What happens in Booth 3250A stays in Booth 3250A. Forget gambling: Las Vegas is the trade-show capital of North America. In January 2005, nearly a million people attended conventions in Sin City, and this year more than 130,000 people are expected at January's Consumer Electronics Show (slightly more than for the World of Concrete exposition). If you're one of them, explore the hidden Vegas in your downtime. There is more to the city's enchantments than its surgical enhancements.
The Great Outdoors
A hike at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is the best antidote I've found for casino overstimulation. The park, about 45 minutes from the strip, offers a number of short hikes. Looking for more of an adrenaline rush? Try one of the mountain-biking trails at Bootleg Canyon, about 40 minutes southeast of Vegas. Boulder City Outfitters (www.bouldercityoutfitters.com) will even pick you up at your hotel. If you want your outdoors with a bit of kitsch, schedule a tour at the Neon Museum's Boneyard, a three-acre lot filled with retired signs from the 1940s up to today (www.neonmuseum.org).
If you want to see Emeril, turn on the Food Network, and then escape the Strip for a good, reasonably priced meal. Try the Texas BBQ Shrimp with Maytag Blue Cheese Slaw at Rosemary's Restaurant, a Southern-influenced spot about 20 minutes off the strip (8125 W. Sahara Ave., 702-869-2251). The bons mots on the menu at Big Mama's Rib Shack and Soul Food make the place worth the trip ("Honey, if the Colonel could have fried chicken like Big Mama, he would have been a General"). The food's pretty good, too. Fill up for less than $10, then blow your savings on craps (2230 W. Bonanza, 702-597-1616). And no look at off-the-Strip dining would be complete without the top notch (and low décor) Thai joint Lotus of Siam. Skip the menu—ask the waiter to order for you, and trust him when he says something is spicy (953 E. Sahara Ave., 702-735-3033).
The Laughing Jackalope would be at home in any college town (well, except for that giant neon sign). Go for a burger—and a funky souvenir—but steer clear of the adjoining motel (3969 Las Vegas Blvd. S., 702-739-1915). And although the New York version of the salon-inspired Beauty Bar is, like, so 1997, the eight-month-old downtown Vegas incarnation (517 Fremont St., 702-598-1965) is popular with local—and visiting—hipsters. If Disneyland had "Tobaccoland," it would look like the Hookah Lounge (8380 W. Sahara Ave., 702-731-6030). While you wait for your pipe (pick among 20 flavors for $15), pass the time mocking the cocktail menu. Turbini, anyone?
A version of this article appeared in the January/February 2006 issue of Fast Company magazine.