Vacations don’t have to break the bank. Learn how to ball on a budget, Sin City style.
In this new monthly series, we’ll teach you how to maximize your vacation budget and visit your favorite cities for less than a typical weekend at home. We’ll furnish a two-day itinerary of free and insanely cheap things to do and places to eat, but how you get there and where you stay is up to you. With variable pricing based on travel dates, to find discount accommodation, consider all options from hostels and hotels to B&Bs. To score the best flight deals, always compare multiple booking sites, try different airline combinations, and be as flexible as you can with your plans.
Upon first glance, Sin City may seem like a pricey getaway, but savvy travelers know there are always ways to ball on a budget. From scoring complimentary drinks on the casino floor (post up by the penny slots) to free shows, entertainment, and rooms they dish out like candy, Las Vegas can actually be an incredibly cheap weekend away if you play your cards right. Don’t leave it all on the table this trip because the house doesn’t always have to win.
Breakfast: Garden Court Buffet
The buffet is one of Las Vegas’s signature dining experiences, and while casinos on the Strip are vying to outdo each other with lavish prime rib and seafood towers, the Garden Court was quietly voted the best buffet in downtown Las Vegas. Fill your belly with a smorgasbord of cuisines from Southwest to Asian delicacies, and be sure to save room for their famous rotisserie chicken. Player, player? You’ll automatically save $1 just for joining their loyalty program, B Connected. In the mood to celebrate? Upgrade to the weekend champagne brunch for just $5 extra.
Morning Activity: Meander the Strip
People-watching is the ultimate free attraction in Las Vegas, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of entertainment on the Strip, too. The Bellagio fountains offer an impressive music, light, and water show every 15-30 minutes, while the animatronic fall of Atlantis at Caesar’s Palace is a complimentary history lesson. Stroll through the blooms at the Bellagio Conservatory and admire the art at the Cosmopolitan as you get cultured in all facets of life.
Lunch: Evel Pie
If you’ve ever wanted your ‘za with a side of heavy metal, you’ll love Evel which is part NY-style pizza joint, part time capsule. The brainchild of Evel Knievel’s son, Evel Pie was built to commemorate the daredevil’s iconic jump over the Caesar’s Palace fountain with motorcycle memorabilia aplenty. A slice of cheese will set you back just $4, but if you’re feeling gluttonous, specialty toppings like man candy bacon and rattlesnake sausage are just $1.50 extra.
Afternoon Activity: Snap Some Selfies
There’s no shortage of photo ops in Sin City from the iconic “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign to Seven Magic Mountains, the colorful stacked boulders just 10-miles down the road. Admire the gondolas at the Venetian for much less than a trip across the pond and take in the “streetmosphere,” their indoor street performers and human statues. Make yourself a DIY art crawl seeking out any number of the 100 murals sprinkled throughout downtown before heading to the Park, a new outdoor entertainment district with larger-than-life Burning Man-inspired pieces.
Dinner: Tacos el Gordo
Cost: $7.20 for three tacos
Serving authentic Tijuana-style street tacos with a cult following, Tacos el Gordo has a 50/50 shot of canceling out any prior bad decisions or worsening them but we’ll take those odds. Choose a protein from traditional meats like carne asada and spiced pork to more adventurous ingredients like pork stomach and beef head. Tacos start at just $2.40 depending on your filling.
Nighttime Activity: Shake it with the King
The most fun you can have with your clothes on, audience participation is encouraged at Harrah’s Piano Bar as you belt out your best rendition of “Hound Dog” and sing-along with the resident Elvis Impersonator. Rock out to hits spanning six decades with tunes like “Jailhouse Rock” hopefully not foreshadowing.
Breakfast: Hash House A Go Go
Known for their massive portions, you could split an entree at Hash House A Go Go and still leave in a food coma. Their signature buttermilk flapjacks will set you back just $8.99, but for an even more decadent treat, upgrade to Red Velvet, Snickers, blackberry granola, or brown sugar banana for under a 10 spot.
Morning Activity: Walk on the Wild Side
When you’re ready to escape the hustle and bustle of the Strip, get back to nature. The wildlife habitat at the Flamingo is home to their signature flock, parrots, pelicans, and swans in a 15-acre reserve. To experience life under the sea, the Silverton Aquarium has sharks, stingrays, and mermaids meandering about, while Mystic Falls Park at Sam’s Town promises another immersive light and water show.
Lunch: In-N-Out Burger
Cost: $7.10 for a combo
One of the most beloved burger chains west of the Mississippi, if you live anywhere other than one of the six states blessed with an In-N-Out Burger, you simply can’t miss the chance to order a not-so-secret Double Double, Animal-Style and see what all the hype’s about.
Afternoon Activity: Be a Critic
Netflix and chill? Not in Las Vegas. At CBS Television City in the MGM Grand, anyone has the opportunity to preview and judge potential new shows to air on CBS, MTV, and Nickelodeon. They’ve also been known to test pilot games and technology in these free surprise screenings so you never know just what entertainment awaits.
Cost: $9 for three robata skewers
One of the best Chinatowns in the U.S., Las Vega’s Asiatown is home to over 150 restaurants just two miles from the strip. You can find everything from mom and pop ramen joints to Thai, but one of the longtime staples is Raku. A James Beard semi-finalist multiple years running, they dish out Japanese small plates and noodle bowls but are really known for their robata grill. Proteins range from chicken to various cuts of Kobe beef skewers starting at just $3.
Nighttime Activity: See the Circus… or Feel Like You’re Part of One
Cirque de Soleil might set you back a pretty penny, but the performances at Circus Circus are completely free. With shows rotating hourly from high flying trapeze artists to feats of strength and skill, and yes, even clowns, be amazed while laughing all the way to the bank. For another circus-like atmosphere, Carnaval Court at Harrah’s features alcoholic acrobatics with flair bartenders, live music, and as much chaos as you’d expect from a Vegas street party to close out your weekend in style.