A hedonistic reputation, flashing neon lights and over-the-top spectacles make Las Vegas one of the world's most popular tourist destinations. But Sin City is constantly reinventing itself, touting its family-friendly resorts one year and its massive concert venues the next.
This year, the outreach is to the gay market. The city continues to add attractions to satisfy the ever-growing number of gays who flock there each year. Same-sex couples holding hands in the glittery casinos and well-built gay men dancing the night away at the most popular bars and clubs are increasingly common sights on the Strip.
Las Vegas does not have one gay neighborhood, but the majority of the city's gay nightlife is centered on two large strip malls -- the Fruit Loop and the Village Square Commercial Center -- off the Strip.
Mike Morse of the Onyx Theater notes that dozens of gay couples have moved into the golf course at which he and his partner live.
"We're scattered across the whole valley of more than a million people," he says.
The Strip remains the city's primary draw, but gay visitors to Sin City can experience something entirely different, and equally worthwhile, only a few blocks away.
McCarran International Airport, is roughly three miles southeast of the Las Vegas Strip and about five miles from downtown. A taxi from LAS costs around $20, and most hotels offer a shuttle bus to and from the airport.
Another option to get downtown is the fleet of buses operated by the RTC, or Regional Transportation Commission. Buses 108 and 109A provide direct service to and from the airport. Fares are $2, or $5 for a day pass.
The best way to take in the Strip's many attractions is by foot. A number of walkways take pedestrians over busy Las Vegas Boulevard and nearby streets. The double-decker Deuce Bus is a great way to travel between the Strip and downtown. It costs $3, or $7 for a day pass. It operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week by RTC.
The Las Vegas Monorail will convey you in cool comfort back and forth along the Strip.
Las Vegas itself is quite spread out, so a car is necessary for any excursions beyond the Strip, downtown and their immediate surroundings. To skip the car, try the Q Party Shuttle with Friday and Saturday hotel pick ups from the Wynn, Ballys and Excalibur, then with shuttles between three of the hottest GLBT nightclubs and bars in Vegas, in the Fruit Loop and beyond.
What to see
The majority of the Strip's attractions stretch along Las Vegas Boulevard from Sahara Avenue to Russell Road. This is where you'll find the massive resorts that feature battling pirate ships, exploding volcanoes and roller coasters that whiz around scale models of the New York skyline.
A couple of miles north of the Strip is downtown Las Vegas, a throwback to the city's early days. Here you can gawk at many of the city's original casinos along pedestrian-only Fremont Street. Now called the Fremont Street Experience, it features a four-block canopy covered with twinkling lights.
Locals are quick (and some are even proud) to point out that gays have successfully integrated into mainstream Las Vegas. Although there isn't really a gay neighborhood, the majority of the city's gay bars and clubs are clustered around the Fruit Loop, on Paradise Road near East Harmon Avenue, and the Village Square Commercial Center, on Sahara Avenue near Maryland Parkway. Crowds can be thin during the week, but the bars and clubs are usually packed on Friday and Saturday nights. Both the Fruit Loop and the Village Square Commercial Center are a short taxi ride (or a 15-20 minute walk) from the Strip.
In addition to bars and clubs, the Onyx Theater in the Village Square Commercial Center offers a variety of locally produced shows and performances. The Erotic Heritage Museum on Industrial Road is another option for those with a couple of hours to kill. Curator Laura Henkel presents sexual freedom as artistic, spiritual and political imperatives.
Head to the canyons
Located in the Mojave Desert, Las Vegas is within striking distance of some of the Southwest's most dramatic landscapes, and some gay and gay-friendly companies offer comfortable and convenient ways to explore them.
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, west of Las Vegas on State Route 160, is so close to the city the skyline is visible from a number of overlooks. The park is famous for its sandstone outcroppings, prehistoric sand dunes and dramatic cliffs along the 65-million-year-old Keystone Thrust.
The Calico Hills, on the park's 13-mile Scenic Loop, remain a popular destination for local rock climbers and hikers. Animal lovers come for a glimpse of wildlife, ranging from rattlesnakes and raptors to ground squirrels and desert tortoises.
Red Rock Canyon's unique attractions include prehistoric pictographs, found near Willow Spring Picnic Area. Archaeologists speculate that the tribes who once lived in the canyon put their handprints on the rocks to announce births. The tribes' origins, however, remain a mystery.
A series of trails gives visitors access to the park's more remote areas. Chris Brennan of Pink Jeep Tours routinely navigates his retrofitted vehicle over the aptly named Rocky Gap Road. The three-and-a-half-hour tour includes several pauses at scenic overlooks throughout the preserve. At one stop, you can explore a dry river bed and the steep slopes along the canyon's base.
More than one million people visit Red Rock each year, but that number is dwarfed by the hordes of visitors to the Grand Canyon, one of the world's most popular national attractions. The park is a five-hour drive from Las Vegas, but a handful of companies offer helicopter tours from Boulder City that land inside the canyon, within the Hualapai Indian Reservation.
The flight from Boulder City takes roughly 35 minutes. It passes over Hoover Dam and Lake Mead before making a 3,500-foot descent into the canyon. Mischa Maliski of Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters says the National Parks Service banned scenic tours within national park boundaries nearly a decade ago, after a series of crashes. Now, flights must land just outside the park on Hualapai land. Visitors are treated to a small picnic lunch and a champagne toast before returning to Nevada.
On the town
When you think of Vegas, do you imagine the glory days with entertainers the likes of Liberace, Sinatra and Elvis; or elaborate shows of Cirque du Soleil of today; the legendary mobsters, or the antics of Howard Hughes? The Boulder Dam was an original big attraction, and mushroom clouds on the horizon drew visitors to watch atomic bomb tests from their hotels in the 1950s. In the popular imagination this city always held the allure of larger than life, forbidden, unrestricted and risque experience, with just sufficient hints of danger, attracting millions from more conventional hometowns to this "magic kingdom" for adults.
Elaborate themed hotel casino resorts such as the Venetian, the Paris and Circus-Circus, with their tacky interpretations of reality, can be forgiven as appealingly over-the-top indulgences. Others, modern and high-tech, include the Wynn, a trendy celebrity hangout.
Bright lights, endless entertainment, 24-hour liquor licenses, ubiquitous slot machines or high-stakes tables of the top-end establishments are the hallmark of life here, night and day. Gambling, banned for 32 years, was re-legalized only in 1931 and marriage and divorce laws were relaxed, creating the basis for the "Sin City" allure. Despite recent attempts to introduce a more "family friendly" image, gaming remains the financial lifeblood of the region.
Prostitution, another American no-no, though permitted at state-regulated brothels in rural Nevada counties, is a misdemeanor in larger cities like Las Vegas (since 2004). But escorts remain discreetly available in the casinos, and openly advertised along the strip.
Las Vegas offers the hottest shows on Earth -- for a price, of course, and you need to reserve ahead. The Colosseum at Caesars Palace, the Hilton, the Mandalay Bay Theater, the Palazzo, the Riviera, the Venetian (which also houses the Blue Man Theatre), and the Wynn are just a few the venues to check out.
Frank Marino named Las Vegas' "Entertainer of the Century" after performing to over 10 million people, does superstar female impersonation shows, Divas Las Vegas, at the Quad Resort & Casino. See details at FrankMarinosDivas.com
Cirque Du Soleil has outdone itself with eight permanent shows now being performed in Vegas: Zarkana at Aria; The Beatles Love at the Mirage, (Cirque also designed the Revolution Lounge here); "O" at the Bellagio; Kà at MGM Grand; Criss Angel Believe at the Luxor; Michael Jackson One at the Mandalay Bay; Zumanity, (Cirque's most erotic/sensual show), at New York New York; and Mystère at Treasure Island. In December they also present Cirque Week for behind-the-scenes experiences at all the shows around town.
For an interactive experience as part of the show head to Bally's Las Vegas to enjoy Tony and Tina's Wedding. In this Italian-American wedding, the action takes place with you as one of the guests! Dinner is included.
The Onyx Theatre (Commercial Center, 953 East Sahara) behind the Rack has inexpensive tickets for great movies and shows that include stand-up comedy acts, and a performing space for both in-house stage productions, as well as local groups and performers.
Visit Las Vegas, a comprehensive online guide to the city from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, also has gay listings.
The Gay and Lesbian Community Center, in Village Square Commercial Center, has a comprehensive calendar of events for local organizations. Sexual health clinics, film-club nights and social groups -- plus internet access.
Although their museum closed in October 2010, the Liberace Foundation for the Performing and Creative Arts continues to fund scholarships and keep their informative website in operation.
The Sin Sity Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, "dedicated to the promulgation of universal joy and the expiation of ...guilt" have events throughout the year. Check their site or look for them at the Fun Hog Ranch.
For locations and website links to businesses listed below, see our Las Vegas gay map & listings pages.
Blue Moon Resort (2651 Westwood Dr), gay men's oasis, sex-charged, cruisy, permissive, fun, clean; private, secure and discreet. Massage service, high-speed wireless internet, 45 elegant rooms, flat-panel TVs, famous buffet breakfast. Uninhibited action in big steam room, clothing-optional lagoon-style pool, 10-man Jacuzzi grotto, and communal video room. Also bar, internet cafe, walking path, and 10-foot waterfall. Regular poolside events include guys of Rentboy.com. Day passes available - join the fun even when rooms are booked solid.
Among the big general-public resorts, some are more welcoming to gay visitors:
The Aria (3730 Las Vegas Blvd), world's most exclusive retail shopping, dining from world-renowned chefs, unique casino experience, luxurious spa, extraordinary shows of Cirque du Soleil.
Bellagio (3600 Las Vegas Blvd S), rooms decorated with plush fabrics, rich hues, comfortably furnished, sweeping views of Lake Bellagio, pools & courtyards; shopping, spa, casino, entertainment includies Cirque du Soleil shows.
Mandalay Bay (3950 Las Vegas Blvd S), with gay-friendly ads: "come out and play" - and sexy models promoting sauna. One-stop vacation destination, full-blown entertainment, hot nightclubs, cool music venues, sleek lounges on the Strip- plus pools, steam, and eleven restaurants.
The MGM Grand Hotel & Casino (3799 Las Vegas Blvd S); the Mirage (3400 Las Vegas Blvd S) with gay lounge and pool events; New York New York (3790 Las Vegas Blvd S); and the Wynn (3131 Las Vegas Blvd S) are four more options among the many resort casinos, each with nightlife entertainment, gaming, dining and luxury accommodations.
See our map & listings tab for many additional local lodging and resort options, plus locations and weblinks for businesses we list.
Gay bars & clubs
While each of Las Vegas' gay bars has a unique flair to it, most have gambling and inexpensive drinks in common. There are all sorts of machines on which to try your luck, and "busts" at nearly every club on certain days and times. You can drink, cruise and gamble 24/7 in most places here. See photos of local nightlife in our gallery pages.
Badlands Saloon (Commercial Center, 953 E Sahara), country music, weekend beer and liquor busts, domestic-drink specials Monday through Thursday.
Charlie's (5012 S Arville), part of chain (Chicago, Denver, and Phoenix). Popular country & western locals' hangout, variety of dance classes and hoedowns, funky disco nights, Drag Bingo, Diva and undies nights, go-go boys. Benefits for Street Teens and Nevada AIDS Project.
Drink & Drag (450 Fremont St), second floor at Neonopolis Bowling & Billiards, games, snacks, drag shows.
Eagle (3430 E Tropicana) leather/levi-influenced bar, game room, busy underwear nights: strip-off for free drinks.
Escape Lounge (4213 W Sahara Ave), large gay mixed crowd drinking and party bar, holiday events, cabaret performances, pool tables.
Flex (4371 W Charleston), a bit off the strip, cheap drinks, game room with pool tables and 24/7 video poker; weekend DJ dancing, male strippers, live music nights, and TemptAsian Thursdays.
Freezone (610 E Naples), in neighborhood affectionately known as the Fruit Loop, dancing, go-go and shot boys, drag shows. Informal scene mixing tourists and locals. Tuesdays for women.
Fun Hog Ranch (495 E Twain), men's club, Levi & leather guys and bears. Darts, gaming, pool table, down-home "be yourself" atmosphere. Cheap drinks attract early drinkers before the dance clubs.
Garage (1487 E Flamingo), cheap drinks, video poker, juke box music at conversation volume, pool tables, friendly crowd & bartenders.
Goodtimes (1775 E Tropicana Ave), popular with young Latino cowboy crowd, drag show nights and Papi dancers, karaoke and comedy.
Krave (3765 Las Vegas Blvd S), back on The Strip with original owner at former "The Affair" club, reopened November 2013; multi-level gay dance club, hot male dancers, performances, theme parties.
Pirahna (4633 Paradise Rd), high-energy dancing until dawn, underwear contests, go-go dancers, drag shows, Tuesday Latin nights, special theme parties.
Revolution Lounge at the Mirage (3400 S Las Vegas Blvd), Thursday through Tuesdays, Beatles era psychedelic lounge created by Cirque du Soleil, eclectic music sets - rock-centric mixes, hip hop and house back beats. Sometimes live bands. Gayest on Sundays.
Share Nightclub (4636 Wynn Rd), gay dance club & lounge, guest DJs, guest porn stars, go-do boys/strippers, performances; weekly Stripper Circus - "The Dirtiest Show on Earth," and Noches Calientes Latin nights.
Snick's Place (1402 S 3rd St), Las Vegas' first gay bar, still among friendliest in town, especially for happy hours 2-4am and 2-4pm. They have wi-fi, video poker, reasonable drink prices, Saturday beer busts, and liquor to-go.
XS Nightclub (3121 S Las Vegas Blvd) upscale mixed club/lounge with guest star DJs, at The Wynn Social club/restaurant complex.
Buffalo bears/country-western club on Paradise, and Crews'n cocktail bar/piano lounge on E Sahara, have CLOSED. The Backdoor Lounge Latin/Naked Papi Party club on on E Charleston, is also reported to be CLOSED.
Saunas & playgrounds
These men's play spaces and workout clubs are conveniently located in the Village Square Commercial Center, just across the parking lot from one another, and neighbors to Badlands Saloon, Hawks and the Onyx Theater.
The Entourage Vegas (953 E Sahara, Suite A-19), hottest and safest playground in Sin City" 65 rooms, 60 lockers, dry sauna, indoor Roman-style pool, gym, Jacuzzi, dark room, sling room, huge, cavernous steam room maze; Mondays all-night dancing boys.
Hawks Gym (953 E Sahara, Suite B-35), busy everyday, locals and out-of-towners, Las Vegas's only gay-owned and operated men's gym for men. For special occasions they fill fast. State-of-the-art gym, reputation for cleanliness, 22 rooms, huge, well-equipped communal dungeon.
The casinos have some of the best all-you-can-eat lunch and dinner buffets anywhere. The most popular are at Bellagio, Bally's, Paris, Orleans, Planet Hollywood, Mirage, and MGM -- all on Las Vegas Boulevard.
See our maps & listings/restaurants tab for Las Vegas restaurant suggestions, with locations and website links.
Las Vegas is a shopaholic's dream where you can buy just about anything at malls and outlet centers throughout the city. The casinos all have shops, some of the best around. Some must-sees include: Fashion Show Mall (3200 Las Vegas Blvd S), one of the largest shopping malls in the USA; Las Vegas Outlet Center (7400 Las Vegas Blvd S); and Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood (3667 Las Vegas Blvd S).
The Village Square Commercial Center (953 E Sahara), an open air shopping mall built in 1960, has over 150 unique shops & restaurants. It has plenty of parking, and several gay bathhouses, shops, bars and the community center are located here too.
Get Booked (4640 Paradise Rd), books, videos, gifts, & magazines -- both hard-core & soft-core varieties, plus T-shirts and undies.
The Rack (Commercial Center, 953 East Sahara), gay merchandise, a whole room of underwear and thongs, leather, rubber and gothic gear, toys, jewelry, adult novelties, pumping accouterments -- even kilts adorn the hangers.