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Nevada See And Do

Animal Habitats
Las Vegas , Nevada

See Vegas's wild creatures—the nonclubbing kind—at one of the animal habitats designed to get you up close (but not Siegfried and Roy–mauling close). The Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay is a series of underwater caverns that culminate in a transparent tube where sharks, manta rays, and sea turtles glide past (702-632-4555; www.mandalaybay.com). Prefer to actually get wet? The Mirage's Trainer for a Day Program puts guests in a wetsuit and pairs them with a dolphin trainer to learn how to make a bottlenose jump—one of the most exhilarating things you can do in Vegas outside of hitting a Megabucks (702-792-7889; www.themirage.com). MGM Grand's Lion Habitat is less exhilarating, but it's free and has a glass tunnel underneath the lions, who tend to lie around and doze all day—just what you'd expect from the rich heirs of MGM's original roaring Leo (702-891-7777; www.mgmgrand.com).

Atomic Testing Museum
755 E. Flamingo Road
Las Vegas , Nevada
Tel: 702 794 5161
www.atomictestingmuseum.org

The Atomic Testing Museum, a few minutes east of the Strip, aims to educate about the once-secret history of atomic activity in the region. Focusing on the Nevada Test Site, the museum reveals how the activity was originally kept hidden, and gives guests a simulation in their Ground Zero Theater of what it was like to observe an above-ground nuclear test—complete with trembling benches and air swooshes (but no radiation, happily). Cheesy in a grade-school field trip way, but a nice reminder that there's more to Nevada than neon and poker chips.

Open Mondays through Saturdays 9 am to 5 pm, Sundays 1 to 5 pm.

Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art
Bellagio Hotel & Casino
3600 Las Vegas Boulevard S.
Las Vegas , Nevada
Tel: 702 693 7871
www.bellagiolasvegas.com/amenities/gallery-of-fine-art.aspx

Steve Wynn is responsible for shepherding Vegas into its current upscale era, and pivotal in that transformation was the fine art gallery he installed at Bellagio. It's still in operation, even after MGM's purchase of the resort, hosting rotating exhibits from museums, other galleries, and private collections. A 2009 show, for instance, featured works by contemporary masters including Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Ed Ruscha, and Sol LeWitt. Curation is consistently excellent and—in a bow to the brief attention spans of Vegas tourists—shows usually take about an hour to enjoy.

Open Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays 10 am to 6 pm, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays 10 am to 7 pm.

Boxing in Las Vegas

If there's a big fight in Vegas, it's probably at Mandalay Bay. The prefight energy pulsates throughout the entire resort, and it's a total party inside the 12,000-seat arena. Try to get seats in sections 4 through 11 for boxing matches and sections 1 through 8 for Ultimate Fighting matches (which use cages, hence a different setup). If you want to spot celebs, sit in the first eight rows; that's as far as the floodlights reach, and therefore where all the big stars sit. Purchase tickets early at the Mandalay's website or ticketmaster.com. Even if you can't score tickets, after the fight is over you'll likely gamble alongside promoters, managers, and even fighters themselves well into the wee hours. (Bouts also empty out the Mandalay's restaurants during fight time, affording a rare opportunity to fine-dine at places like Fleur de Lys without a reservation.)

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Cirque du Soleil
Las Vegas , Nevada
Tel: 702 792 7777
www.cirquedusoleil.com/en/home.aspx#/en/home/shows/americas/usa/nevada/las-vegas.aspx

The phenomenally successful Montreal circus troupe has come a long way since its early days here with Mystère and O. Those shows—with their strange costumes, otherworldly music, and astonishing acrobatics—are still running strong (at Treasure Island and Bellagio, respectively), but the group broke new ground in 2003 with Zumanity at New York–New York (702-740-6815). Sexy performers with perfect physiques flirt their way through contortion, acrobatic, musical, and comedy acts. It's an erotic show, and not recommended for the easily offended. (On the contrary, couples can request seats on somewhat private red-velvet sofas.) For death-defying theatrics, , at MGM Grand, utilizes a stage that rises 70 feet into the air and rotates almost perpendicular to the floor, leaving the performers to struggle (well, it looks like a struggle) to stay on. With its pyrotechnics, heart-pounding music, and adrenaline rush, it attracts the widest audience (800-929-1111). Love, at the Mirage, sets imaginary scenes to Beatles tracks recorded during the legendary Abbey Road sessions. Beatles fans will go mad, but even younger nonfans may find themselves jumping around in their seats (702-792-7777). Magician Criss Angel's Believe, at the Luxor, which calls to mind a sort of Alice in Wonderland, has been a smashing success (702-262-4400). But Cirque's Viva Elvis, at Aria Resort, has yet to work out the kinks. The set design itself is vastly under par compared with other Cirque productions, and the performers seemed ho-hum about the unimaginative acrobatics. But a live band performs to remastered Elvis recordings during the show, making it feel like Elvis, indeed, has not left the building (877-253-5847).—updated by David Tyda

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Downtown Las Vegas
Las Vegas , Nevada

There is a funkier, less hyped (and less expensive) version of Las Vegas on the Strip's less-developed north end, within the cluster of buildings known as downtown. We don't recommend staying there, but it's worth an afternoon of gambling at lower minimums (25-cent roulette, $1 blackjack, penny slots) and the opportunity to experience a bit of an early-Vegas, Casino vibe. Grab a drink at the sexy $20 million pool (with shark tank) at the Golden Nugget, and stick around for the hourly ten-minute light shows at the Fremont Street Experience. Twelve million bulbs create a massive oblong LED screen on the canopy hanging over the street, and the nightly shows (6 p.m. to midnight) are surprisingly entertaining. End the day with a cocktail in the emerging bar scene at Fremont and Las Vegas Boulevard. The Downtown Cocktail Room honors the fine art of mixology, and the Beauty Bar throws in a free manicure with your martini on Friday nights after 9 pm. Otherwise, cab it to Frankie's Tiki Room—Vegas's only authentic tiki bar—where guests slurp up classics like the Bearded Clam in real tiki mugs and prices are refreshingly in line with your average bar back home.—updated by David Tyda

Gambling in Las Vegas

Gambling remains Las Vegas's bread and butter, and it's still the reason most people come here. Even if gambling is not your thing, give it a shot: Spending an hour or so at a low-stakes blackjack table is a blast—as long as you know your own limit. As with restaurants, you can judge a good Las Vegas casino by the number of locals playing there. Near the Strip, that's the Palms, where the comps and drinks come fast. The Palms also has one of the best poker rooms in town, where dealers remember regulars. Careful, though: The action moves fast.

For high-limits gambling, where the minimums start at $100 and push $1,000 in games such as baccarat, blackjack, and roulette, the Wynn and Bellagio have separate rooms away from the masses; the dealers and staff are also extremely attentive. The lowest minimums on table games such as blackjack, roulette, and craps can be found in the Station casinos such as the Red Rock Resort off the Strip (www.stationcasinos.com), or downtown at the Four Queens, Binion's Horseshoe, or Golden Nugget—usually to the tune of 25-cent roulette and $2 blackjack. Low minimums draw crowds, so expect to wait for a seat.

Slots are everywhere. Make sure to get comp points as you play: The Wynn has a new tracking system that uses your room key. And everybody should see a genuine bingo hall at some point: It doesn't get more real than the big room at the Plaza, located downtown. Think old ladies and crazy people waiting for B22.

Cigarette smoke is ubiquitous, but for nonsmoking areas, check the tables and poker room at Bellagio, the Mirage, and large sections of Harrah's and the MGM Grand. Finally, cocktail waitresses bring free drinks to anyone playing slots or table games, or in the sports book—a $2 tip is customary.

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Hoover Dam
30 miles southeast of Las Vegas on U.S. 93
Nevada/Arizona Border
Tel: 866 730 9097
www.usbr.gov/lc/hooverdam

The only Nevada image as iconic as the Strip is the mighty Hoover Dam in Black Canyon, an architectural marvel that is awesome to contemplate, even after seven decades. The dam, about 30 miles southeast of the Strip, blocks the Colorado River with a wall of 4.36 million cubic yards of concrete that stands 726 feet high and is 1,244 feet long and 660 feet thick at the base. Those not fascinated by the science of electricity may find the Discovery tour a yawn (though one has to suffer through it to get inside the dam); just walking around the area is enough for most. Bring water—it's hot out here.

Visitor center open daily 9 am to 6 pm. Last tour of the day is at 5:15 pm in summer, 4:15 pm in winter.

Neon Museum
Las Vegas , Nevada
Tel: 702 387 6366
www.neonmuseum.org

The junkyard lot known as the "Boneyard" might seem and sound ominous, but it's overflowing with more than 100 pieces of vintage nonoperative signage that trace Las Vegas's unique physical history. Among the mountains of metal and broken bulbs are the letters from the old Stardust sign and the 20-foot-tall high-heeled shoe that once revolved atop the Silver Slipper's marquee. Tours of the Boneyard are available by appointment only (submit your request on the museum's web site), and well worth it for those who are nostalgic for the Las Vegas of a bygone era.

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area
1000 Scenic Loop Drive (end of Charleston Boulevard)
Las Vegas , Nevada
Tel: 702 515 5350

Those lovely mountains to the west of the Strip are closer than you think and contain wonders that ought to rival the almighty casinos. Just 30 minutes west, Red Rock Canyon boasts 500-million-year-old looming red hills that provide ideal biking, hiking, and driving any time of year. The 13-mile scenic route winds through a hilly terrain spanning 130 square miles chock-full of Native American carvings and friendly wild burros. The star of the scenic drive is a 4,760-foot-high overlook from which visitors can see the entire valley, including, on very clear days, the Strip. Stop at the visitor center for maps and advice on hiking the 30 miles of trails. The outfitter Escape Adventures puts on weekend mountain-biking trips in the park for both novices and those looking for more difficult singletrack (800-596-2953).

Park visitor center open daily 8 am to 4:30 pm.

Rita Rudner
Harrah's
3475 Las Vegas Boulevard South
Las Vegas , Nevada
89109
Tel: 702 349 6315
brtaylor@harrahs.com
www.ritafunny.com

It seems we've known the great Ms. Rudner forever, her twinkly eyes and baby-talk delivery disarming audiences for cutting (and hilarious) observations on the battle of the sexes. She performs in an intimate room at Harrah's Las Vegas with nary a piece of decor, a single spotlight directing your attention toward her from your folding chair (3475 Las Vegas Blvd South; 702-369-5222; www.harrahs.com). Rudner—who's been in the comedy biz for more than 25 years—mixes classic bits with insights on current trends. She's a stitch—and at $60, a bargain in this day of the $200 ticket.

Shows in Las Vegas

For years, a show only survived in Vegas if it involved (a) a magician, (b) an impersonator, or (c) Cirque du Soleil. But now, hits from Broadway often settle in for an extended run on the Strip. The current hot ticket is Jersey Boys, a jukebox musical at the Palazzo about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons (866-807-4697; www.jerseyboysinfo.com/vegas; dark Wednesdays). When Caesars built the gigantic Colosseum venue for Celine Dion, we called it "Celine's retirement plan." Our bet paid off, and now she's out—currently Cher is playing a long-term run, with any dark nights snatched up by Bette Midler or Jerry Seinfeld (www.caesarspalace.com). Barry Manilow is another performer who's turned his greatest hits into a Vegas retirement plan—only we bet he's here to stay. Manilow ladles out the schmaltz six or so nights per month at the Las Vegas Hilton (3000 Paradise Rd.; 800-222-5361; www.lvhilton.com). Those looking for magic and caustic commentary will love Penn & Teller—the duo who blend death-defying magic with F-bomb-ridden comedy—at Rio All-Suite. Watch them stop bullets with their teeth while making fun of other performers on the Strip, or throw a bunny through a wood chipper while bashing organized religion (3700 W. Flamingo Rd.; 702-777-7776; www.riolasvegas.com; dark Thursdays and Fridays).

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Valley of Fire State Park
Exit 75 off Interstate 15 (55 miles northeast of Las Vegas)
Overton , Nevada
Tel: 702 397 2088
www.parks.nv.gov/vf.htm

One of the great surprises of what seems like a barren, tumbleweed-strewn desert is this incredible region of beet-colored rock formations that offers some of Nevada's prettiest hiking. About an hour northeast of Las Vegas, the blank terrain suddenly gives way to a basin of looming red-and-white sandstone hills spreading out over more than 34,000 acres. Some of the 150-million-year-old formations look like beehives, another resembles an elephant. Plus, there are Native American petroglyphs from approximately a millennium ago.

Information may have changed since the date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.