48 Hours in Las Vegas: Going Big in Sin City (Without Gambling)

With decades of investment in the city's art, food, and fun, there's a great time to be had without placing a single bet.

I’m not a big gambler; I never really understood the allure of spending money without the assurance of getting something in return. But that hasn’t kept me from enjoying myself in Las Vegas. “Sin City” has spent years (and millions of dollars) creating an attractive oasis with art, food, fun and more for those of us who don’t like to mess with Lady Luck.

Get your art on

The Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art (3600 Las Vegas Pkwy) has housed exhibitions by Picasso, Warhol, Lichtenstein and Fabergé. Currently, influential Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama has two installations on view: Narcissus Garden and the Insta-friendly Infinity Mirrored Room: Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity, where visitors step into an enclosed room and are immersed in array of twinkling lights reflected against mirrored walls.

Between the Bellagio and Monte Carlo, Aria (3780 South Las Vegas Blvd) is home to a $40 million public art project that includes existing and commissioned sculptures by Henry Moore, Maya Lin, Claes Oldenburg and Frank Stella. And it’s all free to explore.

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Aria

But there’s art off the strip, too: UNLV’s Barrick Museum (4505 South Maryland Pkwy) mounts rotating exhibits by established artists like Ellsworth Kelly and Ansel Adams, as well as works from emerging local and international talents. Through March 19, “Axis Mundo: Queer Networks in Chicano L.A.” shines a light on LGBTQ Chicano artists from the 1960s to 1990s. Starting April 12, paintings and sculptures by queer Latinx artists Justin Favela and Ramiro Gomez come together in “Sorry for the Mess,” touching on immigrant labor, children’s television, and life in Las Vegas.

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“Las Máquinas Tragamonedas” by Ramiro Gomez

The Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health (888 W Bonneville Ave) isn’t a gallery but the building itself is a cascading Frank Gehry masterpiece. Inside is a rotating collection of contemporary art stars like Guy Dill, Charles Arnoldi and James Rosenquist.

For a funky dive into Vegas history, check out the boneyard at the Neon Museum (821 Las Vegas Blvd North), the final resting place for an impression collection of neon signs dating back to the 1930s.

Feed the beast

Top-rated chefs from both coasts are increasingly being pulled to Vegas: The latest is L.A. favorite Roi Choi, who merges his Korean roots and Mexican street food with hip-hop flair at Best Friend in the Park MGM, where the menu includes chili spaghetti, kogi short rib tacos and kimchi fried rice. Also at the Park MGM is the newest outpost for Italian paradise Eataly, offering tantalizing pizzas, pastas and vino from numerous counters. Set off from the bustling market, the recently opened Manzo (“beef” in Italian) is a casual butcher’s restaurant that will delight carnivores.

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Best Friend

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Eataly

New York stalwart Sadelle’s now calls the Bellagio home—there’s no better way to power up for the day than with a Sadelle’s tower, a veritable citadel of lox, spreads, veggies and unlimited bagels. Not far away, the two-Michelin-starred Picasso houses original paintings by the master and breathtaking views of the Bellagio’s legendary fountains

Other gastronomical delights include Wing Lei at the Wynn, the first Chinese restaurant in the U.S. to earn a Michelin star, and Joël Robuchon at the MGM Grand, which offers a decadent 12-course French feast to rival anything in Paris.

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Wing Lei

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Joël Robuchon

Party on

You can hit several queer hotspots along the “Fruit Loop” near UNLV: Drag Race alums perform at the two-floor Piranha Nightclub (4633 Paradise Rd) including, in March, Trinity the Tuck, Aquaria and season 11’s Brooke Lynn Hytes. Other bars include drag palace FreeZone (610 East Naples Drive), no-fuss Fun Hog Ranch (495 E. Twain) and Quadz video bar (4640 Paradise Rd).

Formerly Snick’s Place, Bastille on 3rd (1402 S 3rd St) is technically Vegas’ oldest gay bar, offering a laid-back vibe, pop and country music videos, and bespoke cocktails. Bastille’s owners also manage the Garage (1487 E Flamingo Rd), an auto-themed bar open 24/7, where the bartenders dress like mechanics and an eclectic crowd enjoys pool, darts, and shuffleboard. You can dance drink, and play the cowboy way at Charlie’s Las Vegas or find drag, dudes and drink specials at Flex (4371 W Charleston Blvd.) and Phoenix (4213 W Sahara Ave).

Coming this summer? Every Sunday starting in May, Luxor’s massive Oasis Pool is home to the Tempation gay pool party.

Go green

Marijuana was legalized for recreational use in Nevada in 2017 and Vegas has adapted quickly with plenty of dispensaries. At 112,000 square feet, Planet 13 (2548 W Desert Inn Rd) is purported to be the world’s largest—it’s more Apple Store than head shop, with scheduled appointments, attentive associates clasping iPads, and pristine cases proffering bud and pre-rolleds, vape cartridges, edibles and even THC-infused root beer.

Business is so brisk, the store is adding a pizzeria and coffee shop.

Get your diva fix

It’s a great time to catch a pop legend in Las Vegas: Lady Gaga’s Enigma residency has landed at the Park MGM, with shows in May, June, October, and November. On Sundays, Mother Monster goes old-school with the “Lady Gaga Jazz & Piano” show that sees her performing standards from the Great American Songbook.

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Lady Gaga

Gwen Stefani debuted her Vegas show at Planet Hollywood last year and continues to hold it down with solo hits, No Doubt bangers and classic covers. And Céline Dion is wrapping up her longtime run at Caesars Palace with shows in March, May, and June. But the ultimate Vegas diva returns in March, when Cher plays the Park MGM, taking fans through her 50-year career, including songs from her new ABBA cover album, Dancing Queen.

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Cher

There’s even more divaliciousness in May, when Janet Jackson’s Metamorphosis residency begins at the Park MGM and Christina Aguilera: The Xperience starts at Planet Hollywood.

Dan Avery is a writer-editor who focuses on culture, breaking news and LGBT rights. His work has appeared in Newsweek, The New York Times, Time Out New York, The Advocate and elsewhere.
@ItsDanAvery