Photograph Courtesy of Springs Preserve

They say what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. But does it have to? A recent trip revealed a whole new side to Sin City filled with art, wildlife, and stories of secret history.

An Engineering Wonder

Image Courtesy of Caesar’s Forum

Las Vegas is a city that rose in glitter right out of the desert, so it’s no wonder that you may find yourself there at a conference or large-scale event like the Consumer Electronics Show. The city brings in $330 billion year on conference events alone, and it’s still growing by leaps and bounds. To adjust for this growth, property owners are responding with lavish amounts of new venue builds that boggle the mind with their scale.

Case in point: CAESARS FORUM will open in 2020, featuring the world’s largest pillar-less ballrooms. This brand new property will hold 300,000 square feet of new meeting space and ballrooms, and a 100,000-square-foot outdoor plaza filled with restaurants, shopping, and event space. The project is designed by New York native (of course!) Brad Friedmutter who was born in Brooklyn, raised in Flushing, Queens, and educated at our very own Cooper Union. His mother was an art teacher and then the Director of Cultural Arts for the Board of Education under Mayor Ed Koch. Friedmutter designed casinos, resorts, and hotels around the world, and even though he makes his home in Las Vegas now, there’s no doubt that New York City can claim him as its own!

Wildlife in a Built Environment

Photograph Courtesy of Springs Preserve

Wildlife may not be the first thing you think of as an attraction in a place like Las Vegas. And yet, the desert landscape is rich with life. Mandalay Bay houses a lovely aquarium called Shark Reef. Its most stunning structure is the glass tunnel where a great variety of sharks and fish swim over and around you. Then, just four miles off the strip, Las Vegas is home to a stunning 180-acre nature preserve. The Springs Preserve includes two museums, a butterfly habitat, botanical garden, an operational water pumping facility, playground, and miles of trails that you can bike or walk. And keep your eyes open because the preserve contains over 250 species of native wildlife. It’s also the perfect place to learn about the history of the rise of Las Vegas and its ecology.

Red Rocks and Dinosaurs

Red Rock Canyon has a one-way 13-mile scenic drive, hiking and biking trails, rock climbing sites, and a campground bursting with wildlife. Comprised of 195,819 acres located within the Mojave Desert, it’s a geological wonder that is millions of years in the making. It is also an active paleontology site where scientists have found fossils from dinosaurs, and mammals such as mammoths and American lions, and marine life such as coral and sponges. Wait, what? Marine life? Yes. At one time, Las Vegas wasn’t the desert we all know today but it was submerged under ocean water rich with sea life.

Public Art and Gardens Are Everywhere

People don’t talk about all of the stunning public art and gardens in Las Vegas, and they should because its an enormous part of the experience. Around every corner, there is another exhibit. From Alice in Wonderland-inspired pieces at the Cosmopolitan to living sculptures lining the walkways between the the Bellagio and Bally’s, visitors will be inspired by the scale and creativity of the artists who are hard at work every day in Las Vegas. The Bellagio Conservatory and Botanical Gardens is a treasure. Each season, a team of in-house horticulturalists and designers transform the 14,000-square-foot garden. Their exhibit “That’s Amore” is a perfect example of the multi-sensory experience they create for visitors. With music from The Godfather, Frank Sinatra, and Italian classics, the garden features elaborate fountains, topiaries, chandeliers, and two larger-than-life floating swans entirely constructed of natural elements like flowers, nut shells, beans, trees, and vines. The sites and sounds transport guests to the Italian countryside.

Get Up Close and Personal with the Mob

St. Valentine’s Day Massacre Wall, Photograph Courtesy of The Mob Museum

As you can imagine, Las Vegas is full of stories, particularly gangster stories. Enter, The Mob Museum. The Mafia has a long, winding, and tumultuous history in Sin City. Full of characters and crime, the stories are many and varied. The Mob Museum is located in a restored 1933 former courthouse and post office building a few minutes drive from the Strip. It also has an underground speakeasy and distillery called, appropriately, The Underground. Not only will you enjoy cocktails from the past there, but you’ll also get an interactive history lesson in prohibition. Organized crime has its day in the spotlight at this gem of a museum that has mastered the art of storytelling through thoughtful curation.

The Titanic

Arguably one of the best known stories in history, the Titanic’s inspiring potential and tragic end still pulls at the heartstrings of all travelers. The sparkling ship was built in Belfast, Ireland and was only 400 miles from its destination of New York City when it hit an iceberg and sank into 28-degree water over the course of two hours and fourty minutes, taking with it 1,503 souls.

The Luxor in Las Vegas provides what can only be described as an interactive theatrical experience of what it was like to be aboard the Titanic. To begin Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition, all guests are given a ticket that details a real-life passenger aboard the Titanic. (At the end of the exhibit, you’re able to see if your person survived or perished.) You walk through replicas of the ship including the first, second, and third class cabins, and the grand staircase, and you also experience what it was like to be on deck during the night of the iceberg collision, complete with sound and chilling temperatures. Along the way, you’ll find numerous artifacts that have been recovered by shipwreck divers over the 26 years since the ship was discovered at the bottom of the North Atlantic. Guests understand with painful detail just how the sinking of the Titanic really was a one-in-a-million chance disaster that only happened because of a mysterious mixture of events and circumstances that no one ever predicted could all coalesce.

The exhibit concludes with a dark and somber room that contains The Big Piece, a section of the Titanic’s starboard side hull that weighs 15 tons and measures 26 feet by 12 feet. It was recovered in 1998 after extensive efforts and trials over the course of two years, and then meticulously preserved by conservationists. Visitors are able to walk around it and observe the extensive rivet work and artistry that went into its construction. It’s an astounding experience that’s not to be missed!

Foodie Fantasy Land

If you love food, Las Vegas is a town made for you. Celebrity chefs abound and they are bringing their A-game to the Strip. Michelle Tribble, winner of Season 17 of Hell’s Kitchen and now head chef at Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant inspired by the show, is a prime example of the culinary talent who call Las Vegas home. A talented, creative, badass chef, she also happens to be kind, generous, and a fantastic boss to her entire kitchen staff. Featuring an open kitchen with soaring floor-to-ceiling windows, Hell’s Kitchen serves up modern twists on classic dishes like Beef Wellington, tuna tartare, and a pineapple carpaccio dessert. The cocktail menu is a work of mixology genius with a hefty dose of science to create truly unique concoctions. For example, Smoke on the Boulevard is comprised of Woodford Rye, Aperol, Amoro Averna, and sweet Vermouth that takes a spin in a smoke box stuffed with cherry wood and is garnished with a Hell’s Kitchen branded orange peel.

Next, check out The Vintage Times Square Street Sign That Went to Vegas and Back