February 26, 2012
If you are in Denver during a warm summer evening, be sure to traverse 16th Ave. This downtown “pedestrian mall” will be filled with happy diners sitting outside restaurants, tourists banging out tunes on the colorful pianos and photographing painted pigs that sometimes fill the brick streets, and groups of friends laughing from bar to bar. 16th street is capped by the capitol building on the south end and LoDo to the north. To be honest, both of these areas are more exciting than 16th street itself. Free “pedestrian mall” shuttles will help you get from one end of the walkway to the other.
These shuttles will come in handy if you are walking down 16th street on a cold winter day, because you will probably be much less enchanted with the place. There is more than one place to buy tacky “Colorado” souvenirs and the majority of the restaurants are chains, from nice chains (Earls, Yard House) to not so nice ones (Chile’s and, of course, McDonalds). There are also at least three Starbucks along 16th Street, whereas the rest of Denver seems to embrace the “chains are for bikes, not coffee houses” philosophy.
Boulder, sitting 45 minutes northwest of Denver, does a much better job on it’s pedestrian-only Pearl Street. There are cute clothing stores, specialty shops, in the beautiful Boulderado Hotel, tons of restaurants (chains and otherwise) and a plethora of bars, ranging from gritty pool halls to DJ’d dance floors, to upscale wine rooms. Pearl Street is the most interesting at 2am, after all the bars close and groups of twenty and thirtysomethings try to find their friends and cars with varying degrees of success.
February 22, 2012
People that aren’t me seem to think that running and beer go together. I first discovered this at 18 when I ran my first marathon. Instead of a water station at mile 23, it was a beer station. Although this would have been a golden opportunity for my under-aged self to score some free alcohol, I was not remotely interested in drinking warm beer when I still had 3.2 more miles to run.
Several years later I discovered the international Hash House Harriers, aka “Drinkers with a Running Problem.” The international club is known for bestowing it’s member with (extremely) inappropriate nicknames and partaking in drunken singalongs after running through mud and ditches. Again, not interested.
I just can’t build up a strong desire for beer after a run, no matter how hot the run or how cold the beer. I’d seriously rather have a warm Diet Pepsi. Or water. Call me boring.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating a sobriety lifestyle. Drinking alcohol is fabulous. I love wine at Italian restaurants, especially if cheese is involved. Amaretto sours are my go-to-drink when I need to stay alert throughout the night. I don’t think I could play bingo without two shots of tequila and a bag of Doritos, and I can totally get behind drinking beer at bars and baseball games and camping trips and whenever I’m having a hamburger.
But after running? I’m sorry, but how can anything beat a water?
So here in Denver people love running clubs and drinking beer. Again, these two activities are intertwined. It is quite typical here for running clubs to meet at bars, go off and run, and then return and drink. I love the concept and don’t want to miss out, so I just eat instead of drink after the run. Here are a group-runs-at-bars that I’ve been frequenting:
A large group of runners meet at the Irish Snug every Thursday for a run. To get in on the action, sign up online to join the “official” list. Around 6ish, meet underneath the Snug (at the entrance on Marion, not Colfax), sign in again (because once you’ve reached a certain amount of runs you get a free t-shirt), and find some people to run with. Snug Runners do not start off as one group, so you have to make friends there to go running with. (Like me! Leave a comment if you want to join me and my group.)
The 3.5 mile loop is an easy one, through Cheeseman Park and past the Denver Botanical Gardens before heading back to Colfax and the Snug. After the race you can join the masses for free spaghetti or grab a table with friends. The food is nothing special, but the salads and burgers are acceptable.
Highland Tap Run
Meet your fellow runners at the very back of this bar on Wednesday nights to sign in. Then head outside to stand by the fire to warm up before the start. At 6:30 everyone starts off at once, but the pack does tend to thin out after the first mile. This run goes through Confluence Park, LoDo, past Coors Field, and back up 32nd to the bar. The word UP is used purposefully. The last mile is basically a LOOOONG hill. It’s not too steep, but it is never-ending.
The bar gets pretty crowded after the run, but I hear the beer here is top notch. I’m all about their macaroni and cheese though. It is creamy and so delicious that you can tell you are ingesting approximately 200 calories per bite – more if you get it with the bacon. I think you would have to do the 3.5 mile run several times over to cancel out the macaroni and cheese. But it’s worth it.
The only problem with attending these runs that meet in bars occurs if you happen to get your days mixed up. On Wednesday I accidentally headed to my Thursday night bar. Naturally I was in full-on running getup and paraded though the bar looking like a complete dork before I realized that I was there on the wrong day. However, Denver’s ultra-casual dress code standards made this mix-up only embarrassing as opposed to mortifying. I don’t even want to think about showing up at a bar on the Vegas Strip in running clothes.
Rocky Mountain Road Runners Club
The last running club I’ve joined up with is the Rocky Mountain Road Runners. I was thinking that this club would not meet the beer theme, but alas, the post race hangout was at Platte River Bar and Grill. Wherein people were drinking with gusto at 10am on a Sunday morning.
This is not a meet-up-and-run club, rather they sponsor monthly races as a club. Each race is $10, or you could join the club for a $35 yearly fee. (Discounts are available for households joining together, student runners, and those who are willing to volunteer during races). However, the group does also meet up and group for fun on Wednesday nights.
The races put on by RMRR are a little different. They all have staggered starts, so the slowest runners begin first, and others begin according to their estimated finish time. The idea is that everyone finishes together and anyone (even the slowest runner) has a chance at winning the race. Prizes are given out to winners over food and drinks after each race, and the camaraderie here is infectious.
So even for though I don’t enjoy a post-run-beer, I am loving Denver’s group bar runs. Provided I show up to the right bar on the right night.
Cheers! And Happy Running!
February 19, 2012
Posted by jennavandenberg under Colorado
| Tags: Denver Art Museum
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I’m not really an art museum person, but I do like free stuff, and the Denver Art Museum is free on first Saturdays for Colorado residents. So I went. Plus I got to say things like “DAM! That’s where I’m going today!” It’s much cooler to verbalize the above sentence then to write it out because when spoken nobody can tell I’m omitting the “N.” You can also become a “DAM Good Friend” of the museum. Hehe.
Based on my extremely limited knowledge and experience with art museums, the Denver Art Museum is better than the Seattle Art Museum, but I prefer New York’s Met to the Denver Art Museum. This may be because I went to the Met with two other anti-art people and we spent our time making fun of modern art. Plus the Met is always free.
I liked the Denver Art Museum because it was not too big, exhibits are easy to walk through without getting lost, there were interactive exhibits on every floor (make your own postcard! Design patterns with beads! Dress up like you belong in a Clint Eastwood movie!), and there were lots of loud people there. (Probably because it was a free day, but still) I don’t like being quiet in museums. Also, some exhibits (like the creepy red dining scene with all the wolves) are enhanced by the wearing of 3D glasses. I like gimmicks with my art. Anything to keep me entertained.
The layout of the museum is far superior to the two other art museums I’ve been to recently. The Seattle Art Museum and the Met were all about having lots of small rooms with paintings hung up on the four walls of the rooms. The Denver Art Museum has huge rooms, and with displays are placed all throughout the space, not just on permanent walls. The lack of tons of tiny rooms is what aids in the not-getting-lost-department.
My favorite exhibits to not get lost in where the “Western America” and the “Western American Photography” exhibits on the 2nd floor of the Hamilton Building and the 7th floor of the North Building, respectively. This was probably because I recognized many of the scenes and landscapes due to my frequent car trips between Las Vegas, Seattle, and Denver. Art, like everything in life, is more enjoyable if you have some prior knowledge you can call on. For the same reason, the American Indian exhibits on the 2nd and 3rd floors were cool too. I liked that I recognized the Acoma pottery and Navajo rugs due to my last trip through Northern New Mexico.
This “prior knowledge” theory went out the window as I raced through the Asian and European exhibits though. I’ve already seen an insufferable amount of Asian art in China because whenever it was raining in Shanghai, I’d duck into a museum. I was in China during monsoon season. There is only so much blue and white lacquered pottery that you can appreciate. I’ve likewise seen my fair share of European art because whenever my toes started freezing in Germany and Scandinavia I’d seek warmth in the confines of a museum. I was in Europe during January. I’d had my fill of Madonna’s holding fat babies wearing halos as headgear.
My least favorite exhibit was the only one I was specifically looking forward to. Of course. Artist Ed Ruscha has a special temporary exhibit at DAM that was inspired by Jack Kerouac’s Great American Novel. I’d been eager to check it out because I’d just finished reading “On The Road.” The exhibit was beyond disappointing. Ed created his “art” by putting Kerouac quotes on a canvas and adding a really ugly looking mountain underneath the quote. I wish I could put a picture of these monstrosities below this paragraph, but I was not allowed to photograph the “artwork.” This exhibit will be up until April 22nd should you care to check it out for yourself.
The Denver Art Museum is located at 13th and Broadway in downtown Denver. It is open Tuesdays – Sundays from 10am – 5pm. On Fridays the museum stays open until 8pm. The museum is closed on Mondays. Museum admission starts at $10 for adult Colorado residents ($13 for non-residents) with discounts for seniors, students, and children.
February 15, 2012
The first time I was in a New Mexican restaurant in Baltimore. I warily looked at the menu and ordered the not-so-southwestern brie and apple cheeseburger. Much to the additional horror of my foodie-friend, I added a liberal amount of ketchup to my meal.
“You have got to get it together,” she said to me, shaking her head in a mixture of disgust and pity.
She was right. I was due to be in New Mexico for a press trip soon and this type of behavior would probably not acceptable. I’d better learn to eat chiles (green, red, and both) stat.
So I did. While in New Mexico I fell in love with Southwestern cuisine. I gobbled up green chile cheeseburgers, posole, lamb stew with cilantro, and Navajo tacos with the best of them.
Then I had to leave. I had to spend two months in Seattle and Las Vegas, pining for frito pies and those cheeseburgers. Luckily I’m in Colorado now, and cuisine from the state next door is readily available at several places around Denver.
Julia Blackbird’s New Mexican Restaurant
There is something different about people who love New Mexico: Their speech is peppered with words like “Earth and Spirit, global connections, beautiful soul” and especially the word “spiritual.” The earthy/new-age feel can be felt as soon as you get five feet off any interstate in New Mexico or as soon as you enter Julia’s restaurant in Denver’s West Highlands. Although the exposed ceilings of her restaurant fit in with Denver style, the rest of the place is all New Mexico. Mexican, Southwestern and Native art decorate the walls (which are painted to look adobe). On the menu is a note from Julia that closes by stating “…feasting and exchange of food reflect the depth of common ideals of reciprocity, community, and the relationship to all life…” It wasn’t just the language and decor that was New Mexico, the food was too.
For dinner I had Taos style tacos: beef, lettuce, pico and queso on blue fried corn tacos. Delicious. Although the taco shells were just a tad on the soft side. The Ancho Chili BBQ ribs, chicken cordon green and pecan stuffed acorn squash all sound interesting too, so I’ll have to go back. For desert I probably should have had the pastel de chocolate Diablo, but I went with the not-so-southwestern key lime pie instead.
Julia Blackbirds is open weekdays for lunch from 11 – 2. Dinner hours on Tuesday – Thursday are 5-9, Fridays they are open until 10. Dinner is not served Monday. The restaurant is open from 11-10 on Saturdays and noon – 2 on Sundays.
This is one of those “if you eat this million calorie gross thing, your picture goes on the wall” kind of places. Don’t come here if you are on a diet. I got one of their more modest burgers (aka it only had one patty) and could only finish half of it. And I can eat a lot. The vibe here is very “family roadhouse.” All the burgers and meals are named after the owners kid and grandkids. Apparently the family came from Albuquerque, started selling burgers, and the rest is history. Although the place doesn’t look particularly New Mexican (no adobe anywhere), the menu has the requisite sopapillas, posole, and green chile menu items.
I’m in the minority here, but I didn’t really like Jack N Grill. They’ve won tons of local and national awards, so go ahead and give them a whirl, but I wasn’t feeling it. I had a Jaxx burger, complete with onions, guacamole, bacon, cheese and green chiles. For some terrible reason, the bacon was infused with maple syrup, making the whole burger taste faintly of a pancake breakfast. The bun was a little weird too, too soft and sweet for me, although maybe I’m still reacting to the bacon.
I made my first posole the other day, which was a little intimidating because my roommate is one kick-ass soup chef. I’m more of a baker, but armed with hominy corn and a recipe from, I was ready to go.
Even though the recipe was definitely on the “easy” side, I think I used like ten pots and pans to make this. I also splattered everything within a ten foot radius of the stove when I was frying up the lamb. The posole turned out great though. I mostly stuck to the recipe, but I did add half an onion to the recipe, and garnished with radishes. I also made cute little cornbread muffins to go with the posole (see above). Good stuff.
I still haven’t found a good place for Navajo tacos (open faced tacos on fry bread), but now whenever I need posole, green chile cheeseburgers, or a chance to ‘feast while reflecting on the common ideals of humanity,’ I don’t have to go all the way down to New Mexico.
February 12, 2012
When I moved from Seattle to Las Vegas six years ago, I thought I would miss the color green. I didn’t. Southwestern sunsets over brown mountains totally fulfilled my ‘color’ requirement. But I did miss lakes, rivers, oceans, inlets, sounds, bays, and islands. Now in Denver, I’m still missing oceans and islands, but there are some aquatic features here to enjoy. Since it’s January and not exactly swimming season, the only thing to do with these rivers and lakes is to run around them. Here are a few I’ve explored:
Much like Seattle’s Green Lake, this is a go-to spot for runners in need of a quick urban workout. A glance to the east of the lake reveals the Denver skyline. Swivel your head in the opposite direction for a view of the mountains. The path around Sloans Lake is paved and well used. The city clears off the path after a snow, for which I am grateful. I’m still a bit scared of slipping on ice. This fear seems to be rare. Other runners don’t even slow down when crossing sheets of the slippery stuff. My runner friend here made fun of me when I skipped our Wednesday night run due to the fact that it had recently snowed 12 inches and then froze. “You’ll have shoes on, right?” He asked, baffled. Obviously I’m going to have to figure out how to run in the snow, but maybe that can wait until next year.
Anyways, the non-icy path around Sloans Lake isn’t even two miles, but I’ve observed runners doing a few loops in order to get in a good workout. The area to the north of Sloan Lake is also nice to run around, and provides an uphill for training purposes and pretty house to run past for aesthetic purposes. This is currently my favorite run in Denver. Sloans Lake is west of Denver, on the northeast corner of Sheridan and 17th
This lake is way bigger than Sloans Lake, and despite three visits to the park, I’ve yet to run even halfway around the lake. It would take hours (well, it would take me hours anyways. Perhaps a Kenyan could do it in mere minutes). You can’t run all the way around the lake. The northwest corner is off-limits because it’s a bald eagle nesting area. There are tons of dirt and/or gravel trails around Standley Lake. It is much quieter here than Sloans Lake, in all three of my runs here I haven’t seen another soul – although there are always footprints and dog-paw prints to follow, so that’s comforting. Standley Lake is pretty close to the mountains, so the scenery is nice. During the summer, boating and fishing is permitted on Standley Lake, but swimming is not.
Standley Lake is a ways northwest of Denver, just east of Wadsworth and W 100th Ave in the city of Westminster. It’s actually an official “regional park,” which means that you can be charged to drive around the lake. To avoid the fee, park at 86th Parkway and Simms St or 100th Ave and Owens St, and walk (or bike) into the park for free.
The Platte River:
There are tons of nice places to enjoy a run along the Platte River in the Denver area, from Commons Park in LoDo to a long network of trails in Littleton. This morning I ran a seven mile race along the Platte in Littleton with the Rocky Mountain Road Runners club. It was freezing. Really, really freezing. One runner literally finished with two long icicles hanging off his baseball cap. The trail along the river was great. It was paved and mostly de-iced. There were tons of mile markers (permanent ones I mean, although there were also mile markers put up by the race coordinators – I hate it when races don’t have mile markers!) along the trail that also pointed out other trails and points of interest that were nearby. The Platte River is pretty low here, but is still fairly scenic for an urban river. Water cascades over rocks, there are sections of tiny rapids, and lots of geese hanging out.
There are tons of parking places around here to access the trail. I parked behind the Platte River Bar and Grill (cute restaurant: lodge-ish with wooden floors and walls of glass windows) at 5995 S. Santa Fe Dr, Littleton, CO.
Although I love my lake and river runs, I’d better get up into the mountains pretty soon. Downtown water-side runs tend to be very flat courses. I need to start hill training eventually!
February 8, 2012
Posted by jennavandenberg under Travel
| Tags: I-pod
This blog post is part of the Travel Belles “Across the Cafe Table” series, wherein Margo and Briana pose a question to contributors and fans of their online travel site for women. I’ve been meaning to get in on this action for awhile now, and this month we’ll all be writing about what is important when choosing a hotel.
This is a terrible question for me. I have low standards regarding just about everything, and hotels are no exception. In Las Vegas, I’ve stayed at the Sahara for $5 a night. I’ve bunked at The Gold Spike wherein you can’t see two feet in front of you due to lobby smoke. Another Gold Spike feature was the hour long wait to check in while the lady at the front desk called every room in the hotel in attempt to locate the establishment’s only hair dryer. I once stayed in a hotel in Lake Elsinore, CA that featured an unmarked police car in the parking lot, graffiti covering the door and three channels of free “adult entertainment” available on the TV. And then there was that place in New Orleans, wherein I had to provide my own towel and cockroach spray.
But I’ve stayed in nice places too! Although this is usually when I’m traveling with someone who’s standards are higher than mine (aka anyone). But if I’m going to shell out more than $100 bucks for a room, I have one requirement and one requirement only:
An I-pod dock
It has to be a real I-pod dock. I stayed in two different Baltimore A-loft hotels which featured some setup wherein you had to finagle with the television and various cables. I didn’t have the patience to figure them out.
An I-pod dock is vital to my hotel enjoyment because I like to link a place with music. Whenever I hear Janet Jackson’s “Again” (come on, we all had that tape) I’m transported to Southern California. Oasis’s “Wonderwall” makes me think of Washington D.C., O-zone’s “Numa Numa” song brings me back to the bars in Norway, and the current “Moves Like Jagger” gets me and my friend Denise immediately talking about Savannah and Charleston. R. Kelly’s “Ignition Remix” is an absolutely necessity if you’re getting ready to hit to Vegas strip (or do anything fun that involves drinking).
Kitschy charm, homemade cookies upon check-in, exclusive rewards programs, and mints on pillows are nice, but all I really need is an I-pod dock. Because I hate dragging along speakers on vacation. They take up too much room in my suitcase.
February 5, 2012
When I was in Las Vegas there were some shops around me. I could technically walk to a Kohls, Smith’s, CVS, Jack ‘n the Box and other extremely boring stores. I’m not a huge “GO LOCAL!” person, so it didn’t really bother me, but I am continually amazed at the sheer number options here in Denver. A mile down the road from my new home is a bustling section of 32nd Ave full of local restaurants, bars, coffeehouses, book and clothing stores, pilates/spas/wellness centers, and (my favorite) a cheese shop. I’ve been frequenting some of these places regularly, but a recent surprise day off (they cancel school for snow here! Yay!) gave me an excuse to spend some quality time here. I walked down to Lowell and 32nd from my house. Since I’m the only person in Colorado without waterproof boots, I was employing the plastic-bags-between-my-socks method of keeping my feet dry. This quest was aided by all the Denverites who graciously shoveled snow from their sidewalks, making my winter jaunt much more enjoyable.
If you are heading east, cute houses with “no highrises in the highlands” signs in their yards turn into businesses around Perry Street. The Asian Highland Grill here is pretty good (though I’ve only had the Kung Pao Chicken, which admittedly isn’t too exciting), but don’t count on the free WiFi working.
Since it was snowing and all, I stopped in at Highlands Cork and Coffee for some hot chocolate. This coffee house/wine bar/tapas bar/happy hour hangout is very cozy. A repurposed house, the whole downstairs area contains warm rooms in which you can enjoy your free WiFi, hummus and chai tea. A few blocks down, Common Grounds is another fun coffeehouse. For later in the day, Three Dog Tavern and Mead Street Station are good places to drink and hang out.
Shopping wise, there is an overpriced baby boutique store and a surprisingly not overpriced women’s clothing store. Especially check out the sale section at Starlet, but even the new stuff isn’t too expensive. Usually a mere tank top at a boutique store would be upwards of $40, but things are about half that price here. It was hard to look at their new spring line with a foot of snow outside though. The jewelry and accessories store Kismet was pretty cute, as was Wordshop, the stationary store behind Kismet. Of course my favorite place was 32nd West Side Books. This (mostly) used bookstore had rows of stuffed shelves and the *interestingly* organized shelves that one would expect from a local book store.
In addition to coffeehouses and restaurants (Bang!, Julia Blackbird’s New Mexican Café, and Garbanzo Mediterranean Grill are some to try), there is also Heidi’s Brooklyn Deli, St. Kilian’s Cheese Shop, and Mondo Vino if you want to get some meats, cheeses, and/or wine to bring back home. The English sharp cheddar from St. Kilian’s was great on pasta and I’m very much looking forward to having Valdeon Spanish Bleu Cheese on my spinach salad tonight.
It seems like 32nd Ave peters out when it crosses Speer Blvd, but just past Highland Park and the newly renovated North High, things pick up again. Mexican joints, pizza places, and Highland Tap and Burger (try the macaroni with bacon!) keeps 32nd exciting as it leads you to LoDo and downtown.
February 1, 2012
Posted by jennavandenberg under Nevada
| Tags: Las Vegas hotels
There are some serious mistakes that people can make when booking hotels in Las Vegas. Since hotels have hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of rooms which fill up on weekends and go empty during the week, some awesome deals can be found the closer to Wednesday you travel. However, if you are looking for a weekend getaway, Vegas still has some of the best deals around, you just have to know in advance what you are booking. Hotels (particularly on cheap-o websites) are advertised as being in better areas than they are, prices are quoted pre-hotel tax, and even the dingiest casino looks like a luxury suite online. Here are a few tips to help out a Vegas-bound tourist:
Location, Location, Location:
If you are planning on partying on the Strip, location is key in Vegas. Avoid The Saraha, Circus Circus, The Stratosphere, and anything downtown or on Fremont Street. You’ll be spending a fortune on cabs, and they are generally not nice hotels. (Especially Circus Circus. That place is hell on Earth). Also know that Rio and The Palm’s are not on the Strip (although they are nice places to stay). The best hotels are Bellagio, Aria/Vdara, Caesar’s Palace, Planet Hollywood, MGM, New York-New York, Paris, Treasure Island, The Mirage, The Venetian/Plazzo, and The Wynn/Encore. Luxor and Mandalay Bay are at the far end of the Strip, but still good options. If you are looking for a cheap hotel that is still in the middle of all the action, check out Harrah’s, Imperial Palace, Tropicana, and Excalibur. They aren’t fancy hotels, but you can’t beat the right-on-the-Strip convience. Flamingo’s also has a nice location, but it’s generally a little pricer. Hooter’s is often the cheapest hotel in Vegas (especially on weekdays, wherein $19 room rates are common on Expedia), and it’s just one block off the Strip. It’s a great budget choice, but you may be taking some cabs. Anywhere else, double check a map first. Even if a hotel is one block off the Strip, be aware that blocks are LOOOONG in Las Vegas. Particularly if you are wearing stilettos. It’s not worth saving five or ten dollars to stay one block of the Strip. You’ll spend that in cab fares. Or last minute flip-flops.
There are several hotels in Las Vegas that are not on the Strip at all. The M resort south of town in nice, as are the JW Marriott and the Suncoast out in Summerlin. Red Rock Casino is the most famous non-Strip hotel, but a word of caution: It’s often billed as a “canyon getaway” on the edge of gorgeous scenery. In reality, it’s off a freeway and next to a strip mall. It’s a fancy hotel, but it’s not exactly in the middle of Red Rock Canyon.
For families traveling with children of any age, Mandalay Bay has the best setup. With a sandy beach, wave pool, lazy river, and several different palm-tree lined pools, this one is a sure hit for kids. If it’s a nice summer day get to the pool early to claim the best seats. Pool side lounge chairs are hard to come by if it’s past 11am on a Saturday. Cabana rentals are a pricy option (they usually start at over $100 a day), but nice if you want a shady reserved spot all day long. Even if you don’t have a cabana, be prepared to shell out tons of money if you are planning on renting inner tubes for lazy river floating. Flamingo’s has a great pool too, and room rates that are cheaper than Mandalay Bay. No wave pool, sandy beach or lazy river though.
For the 21 and over crowd, the best pool is MGM. I LOVE this place is the summertime. I used to be able to sneak in with an old room card, but last summer they started scanning cards to make sure they are still active. Bummer. At MGM there is a pretty good party vibe, but you don’t have to feel as though you are the only person around that doesn’t have fake boobs, a million dollar bikini, and an impecable hard-to-tell-it’s-fake tan (but if that atmosphere is what you are after, head to The Palm’s, especially during Ditch Friday’s). MGM’s lazy river is far superior to Mandalay Bay’s. Although there is no wave pool, the sheer number of pools and the sheer lack of small children more than make up for that fact. Like Mandalay Bay, get here early if you want good seats and be ready to spend a fortune on inner tubes. They are worth it though – the lazy river is where it is at!
Although there are a few exceptions, most pools in Las Vegas close pretty early, around 6 or 7 at night. This is an effort to get you inside and gambling. Plan accordingly.
Something to be aware of in Las Vegas is that room tax is added to ALL Vegas hotel rooms (on or off the Strip). If you book a room through Expedia or other discount website, be prepared to pay at least an extra 10% when you check in. The only way to avoid this is to stay waaaaaay out of town. Boulder is the closest town that doesn’t have a room tax, and it’s a thirty minute drive away (towards Hoover Dam though, so it’s a good option for a night if you are planning to check out the New Deal wonder).
If you don’t care about location, Fremont Street and downtown usually have the best prices. Fremont Street is old Las Vegas, and it can be a fun experience, espeically if you’ve already “done” The Strip and are looking for something different. Don’t stay here on your first trip to Sin City or you will be sorely disappointed. Rooms are pretty disgusting, lobbies smokey, and clientele can be a little shabby or shady (I’ve stayed downtown, for example. Haha). The exception here is Golden Nugget. They’ve totally revamped themselves, with good restaurants and a pool worth hanging out at – it has a water slide and a shark tank!
Las Vegas hotel prices vary wildly depending on whether there is a big football game in Miami, a big fight at MGM, or a big convention in town. If you are flexible, check several different weekends (or better yet, weekdays) to find a good price for a hotel. Beware of holidays. Spring Break is a very popular time to come to Las Vegas, so things tend to be more expensive. The weather can also be pretty iffy in March and April – don’t count on pool time or sundress weather. It may be 80 degrees and sunny, it may be 60 degrees and windy. Memorial weekend is always a great time to come to Las Vegas weather-wise, but horrible price wise. Everything (hotel rooms, nightclub cover charges, drinks, table minumums) are about triple what they usually are. I normally leave Las Vegas during Memorial weekend, with one very expensive exception. Some alcohol was consumed that night, so my clearest memory was yelling at a bouncer that the $20 cover charge he was insisting on was ridiculous because the establishment in question wasn’t even a nightclub and besides, I was a girl in a very short dress. We didn’t get in.
Wherever you end up, as always, it’s the people you are with and the things you do that make a trip. Some of my favorite Vegas nights have been spend at the cheapy Fremont Street, Hooters and Imperial Palace, and some other favorite nights were spent at Mandalay Bay and The Wynn. My favorite? Even during non-pool season, it’ll always be MGM.