las vegas local downtown fremont street guide

Las Vegas Like a Local: A Guide to Exploring Downtown Las Vegas

If you think the Strip is the only part of Las Vegas worth checking out, think again. Located just a few miles north of the Strip, downtown Las Vegas offers an enticing and easily accessible alternative to the 24/7 bustle of Las Vegas Boulevard.

Sometimes referred to as “Old Las Vegas”, the downtown core was the original townsite and gambling district in Las Vegas, and is actually home to Sin City’s first casino (the Golden Gate, for all you trivia buffs). The downtown area was the heart and soul of Las Vegas until 1989 when Steve Wynn opened the Mirage, the first mega-casino on the Strip, and it wasn’t until the mid-90s when the Fremont Street Experience opened downtown that visitors began returning to Vegas’s historical roots. Now, thanks to a massive revitalization project spurred by the success of the Fremont Street Experience, downtown Las Vegas is home to a wide variety of bars, restaurants, and other attractions.

Every Las Vegas adventure should include a visit to downtown. Here’s what you need to know before you go:

Downtown Las Vegas vs. the Strip

The main difference between the Strip and downtown is the vibe; there are casinos, bars, and restaurants galore, but downtown is much more relaxed than the Strip, retaining that classic Las Vegas charm without being garish or overwhelming. Here are some more key differences:

  • It’s easier to walk between casinos, bars, and restaurants downtown, making this area ideal for clubbing, pub crawls, or casino hopping.
  • Table minimums are cheaper, and the odds are often better, at downtown casinos.
  • There are more cultural attractions, including museums, theaters, and unique shopping downtown compared to the Strip.
  • As the commercial center of Las Vegas, downtown offers more opportunities to meet and interact with local Las Vegans.

So if you want to experience the glitz of Las Vegas without dealing with the crowds and party-all-the-time atmosphere of the Strip, head downtown!

Downtown Districts

Downtown Las Vegas is divided into three main districts:

1. Fremont Street Casino District

This area contains the original Las Vegas casinos, including El Cortez, Golden Nugget, and Golden Gate.

PRO TIP: If you want to try your hand at gambling but don’t want to break the bank, start downtown. The table minimums are usually lower, and the odds are usually better.

There are also numerous museums, restaurants, and bars in the area, as well as the famous Fremont Street Experience – a pedestrian-only thoroughfare covered by a canopy of more than two million LED lights and a state-of-the-art sound system that comes to life every night for a spectacular sound and light show called “Viva Vision”.

downtown las vegas fremont street john phelan

Fremont Street. Image by John Phelan via Wikimedia Commons.

2. Fremont East Entertainment District

Built in 2002, the Fremont East Entertainment District (FEED) is comprised of six blocks stretching from Las Vegas Boulevard East to 8th Street and from Ogden Street South to Carson. FEED is pedestrian-friendly, offering diverse street life and many eateries, cafes, bars, and lounges, as well as ample shopping opportunities and lively entertainment.

3. Arts District

Also known as 18b (because it’s comprised of 18 blocks), the Arts District centers on Main Street and Charleston Boulevard. It’s home to the famous First Friday event, as well as many art galleries, studios, and boutiques.

What To Do in Downtown Las Vegas

No visit to downtown Las Vegas is complete without a stop at these popular attractions:

  • Mob Museum: A series of interactive exhibits takes you back in time all the way to the origins of the mob. The Mob Museum is a can’t-miss stop if you’re traveling with kids.
  • Neon Museum: This popular museum preserves and displays Vegas’s iconic neon signage. Don’t miss the renowned Neon Boneyard!

Neon Boneyard Las Vegas

Neon Boneyard. Image by korymatthew via Flickr.

  • Container Park: A unique shopping center consisting of shipping containers that have been converted into shops and boutiques. Watch for the giant fire-breathing praying mantis out front!
  • Shark tank: The Golden Nugget is home to a massive shark tank complete with waterslide.
  • SlotZilla: Shoot out of a giant slot machine and soar along an 850-foot zipline 77 feet above the Fremont Street Experience. Serious thrillseekers should try the zoomline, which suspends you superhero-style 110 feet above ground and sends you flying 1,750 feet along the entire length of the Fremont Street Experience.
  • Insert Coins: Get your gaming fix inside a 7,000 foot arcade complete with bar and lounge.
  • Laundry Room: This hidden speakeasy is located inside Commonwealth, another popular bar, and is accessible via a secret door – but only with reservations.

Staying Downtown

If the mega-casino-resorts of the Strip don’t appeal to you, try staying downtown instead. The hotels are a little older and may not offer the same flashy amenities as Strip resorts, but they’re no less luxurious and they’re often cheaper and not as busy.

Consider staying downtown if you:

  • Have visited Las Vegas before and stayed on the Strip.
  • Prefer a less raucous, more relaxed Vegas experience.
  • Enjoy hopping from casino to casino (or bar to bar).
  • Are traveling with kids.

Consider staying on the Strip if:

  • This is your first visit to Las Vegas.
  • You thrive on hustle and bustle.
  • You want to take a guided tour to the Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam, or other iconic Southwest locations. Most tour operators only pick up from hotels on the Strip.

You Can Always Go Downtown!

There’s more to Las Vegas than the Strip! Take a break from the party and head north to explore the many attractions downtown Las Vegas has to offer. It’s the perfect way to experience some Old Las Vegas charm.