My newlywed wife and I moved to Las Vegas from Ohio in 1995 as recent college graduates. I thought I was there to do a one-year internship. One year turned to ten years. We moved to Southern California for a while after that before returning to Cincinnati in 2007. I enjoyed living in California, and I love being back in Cincinnati. But—this may sound strange—Vegas is home. I lived there longer than I’ve lived anywhere as an adult. I still get a little homesick every day. Here’s what I miss the most:
1. The Sunshine.
294 sunny days per year to be exact. That’s exactly 118 MORE sunny days than Ohio. Knowing 81% of the calendar is full of sun and blue skies is a beautiful thing, especially for someone like me who grows melancholy on gray days. Sure, some of the sunny days are also 110 degrees … but many are not. Wearing shorts on Thanksgiving is a good thing in my book. I hate being cold.
2. The Quick Escapes.
Most people only know the neon-side of Vegas. Within 90 minutes of the Strip are some of the most beautiful places on planet earth. Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is a short drive from anywhere in the Las Vegas Valley. They have wild asses there … so combine that with the availability of Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam, you can do all the middle-school pun “ass” and “dam” jokes you can muster. Mount Charleston is less than an hour from the Strip and provides snow in the winter and relatively cool days in the summer. (You can even get a hot chocolate or a room at The Mt Charleston Resort.) If you want to drive just a little farther, then you can literally have it all within 6 hours: The Grand Canyon, St. George, Utah, Zion National Park, Death Valley National Park, and Brian Head Ski Resort. Or go coastal to Los Angeles or San Diego and all the beach cities in between. We love Newport Beach, Laguna Beach and Del Mar. If you live in Las Vegas, you’re literally half a day away from almost anything you want to do.
3. The Food.
Of course, there are amazing restaurants on the Strip, but there are some places only locals tend to frequent. (And they’re way more affordable.) Some of my favorites are Memphis Championship Barbecue, Paymon’s Mediterranean, Roberto’s Taco Shop, Capriotti’s Sandwich Shop, and local pubs like Big Dog’s Brewing Company and Steiners. There are some amazing breakfast joints headlined by huge portions at The Hash House A Go Go. If you want to really get old school Vegas, check out the Omelet House. And, of course, it’s technically a California thing, but In-N-Out Burger is a taste of heaven for $6—and there’s a lot more of them in Las Vegas than there used to be.
4. 24-7 Everything.
Almost nothing closes in Vegas. There’s always a neighborhood PT’s Pub open. Many restaurants are open all night long, as well as most all of the grocery stores (Albertsons, Vons, and Smiths.) You know that thing when you get home from a business trip having missed dinner? By the time you get your luggage it’s midnight and you’re stuck with Taco Bell. That doesn’t happen in Vegas. And the one thing that is always open is …
5. The Casinos.
Being from the Midwest, I never imagined I would spend so much time in a Casino. I play a little poker. (Side note: if you want to do a midday Texas Hold Em tournament on a tight entertainment budget, I recommend the Luxor poker room—$45 and no rebuys. If you’re less budget strapped, I like the rooms at Aria and The Wynn.) Most of the time locals spend in casinos isn’t about gambling though. Local casinos become the centralized location for lots of entertainment—even family entertainment. Go bowling at Santa Fe Station or ice-skating at Fiesta Rancho. Catch a flick at The Suncoast, Orleans or South Point. See a concert at Red Rock Station. Go shopping at Green Valley Ranch or grab drinks at one of the classiest places on or off the strip at The M Resort in Henderson. Always free parking, always nearby and always open.
6. Nevada Day.
You know how deep down everyone wishes you got a day off for Halloween but we can’t bring ourselves to make it a national holiday? Problem solved in Nevada. On October 31, 1864, Nevada became a state. So that means when you live there, no school or work for you on Halloween! (By the way. It’s pronounced Ne-VAD-ah. VAD like DAD. Don’t say it like Thurston Howell thinking you are being sophisticated. It’s just embarrassing.)
7. Downtown (Finally).
Downtown Vegas used to be the place most locals would avoid. Thanks in large part to Zappos’ CEO Tony Hsieh, downtown is now officially a thing. Nowhere is it more evident than Container Park—a postmodern fusion of small business incubator, kid-friendly park and ongoing tailgate party.
8. The Emerging Improv Comedy Scene.
Most people think of Chicago, L.A. and NYC for improv, but Vegas is coming around. Though it closed in 2008, The Second City laid the groundwork with their show at The Flamingo and corresponding training center. (SNL alum Jason Sudeikis and Pitch Perfect/30 Rock writer Kay Canon led an amazingly talented cast in the early 2000’s.) What they birthed is showing fruit today. Matt Donnelly and Paul Mattingly are two of my favorite improvisers on the planet. They are based in Las Vegas and host a podcast called Matt and Mattingly’s Ice Cream Social.
9. Sunday Mornings.
Several Sunday mornings every year I would awake to find the skies full of hot air balloons. The serenity of the blue skies, desert mountains, morning sunshine and floating balloons was breathtaking. This may seem ironic to many, but if you are a spiritual or religious person, Vegas is a great place to find like-minded people. I’m sure there are amazing faith-based communities of all backgrounds there, but as a Christian I can say that some of my favorite churches in America are in Sin City. Check out Canyon Ridge Christian Church, Central Christian Church, The Crossing or The Verve on your next trip.
10. The People.
I became a Las Vegan and a Nevadan between 1995-2005. We are an interesting breed. Most of us aren’t from Nevada originally. A lot of us are transplants. Many of us—like me today—have moved away but can’t bring ourselves to remove Vegas from our identity. Las Vegans are an odd mix of urban cowboys, successful runaways, desert dreamers, unapologetic partiers, and nature-loving casino dwellers. We like that there is no other city on planet Earth quite like ours. We think it’s cute when you say 90 degrees is hot. We delight in not owning lawn mowers. We think it makes all the sense in the world for a rainstorm to lead the local news. We secretly love it when we board a plane to head on vacation that all of you are ending yours in a zombie hungover haze. (We don’t like your loud drunken excitement on our return trip home though.) We don’t mind it when you ask us silly questions like, “People really live in Las Vegas?” and, “Do you live in the Strip?” We know you may see our city as monochromatic (yes, we know some big words). You may think that Vegas is a one-trick “what happens here stays here” pony. You see the cheesy billboards, porn peddlers and overpriced buffets and think that’s Las Vegas. That’s ok. That is part of who we are … but we are a lot more. To many of us, your one-night stand weekend trick is our faithful, loving happy home. Even, as in my case, when we exit the 702. But don’t get me wrong, we love that you visit our city … because your visits give us the 11th reason I love Las Vegas:
11. No State Income Tax.
Photo (Flickr CC) by Moyan Brenn