By Mary Forgione, Special to the Los Angeles Times
March 4, 2012
Reporting from Las Vegas —
For those who want to spend more time than money in Las Vegas, here are 21 things to do for less than $21, all aimed at keeping the bottom line low and the fun factor high.
1. Springs Preserve. Forsake the fake pyramid and fake Statue of Liberty for a power walk through the real Vegas: 110 acres of pre-Bugsy Siegel desert. There are miles of cactus-filled trails, botanic gardens and a museum that pays tribute to the city's Mojave Desert roots. Open daily 10 a.m.-6 p.m. daily. $18.95 for adults, $10.95 for kids 5-17. 333 S. Valley View Blvd.; (702) 822-7700, http://www.springspreserve.org.
2. Hoover Dam Bypass. The Mike O'Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, as it's officially known, opened two years ago to ease traffic congestion at Hoover Dam. The bridge, about 35 miles south of Las Vegas, became an instant landmark for its breathtaking views of the dam and the Colorado River. Pull off U.S. 93, take a stroll over the span and snap a few pictures. http://www.hooverdambypass.org
3. Can you say Chi-hu-ly? Glass man Dale Chihuly seems to be everywhere in Vegas. The chandelier in the lobby of the Bellagio is a must-see, with layers and layers of glass flowers and petals in the massive sculpture. Then tour the Gallery at Crystals Place in CityCenter where the artist's glass works sell for $4,000 to $640,000 — but window-shopping is free. http://www.crystalsatcitycenter.com/crystals-place/the-gallery.aspx.
4. Mandarin Oriental Tea Lounge. This calming refuge awaits on the 23rd floor of the luxe, gaming-free hotel. A pot of tea — organic lychee green or jasmine Earl Grey — is about $12 a person. There's no better place to look out over the Strip, particularly during the late-afternoon lull, and watch the lights come up. Afternoon tea 2:30 p.m.-5 p.m. http://www.mandarinoriental.com/lasvegas/dining/tea_lounge
5. Bird-watching at the Flamingo Hotel. Chilean flamingos, distinguished by their gray legs and pink knees, are the namesake bird of the hotel's 15-acre wildlife habitat, also home to pheasants, swans, native grackles and some koi fish. OK, it's nerdy, but bring your binoculars just in case. Go to http://www.flamingolasvegas.com and click on "wildlife habitat."
6. Harbor rainstorm at the Miracle Mile Shops. The sky darkens before an indoor weather cell lets loose with rain that falls into a mini-harbor amid the Miracle Mile mall at Planet Hollywood. Little kids will enjoy jumping on rocks and getting wet in the "storm" — and then ducking into a nearby Ben & Jerry's. It rains on the hour Mondays-Thursdays and on the half-hour on weekends. Check the weather forecast at http://www.miraclemileshopslv.com/entertain.php?id=19
7. Picture with a Vegas showgirl. Take home a souvenir that captures the glamour of Las Vegas. (You could always say you were in the show.) Get a free picture taken with a showgirl, with the famed "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas" sign as a backdrop. Go to Harrah's near the north entrance of the casino.
8. Eiffel Tower at Paris Las Vegas. It's not as adrenaline-pumping as the Stratosphere Tower ride, but going 460 feet up the Eiffel Tower (half the scale of the real one) offers spectacular panoramas of the Strip — without being strapped in. Why not create your own "Midnight in Paris" moment? It's open 9:30 a.m.-12:30 a.m. (barring bad weather) and costs $10.50-$15.50 for adults and $7.50-$10.50 for children. http://www.parislasvegas.com/casinos/paris-las-vegas/casino-misc/eiffel-tower-detail.html
9. Flair bartenders at Harrah's Carnaval Court. It's ground zero for flair bartenders who dance and juggle bottles to make drinks (Tim "Flippy" Morris is the superstar). You can watch these mesmerizing mixologists free, but the drinks aren't; they'll set you back $11 to $13 each. 3475 Las Vegas Blvd. S.
10. The Mob Museum. No one goes to Las Vegas to visit a museum, but the hottest new attraction in town may be the National Museum of Organized Crime & Law Enforcement. Exhibits give equal time to crime figures such as Bugsy Siegel and Al Capone and the men who pursued them, from J. Edgar Hoover to Rudy Giuliani. Open 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Tickets are $19.95 for adults and $13.95 for children 5-17. 300 Stewart Ave.; (702) 229-2734, themobmuseum.org.
11. Pinball Hall of Fame. At this joint, there's still time to have a misspent youth. Few people younger than 40 will understand the allure of pinball machines, but who cares when you can play these throwbacks for 25-75 cents a game? Open 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays; 11 a.m.-midnight Fridays and Saturdays. 1610 E. Tropicana Ave. http://www.pinballhall.org.
12. Learn how to gamble. Why go to the blackjack table without a strategy? Many casinos teach newbies how to play. Get schooled in poker, craps, roulette and blackjack at the Luxor, http://www.luxor.com/casino/casino_tablegames.aspx, or the Excalibur, www.excalibur.com/casino/game_guide.aspx.
13. H&M store. This is the largest Hennes & Mauritz store in the U.S., with three stories in about 55,000 square feet of space. Shop on the cheap at the massive Forum Shops at Caesars site. (There are two other H&Ms in the city.) A black jersey dress costs $17.95 for starters. Open 10 a.m. daily, 3500 Las Vegas Blvd. S., (702) 207-0167.
14. Fine-art galleries. Cash in your chips and spend an afternoon with Monet at the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art through the end of the year. See more than 20 works by the Impressionist master for the $15 price of admission. Picasso, Chagall and Andy Warhol also join the Vegas lineup in the new Martin Lawrence Galleries, free to enter at the Forum Shops at Caesars.
15. Main Street Station Antiques. Grab a brochure for a self-guided tour of the unusual artifacts in this turn-of-the-last-century-style casino. Check out Buffalo Bill's private rail car and a 6-foot slab of the Berlin Wall in one of the men's rooms. (Yes, women can visit too by asking security for an escort.) 200 N. Main St.; (702) 387-1896, http://www.mainstreetcasino.com
16. M&M's World. The four-story chocolatorium joins the old-school candy stop in Vegas — a tour of the Ethel M factory in Henderson, Nev. It's free to wander the shop's four stories, watch a 10-minute movie ("I Lost My M in Vegas," starring Red and Yellow), chat with roving Ms and discover 22 M&M colors (teal, lime green, hot pink, etc). But really, don't they all taste the same? Open daily 9 a.m.-midnight. 3785 Las Vegas Blvd. South; (702) 740-2504, http://www.mymms.com.
17. Silverton Hotel & Casino Aquarium. The 117,000-gallon tank has one thing traditional aquariums don't: mermaids. They dive Thursdays-Sundays amid the 4,000 tropical fish and stingrays at this off-Strip casino. 3333 Blue Diamond Road; (702) 263-7777, http://www.silvertoncasino.com
18. Don Pablo Cigar Factory. This shop is part-cigar store, part-factory. You can watch old-style Cuban cigar rolling — from tobacco leaves to the final product — free, but the smokes will cost you $6-$15 each. Open 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Sundays. 3049 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; (800) 537-4957, http://www.donpablocigars.com
19. Big Elvis. You can't leave Vegas without seeing at least one Elvis. Pete "Big Elvis" Vallee plays the King in free one-hour concerts at 3, 5 and 6:30 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays at Bill's Gamblin' Hall & Saloon. He sings Elvis hits as well as country, gospel and R&B. 3595 Las Vegas Blvd. S. (702) 737-2100, http://www.billslasvegas.com
20. Free concerts at Cosmopolitan Las Vegas. The hot venue that's "the right amount of wrong" showcases up-and-coming bands at three hotel venues. There's always live action, such as hip-hop performer Pigeon John and DJ Teen Wolf. Check http://www.cosmopolitanlasvegas.com for a list of upcoming free concerts.
21. "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas" sign. Commercial artist Betty Willis designed the flashy, Midcentury sign that has become a Sin City icon. It was installed at the south end of the Strip in 1959 and remains the city's most famous neon welcome mat. Park for free to get a close-up of the 25-foot sign.
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