There was a time not so many years ago when Downtown Las Vegas was filled with little more than tired casinos and hotels. Well, that's just not the case any longer. With neon lights—actually, make that a quarter-mile canopy with 12.5 million synchronized LED modules—single-deck blackjack, legitimately cool bars, and a host of new attractions that spotlight yesteryear (not to mention an influx of new businesses), old Vegas is alive and well Downtown.
This neighborhood still revolves around Fremont Street, a covered pedestrian walkway through the heart of the Downtown gambling district. Originally, this attraction was nothing more than a place to stroll; today, however, the canopy sparkles with millions of lights, and outfitters have set up everything from zip lines to band shells on street level down below. Use Fremont Street to access resorts such as the Golden Nugget (our fave in this neighborhood), Four Queens, and the Plaza Hotel and Casino. Just be prepared for sensory overload.
Old is new again all over Downtown. The Mob Museum, which opened in 2012, pays homage to Las Vegas’s Mafia years. Also on 3rd Street, the Downtown Grand has brought back some of the 1950s-era swagger. The Smith Center, a world-class performing arts center that opened in 2012, was designed to invoke the same art deco style that inspired the Hoover Dam. Then, of course, there’s the Neon Museum, where visitors can behold the greatness (and, in a few cases, the glow) of original Las Vegas neon signs.
With the Downtown Container Park, SlotZilla and its zip lines, and the Zappos.com headquarters in the (renovated) old City Hall, Downtown is undergoing an extended renaissance. A vibrant arts-and-mixology scene is emerging—the "First Friday" walkabout celebrates local art and artists on the first Friday of every month, and a burgeoning Arts District attracts fans of the avant-garde from all over the world.
No visit to Downtown Vegas would be complete without a pilgrimage to one of the neighborhood’s most lasting legacies: Luv-it Frozen Custard. Flavors here change regularly, but cinnamon and almond chip are mainstays in the rotation. Try some in a homemade waffle cone with chocolate sauce on top.
The swath of suburbia north of Downtown Las Vegas that stretches out past Nellis Air Force Base is vast and largely faceless. The highlight is probably the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Because the region is so expansive, you'll need a car if you head this way.