Wide-eyed. A little overwhelmed. And, admittedly, a bit dazzled. That sums up how I felt my first few hours in Las Vegas, on my first ever trip to Vegas. “You haven’t been to Vegas?!” most people exclaimed when I told them this was my first trip. It seems no one could believe that I’d reached my 30s without at least 1 rite-of-passage, wild weekend in Vegas. And maybe that’s why I hadn’t felt a need to check this city off my list before now – I felt I could go without visiting a city full of Hangover-style debauchery laced with cheesy tourist traps. While I did find these things in Vegas, I surprisingly learned that it’s also possible to have a sophisticated and unexpected weekend here, too.
So if you want a mix of class and whimsy and OK, a few adventurous drinks, follow my first-timer’s 48-hour itinerary for Vegas.
Where to Sleep
First of all, there’s not a lot of sleeping being done in Vegas, so really you’re looking for a place to rest your head for a few hours. Still, The Cosmopolitan hotel and casino is much more than a place to rest your head. In fact, one never even has to leave this hotel to experience all the trappings of a glamorous Vegas weekend; the property is home to restaurants, art, shows and gambling galore. Just like its provocative tagline, “Just the right amount of wrong,” and playful commercials (you know, the ones with the kittens and bunnies coming out of elevators), The Cosmopolitan mixes trendy Manhattan sophistication with glitzy Vegas theatrics.
Turning nearly every corner in the Cosmopolitan, you’re bound to say something like, “How cool, a life-size stiletto to sit in, “ or, “Look, this Art-O-Mat vending machines sells $5 prints,” or, “Wow, there’s an art gallery in this hotel too?” Even if you’re thinking, “I can’t stay inside all weekend long,” just step out into your hotel room’s private terrace to get a breath a fresh air and take in the sparkling Vegas skyline. The Cosmopolitan is the only hotel with balconies overlooking the Strip.
Where to Eat
Rose. Rabbit. Lie. The dining experience at this Cosmopolitan restaurant lives up to it’s mysterious and unusual name. With whimsical touches (Hello, cookie jar for dessert!) and re-imagined classics (Shareable flask cocktails? Sure!), this avant-garde supper club encourages a “social feast.” Keep the sharing theme going all weekend and head to celebrated chef Jose Andres’ award-winning Spanish restaurant Jaleo for your next meal. Here you can fuel up over a table of tapas so you have energy to party until 6 am, just like they do in Spain … and, well, Vegas.
What to See
Channel your inner Gatsby, grab your flask of New Moon (a whopping 17-oz. glass flask of Absolut Elyx vodka, violette liqueur, lemon and orange cream citrate) and settle in for Rose. Rabbit. Lie.’s Vegas Nocturne. Best not to know too much about this imaginative and off-the-wall show beforehand, because it ruins the surprise, but I will share some things you might find at this strange little show: a guy wearing a dragon costume carrying a Chihuahua, tap-dancing male twins, flying ping pong balls, unscripted comedy, acrobats in bubbles, and yes, a little nudity (it’s Vegas, after all). The rest you’ll have to see for yourself. That’s part of this show’s allure – you never know (or should know) what’s going to happen next.
What to Do
After you rest your head for a few hours and refuel at the breakfast buffet at Wicked Spoon, do what every first-timer should do on a beautiful Saturday afternoon in Vegas: gamble. Forget the anti-social slots, usually the first stop for a timid novice gambler. Instead, grab a cocktail and join the commotion at the craps table, where you’ll find all the fun. If you win big, treat yourself to a high roller’s helicopter tour of the Strip or the nearby Grand Canyon. If you lose all your money, spend the rest of the day staring at the free entertainment next door to the Cosmopolitan: the famed Bellagio fountains.
Where to Shop
Yes, anything goes in Vegas and that includes attire. However, ladies, if you find yourself like I did, invited to dinner and a Bruno Mars concert at the stylish Chelsea mophie stage with nothing in your suitcase that sparkles and shines à la the Vegas Strip, fret not. For a mere fraction of the retail price you can rent a designer dress at Rent the Runway‘s Vegas storefront. You’ll look like a million bucks for the night, even if you lost almost that much at the craps table earlier that day. You don’t even have to have your dress rental dry cleaned — just drop it off at the store before you leave for the airport. What you wear in Vegas will at least stay in Vegas.