when the attendant blew the whistle and I took off, it only took seconds for me to dissolve into hysterical laughter. What a rush! Wind and water flew by in a blur until I hit the splash pond at the bottom laughing like a little kid and glancing around to see if the other riders had made it to the bottom (many get stuck on the last hill).

I met up with my friend and we related our individual race experiences, still laughing, and he gloated even more over dragging me along to experience this too.

We rode most of the slides at the park including Rock-A-Hoola which was terrifying as we slid toward the drop backward, frantically scrambling to try and turn our raft around so as not to plunge blindly into the unknown. On Wild Surf you’re shot out of of a tunnel and drop 60 feet to swoosh back and forth on an enormous plastic wave before dropping down another tunnel into a pool.

cowabungabayClockwise: Surfin’ USA, Rock-A-Hula, Wild Surf, and the Surf-A Rama wave pool. Source.

Without a doubt the most insane ride there is Zuma ZOOMa. To this day I still can’t believe I went on it. The ride starts with you stepping into a capsule on top of a trap door. The attendant closes the door you just entered through and a launch sequence counts down. 5 … 4 … 3 … 2 … 1 … and your world drops out from underneath you! The initial drop from a starting height of 73 feet goes by so fast you don’t even have time to think. All of a sudden you’re gone, then sliding around a loop, then splashing into the pool below mentally screaming, “WHAT THE **** WAS THAT!?” It was the best and worst thing all at the same time.

The absolute worst part is the countdown. My friend made me go first so standing in the capsule, looking out at him and the attendant through the foggy glass with my arms crossed waiting for the unknown was brutal. Everything inside screamed, “I don’t want to do this! I want to get out! I want to go home! I can’t do this!” But once the bottom drops, all thought is gone.

I hope he got scared watching me go! All I know is that as soon as I was out of the pool there he was laughing and splashing and just as hyper as I was. The ride itself is super fast and once you’ve gotten over the drop it’s just a fast slide to the bottom. Your mind plays so many tricks on you inside that capsule though, so many!

The park was closing soon; we’d only gotten there about 3 hours before close so we spent the rest of the time in the Surf-A-Rama wave pool. Finally, as the park closed, we dragged our exhausting and soaking wet selves out to the pool for a soggy ride (we did not have towels!) back to the city. The amount of gloating I had to deal with was virtually unbearable but I had to admit to having an incredible time. I’d definitely go back and while I’m not always comfortable trying new things, these back to back experiences truly did open my eyes to being a little more flexible.

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I feel like I’m always in Las Vegas and I absolutely love it here. Check out these posts to see how I fly to Vegas for cheap and where I stay when in Vegas.