Las Vegas Strip at night

This past weekend Audrey and I had the opportunity to explore Las Vegas. Personally, it was my first time to visit and I had serious reservations as to whether or not I would actually enjoy the experience. In many ways, I’ve always assumed Vegas was unabashedly cheesy and equally parts sleazy; essentially, nothing more than a Disneyland for adults.

What shocked me is that it didn’t take me long to change my mind about the place. Yes, it is a bit tacky and sleazy in some regards; however, it is an undeniably fun place to be. The energy and excitement swept me up and believe me when I say I don’t exactly need an excuse to get over-the-moon thrilled about temporarily escaping the shackles of teacher’s college.

I desperately needed a temporary escape from reality and Las Vegas provided that in spades. There are many aspects of Las Vegas that totally surprised me. Here are the top five:

Red Rock Canyon as seen from the perspective of a cactus

Adventure playground for outdoor enthusiasts

I had absolutely no idea how many day trip opportunities exist for those seeking outdoor adventures. Red Rock Canyon, a national park that seems lifted straight from Northern Argentina, is within short driving distance. Lake Mead is only a few minutes drive from The Strip. If you’ve got a few more hours to spare the Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon are quite accessible. In theory, one could come to Las Vegas and engage in absolutely none of the nightlife, gambling, eating, shopping and entertainment and still not even scratch the surface of rugged outdoors adventures over the course of a weekend (or even a full week in the city). When I return to Vegas in the future I’m definitely hoping to stay longer and use the city as a launch pad for escaping it all.

Salmon sashimi lunch special in Las Vegas

Value for all budgets

Las Vegas is a destination for people of all budgets. You can live it up like an A-lister by gormandizing at only the most posh restaurants, drinking at the most exclusive nightclubs and sipping on nothing but the finest of drinks; however, if you’re not filthy rich and/or famous it’s a place where value is everywhere. There are plenty of free shows and entertainment (the Bellagio water show being one of my favorites) and most hotels and casinos welcome you with open arms even if you’re merely people watching. You can go for a $10 buffet or gobble down a burger with single digit greenbacks. Personally, I had the opportunity to do both. I ate the $50 steak and watched the Cirque du Soleil performance and I also indulged in many free attractions and wolfed down the otherworldly tasty Shake Shack burger.

Las Vegas Strip during the day

Distances are not what they seem

“It’s only five minutes on foot,” I proclaimed to Audrey gauging the distance of the hotel we wanted to visit. Five minutes later it didn’t appear to be any closer. Ten minutes later it still looked just about the same: “Okay, maybe it’ll take us over a half an hour.” This is a frequent conversation we had numerous times during our weekend in Vegas. The desert plays tricks on your eyes; nothing is what it seems. We learned, given the extreme time scarcity we had, that taking a cab wasn’t a bad idea when we wanted to jam activities into a few hours.

People gambling at a casino in Las Vegas

You can enjoy Vegas without Gambling

I remember reading recently that over 80% of people who visit Las Vegas gamble during their visit. This is obviously understandable. Vegas without gambling is like a tuna fish sandwich sans the tuna. For those adverse to gambling – or simply disinterested – it is totally feasible to enjoy your experience in Sin City without rolling dice, pulling the lever on a slot machine or placing a bet. There is simply so much one can do both on and off The Strip that gambling is entirely optional; however, you will notice people in hotels/casinos that are ONLY in Vegas to do just that. If you’re observant enough, you start to spot familiar faces in familiar places at all hours of the day.

A photo of Nomadic Samuel wearing a newsboy cap while filming in Las Vegas

You can rock any style and get away with it

Are you up to date with the latest fashion from New York City? Total hipster? Cowboy? Retro? Redneck? Regular? Or anything in between? Whatever it is that you do (or don’t) sport, you’ll fit right in when you come to Vegas. I saw everything from staggering cowboys from Texas to pasty white sun deprived Canadians looking like they belonged here. It doesn’t matter if you’re dressed to the nines or looking like you just went on a hunting expedition. It’s all just fine and dandy over here.

The unofficial sixth surprise is that I’d be more than willing to come back. I had a grand old time in Vegas and I tried my best to sample as many different aspects of the city and the surrounding nearby areas as I possibly could. I left wishing I had a few more days to linger when I thought initially I’d be thrilled to eventually leave. Vegas, I’m hooked – the biggest surprise of all.