The Convention Center Experience Doesn’t Have to be Conventional

Believe it or not, there are those with a fetish for places like airports, hotels, and other anonymous traveler-catering facilities such as convention centers. If you’re not among them, however, the Las Vegas Convention Center at 3150 Paradise Road—in the seeming No Man’s Land behind the Strip’s end and the not-quite-beginning of Downtown–can feel isolating and overwhelming. But fear not; you’re in Vegas, and it’s designed to come to you.

What to See and Do Near the Convention Center

More than Casinos

Even for conventioneers, a casino is never far away. Whether you’re into those or not, the landmark Westgate Hotel demands a pilgrimage. Close enough to feel like an extension of the convention center, the Westgate was once the Las Vegas Hilton, and before that the International Hotel, broken-in in 1969 by Elvis Presley and Barbara Streisand. It hosts the largest sports book, is a station stop along the monorail track, and features amenities such as Serenity Spa, and entertainers like legendary Barry Manilow, comedian Vinnie Favorito, and adult revue “Sexxy.”

Step across Paradise Rd. and you’re at the ever-changing SLS hotel-casino (formerly the historic Sahara), which houses an outdoor beer garden overlooking the Strip. Just across the Boulevard, meanwhile, is the must-see Stratosphere. Once you take the escalator to the mall level then the elevator all the way up, it’s easy to forget it even has a casino. Panoramic views abound at the rotating Top of the World restaurant and the lounge that borders it just above. As you drink or dine, out of the corner of your eye you’ll see bodies falling; those are the deathwishers paying $120 for the Sky Jump off the observation deck, which also offers $25 rides that almost fling you off the top ($39.95 for an all-day pass that’ll get you three Tower Rides).

Keep Daring the Devil

If you prefer a more simulated suicide mission, the country’s original indoor skydiving facility, Vegas Indoor Skydiving, is just half a mile away at 200 Convention Center Drive. A thousand-horsepower motor keeps you floating, flying or falling with wind speeds of up to 120 mph. For a full-blown amusement park experience (indoor!), visit Adventure Dome inside the most vintage Strip casino, Circus Circus.

Country Club

Right behind the convention center is the Las Vegas Country Club, onetime home of the Mob’s “numbers guy” Lefty Rosenthal, made into a household name by Robert De Niro’s depiction in the 1995 film “Casino.” For the golf-literate, the club houses an “old-style” course.

The Peppermill

If you get hungry, take a slightly less than three-quarter-mile walk to the historic Peppermill Fireside Lounge, which has been around since the 1960s, when it was a mob hangout. The place still has a ’60s vibe. Or, if you’re feeling adventurous (cheap), you can opt to visit the nearby Slots-A-Fun, famous for its foot-long hotdogs.

Marriott and Residence Inn as Zen?

For  a little peace—and maybe you’re staying there anyway—just across Paradise the Marriott Courtyard and Residence Inn offer a quaint escape from convention chaos, sharing a grassy campus side by side and feeling like an idyllic world unto themselves, with as close to rolling hills as you can get in the outskirts of the Las Vegas Strip. Even if you’re not staying there, they’re worth a visit just as a meditation exercise. All Residence suites are in the style of Cape Cod cottages and there is a sitting area with a fruit and juice barista for guests (and anyone who can pass for one), while the Courtyard features a coffee shop lobby that serves Starbucks coffee but more decent food.

Bonanza Extravaganza

Now, just because you’re in Vegas for a convention doesn’t mean you should leave empty-handed. On the corner of Sahara Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard stands “the world’s largest gift shop.” At 45,000 square feet, Bonanza Gifts is a spectacle in itself, so don’t forget to buy something among all the souvenirs, kitsch, gag gifts, tees and Native-American jewelry.

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