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Welcome to the Death Star: The Las Vegas Raiders’ Stadium. Part 2: Sin City Beyond the Death Star

Updated: Apr 21, 2023

The Raiders move to Las Vegas gives football fans (not to mention soccer, monster truck, concerts and wrestling ticket buyers) an exciting new opportunity for epic sports road trips. The Vegas casinos and hotels certainly are hoping that sports fans coming to watch their favorite teams play at Allegiant Stadium will spend their extra dollars all over town.

Naturally, one can consult a slew of websites, guidebooks, taxi driver secret tips and advice from your sketchiest degenerate buddy about things to do in Vegas. Rather than regurgitate those golden nuggets, this semi-family friendly stadium travel blog will provide you with relatively wholesome daytime diversions off the Strip for those nursing a hangover or who have football loving tots in tow.

Leaving Las Vegas – the view from seat F on a plane leaving Harry Reid International Airport (formerly McCarran Airport).

For starters, the obvious choice for a Vegas-area tourist spot is the AAA five-star gem Hoover Dam. The art deco engineering marvel was built in 1931-35 is about 36 miles (45 minutes via car) east of the Strip. It is one of those places everyone should see at least once. The 726-foot concrete wall itself is surreal, while the surrounding landscape is otherworldly beautiful.

Be sure to drive over the dam to view it from all angles. A relatively new angle from which to see the dam is the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge. The bridge connecting Nevada and Arizona opened in 2010 and evokes the memory of the fallen NFL and military hero Tillman, who lost his life in Afghanistan in 2004. To access the bridge on foot, park in one of the lots on either side of the bridge and take the short walk for a perfect panoramic view of the dam and rocky terrain.

The Hoover Dam viewed from the Mike O'Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge (left) and from a flight home over the Colorado River (right).

The Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge connects Arizona and Nevada and provides amazing views.

For thrill seekers and fans of panoramic views, the Strat (formerly the Stratosphere) has a variety of attractions. The Strat is a few miles north of the Strip and a short taxi/car service ride away from most hotels. Since their name change, the Strat has turned it up a notch on their vomit-inducing rides and now feature an opportunity to “shoot 160 feet straight up in the air at 45mph, dangle over the side of The STRAT or teeter totter over the edge of SkyPod.” The view from the observation decks on the 108th and 109th floors provide an amazing view 1,149 feet above Vegas.

The Strat, formerly known as the Stratosphere, features amazing views and an ever-changing selection of rides not for the faint at heart.

For those people who enjoy exploring fakey versions of places like ancient Rome, an Egyptian pyramid or Paris, Las Vegas offers it all. One of the best faux tourist sites is the Venetian Resort on the far north side of the Strip. Besides a realistic looking Rialto Bridge, Campanile Tower, St. Marks Square, one can ride a gondola through Vegas style Venetian canals. While it’s not exactly the Grand Canal, it’s not a bad way to get out of the desert sun for a few hours.

The Vegas version of Venice:

Left: “Rialto Bridge” and “Campanile Tower”.

Middle: “St. Mark’s Square”.

Right: A “Venetian” canal.

Nobody would confuse Las Vegas for Italy, but the Venetian does a decent job of replicating the major sites of Venice.

Not only is the High Roller the tallest Ferris wheel in the United States (second tallest in the world) at 550 feet (167.6 meters), but it also functions as a revolving club. During the half hour ride, some of the 28 cabins are stocked with a cocktail bar as part of their “Happy Half Hour” ticket or can be rented for a private party. The wheel is located next to the LINQ Hotel + Experience about midway down the Strip.

The High Roller Ferris Wheel’s 28 cabins take a full spin every thirty minutes.

While the views from the High Roller and Strat are breathtaking, the open air observation deck atop the “Eiffel Tower” at Paris Las Vegas provides the choicest tiktok vistas of them all. The half-sized replica of its French relative tops out at 46 stories and is perfectly situated for post-card perfect views.

Beyond the Mini Eiffel, Vegas Francophones can visit fun size replicas of the Arc de Triomphe, the Garnier Opera House and other Parisian landmarks. Just like the Venetian, the Paris provides a whimsical interpretation of the Parisian experience, albeit with almost no genuine infusion of French culture. Nevertheless, one of the coolest parts of the fakey Eiffel Tower is that it provides an overhead view of the dancing fountains at the fakey Lake Como at the Bellagio across the Strip.

The views from the top of the Eiffel Tower at Paris Las Vegas are arguably the best of any of the Las Vegas observation opportunities.

The Fountains at the Bellagio are not to be missed, especially at night. The times that the fountains dance can change, so be sure to check online before waiting with two little kids in the hot sun for 45 minutes like this moronic photographer/writer once did. While you wait for the show, roam around the lobby area to see the Chihuly’s art blossoms glass sculpture overhead and the rotating exhibits at the Bellagio Conservatory & Botanical Garden.

Top Left: The Fountains at the Bellagio from the mini-Effell Tower.

Top Right: Bellagio Conservatory & Botanical Garden

Bottom Left: Chihuly’s art blossoms.

Bottom Right: Fountains from Drai’s Beachclub.

The Fountains at the Bellagio never fail to impress.

For the ultimate “fish out of water” desert experience, the Shark Tank Aquarium at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino is shockingly good. In a city full of “sharks”, it is a surreal feeling watching the real thing swim around a giant tank at the southern end of the Vegas strip. Being a dad of small kids, I have been to a bunch of aquariums and the Mandalay version is one of the very best.

The Shark Tank Aquarium at the Mandalay Bay is shockingly good.

Las Vegas is known to be a city that is constantly evolving and rewriting itself. There are a few great ways to turn back the clock and see old school Sin City. One supremely instagrammable spot of old Vegas is the Neon Museum a few miles down Las Vegas Boulevard from the heart of the Strip. The museum houses hundreds of neon signs from various Vegas landmarks that have met the wrecking ball or dynamite implosions in the name of progress.

The Neon Museum, located near downtown Las Vegas, is great by day or night.

For a more vibrant, and slightly more lowkey Vegas gambling vibe, the Freemont Street Experience provides a spectacular lightshow, zipline rides (book tickets early in the night because the wait can be long), or old school Vegas casinos with lower buy-in limits. Also, there are number of interesting restaurants nearby that often are frequented by locals instead of the touristy spots on the Strip.

The Freemont Street Experience has cheap slots, a great light show, zip lines and a more authentic Vegas vibe in many ways than the resorts of the Strip.

Sporting entertainment is not limited to Raiders football or Golden Knights Hockey. Golfers can get there practice in at the Top Golf just steps off of the Strip, which features great views of the skyline and loads of huge screens for watching the biggest games. For racing fans, Las Vegas Motor Speedway is a short 15-20 minute drive north of the Strip. Besides the NASCAR races themselves, there’s an opportunity to drive a race car or have a professional driver speed you around the track.

Left: Top Golf near the Vegas Strip; Right: Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The Oakland Athletics currently are threatening to follow their former Oakland Coliseum roommates to Las Vegas. In the meantime, their Triple A minor league affiliate, the Las Vegas Aviators, currently play at a fantastic minor league ballpark in suburban Summerlin (about a 20 minute drive west of the Strip.) The 8,934 seat Las Vegas Ballpark features a unique undulating roof and is one of the top-rated facilities. The park’s amenities include funky bar areas, cooling mesh seats and a leftfield pool overlooking the field.

The Las Vegas Ballpark in suburban Summerlin, Nevada – Home of the Las Vegas Aviators.

If your Vegas journey is only part of a larger trip, don’t forget that the magnificent Grand Canyon is just a four hour drive away from Las Vegas. Alternatively, snag a window seat on planes heading east from Vegas.

The Grand Canyon from a jetBlue window seat.

​But we digress… Before Las Vegas became a pro sports mecca, its little Nevada cousin to the north Reno laid claim to one of the most unusual sports venues in the World. The so-called “Biggest Little City in the World” is home to the National Bowling Stadium and International Bowling Museum & Hall of Fame.* The so-called “Taj Mahal of Tenpins”, which was used in the movie Kingpin, has 78 lanes and seating for 1,100 bowling fans. Best of all, the stadium’s signature architectural element is a giant silver bowling ball that would have easily tied any room together in the Big Lebowski.

*The Reno Hall of Fame actually is a satellite to the primary International Bowing Museum & Hall of Fame in Arlington, Texas. The Arlington Hall of Fame is the successor to the Hall of Fame previously in St. Louis. Just like the Raiders, it has been hard for the Bowling Hall of Fame to find its home.

All photographs and text by Ken Smoller. ©2023 Stadium Vagabond – All Rights Reserved.

Left: St. Louis, home to the first International Bowling Museum, and briefly the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame and Museum. Right: Arlington, TX, the current home base for the International Bowling Museum & Hall of Fame.

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