Though you can get around central Las Vegas adequately without a car, the best way to experience the city can be to drive it. A car gives you easy access to all the casinos and attractions; lets you make excursions to Lake Mead, Hoover Dam, and elsewhere at your leisure; and gives you the chance to cruise the Strip and bask in its neon glow. If you plan to spend most of your time on the Strip, a car may not be worth the trouble, but otherwise, especially given the relatively high costs of taxis, renting or bringing a car is a good idea.
Parking on and around the Strip, although free, can require a bit of work. You'll have to brave some rather immense parking structures. Valet parking is available but can take a while at busy times and requires that you tip the valets ($2 to $3). Still, it's usually less expensive to rent a car and drive around Vegas, or to use the monorail (or even—gasp!—to walk), than to cab it everywhere.
Navigating the City
The principal north–south artery is Las Vegas Boulevard (Interstate 15 runs roughly parallel to it, less than a mile to the west). A 4-mile stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard South is known as the Strip, where a majority of the city's hotels and casinos are clustered. Many major streets running east–west (Tropicana Avenue, Flamingo Road, Desert Inn Road, Sahara Avenue) are named for the casinos—past and present—built at their intersections with the Strip. Highway 215 circumnavigates the city, and the Interstate 515 freeway connects Henderson to Las Vegas; the Summerlin Parkway connects the city and that suburb. Because the capacity of the streets of Las Vegas hasn’t kept pace with the city's incredible growth, traffic can be slow at virtually any time, especially on the Strip, and particularly in the late afternoon, in the evening, and on weekends. At those times drive the streets parallel to Las Vegas Boulevard: Koval Lane and Paradise Road to the east; Frank Sinatra Drive and Industrial Road/Dean Martin Drive to the west. The Industrial Road shortcut (from Tropicana Avenue almost all the way to Downtown) can save you an enormous amount of time. You can enter the parking lots at Fashion Show mall, Trump Las Vegas, and Circus Circus from Industrial Road. Exit Frank Sinatra Drive off Interstate 15 North, and you can access the hotels from Mandalay Bay to Caesars Palace (including CityCenter).
Visitors from Southern California should at all costs try to avoid traveling to Las Vegas on a Friday afternoon and returning home on a Sunday afternoon. During these traditional weekend-visit hours, driving times (along Interstate 15) can be more than twice as long as during other, nonpeak periods.
It's easy to find gas stations, most of which are open 24 hours, all over town. There aren't any gas stations along the main stretch of the Strip, but you’ll find them within a mile of the Strip in either direction, along the main east–west cross streets. Gas is relatively expensive in Las Vegas, generally 30¢ to 40¢ per gallon above the national average. There's no one part of town with especially cheap or pricey gas, although the stations nearest the airport tend to charge a few cents more per gallon—it's prudent to fill up your car rental a few miles away from the airport before returning it.
You can't park anywhere on the Strip itself, and Fremont Street in the casino district Downtown is a pedestrian mall closed to traffic. Street parking regulations are strictly enforced in Las Vegas, and meters are continuously monitored, so whenever possible it's a good idea to leave your car in a parking lot or garage. Free self-parking is available in the massive garages and lots of virtually every hotel, although you may have to hunt for a space and possibly wind up in the far reaches of immense facilities. You can avoid this challenge by opting for valet parking, which is generally free. Parking in the high-rise structures Downtown is also generally free or inexpensive, as long as you validate your parking ticket with the casino cashier or restaurant host.
The airport's rental-car companies are off-site at McCarran Rent-a-Car Center, about 3 miles from the main airport complex, and visitors must take the Rental Car Shuttle buses from the center median, located just outside the baggage claim Ground Transportation exits from Level 1 (Terminal 1) and Level Zero (Terminal 3) to get there. The facility reduces congestion in and around the airport, and offers visitors the opportunity to check bags for flights on some airlines without stepping foot in the main terminal. Still, the centralized location is far enough away from the airport that it can add anywhere from 15 to 25 minutes to your travel time. The bottom line: If you rent a car, be sure to leave yourself plenty of time to return the vehicle and catch your flight.
Rental Car Rates
The Las Vegas average is anywhere from $20 to $70 a day for intermediate to full-size cars—usually you can find a car for less than $30 a day (and at very slow times for less than $20), but during very busy times expect sky-high rates, especially at the last minute. Las Vegas has among the highest car-rental taxes and surcharges in the country, however, so be sure to factor in the 8.1% (in Clark County) sales tax, a 2% county tax on rentals, 10% concession recovery fee, and a $1.90 per-day vehicle licensing fee. If you rent your car at the airport, an additional $3.75 per-day "customer facility charge" applies. Owing to the high demand for rental cars and significant competition, there are many deals to be had at the airport for car rentals. During special events and conventions, rates frequently go up as supply dwindles, but at other times you can find bargains. For the best deals, check with the various online services or your airline, or contact a representative of the hotel where you'll be staying, as many hotels have business relationships with car-rental companies.
Although there are several local car-rental companies along the Strip itself, they tend to be more expensive than those at the airport or elsewhere in the city.
Rental Car Requirements
In Nevada you must be 21 to rent a car, and some major car-rental agencies have a minimum age of 25. Those agencies that do rent to people under 25 often assess surcharges to those drivers. There's no upper age limit for renting a car. Non-U.S. residents will need a reservation voucher, a passport, a driver's license, and a travel policy that covers each driver when picking up a car.
McCarran Airport Rent-A-Car Center. 702/261–6001; www.mccarran.com.
It might seem as if every road in Las Vegas is in a continuous state of expansion or repair. Orange highway cones, road-building equipment, and detours are ubiquitous. But once the roads are widened and repaved, they're efficient and comfortable. The city's traffic-light system is state of the art, and you can often drive for miles on major thoroughfares, hitting green lights all the way. Signage is excellent. The local driving style is fast and can be less than courteous. Watch out for unsignaled lane changes and turns.
There are rarely weather problems in Las Vegas, but flash flooding can wreak havoc. For information about weather conditions, highway construction, traffic incidents, and road closures, visit the website of the Nevada Department of Transportation, or call its Travel Info system by dialing 511 in Nevada or 877/687–6237 if calling outside Nevada.
Call 911 to reach police, fire, or ambulance assistance. Dial *647 to reach the Nevada Highway Patrol.
Rules of the Road
Right turns are permitted on red lights after coming to a full stop. Nevada requires seat-belt use in the front and back seats of vehicles. Chains are required on Mt. Charleston and in other mountainous regions when snow is fresh and heavy; signs indicate conditions.
Always strap children under age six or less than 60 pounds into approved child-safety seats. In Nevada children must wear seat belts regardless of where they're seated.
The Las Vegas police are extremely aggressive about catching drunk drivers—you’re considered legally impaired if your blood-alcohol level is 0.08% or higher (this is also the law in neighboring states).
The speed limit on residential streets is 25 mph. On major thoroughfares it's 45 mph. On the interstate and other divided highways within the city the speed limit is 65 mph; outside the city the speed limit is 70 or 75 mph. Police officers are highly vigilant about speeding laws within Las Vegas, especially in school zones, but enforcement in rural areas is rare.
Nevada Department of Transportation. 775/888–7000; www.nevadadot.com.
Nevada Highway Patrol. 702/486–4100; 775/687–5300; www.nhp.nv.gov.