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I’ll be totally honest: for most of my life so far, Las Vegas was one of the last destinations I wanted to visit – and certainly the last place I ever thought I’d actually like visiting. But then I took my first trip to Vegas in 2019, and discovered there was more to Vegas than late-night casino benders and drug-laden dance parties. Certainly, you can still find those experiences, but there are also lots of other things to do in Vegas too. Las Vegas has something for everyone!
Since my first visit a few years ago, I’ve been back to Las Vegas several times; each time I discover more of the city and what I personally like about it – including some casinos, incredible restaurants, live entertainment, and awesome outdoor experiences within short drives in every direction. I recently returned from a trip that combined Las Vegas with a trip to Death Valley National Park – the perfect combo of neon and nature for my liking.
If you’re planning a trip to Las Vegas, you might wonder how long to stay (especially if you, like me, are uncertain whether you’ll actually like being there!). Or maybe you’re on an itinerary that only gives you one day in Vegas. In any case, a day in Las Vegas is more than enough time to discover some of what makes “Sin City” special and what it offers that interests you.
With one day in Las Vegas, you can see the sights and bright lights, explore the outdoors, and enjoy some of the best food, drink, and entertainment in the country. Here’s how to spend a day in Vegas, from sunrise to sunset – and beyond, if you have the energy for it!
In this post, I promote travel to a destination that is the traditional lands of the Nüwüwü (Chemehuevi) and Nuwuvi (Southern Paiute) peoples. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.
The Best Things to Do for One Day in Vegas
One day is not nearly enough time to spend in Las Vegas, but if it’s all you have, you’ve got to make the most of it! Below you’ll find an ordered list of the places I recommend visiting for one day in Las Vegas; it’s a long busy day but lets you see a ton of what the city has to offer – from nature to neon and everything in between.
Without further ado, let’s dive into the list. I put them in the order I recommend doing them though you can of course remove, replace, or rearrange this suggested itinerary for one day in Vegas as you see fit.
1. Go Hiking in Red Rocks Canyon
I was on the fence about including this activity since you need a car to do it – but if you can get a Turo or rental car, I highly recommend starting your one day in Vegas with some time outdoors. Red Rocks Canyon is one of most locals’ favorite outdoor places, and is a short drive from the heart of the city; it shows how nature is within reach once you leave the Neon glow.
Through May 2022 you’ll need to get a timed reservation to drive the scenic road into the main part of the National Conservation Area; once there you can make the scenic drive and even get out to stretch your legs as the sun comes up but before it gets too hot. Calico Hills and Calico Tanks are two good trails to get you right into the natural beauty of Red Rocks Canyon; both will take longer than you might have for the day so keep an eye on the clock as you’re out hiking.
2. Grab Breakfast in Old(er) Vegas
After a morning hike, there’s nothing like a good breakfast; there are a couple of areas north of the Strip that will show you another side of the city.
Along Fremont Street, there’s Mothership Coffee Roasters, PublicUs, and the appropriately named Donut Bar (to get all those calories back that you just burned!). In the Arts District, there’s Dragon’s Alley Coffee Co., Bungalow Coffee Co, Vesta Coffee Roasters, or Makers & Finders; these spots all serve some sort of food too.
You really can’t go wrong eating anywhere in Vegas, but these two areas have plenty of options for breakfast/brunch fare and caffeine for those who need it.
3. Explore Area15
You’ll want to grab an Uber to (and from) Area15 as it’s on the other side of I-15 from the rest of Vegas; it’s not a far walk but just a bit safer to do it by car.
Area15 is a multi-use space that’s hard to explain: there are art exhibits, bars and restaurants, a trippy tree, and one of Meow Wolf’s exhibits, “Omega Mart,” which can easily consume a half-day if you’re not careful.
You’ll need to get timed tickets in advance for Omega Mart, which I highly recommend doing; the whole place is otherworldly and worth exploring just to see how many rooms you can discover. There are plenty of photo opportunities and even a mystery to solve if you’re up for the challenge.
4. Have Late Lunch at Tacos El Gordo
There are lots of great spots to eat in Vegas, but I love a good place that has less glitz before diving into the illusion and fantasy of the Strip.
One such place that’s easy to reach from Area 15 is Tacos El Gordo. Tacos El Gordo first opened in San Diego in 1998 and has since expanded to serve southern California and Nevada; their serving style is very distinctive and makes you feel miles from the rest of what Vegas offers.
I recommend strolling around to see each food station, picking a few, and grabbing a horchata before you tuck in. Best of all, you’ll be headed out for a walk next so no need to worry about calories since you’ll burn them back off.
5. Stroll Down the Strip
There’s something magical about the Las Vegas Strip. Sure, the neon and flashing lights are literally designed to capture your attention and stimulate your brain, but there’s also so much to see. While I definitely recommend seeing the Strip at night, when you only have one day in Vegas, you might not have the time or energy to do that – so be sure to walk down the Strip during the day too. (I’ve put it at this point on my list because it’s when it makes the most sense.)
While the whole strip is over four miles long, the main part from the Wynn in the north to Mandalay Bay in the south is just three miles long – so about an hour of walking from end to end.
It’s up to you how far you walk, but I recommend at least passing the Venetian with its outdoor canals, the Bellagio with its fountains (where you’ll be back later), the Eiffel tower (which you’ll also return for), and New York New York.
6. Try Your Hand on the Casino Floor(s)
As you wander down the strip, you might be tempted to explore within the fabulous facades of each interesting building. Indulge yourself – this is Vegas, after all!
Each Las Vegas casino floor is different yet has the same basics: no windows, lush carpeted floors, brightly alluring slot machines, and table games where you can try your hand against the dealer. If you have the budget, I recommend setting yourself a limit and trying a few hands of whatever inspires you; if you don’t have the budget or don’t want to gamble, you can instead just stroll through a few casinos. My favorites are – from north to south – the Wynn, the Palazzo and the Venetian, the Cosmopolitan, the Park MGM, New York New York, and the Luxor.
Oh, and be warned: smoking is still allowed in all casinos with the exception of the Park MGM, so keep that in mind if the smell bothers you.
7. Enjoy Happy Hour atop the Eiffel Tower
As the afternoon wears on, you might want to rest a bit; there’s no better place than at the Eiffel Tower. Like so many parts of Vegas, this is vaguely realistic – but mostly for show.
The Bar and Lounge opens at 5pm daily and is a great way to enjoy the view from this coveted dining spot without needing to secure a reservation. “The Eiffel Affair” is a must-try, with vodka, macerated berries, crème de cassis, orange liqueur, rose nectar, and Crémant d’Alsace brut – it’s fruity but fresh and will wake your tastebuds up for the remaining third act of your one day in Vegas.
8. Sit at the Chef’s Table for dinner at Best Friend
I’ll be honest: I’m obsessed with Best Friend, the Roy Choi restaurant inside the Park MGM. I ate here on my second trip to Vegas and have been back every time since.
Roy Choi – famous for his Korean BBQ food truck that also inspired the movie Chef – brings his love of Korean-American food to Vegas with Best Friend. The entrance is like stepping into a Los Angeles bodega, honoring Choi’s roots, while the back dining area is dark, loud, and intimate.
The best place to sit is the Chef’s Table on the edge of the kitchen; here you can watch the team make magic happen: fresh banchan, kogi tacos, and “slippery shrimp” are my favorites, though there’s also a Chef’s Tasting Menu you can try to sample it all. Also don’t skip on the boozy slushies available from the bodega out front (Dreamsicle is my go-to).
9. Take in a Show or Concert
Las Vegas is known for its shows – primarily of the musical residence variety, but there are plenty of other shows to enjoy too. Whether you love Lady Gaga belting out jazz hits accompanied by the piano, want the spectacle of Katy Perry, plan to dance your face off to Tiësto, or want to be wowed at America’s Got Talent Live (which is what we saw and was truly humbling to see so many different talents), Vegas has something for everyone – that’s one of my favorite parts about the city!
For more traditional theatre-goers, there are other options too. While Broadway shows typically aren’t performed at casino theaters on the strip, you can find them off-strip, as well as independent theatres putting on smaller and more uncommon shows.
10. Admire the Bellagio Fountain Show
To cap off a truly epic day, I recommend taking a walk up or down the Strip (depending on where you took in a show) to watch the Bellagio fountain show. The fountain show happens every 15 minutes from 7pm to midnight and is different each time; you’ll know it’s almost time when you see people lining up along the railing facing the Bellagio.
I’ve decided that if this travel blogging thing doesn’t work out, I’m going to become a Bellagio fountain show designer/programmer next; it really is a magical sight to behold.
The best part is that this is one of those great free things to do in Las Vegas and doesn’t take long – so if you’re bone-tired after your day, you won’t need to spend any extra energy.
Bonus: Carry On Til Dawn
If there’s one place you can easily lose track of time and stay up having fun all night, it’s Vegas. After all, most casinos are designed without windows so you have no idea what time it is outside.
If you still have energy after this long day of adventure, you could head back to one of the casinos to try your luck; since I recommend staying at the Park MGM (more below), this is a great option that will mean you don’t need to grab a shower to wash the smoky smell off of you before collapsing into bed.
However, if you are wiped after all the fun I suggest for spending one day in Vegas, there’s no judgment here! I go to bed early whenever I can in Vegas because I love to get up early and watch the strip come back to life.
Where to Stay for One Night in Las Vegas
As you can tell, this one-day Las Vegas itinerary goes from sun up ’til sundown (and beyond if you want it to!). That means you’ll need somewhere to stay in Vegas even if you’re only spending one day.
The Park MGM is my favorite place to stay in Las Vegas, for a number of reasons. First of all, it’s right on the strip, so gives you easy access to explore the city’s lights and sights on foot – which is good for burning off calories from those various meals and/or drinks you enjoy during your visit.
Second, the Park MGM is the only smoke-free casino in Las Vegas. I am personally very sensitive to cigarette smoke (thanks, asthma!) and also just hate the smell. I love that now there’s a place to stay and when I come home, my clothes and hair don’t reek of second-hand smoke.
Have an Extra Day in Las Vegas? Here’s How to Fill It
As busy as my suggested one-day Vegas itinerary is, there’s still so much I didn’t get to include because there wasn’t enough time or the order didn’t make sense… Here are some other activities I recommend in Vegas, if you have more than one day:
- Take a tour at the Neon Museum – One of the coolest museums I’ve ever visited, the Neon Museum honors all of the casinos of the past by displaying their old signs – many of which are still operational. I recommend booking a tour around sunset to see the museum park come to life as the sun goes down.
- Go hiking in Valley of Fire State Park – If you have a car and an extra day, make the 45-minute drive up to Valley of Fire State Park north of Vegas. This is another stunning natural area where you can get the casino smoke out of your lungs and stand in awe of nature’s beauty.
- Explore Venice at the Venetian – I mentioned passing the Venetian canals on the outside; with more time you can head into this famous Vegas hotel and casino to see the indoor canals and market square lined with shops and restaurants. It almost feels like you’re in Italy!
- Sip drinks at the Golden Tiki – Las Vegas has two good tiki bars: Frankie’s Tiki Room and the Golden Tiki. I’m partial to the latter as it’s smoke-free (sensing a theme?!). The Golden Tiki also has awesome decor and great drinks, which help cement its place on my list of great tiki bars.
- Visit the Mob Museum – The mob used to run Vegas – in fact it’s part of the reason the city was so successful. If this chapter of history fascinates you, be sure to add the Mob Museum to your own Vegas itinerary.
- Drive to Boulder City and the Hoover Dam – About an hour south of Vegas, you’ll find the town of Boulder City and neighboring Hoover Dam (the city lays claim to being the town that built the dam). Actually, Boulder City also built Vegas, as strict codes of social conduct created the demand for a “sin city” in the first place.
As you can see, there’s still so much more to do in Vegas that you really need more than one day. As I have a 2-3 day Las Vegas itinerary coming soon, I’ll add that link here to help you if you decide you want to spend more time in Las Vegas. Have any questions about spending one day in Vegas? Let me know in the comments!