Las Vegas is pure energy. Whether you're cruising the glittering Strip or gawking at the lights of Downtown, the excitement of this city is truly breathtaking. Along a five-mile street, you can experience thrilling attractions, nonstop gaming, seductive nightlife and amazing cuisine without ever leaving the resort corridor. But what if you did? What if you ventured beyond the neon lights and into Las Vegas' distinctive neighborhoods? What would you discover? Where do locals go to dine, shop and play?
For the nearly 2 million residents who call Las Vegas home, you would discover a completely different side to this popular destination. Locals will be the first to tell you that when you venture off the Strip, you enter a city that is really like any major city anywhere in the United States. There are churches and schools and hospitals. And, once you get over the fact that slot machines have a dedicated place in grocery and convenient stores, you barely even notice that they are there. Las Vegas is thriving and from atop the tallest building in Las Vegas - the Stratosphere - you can clearly see the vastness of the city as it stretches from mountain to mountain in all directions.
Las Vegas is divided into neighborhoods, with the Strip located near the center of the city. The northwest is home to the master-planned community of Summerlin. Nellis Air Force Base is in the northeast. Green Valley and the city of Henderson are located in the southeast and Spring Valley lies to the southwest. Each neighborhood offers its own unique charm to its residents, creating an identity and appeal very much its own.
When it comes to dining, locals have a vast array of choices from upscale restaurants to casual eateries and everything in between. Located near the Strip, but just beyond typical tourist zones, are some notable venues that continue to receive "The Best of Las Vegas" seal of approval from the annual Las Vegas Review-Journal poll. Firefly on Paradise Road is a cozy, Spanish-style hot spot featuring hot and cold tapas plates and house-specialty Sangria. Venture north to Sahara Avenue and experience what Gourmet magazine once called "the single best Thai restaurant in North America." Lotus of Siam, located in a strip mall just east of the Strip, specializes in distinctive, authentic northern-style Thai food.
So, where do Las Vegas chefs dine when they aren't in their own restaurants? Marche Bacchus, of course! Guests dine on delectable French cuisine expertly prepared by chef Christophe Ihturritze. Patio seating overlooks a lake in the Desert Shores community, on the northwest side of town. Buy a bottle of wine from a cellar, featuring more than 400 wines, and take it with you or enjoy it with your meal. Near the center of town, discover authentic Italian specialties with a Sicilian accent at Nora's Cuisine, a family tradition since 1991, or at the newer Nora's Wine Bar inside Boca Park in Summerlin. Head further west to Vintner Grill, a lively American Bistro with Mediterranean influences.
For dessert, why not venture off the beaten path and try a cupcake from The Cupcakery in Henderson? Opened by a former Golden Nugget Casino employee, this bakery caters to a Vegas crowd with a variety of delicious flavors including the Kir Royale, Oh My Gosh Ganache, Tickle Me Pink and the Southern Belle. Or, stop by Freeds Bakery, a Las Vegas staple since 1959. Established by Esther and Milton Fried, Freed's Bakery has been serving highest-quality cakes and baked goods for more than 40 years. The notable bakery has been featured in Bon Appetit, Martha Stewart Weddings magazine and on the Food Network.
Speaking of chocolate, Las Vegas has its very own chocolate factory. Located in Henderson, the Ethel M Chocolate Factory attracts more than 700,000 visitors a year with tours of the chocolate-making process, delicious samples and a botanical cactus garden.
If just reading this sends you bouncing off the walls from a sugar high, redirect your energy at Sky Zone Sports near Boulder Highway. This sports, fitness and entertainment center is home to the world's first all-trampoline-walled playing field with suspended rotating goals. Sky Zone Sports offers the first truly 3-D sports games and activities on trampolines including open court jumping, dodgeball, SkyRobics and corporate team building activities.
Las Vegas locals live life in the fast lane at Spring Mountain MotorSports. Just 45 minutes from the Strip, Spring Mountain offers an exhilarating 3.5-mile road course in various configurations featuring Corvette driving programs, radical racing schools, Lotus performance driving schools and an exclusive country club for members only.
Did you know that Las Vegas has a zoo? The Southern Nevada Zoological-Botanical Park is a three-acre campus located just 15 minutes northwest of the Strip. The zoo exhibits over 150 species of plants and animals including the last family of Barbary Apes in the U.S., ostriches, exotic reptiles, endangered cats and much more. As the only zoo in Las Vegas and the only year-round zoo in Nevada, the zoo focuses on education and appreciation of these animals. While you're at it, discover native mammals, reptiles and invertebrates at the live exhibit of the Springs Preserve. From desert tortoises to kangaroo rats, the Preserve is a sanctuary for indigenous species. Then check out the museums, walking trails, galleries and exhibits of Las Vegas' newest attraction.
When it comes to shopping, Las Vegans can find anything they need without really venturing to the Strip at all. From The District at Green Valley Ranch to Boca Park in Summerlin, locals find a variety of retail options including designer apparel at C-Level Boutique or PINK The Boutique. Don't miss the truly unique-to-Vegas gift and stationery shops like Alligator Soup.
After a hard day of play, Las Vegas locals unwind at unique watering holes like the quirky Artisan or deliberately dive-y Champagne's Café. For a truly unique experience, check out the Double Down Saloon, a neighborhood bar where anything goes.