Last Updated on July 22, 2023

Not everyone is into gambling. And not everyone is into being with hundreds of people in a crowd. We all know that Las Vegas is a fascinating glitzy desert destination offering amazing and memorable restaurants and shows.

But there’s much more to Vegas than “The Strip” – the 4.2 miles representing one of the most famous streets in the world. On the iconic Las Vegas Strip, visitors will find replicas of the icons of Egypt, Venice and Paris along with the Statue of Liberty, musical dancing fountains, erupting volcanoes, serenading gondoliers, roller coasters, and the world’s tallest observation wheel.

The pyramids? Check. The canals of Venice? Check. And Paris’ Eiffel Tower. Yep, you’ll find that too.

As non-gamblers however, my family actually comes to Las Vegas for the offbeat, the unique. Each time we go, we seek out experiences revealing another face of this desert oasis. Travelers might not know this Vegas, but they should, because they’re pretty darn awesome.

Hike Red Rock Canyon National Park

Take a break from the neon and glamour by driving 13 miles west to Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. Here, you can experience the natural beauty of the Mojave Desert.

Visitors can hike, rock climb or just enjoy the scenery along an awe-inspiring scenic driving loop passing spectacular vividly colored rock formations.

Volunteers at the Visitor Center provide detailed maps and information regarding scenic overlooks and the perfect hikes to match activity and interest levels. Do get here early as the road coming in is only a one-way single lane and you’ll have to wait your turn in line to pay the fee and park.

After spending a half-day exploring gulches, hills, washes and the incredible majesty of the red rock formations, we were convinced a return visit was definitely in the cards.

Visit Awe-Inspiring Hoover Dam

Dam! It’s impressive.

Hoover Dam that is, just 35 miles south of Vegas on the border of Nevada and Arizona. This is one of the greatest engineering marvels of the 20th century and an icon of modern architecture and technology.  The dam is named in honor of President Herbert Hoover who played a crucial role in its planning and completion and seeing it never ceases to impress.

Onsite tours share the inside scoop on the environmental and engineering challenges that had to be overcome when building this technological masterpiece that began in 1931 during the Great Depression. The dam stands at about 726-feet from its foundation to the top making it one of the tallest in the world.

Peering over the edge takes your breath away.

Kayak the Emerald Cave

Kayaking the Emerald Cave.
Kayaking the Emerald Cave. Photo by Noreen Kompanik

Twelve miles north of Hoover Dam, this small cave is tucked in the Black Canyon about an hour from Las Vegas, making it a perfect add-on to a Hoover Dam visit. Plus, you get to travel through historic Boulder City on the way with its cool local restaurants and boutique shops.

To access the cave, kayakers typically start their journey at the base of Hoover Dam. From there, you paddle along the Colorado River passing through stunning Black Canyon, known for its emerald-colored waters and unique rock formations.

The cave is a natural chamber that opens up from the riverbank and when sunlight hits the water just right, it creates that vibrant emerald glow, thus giving the cave its name. It’s a breathtaking site to see and one that kayakers and adventurers love to explore.

The Freemont Street Experience

If you asked me 10 years ago about visiting historic Freemont Street in Las Vegas I would have suggested staying clear of this seedy neighborhood. But things have changed, and now the historic downtown is an absolute joy to visit due to its total makeover.

The Freemont Street Experience opened in 2004 and features an impressive lightshow on its Viva Vision canopy which projects thousands of different color combinations and images overhead. In addition, new chef-driven restaurants have popped up all over downtown, including some rooftop bars and speakeasies with stunning views.

An absolute must-do is a Downtown Lip Smacking Tour, a 2.5-hour walking tour through the newly revitalized area boasting the city’s most dynamic food scene with restaurants focused on original, seasonal, and farm-to-table fare.

These restaurants are also a big hit with the locals who tend to steer clear of the mayhem of the strip.

Explore the Neon Museum

Neon Museum's Boneyard of Signs.
Neon Museum’s Boneyard of Signs. Photo by Noreen Kompanik

Las Vegas has always oozed glitz and glamour with its multitude of casinos, top entertainers and high rollers. But, no more so than in the days of the Rat Pack, Liberace and Elvis, when millions of visitors flocked to a booming Las Vegas – often referred to as “Glitter Gulch” in its heyday.

Even today, as many people close their eyes and think of Las Vegas, nothing comes to mind more often than those magnificent, pulsing, iconic neon signs in the middle of the desert that beckoned travelers and guests to the desert.

Neon put the “fabulous” in “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas.” 

Light it up and they will come. And lightit up they did.

Vegas became a super nova, a dazzling showcase of the entertainment world with its iconic signs like Vegas Vic – the waving, smoking cowboy – the camels of the Sahara, and the classy, star-studded Riviera.

Though Vegas isn’t known for historic preservation, rescuing these retired signs from the scrapyards began in the 1970s with local historic preservation groups. In the 1980s, a committee of the Allied Arts Council began actively saving neon signs. Out of their efforts, the Neon “Boneyard Park” Museum was born.

Located in downtown Las Vegas, the museum is renowned for rescuing and restoring these famous architectural landmarks from the graveyard of oblivion and displaying them so the public can once more relive the glory days of old Vegas.

You’ve got to see it for a memorable trip through history.

Art in the Desert at Seven Magic Mountains

Nevada's Seven Magic Mountains.
Nevada’s Seven Magic Mountains. Photo by Kelly Mays

This fascinating art installation situated in the Invapah Valley just 10 miles south of Las Vegas was created by Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone and unveiled to the public in May 2016. The installation consists of seven towering, brightly colored stacks of large boulders standing between 30- and 35-feet-tall.

The concept is an expression of the artist’s fascination with the natural world and human creativity. These colorful boulder stacks stand out dramatically against the stark surrounding desert landscape, creating a striking contrast and giving the impression of something otherworldly rising from the earth.

Each of the seven towers consists of locally-sourced massive stones, stacked on top of each other and painted in a variety of vibrant colors. The bright neon hues of pink, blue, green, orange, and red make the installation visually captivating. Though it was originally intended to be a temporary exhibit lasting only two years, its popularity has kept the complimentary art exhibition open to the public.

The next time someone mentions heading to Las Vegas, don’t rule out a trip because you’re not into gambling and crowds. Make the “strip” or its environs your home base, but be sure to venture out to experience all the lesser-known places and natural wonders this destination offers.

Author

  • Noreen Kompanik

    Noreen Kompanik is a retired registered nurse, legal nurse consultant and military spouse turned travel writer. She launched her travel writing career in 2014 and has over 1,000 published articles in a variety of digital and print publications.