A Very Vegas Holiday

When people ask me if I am going anywhere for the holidays, my answer is often Las Vegas, Nevada.  There are two reactions to this response: 1) Either complete bafflement at the idea that Las Vegas isn’t closed for Christmas; or 2) A new-found respect that I might be more interesting than previously assumed.  Alas, there is a little mystery to my choice of holiday destination — Las Vegas is my childhood home.

I spent my formative years in Las Vegas and moved away when I left for college.  For me, any visit to Las Vegas is comprised  of a slightly bizarre mixture of nostalgia, family, and tourism.  Christmas in Las Vegas is special, though, and here are a few tips on how to enjoy it.

Image of the High Roller in Las Vegas

The High Roller at the LINQ: A Christmas Eve Activity?

There is something we should get straight first.  The name of the state is Nevada.  It sounds like Nev-AD-a and not Nev-AH-da.  Stop saying it wrong.  No, this isn’t a matter of opinion.  The governor calls it Nev-AD-a; the people who live there call it Nev-AD-a; and you will too if you know what it is good for you.

The Las Vegas airport is busy this time of year, but a large number of visitors travel by car from California.  Door-to-door, with time for coffee breaks, it generally takes 4.5-5 hours to travel from the greater Los Angles area to Las Vegas.

Image of the Cajon Pass in California

Driving Between California and Nevada – The Pretty Part

Californians will read this and cry out in indignation that I have no idea what I am talking about, because it takes them anywhere between six and nine hours to drive to Las Vegas.  This is because they are unmotivated and lazy.  On Christmas Eve this year, we were up and on the road to Las Vegas by 5:30 AM.  On the way back to California, we were on the road by 6:30 AM.  If you do not depart Las Vegas until 11:00 AM at the end of a holiday weekend, you will get stuck in traffic behind bleary-eyed partiers crawling back en masse to California.  To summarize:  6:30 AM=delightful trip.  11:00 AM=shocking misery.

Let’s also address your wardrobe.  When grilled about the dress code in Las Vegas, I reply that there really isn’t one.  You can never be too underdressed or overdressed in Las Vegas.  So, glam it up and wear your very best formal gown, wedding dress, or party dress cut down to your navel.  Alternatively, throw a pair of ripped, dirty jeans into your suitcase and call it a day.  Just keep in mind that Las Vegas can be cold in December.  Daytime temperatures can reach the 60s and 70s, but they also can fall into the 40s and 50s (Fahrenheit).  Check the weather report before you pack.

Image of a woman wearing an elf outfit

A Christmas Outfit — Would Not Be Out of Place in a Casino

Having arrived in Las Vegas, you will experience that down-home, quaint Christmas of your dreams.  No, just kidding.  It will be the over-the-top Christmas of fabulous lights, outrageously priced cocktails, and ear-numbing slot machines noises.  Do not expect Las Vegas to deliver something different during the holidays.  Let Vegas be Vegas, and you will have a grand time.   A suggested itinerary for your days goes something like this:

  • Have brunch. The Bellagio buffet is a childhood favorite.
  • Gamble.  My husband likes poker tournaments.  He is a bad poker player.  It just takes longer to lose everything in a tournament.  He generally favors the cheap tournaments at the Monte Carlo.  He says that the Monte Carlo is clean and the staff is friendly.
  • Walk around the inside of the casinos to look at the decorations.  I particularly love the Bellagio and the Wynn at Christmas.
  • Have a mid-afternoon, fancy cocktail.  The Chandelier Bar at the Cosmopolitan and the Parasol Down Bar (outside) at the Wynn are my favorites.
Image of view at the Parasol Down Bar at the Wynn Hotel

Christmas Day Cocktail Time at the Parasol Down Bar

  • Get a spa treatment.  My spa recommendation is the Qua Baths & Spa at Caesar’s Palace.
  • Eat dinner.  I suggest a more traditional sit-down restaurant with reservations for dinner at Christmas.
  • See a show.  A good rule of thumb is the better the show, the higher the cost. My husband recently enjoyed the La Reve at the Wynn.  However, even the cheap shows can be tons of fun.
  • Walk around outside the casinos to see all the Christmas decorations and lights at night.  We happened upon a Christmas show set up on a stage outside the LINQ hotel on Christmas Eve.
Image of Christmas Decorations in Las Vegas

Las Vegas at Christmas

Christmas also is good time to leave the casinos.  Las Vegas is in the desert, so it can be face-melting hot during the summer.  As I mentioned in It’s Winter: Start Traveling!, winter often provides an opportunity to see a destination in a new way.  In Las Vegas, you can actually enjoy being outside in December.  Here are a few suggestions:

  • Mount Charleston.  Las Vegas is in a valley.  There are, if not “mountains,” then mountain-like formations around Las Vegas.  This year, Mount Charleston provided a snowy, winter wonderland less than an hour’s drive from the Strip.
Image of Mt Charleston in the Snow

A Winter Wonderland in Mt. Charleston

  • Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.  I have been hiking all over the world, and Red Rock is memorable due to its unique desert beauty; the colors of the landscape; petroglyphs; and rock formations.  Red Rock is an approximately 30-45 minute drive from the Strip.
  • Hoover Dam.  Everyone knows about Hoover Dam.  Unfortunately, many people visit when it is melt-an-egg-on-the-sidewalk hot.  Why?  Why would you venture outside when it is 115 degrees (Fahrenheit)?  Think, people, think!   However, if the temperature is right, Hoover Dam is a fascinating marvel of engineering.
  • Las Vegas Speedway Glittering Lights.  On Christmas night, we took a large truckload of young relatives through the elaborate outdoor Christmas lights display at the Las Vegas Speedway.  A merry time was had by all for only $30 per car.
Image of the Speedway Christmas Lights

Speedway Christmas Lights

So, who goes to Las Vegas at Christmas?  People who have family in Las Vegas and people who want to have fun.  You might as well stay until New Year’s, which is when the party really gets started.

You may read about my other Christmas journeys at:

The Last Trip: Part 1. Paris in December

The Last Trip. Part 2: Belgium

The Last Trip. Part 3: London at Christmas

A Christmas Hike in the Alsace: Riquewihr to Ribeauville

Christmas Season in the Alsace: A One-Week Itinerary

New York at Christmas: An Itinerary

Kronborg Castle: A Danish Castle at Christmas

The Nantucket Christmas Stroll: A Festive Weekend in New England

California Beach Towns: Who Needs a White Christmas?

It’s Winter: Start Traveling!