Las Vegas Feature


Free Things to Do in Las Vegas

Yes, Vegas brims with cash, glitz, and glamour, but that doesn't mean you can't find freebies (or cheapies).

Experience Fremont Street. The Downtown casinos' answer to the spectacle of the Strip is the Fremont Street Experience, played out on a 90-foot-high arced canopy that covers the entire street. Every hour between sunset and midnight it comes alive with an integrated video, graphics, and music show. Several different programs run each night, and contribute to a festive outside-in communal atmosphere that contrasts with the Strip's every-man-for-himself ethic.

Watch a Free Show. You can easily spend $100 or more on seats at a typical Vegas concert or big-name production, but several casinos offer fabulous, eye-catching extravaganzas that won't cost you a penny. There's the erupting volcano at the Mirage and the over-the-top Sirens of TI at Treasure Island. Relax to the graceful Fountains of Bellagio, or see any of a handful of free animal exhibits, like the Wildlife Habitat (with a flamboyance of flamingoes!) at the Flamingo Las Vegas.

See the New Old Downtown. The Downtown casinos make no attempt to compete with the opulence of the Strip, but Fremont and connecting streets have a charm all their own. For cheapskate gamblers, take advantage of the free slot pulls and roulette spins offered at many of the Downtown casinos. You can also view many of the Neon Museum's signs along Fremont as well. And check out the art deco-inspired Smith Center, a world-class performing arts facility.

Be a Guinea Pig. Vegas is home to several preview studios, where you're asked to watch and offer feedback on TV shows. Some studios offer a small cash stipend for your time; for others you'll have to be satisfied with free refreshments, coupons, and the thanks of a grateful nation. We like CBS Television City research center (3799 S. Las Vegas Blvd., South Strip 702/891-5752 Daily 10-8) at the MGM Grand. No kids under 10.

Cruise the Strip. You haven't done Vegas until you've been caught—either intentionally or unwittingly—in the slow-mo weekend-night crawl of traffic down the Strip. You can handle the experience like a been-there local, or you can play the delighted tourist: relaxed, windows down, ready to engage in silly banter with the carload of players in the convertible one lane over. We suggest the latter, at least once. Just be mindful of all the pedestrians, who can crowd the crosswalks like belligerent cattle and are just as dazed as you are by the cacophony.

Step Back in Time. Don't miss out on the opportunity to explore bits and pieces of bygone days that are there if you look hard enough. Drop by The Mob Museum (300 Stewart Ave., Downtown, which examines the city's ties to the mafia, and resides in the formal federal courthouse and U.S. Post Office.Also check out hacienda-style El Portal Theatre built in 1928 and the Mission-style 5th Street and Westside schools. Beyond Downtown, Vegas is full of well-preserved examples of fine architecture, mid century—we like the Morelli House—and modern, like the Frank Gehry–designed Cleveland Center. Wander through the older hotels on the Strip and Downtown that will, eventually and inevitably, be torn down to make way for new construction. You'll be able to say you were there.

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