These are my top 10 free things to do in Vegas, and as my style (and as a local here) these things have NOTHING to do with The Strip.
This is part 1 (aka numbers 1 through 5). I had to break this down into 2 parts cause it is long. I feel the need to describe how awesome these free things to do are.
Some of these things you need a car to get to. Some are within walking distance of Fremont Street (aka: Downtown, aka where the overhead light show is). Some of them I’ve mentioned before on my last Vegas post and may seem familiar.
If you want to know the Top 10 things to do ON THE STRIP, there are PLENTY of guides and lists for those already. I’m going to tell you the non-strip, cooler, not promoted, non-casino ones!
1. FREMONT STREET PEOPLE WATCHING
Never mind the giant overhead LED screen lightshow, the cheap drinks, the old casinos, and touristy souvenirs…people watching in Fremont is AWESOME. Fremont basically has all the crazy, weird shit with half the tourists. There are artists, musicians and contortionists that line the walkway and perform for free. We also have an abundance of people in costumes walking around that you can get photos with usually for ‘tips’ (think in front of the Chinese Theater in LA). And the people that walk around are awesome to watch.
Every age, race, and level of sobriety walk around here…and the mash-up makes for some interesting people watching. Sit in one place long enough (usually a few minutes) and you are bound to be approached by some slightly, or not so slightly, inebriated person which can make for hours of fun trying to hold conversations with them while you are just making shit up to encourage their insanity.
People watching on Fremont is one of the most fun things to do. Plus you can get great photos, the rooms are super cheap especially during the weekdays (usually around $30 with taxes and fees), so you can stay here too, and Fremont is within walking distance from many other great free things to do in Vegas.
Throughout Fremont there are also stages where bands (local, cover, non-local, etc.) people play music, perform acts, and you can dance your little heart out. At the far west end of Fremont is a DJ stage where DJ’s play hip-hop and beats that you can really jam out to. There are 2 brothers (8 and 14 I think) that are commonly seen on weekends and are some of the baddest break-dancers I’ve ever seen (see photo…they are amazing). you can also see them sometimes at the VEGAS STREATS festival (see #4)
2. Burlesque Hall of Fame and Burlesque Shows
Vegas is home to much great Burlesque, many legends (older performers) still live in Vegas. The Burlesque Hall of Fame is a great place to see photos of some of Vegas’s burlesque and to learn about the Burlesque culture. You can also ask about upcoming Burlesque shows in Vegas (sometimes they are within walking distance form Fremont, sometimes you will need to hop a bus or take a car.
The Burlesque Hall of Fame is run by volunteers who are quite knowledgeable and who also perform and work Burlesque shows all over town. If you want to find out more, click the link to the Burlesque Hall of Fame to find out hours and information.
To learn more about Burlesque in Vegas check out ChaCha Velour’s, Miss Karla Joy’s , or Goldie DeBlommer’s pages. (In the photos above – top to bottom) These lovely ladies are just a couple of the forerunners in Las Vegas’s burlesque scene.
3. FIRST FRIDAY ART WALK
This is a GIANT art event that happens in Vegas every…you guessed it…First Friday of the month. Artists, vendors, musicians, and food trucks from all over Vegas (YES THERE IS ART IN VEGAS) take over the Art District and it becomes a giant party and all the art galleries open up and you can walk around in them and ITS ALL FREE!!!
Yes, if you want food, drink, or artwork you will have to buy it, but you can also bring in your own drinks and stuff so no worries. basically Main St closes down for 3 blocks and you just walk around. There are ALWAYS crazy people in costumes, people holding ‘FREE HUGS’ signs (some cute teenagers, some creepy old men), other people promoting their art or events (like the Anonymity Ball was one) and its almost 100% locals that go here. You will see infants and toddlers to 80 year old couples walking around on First Friday, all enjoying themselves.
This is a great event that has unfortunately been having funding problems in this economy, and is drastically downsizing lately. Go to FIRST FRIDAY or 18 BLOCKS (what our art district is called) to learn more, or donate to help keep this amazing event going.
4. VEGAS STREATS
OK, this event, VegasStrEATs is across the street from the EL CORTEZ casino and behind the EMERGENCY ARTS building, in the EL CORTEZ plaza. About 5 or 6 gourmet food trucks line the pavement (we have an abundance of delicious and cheap gourmet food trucks in Vegas…(see my other GUIDE TO VEGAS post to read more about the food trucks).
Artists and vendors and a couple sponsors take over the walkway, and at the west end of the plaza (the plaza is only half a block long) there is a stage where all night there are musicians, bands, and DJs playing an array of musical styles. And people come out and dance the night away, eat delicious food, and get to see artists creating pieces live.
This event is usually the second Saturday of the month. This month they are having it on the second Friday, but you can click on the links to see when its happening, who is playing, what food will be cooking, etc. This is an awesome event!
5. RED ROCK CANYON
Red Rock Canyon is one of the MANY amazing outdoor places to get into nature around Vegas. best part…its only a 15 min or so drive from the strip. Located at the far west side of Charleston Street, past where the street lights end, the world opens up suddenly and you are in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by beautiful rock formations, mountains, and tons of cacti (I still get wicked excited every time I see a cactus).
There are 2 ways into Red Rock.
There is the official paid way, which is only like $7 per car and is a beautiful drive, there are official rock climbing trails, and is just wonderful.
If you want to go for free and do it local’s style though, take the street on the right, right before the paid entrance (for non-locals, just drive till you see the paid entrance, then turn around and take the very first street – now on your left- that you come to). This street is Calico Basin. Drive down it, maybe a mile, past the gorgeous homes and horses, and you will see a parking lot on your left. Its free to park there and this is the back way into Red Rock. You should remember though, that you start to lose light on this side of Red Rock around 4pm because it goes behind the mountains.
You can walk the boardwalk and be in the grasses and trees (there is a natural spring here that feeds the ground and allows grass and trees to grow in a very small section), or you can walk up any of the paths…or make your own.. to the rocks a few hundred yards away and just start climbing around like a mountain goat. You will often see small classes of people learning how to rock climb too. You can take these classes through places like REI, but be warned…they are not cheap. I prefer to go ‘bouldering’ (Las Vegas’s official term for pretending to be a mountain goat).
Red Rock is huge, and in this back way, you can avoid the large crowds gathered at each designated parking spot. There are always people here but never huge obnoxious groups, and there is always a way to be alone and take in the nature in peace if you want (and usually, if you do run into someone, they just nod, say hi, and keep going, respecting your desire to take in the breathtaking scenery. If you do climb up towards the top, you get AMAZING overlooking views of Las Vegas city.
And this is all only 15 min or so away form the Strip.
About Dani Blanchette
I am a freelance travel and music photographer and creator of GoingNomadic.com.
I love music, food, and exploring cities without guidebooks. I’ve flown a helicopter, hitchhiked down the east coast USA, and once snuck into the back of a zoo (in Serbia) and pet a lion.
I am always up for an adventure, and sometimes I videotape them.