So we went to Las Vegas.
With a 17 month old.
I’m not a gambler, which means I wasn’t convinced about the up-side of vacationing in the desert where temps easily run over 100 degrees. But despite my reservations, I enjoyed this trip – both seeing family and exploring a new side of Las Vegas. The main event was my cousin Mindy’s wedding, so we opted out of staying on the Strip and found a quieter hotel up north in Summerlin near the venue, Emerald at Queensridge. We were quite happy with our incredibly spacious suite at the JW Marriott (set up like your typical big convention hotel). In the early mornings I enjoyed our sunrise view from the Palms Tower balcony, watching the red glowing mountains. And later in the day, we never experienced a problem securing a poolside lounge chair – even on the weekend.
Since we were based way up north, we rented a car and this was a game changer. All my previous visits I remained within a quick cab ride of the Strip. This time, we were able to see Las Vegas in a different light.
Below are some of the stops from our travels. Our choices were often governed by these conditions: beating the plus 95 degree heat, traveling with an toddler, eating in large groups of 6 or more and pleasing former Hawaii residents who wanted to take advantage of numerous “local” food options.
We were surprised by the number of stores and restaurants in the planned community Summerlin, right outside our door at the JW Marriott. I made an early Saturday dinner reservation and we found ourselves seated at a large communal style table close to the open kitchen, where we had a front row perch to view meals being expedited. I liked the menu options and found our server to be incredibly knowledgeable regarding the menu and accommodating with requests – given we had a picky toddler in tow. I especially liked the New England Fry and the Honey Roasted Peach salad. I love this kind of family-friendly restaurant that hasn’t sacrificed good food and service.
Lulu’s Bread and Breakfast
This spot is way up in northwest last Vegas, but a great little breakfast gem. It was an easy drive from Summerlin and was well worth the trip. We went at 9 am on a weekday and there was no problem getting a table. We tried a range of mostly breakfast items – the nutella croissant, a few macarons, and some breakfast sandwich options, but our favorites were definitely the excellent S.O.B sandwich and the guava croissant. This is the kind of place I wish we had right here in Milford, so I could stop in on my way to work or on the weekends for brunch.
(Hawaiian) Island Favorites:
Why do Hawaii residents love Las Vegas so much? I’m not sure, but I think it has to do with the ability to gamble and the (relatively speaking) affordable cost of living – both of which are things you won’t find in the islands. What that also means is you’ll find a surprising number of LV businesses catering to island tastes and for any hungry homesick locals – it’s pretty exciting to find these eateries without flying the extra 2,500 miles!
We needed a quick casual meal and this spot did the trick, we ordered standards like chicken katsu, spam musubis and wun tun min. I know it was practically 100 degrees, but I thought my 17 mo old would like the noodles! I also got my can of Hawaiian Sun Pass-O-Guava and was a happy camper. If I had taken the time to read up more carefully, I would have known to visit Kauai Cafe on Friday, the only day of the week that they serve up Hawaiian food, lau lau, poi – the works!
We went with a large group and worked our way through the all you can eat menu. if you’re homesick for Hawaii and looking for some local grindz, this is a great deal. We started with basics like inari and somen salad, teri beef, garlic chicken up to the higher end options: ahi poke and hamachi collar. I didn’t take a single photo, I was too busy eat and trying to figure out a game plan. My advice: don’t bother with the sushi rolls. The rice fills you up quickly!
When you’re in the desert in the summer, you’re always looking for a way to cool off. After eating local Hawaii food for dinner, I was in the mood for shaved ice. We drove over to Bahama Bucks after the bride mentioned it has finely shaved ice like Waiola’s. While this is true about the texture of the ice, there was simply way too much syrup for me. When ordering, we asked for our server to go light on the syrup and I hope they forgot! I couldn’t even eat the bottom half of my passion fruit shave ice. It was just too sweet to finish.
Kuma Snow Cream So after tasting and then discussing the merits of Bahama Bucks, the bride’s sister suggested we try Kuma Snow Cream over in Chinatown. This was our last stop in Vegas and after wrangling a wriggly toddler through dinner, I sadly forgot to take a photo of our snow cream. This fluffy concoction is the best of both worlds, a light and airy treat with just a touch of satisfying richness from the cream. I tried the seasonal honeydew flavor and am a big fan. In other news, my daughter fell in love with the Kuma bear logo. I wish someone would bring a franchise over to the East Coast, I think this place would be a hit in NYC!
This self-proclaimed breakfast and lunch joint is a hip spot, about 10 blocks from hotels and casinos in Downtown. We went for lunch on a Friday and found it a bustling dining room, with knowledgeable and friendly staff and a menu overseen by former fine dining chef, Natalie Young. We were told most guests try the cinnamon biscuits, so we started with an order before our sandwiches. These biscuits feature a crisp-edged crust and are covered in a warm strawberry compote. Don’t miss this signature treat, but I recommend saving your order for dessert instead!
Colorful and unusual architectural materials caught everyone’s eye on the way to lunch, so I made sure to walk across Carson Ave to investigate. We found ourselves surrounded by Container Park, part of a redevelopment project led by Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos. Centered around a stage, and massive treehouse-dominated play area, this park is ringed by shops and restaurants housed within re-purposed shipping containers. It is a walkable, welcoming place, and I hope it serves as an inspiration to other similar initiatives elsewhere in the country. It was a blazing hot summer day, but I’d definitely love to head back in the evening when you can catch a performance or a movie screening. It’s exciting to see this area of Vegas re-inventing itself with new mixed-used attraction that is both family-friendly and 21+ over (after 9 pm).
Also in the downtown area, a stop on the top of my Vegas bucket list:
The Neon Sign Museum has an boneyard full of decommissioned Vegas signs.
Since the tour is outdoors and required a reservation, we sadly decided to save this for another trip to Las Vegas when the weather is cooler!
Mon Ami Gabi (Paris Las Vegas Hotel and Casino)
I wasn’t planning to hit the Strip with Lily in tow, but when my cousin Brent (from my dad’s side of the family) just happened to be in town the same weekend, there was no question about getting in the car and heading to the action. Despite the midday heat, we opted to sit outside under the red umbrellas at Mon Ami Gabi. We had lovely time at this Parisian bistro themed restaurant (the cramped sidewalk seating felt like a bit of the real thing) and the price of lunch was easily forgotten each time the Bellagio fountains began their choreographed dance just across the Strip.
Eiffel Tower Experience (Paris Las Vegas Hotel and Casino)
Since we didn’t do much besides sit at the pool and meet up with family, I suggested a splurge on something truly touristy – the Eiffel Tower Experience. This themed elevator ride is meant to replicate the ascent up a iconic landmark, yet sadly doesn’t seem to capture the magic of the original. There is no sense of awe and grandeur like a visit to the real Tour Eiffel because base of this tower sits squarely in the middle of a dark casino allowing no views skyward. After securing our tickets in a gift shop, we were met by a personable and enthusiastic greeter before taking the escalator up to an amalgam of Paris bridges. You can add your purchased love lock to the Pont des Arts grate before walking above the casino on the faux Pont Alexandre bridge for a photo op. After boarding, you shoot straight through the casino roof and hurtle upward 46 stories in a narrow elevator.
Upon arriving, we stepped out into a safely enclosed birdcage-like structure with a great 360 degree view of the city. Given the heat, we were lucky the viewing platform was not crowded and that we happened to arrive 5 minutes before the next Bellagio fountain show. There is no shade up top, so plan accordingly if you visit in the summer! I’m sure the view must be quite beautiful (and comfortable temperature wise) at night, but I’d expect there is more of a wait. With a $45 price tag for three of us to ascend the Eiffel Tower, I’m sure there are better, more comfortable ways to enjoy view from above. Still, it was certainly a memorable group experience, even without the $35 Pont Alexandre photos we left behind.
Red Rock Canyon
About 15 miles west of the Strip is Nevada’s first conservation area. Once you’ve paid the $7 entry fee and begin exploring, you’ll forget you’re even in Las Vegas! You can drive the one-way 13 mile scenic loop, stopping off to see the scenic viewpoints or plan ahead and hike the 20 or so designated trails. Check to see when the park opens – I recommend arriving early. The temperature was still cool and the morning light made it a beautiful time to visit, we saw many cyclists and one donkey during our drive.