You could go to Las Vegas for the thrills of gambling and partying alone, but combining the city’s more popular attractions with undiscovered spots and local favorites makes for a much richer experience. Whether grabbing drinks at a speakeasy, visiting a museum, or even taking a hike through the desert, you’ll be treated to a Vegas that you never knew existed.
Base your stay at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, where the many traditional restaurants and bars meet hidden pizza shops, off-menu cocktails, and a rooftop pool that transforms into an ice-skating rink in winter. Once you’ve explored every hush-hush corner, venture farther afield to the world’s only 24-hour tiki bar, a “Neon Boneyard” filled with old Vegas signs, and a 180-acre park that’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places. You’ve never seen Vegas quite like this.
Start at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas
At first glance, The Cosmopolitan is simply one of the newest luxury resorts on the Strip, albeit one with an especially impressive collection of restaurants and bars. But look a little closer and you’ll realize there’s a whole other side to the hotel—one that starts with a personality-driven digital concierge called Rose who’s the key to unlocking the best of Vegas. As guests’ personal insider at the hotel, she’s a futuristic “Mistress of Mischief” with the best connections in town. When you check in, you’ll receive her number so you can text her for expert advice like restaurant recommendations or even a secret tour. If you don’t have any plans, she can even take you on an epic bar hop, a tour of the best small bites, or the ultimate night out.
Discover the hotel’s underground scene
When it comes to food and drink, The Cosmopolitan mixes things up with several secret venues. There’s the hidden pizza spot, located down a record-lined hallway on the third floor of the hotel. You won’t find it on any map but even hardcore New York pizza lovers agree it’s worth searching for the tiny, standing-room only spot and its perfect pies, whether you’re a traditionalist with a proclivity for plain cheese, a carnivore craving pepperoni, or a vegetarian that gravitates toward the ricotta-topped white. If you’re in the mood for something a little more upscale, there’s Beauty & Essex, a multi-chambered space for stylish drinks and dining accessed through a “pawn shop” with antique jewels and vintage guitars for sale. The decor (extravagant chandeliers, walls hung with heirloom mirrors, banquettes upholstered in scarlet leather and brocade) suggests an elaborate jewelry box, while the cuisine, from celebrity chef Chris Santos, includes globally inspired dishes that are meant to be shared—think Thai-style deep-fried shrimp, tuna poke tacos, grilled-cheese-and-smoked-bacon dumplings. Guests can also expect cocktails that riff on the classics, like Champagne with muddled berries and a perfect vodka gimlet.
To really get the party started, book the secret private room at chef David Chang’s renowned Asian-American restaurant, Momofuku. In addition to its own hidden entrance, the dining room features views of the Bellagio fountains and the option to arrange karaoke, customized menus, beverage pairings, and more. You could also head to The Barbershop Cuts and Cocktails, a plush, Prohibition-inspired bar hiding behind what looks like a janitor’s closet in The Cosmopolitan’s retro-hip barber shop. Settle on a leather davenport beneath antique chandeliers to sip from a vast selection of premier whiskeys and, depending on the night of the week, enjoy performances by live bands.
For a slightly more subdued atmosphere, try The Study, a sultry, elegant space tucked away inside Rose. Rabbit. Lie., The Cosmopolitan’s modern supper club. Here, coffered ceilings, dark-wood paneling, and rich leather upholstery evoke members-only clubs of decades past. Order a bespoke concoction to suit your individual preferences or go for a house cocktail like the Raised by Wolves (mezcal, tequila, poblano chili, tamarind-ginger syrup), then browse the curated vinyl collection and choose an album to play on the in-house turntable.
Even more delicious drinks can be found at The Chandelier bar, where you won’t see the Verbena on the menu, but you should ask for it anyway on level 1.5. While the covert cocktail may look like any ginger-lemon concoction, one bite of its Szechuan Button garnish will unleash a tingly sensation in your mouth—and that’s before you even try the drink itself.
Explore The Cosmopolitan’s unexpected amenities
At some resorts, you always know what to expect, visit after visit. Thankfully, that’s not the case at The Cosmopolitan, where the paintings, sculptures, and other artworks on display in the rooms and throughout the property make it a de facto gallery. No matter how many times you stay, you’ll never tire of exploring the collection, which includes hundreds of contemporary works by both emerging and established artists as well as dazzling digital art pieces, installations, and immersive experiences. You’ll even find old-timey cigarette machines repurposed to vend unique pieces of mini-art.
If you visit over the holiday season, you’ll discover that the splendid Boulevard Pool transforms into an ice-skating rink, creating a whimsical winter wonderland in the heart of the Strip. After gliding across 4,200-square-feet of real ice, enjoy a warm cocktail or roast some s’mores by your personal fire pit while taking in views of the city. See the other side of town
When you’ve unearthed all The Cosmopolitan’s secrets, it’s time to see the city’s surreptitious side. Begin at Lotus of Siam, a renowned Thai restaurant hiding in a strip mall on the edge of town. The family-run spot serves delicious northern Thai food from chef Siapin Chutima, who won the James Beard Award for “Best Chef: Southwest” in 2011. Expect hearty herbs and spices, noodle stews, and coconut-less curries, and don’t miss favorite dishes like deep-fried garlic prawns and khao soi with crispy duck. For drinks, head to the Peppermill on the Strip. Open 24 hours a day, it’s a vintage Vegas diner at its finest, but also includes a sunken lounge in the back with purple sofas, mirrored walls, and a flaming pool centerpiece. Sit around the fire sipping nostalgic cocktails like Mai Tais and you’ll feel as if you’ve traveled back in time.
Another great option is Frankie’s Tiki Room, a kitschy spot serving fruit-based rum drinks amid hand-carved furniture and bamboo decor. Also open 24/7, it draws you in with a unique soundtrack of exotica, surf, psychobilly, and garage and keeps you sipping with a drink menu organized around alcohol level (five skulls means you might not make it back to your hotel). Insider tip: it’s worth it to spend the extra $25 to get your cocktail in a souvenir mug.
Find some surprising culture
While museum hopping doesn’t typically top the lists of most Vegas visitors, you won’t regret a trip to the Neon Museum. Founded in 1996, the fascinating spot is dedicated to preserving the city’s iconic art form and features a 2.25-acre “Neon Boneyard” with more than 200 signs from old casinos and landmarks like Caesars Palace, the Golden Nugget, and the Stardust. Guests will also find a visitors’ center housed in the former La Concha Motel lobby and a separate gallery with a stunning light-projection exhibit. For full insight into the collection, take one of the tours led by local historians—if you opt for a night tour, you’ll even get to see a few of the signs lit up.
For something a little more interactive, hit the Pinball Hall of Fame, a 10,000-square-foot warehouse with rows and rows of playable machines that will get a new home in 2021. An effort by members of the Las Vegas Pinball Collectors Club to display the world’s largest pinball collection, the spot features games from the 1950s all the way up to the 1990s.
Round things out with a visit just south of Downtown to the Las Vegas Arts District, also known as 18b—though today it’s bigger than the 18-block neighborhood it was named after. The lively cultural hub is filled with independent art galleries, performance spaces in converted warehouses, funky antique shops, and several restaurants and bars. Favorite stops include the Arts Factory, home to galleries, shops, and a bistro, and Arts Square, where the Cockroach Theatre stages new plays and offbeat revivals.
Get out into the wild
Those visiting Vegas and seeking some outdoor adventure typically head straight for the Grand Canyon, or to Red Rock Canyon if they think they’re in the know. But there are so many other equally worthy parks to explore. Take Valley of Fire State Park, for example, where you’ll find 40,000 acres of bright-red sandstone outcrops, 2,000-year-old petroglyphs, and ancient petrified trees. Start at the visitors’ center to browse exhibits on geology, ecology, and the history of the park, then set off on one of several hiking trails through the area.
A family-friendly, centrally located alternative is Springs Preserve, a 180-acre attraction that offers education and recreation in equal measure. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the park sits on the site of former natural springs and now includes everything from a butterfly habitat and award-winning botanical gardens to the Origen Museum, where guests can learn about the geological history of the Mojave Desert and the springs’ early inhabitants. Also on offer is Boomtown 1905 (a life-size recreation of an old Las Vegas streetscape), the Desert Living Center (with exhibits on recycling, conservation, and alternative energy), and the 70,000-square-foot Nevada State Museum, as well as a playground built to resemble a canyon and 3.65 miles of hiking and biking trails through the desert wetland.
If you’re in Vegas during the winter, you also have the option to ski in the desert at Lee Canyon. Be the first up the mountain to get fresh tracks on the famous Ponderosa Glade trail, then ski around searching for the mountain’s signature Vegas sign or hit the park to catch some big air. If you’re not much of a skier, you can also enjoy the tubing hill or go snowshoeing through the Old Mill Picnic Area.