"Vegas is a nice town," says cultural critic Dave Hickey in his new book "Pirates and Farmers."
Visiting recently for the annual conference of the International Spa Association, I discovered more than you might expect. And the warm, dry autumn weather added to my visit.
Vegas beyond the Strip is reinventing itself. The long-moribund downtown is evolving into a human-scale counterpoint to the glitzy Strip. The Old City Hall now houses the corporate headquarters of Zappos, and dynamic young CEO Tony Hsieh is spearheading the investment of more than $300 million in the neighborhood.
Time-travel back to downtown Vegas aboard the double-decker bus that runs along the Strip. First stop: The Mob Museum in a former Federal courthouse where the Kefauver Committe held hearings in the 1950s. Organized crime kingpins are on display along with origins of the casino culture.
Fremont Street holds relics of early Vegas, now enjoying a retro-popularity. Like the Velveteen Rabbit on Main Street, with its Victorian-tinged bar and eclectic clientele. And the Boneyard, aka The Neon Museum, where long-gone hotels and restaurants glow in their original neon signs.
An excursion to Hoover Dam reveals more than the source of electricity for Sin City. Hike in Lake Mead Recreation Area to explore Goldstrike Canyon and the mighty Colorado River.
Another great place for hikers and bikers is Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, just north of the city. Pack a picnic and plenty of water and sunscreen. One of the amazing hikes leads to Ice Box Canyon, and admission is free.
Finding Inner Peace
Find inner peace at one of the lavish spas in Strip hotels.
At the vast Venetian/Palazzo resort, the Canyon Ranch SpaClub is the world's largest day spa. Reception desks in both hotels lead to a vast complex of treeatment rooms, experiential showers, and saunas both dry and wet, in separate sections for men and women. Two cafes cater healthy cuisine based on recipes from the original Canyon Ranch resorts. Workouts can be challenging on a two-story climbing wall or the latest equipment, even for healthy feet. A nice bonus: access to the hotel's outdoor swimming pool is included with your treatment.
The Mandalay Bay resort at the western end of the Strip is so vast that I needed a massage to recuperate from a day at the spa expo. Located on the beach garden level, this luxe hideaway is quiet and has all the amenities needed to refresh between meetings. Especially nice is the indoor pool complex for a soak and nap. But the outdoor pool is strictly for hotel guests.
Having taken a hit during the property market fiasco five years ago, Vegas is back, better than ever.