"You up for karaoke at Bill's Gamblin' Hall?" asked Stuart, a complete stranger I had connected with over the poor luck we were both having at the bar-top computerized blackjack money-stealing machines. My cards weren't great, but Stuart was making horrid moves and I wasn't convinced he even knew how to play the game. As he continued to throw his money away, we chatted and learned that we shared a strong love for karaoke, Elvis impersonators and the "Dealertainers" (Celebrity impersonators who also perform while dealing you your cards) at The Imperial Palace. Vegas was the perfect place for our budding friendship (More on Stuart later).
When my husband and I landed in Las Vegas, we grabbed a cab and the driver asked if we'd like to take the scenic route. Excited to be in a new city we said "Sure," not realizing it was double the price and that we would walk this "scenic route," AKA The Strip, our entire stay. Save yourselves and say no to the scenic route. This experience did foreshadow the outcome of my trip: people in Vegas like to take all of my money.
I arrived with a plan, but never seemed to quite accomplish anything. I guess what made the trip so great was that I would intend to do something, but either end up doing it way later or getting distracted by something completely different. For example, I had planned to walk to the New York, New York Hotel to ride the roller coaster, but for some reason ended up being photographed on a motorcycle, participating in a street magic show involving a corbra and then distracted by a giant fish tank.
I did eventually make it to the New York, New York roller coaster, but I'll get to that later. I've organized this post into things you can attempt to do in Vegas, before you become dead broke or completely distracted by something else. The topics I will cover are Things to See, Things to Do, Food and Drink, and How to Gamble for Free Drinks When You Have No Idea What You're Doing.
my favourite things to see
1. The Hotels: All of the strip's hotels are something to see. I think my favourites were Paris, The Luxor, New York and Caesar's Palace. We tried to do one thing at each casino to make sure we saw them all (For example, we checked out the flamingos at The Flamingo and did some underground shopping at Caesar's forum shops; somehow this led us to another distraction: We watched a really weird, but free "Fall of Atlantis" water fountain show). At the time, Excalibur was my worst nightmare because it was full of screaming children, but as I'm writing this now (Mom of 2 kids...and both scream), I suppose that's where I'd have to stay if I went back.
2. The Bellagio Fountains: Every half hour between 3-8PM, there is an amazing water show in front of the Bellagio.
3. Conservatory and Botanical Gardens at Bellagio: While you're in the area, stop in to see the Botanical Gardens. I didn't think I'd care much for this since I'm not a gardener (I've killed 2 cactuses), but I quite enjoyed the experience. If you've ever wanted to see an over the top garden, this would your chance.
4. Old Vegas I know you should never hop in the car with a stranger, but for some reason, I threw this rule out the window in Vegas. After an incredibly successful night of karaoke at Bill's Gamblin' Hall with Stuart (The fastest friend I've ever made) he offered to drive myself and my husband to Old Vegas the next night.* We hopped in his car for a great night on Freemont Street. My wallet would tell you differently but; apparently, the gambling odds were way better over here.
*Disclaimer: If, like us, you don't have a car in Vegas, taking an Uber might be the wiser choice.
5. The Impersonators
things to do
1. The New York, New York Roller Coaster: This bad boy can be found inside the hotel. A ride costs $14 or $25 for a day pass which might not be a bad idea. And if you're up for it, they'll also marry you here.
2. The Eiffel Tower Experience: Depending on your age and time of day, prices range from $10.50-$16.50 and you can ride to the top of the tower for a great view of the strip (Dang! I just realized I was suckered into paying once again for another scenic view of the strip...seriously, it was great though).
3. Catch a Cirque du Soleil Show
4. Shop: Like everything in Vegas, shopping is over the top and we did a lot of it, both on and off the strip. We really liked the Las Vegas North Premium Outlets and if you decide to go, you will pass the famous Vegas sign. It was a great chance to grab a pic.
5. Hit the Clubs
6. Hang Out Poolside: We spent some time every day hanging out by the pool. Drinks were pricey, but you can always make a deal with your bartender. The pools were well-kept, swanky and relaxing.
food and drink
This article, The Single Best Restaurant in Every Casino on the Strip, by Rob Kachelriess outlines some great eats and drinks. But, if you're on a budget, here is my list:
1. Jimmy Buffett's Margarittaville
2. Nine Fine Fishermen This pub is in New York-New York and they pour a mean Guinness
3. Buffet of Buffets: a 24 hour buffet pass can be used at Caesar's Palace, The Flamingo, Harrah's, Planet Hollywood and Rio. During the week, a pass costs $59.99 and $74.99 on the weekend, plus tax, per person. We pretty much used the buffets throughout our stay. Having so many different hotels we could eat at made it a great way to see more of them. We would start them around 7 or 8 PM and eat a late dinner. This way, we could have an early dinner the next day and get 4 delicious meals in.
WARNING: THIS LIST IS ABOUT TO GET PATHETIC
4. Convenience Stores: Snacks are way cheaper here and heck! You're allowed to drink on the streets! Grab a cocktail and get to the Bellagio fountain show!
5. Ellis Island Casino and Brewery: Once I hit rock bottom, I went to this little gem off the strip for a $3.99 steak and egg breakfast. While I waited for my breakfast, I took the opportunity to win it all back.
how to gamble for free drinks when you have no idea what you're doing
1. First of all, nothing in Vegas is free and don't ever forget it.
2. Be a female.
3. I played a few penny slot machines for a free drink, but found I received way better service at the roulette and black jack tables and the bar top computerized machines. At the bar top machines, I would put $10 in and play 50 cent rounds... I likely paid a lot of money for all of my drinks.
4. Even though the only luck I had gambling in Vegas was the odd free drink, it sure was fun. Check out this website for the 101 on gambling.
dedication to stuart and the dealertainers
Hubby and I spent our entire stay in Vegas with Stuart. Sadly, we lost touch and have since learned that the Dealertainers and our favourite Vegas karaoke venue (Bill's Gamblin' Hall) are no more. We will always have Elvis.
There is something for everyone here, so please share your tips, tricks and favourite distractions in the comment section to help others enjoy this hilarious and amazing city!
After landing in Los Angeles, I picked up the Mustang Convertible I obviously rented and was excited to talk about traffic routes for the next 5 days. My husband and I drove straight to the city from LAX (We took Route 1 to the 1-405 North) and checked into the W West Beverley Hills.
As we checked in, we told the W's concierge it was our first time in LA. Free of charge, she upgraded our room to a suite complete with huge windows overlooking the hills, a separate lounge and office area, walk in closets and a gigantic bathroom. We were instructed to call down to the front desk 2 minutes before we needed our car; that would give them enough time to have it out front and ready for us. I realized that I loved LA and could really get used to this glamorous lifestyle.
As promised, our car was out front waiting for us shortly after we called. We headed to the famous Chateau Marmont for dinner. I was already excited to visit this enchanted castle on the hill, but even more so after all of the special treatment I was receiving in this prestigious city. I began imagining myself being escorted by the hostess into a private nook of the restaurant (You know, safe from the paparazzi). I couldn't wait to sink into a large leather chair by a candle-lit table and gaze out at the garden terrace. I would listen to the sweet, soft sounds of live jazz music while I waited for my friends, Bradley Cooper and Scarlett Johansson to show up. The waitress would be sure to bring me a martini while I waited and the chef would greet me to introduce the custom menu that was created for our visit....
It's a very good thing I wasn't too accustomed to being treated like royalty. When we showed up, we learned that our reservations were not for the main restaurant, just for the bar. So we ate kobe burgers and french fries while tucked up to a bar top, but they still offered us valet parking.
Speaking of the valet parking; it was absolutely everywhere and I had serious withdrawal from it when I came home. I do wish I had read this article before I arrived: How to Use Valet Parking (Without looking like an idiot). Besides having someone else park and bring me my car at any and every opportunity presented to me (This includes a quick stop at In N' Out Burger), here is a list of the other things I enjoyed and recommend:
1. Hike the Hollywood Sign Trail Luckily, Francisco researched this trail before we arrived as it was actually a little difficult to find. He brought this very detailed map with instructions on it (It might be a good idea to print the map out as reception on the trail was hit and miss, so we couldn't always rely on our phones). Don't forget to bring at least 1.5L of water per person; you will need it.
We didn't see any rattlesnakes, but we did see a baby coyote, dogs dressed better than us and a great view from the top.
2. Walk along Hollywood Blvd to see the TCL Chinese Theatre, The Dolby Theatre, the Roosevelt Hotel and the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
3. Hollywood Bus Tour Like many celebrities before me, I did something embarrassing and am hoping the paparazzi didn't catch me: I took a TMZ bus tour. We basically drove around LA and were bribed with XL TMZ t-shirts to find and point out celebrities. I was so embarrassed to be on the bus, that I half-hoped someone would egg us. By the end of the ride, my bus mates had found Cameron Diaz, George Clooney and Malin Akerman lookalikes and I had less faith in humanity.
4. Embrace 90210 I felt like less of a loser back in my own car (And remember, it was Ford Mustang). Although Dylan's Porsche would have been a better ride, my inner 90's child was as content as could be driving through the streets of Beverley Hills, home of Ned's Peach Pit.
We stopped to look at the platinum fire hydrants, beautiful homes and the shops of Rodeo Drive. For dinner, we went to SUGARFISH for sushi and it was the best sushi I have ever had. The fish was so fresh and plated beautifully. As the waitress delivered our meals at staggered times, she would explain how they were made and how to eat the pieces. We were instructed to eat immediately; they do not wait until the entire table's food is ready before serving. They do not take reservations, but we only had a short wait for a table. We each chose 3 items from their "Trust Me" menu (I picked the snapper, salmon and albacore sushi) and quickly learned that we could indeed trust them.
We also did a self-guided tour of Bel Air ( I didn't realize that Will Smith's cab where "the license plate said FRESH with a dice in the mirror" made such a long and windy trip up a hill to get to Uncle Phil's house).
5. Venice Beach We had a great time relaxing on this vibrant beach. We walked passed Muscle Beach, the famous basketball courts, beautiful boardwalk homes, shops and the filming of a reality TV show. We also enjoyed watching artists musicians and athletes. Watching the surfers, bikers, skaters and hacky sackers, made me feel like I was in that old video game California Games. Apparently, I also felt like I had actually participated in these athletic activities the way I rewarded myself with some delicious beach snacks in a boardwalk pub.
6. Santa Monica Pier Another great beach stop with swimming, fishing, surfing, volley ball, rides, music, people watching and delicious food.
7. Go to a Television Taping One month before arriving in LA, I requested tickets to see Jimmy Kimmel and Ellen Degeneres. The highlight of this trip was definitely getting to go to a taping of The Ellen Degeneres Show at Warner Brothers Studios in Burbank. I couldn't believe it when someone from the show called to offer me the tickets. I spent the majority of that long distance phone call making the person convince me she was real.
The day was magical: I got to sing karaoke before the show, I was seated in the aisle Ellen dances through, her guests were Woody Harrelson and Owen Wilson and we even got to watch them joust.
8. Universal Studios When buying our tickets, we upgraded to the 'Front of the Line' option. It was pricey, but worth every penny. We got to walk to the front of the line for each attraction and we were able to hit them all. My absolute favourite one was Jurassic Park- The Ride (it was very, very scary). I also really enjoyed the 1 hour Studio Tour, which is included in all admission tickets. We were able to learn about how movies were made, see a King Kong attraction, studios and sets (including Wisteria Lane from Desperate Housewives).
I had a fantastic time in LA and am already looking forward to going back. I really enjoyed staying in Westwood as it was such a cute area with a lot of shops and restaurants. I particularly liked Barney's Beanery (A restaurant and pub). We met some locals there who befriended us for the night and invited us to join them in some great karaoke duos. The bartender also informed us that Jim Morrison was once in the establishment, but kicked out for urinating on the very bar I ordered my drink from....Nice!
I definitely wasn't here long enough so, what should I do next time? Please add your recommendations in the comments section for others to see as well.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. I had a wonderful time in sunny San Diego and a horrible time trying to get Air Canada to find and send me my luggage. This post also happens to be a tale of two cities after this airline cancelled my flight to San Diego and rerouted me to L.A. 16 hours later. When I reflect on this trip, memories of the salty sea air, beautiful beaches and sunshine mixed with torture, fighting daily with Albert (manager from Air Canada's Central Baggage Office), washing my face with a bar of soap and using sunscreen as a follow-up moisturizer all come flooding back to me at once.
Did I mention I was travelling with a 5 month old and a 3 year old? This made lost baggage especially terrible. I think I had what they call an epiphany when my 5 month old crapped though her last outfit. It should have been my breaking point but; luckily, it happened in a Target and I went into survival mode like a Walking Dead member in a post-apocalyptic store pulling the necessary items off of the shelves. I learned I was a fighter and began to look at the entire situation this way. I decided that for each con I was thrown, I would find a pro.
CON: Travelling for 16 hours straight with a baby and toddler
PRO: I made it, so I'm booking a trip to Hawaii or Australia next year with the kids. It won't be a problem!
CON: Paying to spend a night in an airport hotel in L.A. while also paying for a beach house in San Diego.
PRO: I got to drive Highway 101 from L.A. to San Diego the next day.
CON: I had nothing and was travelling with a toddler and an infant.
PRO: The house stayed clean.
CON: All of our stuff was temporarily lost.
PRO: We were eventually styled by Air Canada and Target. My husband, Francisco, particularly enjoyed the Star Wars line.
So the trip eventually got better (But before that happened, a black cat literally walked in our path; my brand new Target sandals were washed away in the ocean; I lost my Baby Bjorn and a brand new Turkish towel that basically claimed I would get dry just looking at it; Air Canada permanently lost our car seat; and, being in the U.S., we forgot about that pesky RRSP deadline date). Here are the things I thoroughly enjoyed, and you'll know they're good because they made me happy even while I was stuck in a vortex of bad luck.
1. Coast Highway Route from L.A. to San Diego I definitely didn't intend to make this drive, but as mentioned in my con list, I had to get myself to San Diego after Air Canada's little mishap. Luckily, it was a great drive. Around San Diego, there are some great beach communities you should definitely check out if you are in the area: Carlsbad, Encinitas, Solana, Del Mar, Solana and La Jolla. This link offers a lot of information about each area and recommends some great things to do (beaches, attractions, shops, restaurants, coffee joints, pubs and sightseeing). We took a little detour and also went through Torrey Pines Golf Course and Mission Beach.
2. The USS Midway Museum This aircraft carrier is voted the #1 thing to do in San Diego and is described as "a city at sea." An adult admission ticket to the ship costs $20 (Children under 5 are free) and includes a very interesting audio tour. The ship itself contains many exhibits, 29 restored air crafts (Including a jet from Top Gun), and a lot of history. There is an old post office, cafeteria, barber and even a jail. They also have these human robots that tell you stories and the realness of them (e.g laugh lines, visible pores, receding hairlines and stained teeth) absolutely terrified me.
If you get hungry while you're there, you can eat your packed lunch or buy something from The Faintail Cafe aboard the ship. They have a wide-variety of food items, and some items are from the ship's 1945 cookbook. They even serve Starbucks coffee, beer and wine. You can eat on outdoor patios that overlook San Diego and the waterfront.
My favourite part of the ship was the flight deck. I'm not sure if it was because I got to enter a helicopter via a rear ramp or because it was funny to watch my 3 year old son's response to it: Break into a 15 minute long excitement dance (Pictured below).
3. Solana Beach ââThis city is about 30 minutes outside of San Diego and definitely worth the drive. There are great restaurants, pubs, shopping and, of course, beaches in this community. Numbers 4-6 on my list cover things to do in Solana Beach, but you should know that I particularly enjoyed San Diego BeerWorks (437 S. Highway 101, suite 7) as it had a friendly and fun atmosphere with a wide variety of local beer. They offer tastings and their employees are more than happy to help you choose a great beer. If you do get to Solana Beach, try stop in here.
4. Fletcher Cove This beach has a very easily accessible public access point with a parking lot and free street parking. It is "located at 111 S. Sierra, at the end of Plaza Street where Lomas Santa Fe Boulevard meets the beach." It is a great place to relax on the beach, watch surfers (Or take pictures of them and their cool tiger boards).
5. Seascape Surf This quiet and uncrowded beach is just south of Fletcher Cove and can be accessed by a pathway and staircase at 501 S. Sierra Drive. This stretch of the beach is enclosed by 90 foot cliffs and great for beach walks, jogs and watersports.
6. Del Mar North Beach (AKA Dog Beach)This beach had volleyball nets, a hiking trail up the North Bluff Preserve and dogs...lots of dogs. The hike offered an amazing view of the beach, the San Dieguito River meeting the ocean and The Del Mar racetrack. If you're looking for an extra workout, bring an infant and toddler.
7. Cedros Design District This shopping district was so fun to walk as it was a street filled with shops, spas, restaurants and coffee shops. The stores had unique and trendy home decor; I wanted to buy everything I saw. Unfortunately, I didn't have room in my suitcase...actually, scratch that. I didn't have a suitcase to bring anything home in.
8. La Jolla Cove This beach town is not to be missed. According to trip Advisor, it is ranked #3 among the best 25 beaches in the U.S. and it is a great spot for seal viewing.
9. Legoland This place is great for a 3 year old...and an adult who would choose to clothe themselves in a Star Wars line, if ever presented with the opportunity. The tickets were pricey ($88 each), but there was a lot to see and do. My 3 year old drove a car, boat, and helicopter and rode a ship, horse and a roller coaster. It was easily the best day of his life.
I really enjoyed Miniland USA, where cities are recreated out 20 million pieces of lego. This exhibit ended with recreations of famous movie scenes. It was here we parted ways with Francisco for the day as we stumbled into the Star Wars section. We were asked to meet him back at the underwater scene of the Planet of Noboo at the end of the day. Also the best day of his life.
What did I miss? What are your favourite things to do in and around San Diego? Leave your suggestions in the comment section for others to see.
My name is Sara and I love finding new things to do in a new city. This website is an attempt to share the things that excite me in a new place through stories, photos, lists, travel tips and tricks.