Las Vegas is buzzing year-round, thanks to constant sporting events, conferences, high-roller gambling, and appearances by Hollywood’s elite, who make the hourlong flight from Los Angeles with regularity.
December is a particularly good time to visit. New Year’s Eve is one of Vegas’s most happening nights—and most expensive. There are also family-friendly events such as the annual National Finals Rodeo (December 2 through 11).
You won’t be using the outdoor pools this time of year, but moderate temperatures—the average high is 57 degrees—mean that being outside is pleasant. You’ll also find midweek bargains during the early part of the month.
WHAT TO DO
Try to catch a show. We recommend the high-flying performers of Cirque du Soleil in Love, a Beatles-themed extravaganza, or the over-water production O. You can get same-day discount tickets to most Vegas shows through tix4tonight.com.
You can take in a view of the iconic Vegas Strip by having a cocktail at Moon, the Palms casino’s 55th-floor outdoor bar, or riding the roller coaster atop New York–New York.
Las Vegas has some of the world’s best luxury shopping. The Forum Shops in Caesars Palace includes retailers such as Valentino and Dior plus favorites such as Scoop NYC and Intermix. The Fashion Show Mall is home to the biggest Forever 21 we’ve ever seen as well as Neiman Marcus and massive Louis Vuitton, while the Shoppes at the Palazzo boasts a Barneys.
Want to Zen out? At Caesars Palace’s Qua Baths & Spa, unwind in pools styled after Roman baths or in the Arctic Ice Room, which snows as you enter.
If you know nothing about gambling, try a lesson. Monday through Friday, Circus Circus offers morning classes in blackjack, craps, and roulette.
Vegas is a synonym for nightlife. You can party at the celebrity hot spot Tao in the Venetian—where you might spot Justin Timberlake, a cast member of Glee, or Stevie Wonder—or XS at Encore, where Katy Perry and Rihanna were recently sighted. Club promoters tour the shops and casinos giving away free passes during the day.
Vegas has many spectacles, not all onstage. You can catch the nightly water-fountain shows at the Bellagio, the exploding volcano at the Mirage, or the pirate show at Treasure Island. All are free and on the Strip.
WHERE TO EAT
Ask for a seat by the window at SW Steakhouse (702-248-3463) and you’ll enjoy more than just the best prime meat in town. You’ll be overlooking the Wynn hotel’s Lake of Dreams, where a gigantic frog emerges every half hour after dark and sings such songs as Garth Brooks’s “Friends in Low Places.”
Vegas is known for buffets, and some are much better than others. Planet Hollywood’s Spice Market Buffet (702-785-5555) is bountiful and considered one of the area’s best for ethnic fare. The Buffet at the Bellagio (702-693-7223) is a good choice for American cuisine.
If it’s fine dining you’re after, hit the Bellagio’s Le Cirque (702-693-7223) or Alex at the Wynn (702-248-3463). Both serve French haute cuisine.
WHERE TO STAY
Techies will love the “smart rooms” at Aria (866-359-7757; rooms from $149). When you enter one of them, curtains open automatically and the TV activates. You can also preset the music you want playing and what temperature you want the room to be when you wake up.
The Cosmopolitan (877-551-777; from $125) opens to guests on December 15. The 2,995-room luxury hotel and gaming complex will house two restaurants by Washington chef José Andrés—Jaleo and a Chinese/Mexican concept called China Poblano. Many guest rooms feature outdoor terraces, a rare feature in this mostly indoor city.
Even if you’ve never been to Vegas before, you probably know Caesars Palace (866-227-5938; from $89), which has been the backdrop for several Hollywood movies. Case in point: You can book the “Rain Man suite” (a.k.a. the Emperors Suite).
Vegas magnate Steve Wynn’s latest venture—he’s the man behind the Bellagio, Treasure Island, Wynn, and Mirage—is Encore (877-321-9966; from $159), a striking dose of class amid a city famous for over-the-top glitz. All rooms are suites.