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Downtown Las Vegas: Weekender

The city's original casino district has undergone a renaissance of late, adding a healthy bit of up-to-date hip to its old-school vibe.

Sarah Vernetti
  • pedestrians stroll under the Fremont Street Experience in Las Vegsa, Nevada, picture
    Photo credit
    Photo: Stefano Politi Markovina / Alamy
    Photo caption
    The Fremont Street Experience dazzles.
  • Big Rig Jig in downtown Las Vegas, Nevada, picture
    Photo credit
    Photo Courtesy of Life Is Beautiful
    Photo caption
    Big Rig Jig debuted at Burning Man.
  • platters of sushi at Bocho Sushi in Las Vegas, Nevada, picture
    Photo credit
    Photo: Nathan Uhlir
    Photo caption
    Bocho Sushi plays with the genre.

It has everything you expect from Las Vegas: casinos, bright lights, late-night watering holes. (The glitzy Fremont Street Experience combines all three.) But the city's downtown district also has vibrant, quirky street art and a batch of small restaurants serving surprisingly innovative food. There's even a new driverless shuttle—sponsored by AAA—providing easy access to the neighborhood.

  • Old shipping containers have been repurposed to create an open-air shopping and entertainment hub at the Downtown Container Park. Say hello to the famous fire-breathing mantis at the entrance, then stroll through the courtyard. Be sure to swing by the tree house–themed playground.

  • Since 2013, the Life Is Beautiful festival has been bringing musicians, speakers, and artists to downtown. The latter have left behind an ever-growing collection of murals and sculptures in the blocks around Fremont Street. Among the highlights are Mike Ross's Big Rig Jig at Fergusons Motel, and Tristan Eaton's Fear No Fate, which riffs on the iconic look of Vegas showgirls.

  • A true downtown gem, the Writer's Block is a combination bookstore, printing supply shop, and studio for young writers. The cozy, whimsically decorated den hosts book clubs and a reading series featuring local and visiting authors. Note: The store plans to move to a new downtown location by June.

  • Beyond the usual fish-and-rice bites, Bocho Sushi presents such playful variations as the Combo Tostada (fish piled on a crispy tortilla and topped with house-made guacamole) and the Jalapeño Bomb (a pepper stuffed with spicy tuna and cream cheese).

  • For late-night noshing, stop by the Smashed Pig GastroPub, where you can nibble on deep-fried deviled eggs while sipping a selection from the skillfully curated beer menu. Don't forget to take a selfie out front with a backdrop of the restaurant's distinctive sign: a neon pig that, like so many Vegas fun lovers, appears to have overindulged.

This article was first published in Winter 2018. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.