What to See and What to Skip in Las Vegas

What happens in Vegas doesn't always have to stay in Vegas. Sure, Sin City offers plenty of opportunity to live out dreams and fantasies better left behind on the light-soaked Strip. And its international appeal is clear: 17 of the world's 20 largest hotels are found here, and 40 million visitors descend every year on the more than 125,000 rooms. But there's plenty more to do – plenty more than flashy casinos, pounding clubs, sexy shows and skin-laden pools – to generate the types of memories you can't wait to bring back home. So here are some alternative things to do in Las Vegas, and these are definitely no gamble.

Skip the Strip, See the Lake

The world-famous Las Vegas Strip is a one-of-a-kind tourist experience, with nonstop action every day. But for a slower, more relaxed experience, consider Lake Las Vegas. Located in Henderson, about 20 minutes off the Strip, the resort village is anchored by a 300-acre man-made lake surrounded by stunning mountains. There are several high-end properties, like the Mediterranean-inspired Ravella and resorts by Loews and Westin; almost all offer roundtrip transportation to the Strip for free. And guests have access to a casino and lots of quality dining onsite, and world-class golf nearby. Rates in Lake Las Vegas can easily rival those on the Strip.

Skip the Slot Machines, Play the Pinball Machines

You can spend a whole lot of quarters at your favorite slot machine and still come out a loser. So why not drop a few coins into the machines at the Pinball Hall of Fame, instead? You'll find more than 150 pinball machines and more than 50 arcades here, as well as a museum featuring vintage games dating back to the 1950s. Located about 12 blocks off the Strip – about 1.5 miles – it's a good walk for the athletically inclined or a $10 cab ride for the rest of us. And don't forget those quarters.

Skip the Fancy Shops, See the New Arts District

Big brand names abound at the glitzy stores inside those famous casino resorts. But many avid shoppers are discovering the new Arts District. Check out plenty of funky shops, design stores and beauty houses, not to mention unique eateries, bars and music venues. Don't miss the free and family-friendly First Friday, held monthly, which brings out up and coming local artisans to sell their original wares. There are also food trucks, live bands on three stages and special art exhibitions. And for the truly avid shopper, there's Bonanza Gifts, the world's largest gift shop, and Vegas' many high-quality pawn shops.

Skip the Clubroom, See the Great Outdoors

Hey thrill seekers, the late night club scene can do plenty to get your adrenaline pumping. But there's plenty of excitement to be found outdoors, thanks to a burgeoning batch of adventure companies that take Vegas vacationers skydiving over the desert, zip lining across nearby Boulder City and revving on an ATV tour. Las Vegas Hot Air Balloon Rides offers 30-minute rides – at 2000 feet – featuring bird's-eye views of the red rock-laden Vegas Valley. Or how about a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon, or a visit to Hoover Dam? Many adventures offer pickups right from your on-the-Strip hotel.

Skip the Lights, See the Snow

It may be tough to see past the glare of the permanently bright lights on the Strip, but there's snow in them thar hills. In winter, Mount Charleston, about an hour from downtown and at an elevation of 7700 feet, sees lots of the white stuff. Mount Charleston Sleigh and Carriage Rides has been offering 30-minute treks since the 1980s through beautiful, snow-covered Lee Canyon in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, and it follows up the rides with time around an outdoor campfire.

Skip the Resort Theater, See The Smith Center

Those spectacular Strip shows feature world-class magicians, comedians and rockers year-round. But The Smith Center has become a haven for the culturally curious, hosting some of the world's top symphony orchestras, dance companies and speakers, and at ticket prices that tend to be quite affordable. Look for the handful of family-friendly shows that take the stage throughout the year.

Skip the Casino, See a Museum

For a lot less than you might leave behind at the casino, you can visit a plethora of unique Vegas museums. The Mob Museum made news when it opened in 2012, spotlighting the notorious relationship between law enforcement and organized crime both in Vegas and throughout the U.S. And the Las Vegas Natural History Museum is a big draw for its dinosaur displays. But Vegas is also home to quirky museums dedicated to Liberace, Elvis, clowns, the history of atomic testing in Nevada and even neon.

Gabe Saglie is Senior Editor for Travelzoo. For deals for Vegas hotels, shows, restaurants, spas and shows, check out http://www.travelzoo.com/local-deals/Las-Vegas/deals and http://www.travelzoo.com/hotels/las-vegas/.