Pinball and the Mob: 10 Weird and Wonderful Attractions in Las Vegas
Do Vegas like a local with these hotels, bars, and outdoor wonders.
Let’s be honest: When most people think of Las Vegas, they’re thinking of loud, windowless rooms packed with slot machines, Cirque du Soleil shows, and the waving waters of the Bellagio fountain. But while Las Vegas it’s certainly a city that caters to tourists, it’s also one with well over half a million actual residents, most of whom aren’t hanging out on the strip every single night. It’s also a city with a rich and interesting history, as well as a beautiful natural landscape—provided you can get away from the bright lights of the big hotels. We asked beloved Vegas bartenders, tour operators, and even museum staff about their favorite haunts, and they told us that, If you know where to look, there are 70-year-old bars and steakhouses, and hotels with history, not just glitz. There are interesting and unique museums, beautiful state parks, and an art space so mind-bending that visitors really just have to see it to believe it. Here’s our guide to 10 amazing and unique attractions around Las Vegas.
The Mob Museum
A 41,000-square-foot building dedicated to the history of organized crime, The Mob Museum is one of Vegas’s most interesting cultural artifacts. Also known as the National Museum Of Organized Crime And Law Enforcement, the Mob Museum aims to not only shine a light on the very, shall we say, “family-oriented” history of Las Vegas, but to teach visitors about the global history of organized crime. The building houses artifacts from famous mafiosos and incidents like the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in Chicago, but it also boasts costumes from mob-inspired television shows and movies, a number of immersive exhibits about topics like forensic science, a firearms training simulator, and even it’s very own moonshine distillery.
Claire White, the museum’s director of education, says The Mob Museum “is a great way to get a little bit of history about Las Vegas and to understand the city’s context, whether you’re staying on the strip or you’re staying downtown.” She also says the museum isn’t just about blood, guts, and salacious criminal details. “It’s all about helping our guests understand that organized crime history is American history,” she says, noting “a lot of the things that have happened in the fight against organized crime have really shaped federal and local law enforcement efforts and how agencies are structured.” For example, she says, when rivals of Al Capone’s Outfit gang were gunned down in 1929 during the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, it led to one of the first uses of firearms examination and ballistics in a criminal investigation.
Chon Kit Leong/Dreamstime
Spring Mountain Ranch State Park
Located just outside Las Vegas, Spring Mountain Ranch State Park holds some of the oldest buildings in Nevada, like a blacksmith shop from the 1860s, a sandstone cabin that was home to one of the state’s founding families, and a house used during the many decades the property was used as a working ranch.
The property has also been held by a number of colorful owners, including German actress Vera Krupp and eccentric millionaire Howard Hughes. Mob Museum education director Claire White—who says the park is one of her favorites—says the latter purchased the house from Krupp in 1967 as “an attempt to lure his estranged wife, Jean Peters, to Las Vegas.” The gesture failed, fortunately, or unfortunately, and neither Hughes nor Peters ever actually lived on the property.
The park boasts several tree-shaded picnic sites with grills, a robust summer theater schedule, and even some hiking trails, which White says can sometimes be visited by groups of wild burros. She continues, “It’s not that far out of town, so it’s surprising to tourists who aren’t familiar with Las Vegas that you’re not driving that far away from the lights of the strip, and yet you’re in the desert. You’re a world apart.”
The Golden Steer Steakhouse
A Vegas institution since it opened in 1958, the Golden Steer is one of the oldest steakhouses in Sin City. Owner Amanda Signorelli says the Steer is known for its commitment to old-school fine dining, explaining, “When you walk into the Golden Steer, you feel like you’re transported back in time and you get a taste of the soul of Las Vegas.” She would know: The restaurant has been in her family for decades.
If you’re into Vegas’s star-driven history, the Steer is a great option, too. Dozens of big names have come through in the restaurant’s history, including Sammy Davis, Jr., Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, Joe DiMaggio, Elvis Presley, and Garth Brooks. Signorelli says the restaurant has kept track of the icons’ favorite booths and notes that patrons can request a spot once occupied by their Hollywood hero. “A lot of people will come in and say, ‘Hey, for my birthday, I want to reserve the Frank Sinatra booth,” she explains, saying that booths like Sinatras often even contain memorabilia from their famous patrons’ homes, lives, and shows.
Signorelli says the tradition of dedicated booths started in honor of Sammy Davis, Jr., who always ate at the Steer. For much of Davis’ early career in Vegas, the city was still deeply de facto segregated. Davis, in turn, couldn’t always stay at the same hotels as his buddies like Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. He couldn’t dine in the same restaurants, either. Signorelli says the Golden Steer decided to take a stand, telling Davis he’d always have a spot in their main dining room. “We said, ‘You choose where it is, and we will treat this as your home,’” she says. Davis did, and the restaurant made his dedicated spot available any time he wanted. The rest of the Rat Pack was very supportive of that, Signorelli says, explaining that “Frank in particular” admired the restaurant’s commitment to making a safe space for his pal and started going in on the regular. “We actually have patrons who, over the years, have come in and said, ‘I remember back in the day when I dined at the restaurant, Frank Sinatra was actually serenading me. He came after his show, and he was drinking and dancing on the tables while smoking a cigar.’” says Signorelli.
A massive entertainment complex anchored by Meow Wolf’s mind-bending 50,000 square foot art installation/grocery store Omega Mart, Area15 has everything anyone could want for a fun night—or morning or afternoon—out on the town. Self-described as a “wonderland of art, music, and amusement,” Area15 is kind of like what would happen if you took an amusement park, a Dave & Busters, and Burning Man, threw them in a blender, and saw what came out. Visitors can tackle VR flight simulators or an experience inspired by Zack Snyder’s Army Of The Dead. There’s a luxe ax-throwing bar, an indoor golf experience, and a combination distillery tour/cocktail show that’s been described as “Disneyland for liquor” by Wired. There’s an outdoor concert space/club, a zip line that has visitors soaring over the whole property, and a bar/ride that takes patrons up into the sky to gaze out over the Vegas skyline. There’s even something called Wink World, created by the founder of Blue Man Group, which Area15 CEO Winston Fisher likens to “a spiritual journey into what it means to be infinite.”
Fisher is adamant that a space like Area15 has never been seen before, and it’s easy to believe him: Where else can ravers dip into a light and sound experience created by a group out of Spain while diners sit down to BBQ and bar bites at a food hall created by four-time James Beard award-winner Todd English.
While Fisher says actually doing everything at Area15 would probably take “two days, minimum,” he says the space also rewards re-visits. “It’s like, ‘what do you want to do,’” he says, noting that, “there’s a richness to the content, and it’s exciting. It’s hard to describe because everybody walks in there and they’re like ‘Oh, my God,’ because from the outside, it’s a bunker, but if you go inside the site, the inmates took over the asylum.”
Established in 1952, Atomic Liquors calls itself “Las Vegas’ first bar.” It’s not just a hyperbolic name, either: The owners actually obtained Vegas’ very first tavern license, #00001, after converting the space from what had originally been their cafe/liquor store.
Named after the bomb test viewing parties the owners once threw on its roof, Atomic has always attracted an eclectic clientele from its location in downtown Vegas, from local workers to celebrities rolling through town, like Barbra Streisand, the Smothers Brothers, Clint Eastwood, and The Rat Pack. At one point, the bar was even open 24 hours a day, meaning you could always find casino workers popping in after their shifts to see what was shaking.
The bar has played host to many television and movie shoots, from an episode of the original Twilight Zone to parts of the movie Casino . (The adjacent garage served as Martin Scorsese’s production studio for the film’s entire shoot.) The bar can also be seen in the car crash scene in The Hangover , another movie that put Vegas front and center.
Manager Chris Gutierrez recommends trying the bar’s Hunter S. Smash, which pays tribute to the late writer and cultural icon Hunter S. Thompson. A blend of Old Crow bourbon whiskey, Aperol, ginger, lemon, mint, and soda, the drink is, according to Gutierrez, akin to a “cool whiskey Mojito.”
El Cortez Hotel & Casino
A downtown Vegas hotel that’s so beloved it’s been placed on the National Register of Historic Places, the El Cortez is classic Vegas to a T. One of the last family-run casinos, the El Cortez is the longest continuously-running hotel and casino in Vegas and maintains the same facade its had since 1952 when it’s “new” neon sign was installed.
That doesn’t mean nothing’s changed: General Manager Adam Wiesberg says that while the El Cortez is overwhelmingly proud of its history, it has undergone some updates. The building has just undergone $30 million worth of property renovations, including a near-complete remodel of its main tower, save one suite (more on that later.) The hotel is also in the process of remodeling what Wiesberg calls “the original 47,” or the hotel’s first 47 rooms. (Bugsy Siegel once kept his office in one of those rooms.) Those 47 rooms will maintain the Cuban inspiration the property had when it first opened, a design that paid tribute to the many flourishing casinos and vacation spots then operating in Havana.
But about that one suite: The Jackie Gaughn Owners Suite is one of Vegas’ most unique hotel rooms. Gaughn bought the El Cortez in 1963 and was noted as an owner because he actually had no mafia connections. In 1980, he built the hotel and casino’s tower suites, saving the top floor for a living space for himself and his wife, Bertie. He died in 2014, and his space—which had remained relatively untouched since it was built—became the Owners Suite. It’s hard to describe, so we’d recommend looking at photos, but you won’t find any modern Vegas glitz there. Instead, it’s all classic Vegas mashed up with the Golden Girls, spiked with a touch of retro movie set charm. (Ellie Goulding actually shot her “On My Mind” video there.) Though Wiesberg says the El Cortez has remodeled the suites surrounding the Gaughn space, making them what he says are “the nicest rooms in downtown Las Vegas,” the Jackie Gaughn Owners Suite “really hasn’t changed at all.”
Fremont East Entertainment District
A pedestrian-friendly area encompassing six full blocks of downtown Las Vegas, the Fremont East Entertainment District has only become a protected and beloved part of the city in the past 20 years. With its comedy clubs, rooftop bars, nightclubs, and even speakeasies, Fremont East sits, coincidentally enough, all around the El Cortez Hotel and Casino. Manager Adam Wiesberg calls it the “hippest, coolest, most interesting artistic neighborhood in Vegas,” saying it’s “where a lot of local Las Vegas people call home.” It sits adjacent to the popular Fremont Street Experience, with its modern canopy light show, and near hotels and casinos like The D, Four Queens, Golden Gate, Circa, and Binion’s Horseshoe. “There’s really nothing like downtown,” says Wiesberg. “There’s great contrast between properties, great entertainment, and all of this community and culture.”
Valley of Fire State Park
A sweeping landscape of 40,000 acres of red Aztec sandstone, Valley Of Fire State Park is one of the Las Vegas area’s little-known natural treasures. Just miles from the strip, visitors can check out petrified trees, petroglyphs dating back more than 2,000 years, and massive rock formations created by natural erosion ages of years ago.
The park could already look familiar to some visitors, which makes sense: The Valley Of Fire has appeared in movies like Viva Las Vegas , Total Recall , and Star Trek Generations.
For those without a car or who might like to maximize their time out in the Mojave desert, Pink Jeep Tours offers an excursion out into the Valley Of Fire in one of its enclosed off-road vehicles. Certified Interpretive Guides can give anyone the lay of the land while they’re out there, and the tour includes lunch, photo ops, and even a stop at the park’s Visitor’s Center.
Pink Jeep’s Guide Supervisor, Ken Swanson, says he’d recommend Valley Of Fire to any Vegas visitor, preferring it to trips to the nearby Hoover Dam or the Grand Canyon.
“Valley Of Fire is going to impress you more, and here’s why,” he says, continuing, “Everybody in this world knows what the Grand Canyon looks like, and you kind of know what you’ll see. You see it, and you go, ‘wow, this is cool. What’s next?’ Valley Of Fire, nobody knows what to expect. Plus, you can touch the rocks, and you’re immersed into it. You can get up close, personal, and touch 1000s of years of native and geological history.” Swanson also notes that it’s just 45 miles from Vegas, making it a great option for a day trip before a night on the town.
It might not have an official designation quite yet, but a good portion of Vegas’ Arts District is well on its way to becoming a new haven for breweries, distilleries, and purveyors of all types of spirits. In 2021, the city sought to create a “Brewery Row” around several different downtown beer purveyors, including Able Baker Brewing, Hop Nuts, and Nevada Brew Works. Now, as Pink Jeep’s Ken Swanson—who’s a big beer fan—reports, “You can actually walk to seven breweries, with an additional three more within just about two miles.” Craft Beer is booming in Vegas, with lovers of the brewing arts finding many tasty options to fall in love with.
The Pinball Hall of Fame
Believe it or not, there was a time when pinball machines were outlawed for being a form of gambling. That’s why it makes perfect sense for the Pinball Hall Of Fame to be in Vegas, a town that celebrates the thrill of a good risk. Located right across from the famous “Welcome To Las Vegas” sign, the PHoF is 25,000 square feet dedicated just to pinball. The not-for-profit museum is home to the world’s largest pinball collection—the games are actually all owned by one person, a man named Tim Arnold—and most of the machines were released somewhere from the 1950s to the 1990s. Cash in a $20 at the desk for a couple of rolls of quarters, and you’ll be able to wile away the afternoon playing game after game of sweet, sweet pinball. Most older machines cost just $.25 to play, while the newer ‘90s models are sent at $.50 a play. The Hall’s operators say that “fun is mandatory” in their venue, saying, “it’s something you’ll leave with, unlike what a slot machine delivers” and noting that, since the museum is a non-profit, all excess revenues go to non-denominational charities, so you can feel good about where you’re spending your money.