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Three Dream Road Trips to Las Vegas for Culture Lovers

Sponsored by The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas

Sep 25, 2020

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Otherworldly desert vistas are only one part of the appeal of road tripping to Vegas.

Otherworldly desert vistas are only one part of the appeal of road tripping to Vegas.

Enjoy art, history, and the great outdoors on these overground journeys from Western cities to The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.

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With art infusing every experience at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas—from its spa and hammam to world-class restaurants and stunning terrace views—staying there is dreamy for culture fans on its own. And getting there can be just as inspiring as the destination. Next time you’re planning a visit to the Entertainment Capital of the World, hit the road and make a vacation out of the stimulating stops along the way.

Whether you drive from the Los Angeles, San Francisco, Tucson, or Phoenix areas, you’ll pass unique art, fascinating history, and stunning nature on your way to Las Vegas, making for the ideal xenophile road trip. Stop everywhere from authentic taco stands and outdoor art galleries to historic ghost towns and breathtaking national parks. Then, soak up even more culture at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. Below, we’ve outlined three ultimate road trips, pit stops included, to help make the most of your next Vegas venture.

If you’re driving from Los Angeles or San Diego...

About an hour or two into your drive, you’ll hit Tio’s Tacos, a family-run restaurant in the heart of Riverside, California’s historic downtown. Stop here for the true-to-tradition food, based on recipes from Michoacán, Mexico and made with only the freshest ingredients, but stay for the half-acre of gardens, packed with folk art created from recycled objects. In addition to scrap-metal fountains and chicken-wire sculptures, you’ll find a chapel constructed from concrete and glass bottles, and a teepee–shaped structure with flowing streams carved into the floor. The funky atmosphere makes dishes like shrimp fajitas, chilaquiles, and whole deep-fried tilapia that much more delicious.

From Tio’s, head north another hour to Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch, located off of Route 66 in Oro Grande, California. At this outdoor art gallery, you’ll discover several tree-shaped sculptures made from glass bottles and other vintage items. The artworks are particularly beautiful when the sunlight shines through them, and the bottles even make a soothing sound when the wind blows.

Visiting Calico’s 1800s-era buildings is like stepping back through time.

A little over 30 minutes northeast of Elmer’s, you’ll happen upon Calico Ghost Town Regional Park in Yermo, California. The Old West mining town was established in 1881 but abandoned around the mid-1890s when silver lost its value. In the 1950s, entrepreneur Walter Knott purchased the site and set about restoring all but five of its original buildings, eventually earning it State Historical Landmark status. Today, visitors can tour the well-preserved town, then hit the shops and restaurants or go hiking and off-roading in the surrounding area.

This vivid example of land art is about a 30-minute drive from the Las Vegas Strip.

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Continue northeast from Calico for nearly two hours and, when you’re just 10 miles south of Vegas, you’ll see the Seven Magic Mountains looming in the desert. The public art installation, created by Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone, comprises seven towers of brightly colored, stacked boulders, each of which stands more than 30 feet high. A “creative expression of human presence in the desert,” the site-specific artwork makes for a comment-worthy Instagram background before you reach the famous “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign.

If you’re driving from San Francisco or Sacramento…

The Apple Hill Area yields much more than just apples, from pumpkins to berries and more.

Start by heading northeast, through Sacramento to the Apple Hill Area, a collection of family farms in the greater Placerville region of California. Lining Highway 50, the farms are open year-round, offering everything from pumpkin patches and berry festivals to apple-picking and award-winning ciders depending on the season. It’s a great way to get a literal taste of the area while enjoying some family-friendly fun.

At more than 310 stories tall, Half Dome is one of the most popular sites in Yosemite.

From there, drive south to Yosemite National Park and plan to spend a few days in the glorious Sierra Nevada mountains. Famed for its granite cliffs, ancient sequoia trees, and towering waterfalls, the park offers adventure for all abilities, from hiking to swimming to camping. Challenge yourself with a steep, 16-mile hike—the last 400 feet are via cables—to the top of Half Dome, a granite monolith that looms 4,347 feet above Yosemite Valley, or simply walk to Cook’s Meadow in the valley to catch a glimpse of the famous landmark. You can also get great views from Glacier Point, Olmsted Lookout, or the Tunnel View overlook on Highway 41.

Another spot worth checking out is Tuolumne Meadows, a pristine, sub-alpine landscape of cirques and domes, lodgepole pines, and grassy fields flanking the Tuolumne River. A number of hiking trails, Pacific Crest and John Muir among them, lead from here into the backcountry, to well-known areas like Clouds Rest, Lembert Dome, and Cathedral Lakes. You’ll also want to make sure to see the 620-foot Bridal Veil Falls, which peaks in the springtime. Take the paved trail that leads from the parking lot to the base of the falls and prepare to get sprayed. Once you’ve checked these major sites off your list, continue southeast all the way to Vegas.

If you’re driving from Phoenix, Tucson, or Albuquerque…

Get a feel for the early desert frontier at Vulture City.

Head to Vulture City, an abandoned settlement nestled into the Sonoran Desert northwest of Phoenix. Established in 1863 around Arizona’s most successful gold mine, the town thrived for several years until the government closed all non-essential mines in 1942 to focus on war efforts. Today, it’s a window into the lifestyle of the American Southwest in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Take the half-mile gravel path through the ghost town to check out faithfully restored buildings like the mess hall and saloon, the brothel, the post office, and the two-story lab once used to assess ore samples.

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Next, drive 12 miles north to the town of Wickenburg, Arizona and pay a visit to the Desert Caballeros Western Museum, a nationally recognized center for Western art, history, and culture. Here, you’ll find exhibits of historic Navajo textiles and Western art by women artists, as well as works by such notable artists as George Catlin, Albert Bierstadt, and Thomas Moran. Through life-size recreations of the old town of Wickenburg, displays on the history of the desert frontier, and examples of Arizona minerals, you can also learn more about the region’s gold-mining past.  

Psychedelic paintings adorn rock formations in an Arizona canyon.

About 2.5 hours north of Wickenburg, you’ll come across the town of Chloride, Arizona, home to artist Roy Purcell’s famous rock murals. While working as a miner in the Cerbat Mountains in 1966, Purcell painted “The Journey” over 2,000 square feet of boulders up in the canyon on the eastern edge of town, covering the rocks with colorful symbols like the yin and yang, the serpent, and the sun and the moon. The murals have since been restored so they remain vibrant and worth seeing. Take a good, long look, then continue on for 1.5 hours to Vegas.

When in Vegas…

The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas towers over The Strip.

Just because you’ve reached the city of casinos and nightclubs doesn’t mean the cultural activities have to stop, especially when you’re staying at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. The luxury hotel, located in the heart of The Strip, is home to an impressively eclectic art collection and multiple restaurants serving a range of cuisines, providing several opportunities to explore deeper.

A digital painting of Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights makes for inspired dining.

Start by checking out the sculptures, video installations, and paintings on display throughout the resort—Israeli artist Zammy Migdal’s The Cosmo Wave features 380 elements of scraped and raw metal that represent different feelings and thoughts, while Mark Chatterly’s Conversation installation includes sculptures of dogs. Then, hit up one of the hotel’s old-timey cigarette machines, repurposed to vend mini pieces of art, to grab a souvenir to take home.

Once you’ve worked up an appetite, head to the secret pizzeria, a mysterious eatery hidden behind an unmarked door at the end of a hallway on the hotel’s third floor. The standing-room-only spot serves New York–style pies, topped with everything from ricotta to pepperoni or meatballs. There’s even a creamy New York-style cheesecake to complete the experience. For something more elevated, try Rose. Rabbit. Lie. , The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas’s modern interpretation of a supper club. A dark, sexy space designed to resemble the rambling rooms of a mansion, the restaurant blurs the line between fine dining and theater, offering dishes like caviar tacos and black-truffle beef Wellington—all served with a side of spontaneous live performances.

Get inspired and discover this artful resort for yourself—book your stay now at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.

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