The Thinking Man's Guide to Las Vegas

From five-star non-gaming hotels to epic mountain biking

By Diane Rommel

The Thinking Man's Guide to Las Vegas
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16 February 2017

We're not saying the 90-minute flight from SFO to LAS is a journey from the best to the worst of America.

We are saying that there are no two cities less aesthetically sympatico than San Francisco and Las Vegas. 

Until you scratch the surface. (Hint: scratch hard.) 

We all have to go at some point, whether for work duties or bachelor parties. But that doesn't mean it has to be a weekend of hangovers, bad beats and other assorted regrets.

From epic mountain biking trails to tabel-free five-star hotels, here's how to roll in Sin City — the tasteful way.

WHERE TO STAY
Not only is the Mandarin Oriental non-gaming, it's non-smoking — the best two-for-one on the Strip. The crowd here is notably looser than at other Mandarin Orientals, but that's all for the good ... especially from one of the cabanas at the eighth-floor pool. 

WHAT TO DO
Unless you like malls, casinos, Cheesecake Factories, IHOPs and approximately one billion tourists from every corner of the universe, stay as far off the Strip as possible. (We'd go Death Valley far — it's 135 miles and doable as a very, very long day trip — but it's just not a sociable way to handle a bachelor party weekend.) Instead, arrange a bespoke mountain biking tour with Cycle Vegas through Valley of Fire State Park: With its red sandstone outcrops, it is spectacularly beautiful and a total change from Northern California ocean-and-forest. 

WHAT TO SEE
Usually, when people say they "hate Vegas," what they really mean is that they hate the Las Vegas Strip, an overcrowded thoroughfare requiring patience and Advil. But you gotta admit: there's something fascinating about seeing what all the money in the world can create, even if that creation is, say, a replica of the Eiffel Tower. The best way to see it all is to get way, way above it — ideally with the longest helicopter tour possible, which is why we like Maverick's seven-hour tour of (yes) the Strip, but also Lake Mead, Lake Las Vegas, the Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon — where you can get out and amble around the West Rim. 

WHERE TO SHOP
We don't know why the country's most famous purveyor-of-books, Bauman Rare Books, is open at the "Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian | Palazzo." Nonetheless: It's there, and they have a first edition of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony on the premises as well as a signed first edition of A Farewell to Arms. Who are we to judge? 

WHERE TO EAT
Oh, you don't want steak? Soaked in gold sauce? Followed by Goldschlager? Served on golden plates? Then head to Vegenation. Their values (plant-based food, "do good for the environment," "support local farms") align with ours ... if you subscribe to the dominant ethos. (If not, steak: it's what's for dinner.) 

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