With a population of around 600,000, entertainment and gambling mecca Las Vegas is the largest city in Nevada. The metropolitan area, including sister cities Henderson and North Las Vegas (a separate town), has a population of around 2 million. With about 300 days of sunshine each year and an average temperature ranging between 56 and 80 degrees, Las Vegas offers an enjoyable climate that attracts retirees as well as outdoor enthusiasts. Las Vegas itself covers about 133 square miles, boasting 68 parks and 14 golf courses. The Las Vegas Valley is home to a vibrant collection of communities and is also close to numerous scenic wonders.
NEIGHBORHOODS AND DISTRICTS
Downtown Las Vegas features two very different areas:
- The Strip: The four-mile stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard known as The Strip holds more hotel rooms than any other city in the world. Famous resorts such as Bellagio, Mirage, Treasure Island, and Paris Las Vegas tempt visitors with casino gambling, fabulous food, and unique entertainment. Though much of The Strip is not actually within Las Vegas city limits, it generates much of the tourism that supports the city.
- Fremont Street: Old Las Vegas--the original downtown area that was already famous in the 1930s--is now known as the Fremont Street Experience. This nostalgic area caters to tourists who enjoy the old-fashioned ambiance of classic casinos like Golden Nugget and the renovated Golden Gate Hotel Casino, still famous for its 99-cent shrimp cocktail. Other tourist destinations include off-Strip areas such as the sprawling Las Vegas Convention Center (a 3.2 million-square-foot facility that hosts hundreds of large and small conventions annually) and the adjacent Las Vegas Hilton; Flamingo and Tropicana casinos, world-famous in the 1950s; and the Boulder Strip, a casino-lined section of the highway that leads to Boulder Dam. Beyond downtown, Las Vegas spreads out with old and new neighborhoods including many beautiful planned communities such as Anthem, Green Valley, Summerlin, and Centennial Hills.
ECONOMY AND INDUSTRIES
As just about everyone knows, gambling and the tourism it generates are the most important industries in Las Vegas. The hospitality industry accounts for a large proportion of jobs, but two other types of business also drive the Las Vegas economy.
- Construction. Not only are new homes and apartments needed for the city's rapid growth, but older casinos and buildings are constantly being renovated. New tourist attractions are also under development, along with renewal in some of the older urban areas.
- Technology. Las Vegas hosts some of the country's biggest tech conventions (such as ComDex) so it's no surprise the city is home to quite a few tech companies (like Petroglyph and SkyWire), especially in the area of electronic gaming.
Harrah's Entertainment and MGM Mirage, two of the largest gaming companies in the world, are headquartered in Las Vegas.
Headquarters of the Clark County school district, the fifth largest in the country, Las Vegas has more than 60 elementary schools and 10 high schools, as well as the University of Nevada at Las Vegas (UNLV), home of the Runnin' Rebels basketball team.
ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT
It's a good thing there is so much else to do in Las Vegas, because it is one of the largest cities in American without a major league team in any sport. Though "adult activities" are the biggest attraction, Las Vegas also offers family-friendly and non-gambling activities:
- The Star Trek Experience, housed in the Las Vegas Hilton, is an extensive museum of Star Trek memorabilia, a genuinely exciting simulated starship adventure, and a convincing replica of Quark's Bar.
- Specialty museums include the Liberace Museum, Madame Tussauds Interactive Wax Attraction, Lied Discover Children's Museum, Las Vegas Art Museum, and the Marjorie Barrick Museum of Natural History.
- Several of the big hotels offer fascinating attractions right on the premises. Some of the most exciting are Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay, Siegfried and Roy's Secret Gardens and Dolphin Habitat, and the Bellagio Conservatory and Botanical Gardens.
DID YOU KNOW?
- Las Vegas means "the meadows" in Spanish.
- Las Vegas was founded in 1905 with the auction of 110 acres of land in what is now downtown.
- By 1906, one year after the city was founded, the first hotel-casino, the Golden Gate, was opened.
- A 1910 law made it illegal to gamble in Las Vegas, but the Nevada Legislature approved a legalized gambling bill in 1931.
- The city's first racially integrated hotel, the Moulin Rouge, opened in 1955 -- before the civil rights movement was even fully underway.
- Why do so many couples choose to marry in Nevada? Likely because there's no blood test or waiting period required, and a marriage license costs just $55.
- The famous Las Vegas Strip is, for the most part, not within the city limits of Las Vegas.
- Aviator and film producer Howard Hughes, the subject of Martin Scorsese's "The Aviator," had stayed at Vegas' Desert Inn for so long that he was asked to leave. So, he bought the hotel.
- Seventeen of the 20 biggest hotels in the U.S. are in Las Vegas.
- Mobster Bugsy Siegel named his Las Vegas casino the Flamingo after the long legs of his showgirl girlfriend.
- The first atomic bomb was detonated at the Nevada Test Site north of Las Vegas.
- In 1855, members of the Mormon Church chose Las Vegas as the site to build a fort halfway between Salt Lake City and L.A. Remainders of the Mormon fort can still be seen.
- Las Vegas was a railroad watering hole before it became known as the "Gateway to the Hoover Dam."
- Supposedly, Lauren Bacall gave the Rat Pack its name when the group was enjoying drinks on a train from Los Angeles to Las Vegas to catch a cabaret act.
- In 1967, Elvis and Priscilla Presley were married at the Aladdin; the casino reopened as Planet Hollywood in 2007.
- In 1996, Wayne Newton celebrated his 25,000th performance in Vegas.
- The record snow for Las Vegas is 9 inches in January 1974.
- Frank Sinatra died on May 14, 1998. The next night, the lights of the Strip were dimmed in his honor.
- Liberace was the highest paid entertainer in 1955, making $50,000 a week at the Riviera and paving the way for marquee entertainers performing in Vegas.
- While many credit Bugsy Siegel with opening the first casino on the Strip, Guy McAfee, a Los Angeles police vice squad commander, deserves that distinction for his Pair-O-Dice.
- The Flamingo opened in 1946, costing the Mob six times more than the $1 million Bugsy Siegel projected. Siegel was "retired" from the casino business when he was shot in 1947.
- In 1957 topless showgirls debuted on the Las Vegas Strip in "Minsky's Follies" at the Dunes, and two years later Betty Willis designed the trademark Welcome to Las Vegas sign.