“Sleep late, have fun, get wild, drink whiskey and drive fast on empty streets with nothing in mind but falling in love and not getting arrested.” Leave out the whiskey part (while you’re driving, anyway) and I’d say Hunter S. Thompson has a pretty good outlook on life on the road. There’s just something about looking in the rear-view mirror and seeing nothing but endless stretches of empty, dusty roads while you’ve got your favourite tunes on full-blast. I don’t know if it’s the not knowing what lies at the end of the road that feels so satisfying, but I’m sure it’s also got a lot to do with the sense it gives you of that most treasured of American dreams – freedom.
LA to Vegas
The road from Los Angeles to Vegas is pretty uneventful for the most part, but the dry, arid scenery does start to give you an idea of that movie-like atmosphere you’ll come to expect if you’re continuing on to Arizona and Utah. By far the most stressful part of the journey for us was driving out of L.A. The highways there are some of the most terrifying I have ever experienced – four lanes on either side with very little warning about when you have to exit! Unless you’re used to this kind of driving (or you really, really love maps) I would strongly recommend getting a GPS system when hiring your car. We got a super-generic four-door hatchback.
As I’m sure it is for many people, our only stop on the way to Vegas was Peggy Sue’s diner – a super kitschy diner with menu options like meatloaf and Buddy Holly bacon cheeseburgers served by women in baby-blue aprons and soda jerk hats. It was our first tiny taste of the totally unapologetic ostentatiousness that is Las Vegas.
If you can, I would try and time this trip so that you arrive in Vegas at night-time. We had a few false alarms where we thought we’d arrived but were actually in surrounding casino towns like Primm, but there is definitely no mistaking it when you do arrive. Nothing quite prepares you for the sudden spectacle of lights you encounter when you roll in to the city from the pitch-black and desolate Mojave desert.
Where to stay: We decided that the only way to do Vegas was to really do Vegas, so we stayed at the Venetian. Of course there are plenty of hotels that are synonymous with Vegas but I liked the thought of the especially tacky, themed ones like Ceasar’s Palace. Our room had an amazing view overlooking the Nevada desert but was otherwise quite understated. The real spectacle is the lobby downstairs, where you can take a totally surreal stroll through the streets of a fake Venice with actual water canals and eat at your own ‘al fresco’ table in a fake Piazza San Marco. The most impressive part for me was how the clouds on the ceiling are painted so that they move while you walk!
If staying at one of these huge hotels I definitely recommend taking a chance at an upgrade. They’re so massive that they quite often have empty rooms and some are quite willing to bump you up at no extra cost, especially if you go on about how much you’re going to gamble at the front desk!
Where to eat: We took the same approach to where we ate as where we stayed. We were lucky that we happened to be in Vegas on a weekend when the Wynn hotel does its famous buffet brunch. We’d read about it and knew to expect a big buffet but it really has to be seen to be believed. Quite simply, there was A LOT of food – and I’ve been to weddings in southern Italy. Any type of food that your imagination can conjure up, and they will have it, all at a very reasonable price of $30 on the Saturday and $40 on the Sunday. Try to get a seat in the incredibly elaborate dining area in the front and pace yourself! It’s definitely a once (only) in a lifetime experience!
Heart Attack Grill – Like a lot of Vegas, this place is totally ridiculous. We stumbled upon it in the Fremont East district of Vegas and saw its flashing neon sign outside proudly claiming that people ‘over 350 lbs eat for free’. We tried the scales outside and didn’t quite qualify but we had to try it when we saw the giant syringe needle and pill-box they had as decor. You get a wrist-band and scrubs when you go in and the waitresses are all dressed as nurses in – naturally – glossy, red high-heels. But the best part – you get a spanking from the nurses in the middle of the restaurant if you don’t finish your meal. The food must have been good because both me and Josh finished ours. Definitely the most surreal dining experience I’ve ever had!
Things to do:
- Bellagio fountains. You’ve heard a lot about them and the show is actually really impressive. It happens regularly throughout the day and is set to a different song each time.
- Go to the Fremont East district – this was probably my favourite part of our time here. While it’s not exactly surprising, the main strip can seem a bit, lo-and -behold, commercial – i.e. souvenir shops and throngs of tourists sipping from giant neon-colour cocktail pipe-things (I’ve still got no idea what they were). ‘Old Vegas’, as I called it, felt a bit more like what the city may have been like once upon a time. It feels more dated and seedy but that’s exactly what I liked about it. Also, games and drinks are cheaper – Josh actually had a pretty good Poker streak here.
- Lose money. Josh did not have a good streak on the main strip. If you’re like me and hate gambling, do the slots and wait for the waiters to come around with free drinks 🙂
- Forget your own name
- Get married. We did not.
- Whatever you want. Remember, what happens in Vegas…