Vegas was once a very straight town. But while the giant neon cowboys, silicone showgirls, and quickie weddings can still be found, Vegas is much more inviting to the LGBT traveler. The casinos roll out the red carpet for gay visitors, not just with advertising and marketing materials, but with LGBT pool parties, musicals, and design flourishes that only a gay can love (kidding, kind of). The city is an oasis of high-minded cuisine, with a growing cultural scene that offers art and theater. Lesbian parties and gay clubs dot the city, including the largest gay nightclub in the world, Krave Massive. Speaking of downtown, there's lots of fun bubbling in the oldest part of this new city, with a youthful arts scene and hipster bars. The entire city probably has more spas than Istanbul (we didn't count) and more ways to pamper yourself than Beverly Hills can offer. Oh yeah, Vegas has gambling, too. Almost forgot about that.
(MORE: Planning a romantic Vegas vacation)
EAT: Only-in-Vegas Dining Options
Las Vegas's restaurant scene is as sizzling as the summer weather. Sure, there's low-end fare available for the budget-conscious traveler, but that's no fun in a place like this. Budget some bucks for at least one dinner (or brunch) out; you'd be doing yourself a disservice otherwise.
Sage at ARIA (pictured): This restaurant is cavernous, but in a good way; it's large and somehow intimate and romantic at the same time. Chef Shawn McClain's artisanal American cuisine features strip steak with indulgent beef marrow, a heavenly Iberico pork loin, and, for somewhat lighter eaters, an Oro King Salmon with eggplant pureee. Might as well go with the $89 tasting menu while you're at it. (3730 Las Vegas Boulevard South, more info)
Nobu Restaurant and Lounge at the Nobu Hotel in Caesars Palace: This 11,200 square foot house of worship (religion: sushi) is from legendary chef Nobuyuki "Nobu" Matsuhisa and is the centerpiece of the new Nobu hotel, conveniently located in the heart of Caesars Palace. The black cod with miso is a must, but the revolving sushi wheel (come with a big party) has to be experienced to be described accurately. Eat like a pig before Celine's show and you'll still feel light as a feather. (3570 Las Vegas Boulevard South, more info)
Comme Caat The Cosmopolitan: The sweeping views of the Strip are almost as good as the food at this Vegas outpost of the West Hollywood institution. Chef David Myers' rich and delectable French fare is on the menu, like roasted bone marrow and oxtail jam, but there's also slightly lighter plates like smoked salmon rillettes and trout amandine. Drinks are just as sumptuous. (3708 Las Vegas Boulevard South, more info)
Park at Fremont: This trendy greasy spoon is where to find hipsters and artists in the middle of the downtown scene, right where Fremont and Las Vegas Boulevard converge, and where the lively East Fremont Street district begins. The decor is clever and the servers attractive, which makes up for the food being a bit pedestrian. The healthy selection of Bloody Marys makes up for that, so stop by for a hair-of-the-dog brunch. The restaurant even offers partially-shaded outdoor patio that stays somewhat cool in the summer months. (506 East Fremont Street, more info)
EAT: This downtown restaurant is a favorite of the hipsters, but they don't just come for the scene. The food here is excellent, especially the hearty breakfasts and strong coffee. Beat your hangover here, and then walk over to the nearby Container Park, which is filled with cool stores, eateries, and barber shops. (707 Carson Avenue, more info)
Yushoat Monte Carlo: This Japanese small plates restaurant is much-loved in Chicago and their Vegas outpost is just as phenomenal. Must eats: wagyu steak, beignet shrimp, charred eggplant buns, and DIY spicy tuna. The best new restaurant in Sin City. (3770 Las Vegas Boulevard South, more info)
(MORE: Read up on Las Vegas's Food University)
SLEEP: Where to Sleep for a Few Hours (or Just Take a Shower)
Casino/hotels in Vegas are for dancing, drinking, gambling, eating, shopping, swimming, and spa-ing; sleeping is an after-thought. But due to the fact that each Vegas casino is its own self-enclosed world, it's imperative you choose the right one; if you hit the jackpot with your lodging, you can spend most of your time inside the comfy/climate-controlled world of your temporary home and save time and money walking on the crowded Strip or trying to hail a cab. You may love your room so much, you'll actually look forward to resting between your adventures.
MGM Grand Las Vegas: One of the largest hotels in the world, the 5,000-room MGM Grand is so Vegas. The enormous lobby is like Grand Central Station, with people running in every which direction and giant video screens showing Beyonce, Bruno Mars, or the pop star of the moment getting their moves on. The rooms are hip, without being overly so, and everything is clean as a whistle. Restaurants from Emeril Lagasse, Joel Robuchon, Tom Colicchio, and Wolfgang Puck are sprinkled throughout the property, which is also home to the famous WET Republic pool. (3799 Las Vegas Boulevard South, more info)
The Cosmopolitan Las Vegas: One of the best new casino/hotels to open in Vegas since, maybe, ever. Located in the heart of the Strip, The Cosmo is the coolest place to stay in the city. The decor, the guests, the bars — all top-notch. This may be the most gay-friendly casino in Vegas, with gays and lesbians never far from sight. Make sure to eat at the delicious tapas restaurant Jaleo and get a drink that will blow your mind at The Chandelier bar (yes, you'll be inside a giant chandelier). (3708 Las Vegas Boulevard South, more info)
Palms Place: If you're visiting Vegas for work and need to actually get some work done, Palms Place is the place. Removed but not isolated, Palms Place is a 58-story hotel and residential tower with its own hotel, spa services, and pool. The suites are basically apartments and all the action of the Palms is available via a sky bridge that gets you pumped for all the action coming your way. Brunch at Simon, the casual eatery from chef Kerry Simon, is a Vegas ritual. (4321 West Flamingo Road, more info)
Aria Resort and Casino: Part of MGM's massive City Center complex, Aria is a sophisticated hotel alternative. Two glass towers make up the hotel, which has one of the most gorgeous lobbies in the city. The eco-friendly hotel automatically adjusts curtains and shuts off lights when guests are away. Aria offers the only gaming within the City Center complex and you'll see more suits and dresses than stretch pants and fanny packs. Aria is also home to Zarkana, one of Cirque du Soleil's newest shows in Vegas. (3730 Las Vegas Boulevard, more info)
The Delano: Newly opened this fall, The Delano is the Vegas version of the Miami classic. Formerly Mandalay Bay's THEhotel, The Delano is restrained, sophisticated, and looks and smells like a million bucks. Connected to Mandalay via a walkway, The Delano is a self-contained unit of luxury, with restaurants, spas, gambling, and nightlife all within a 10 minute walk. (3950 South Las Vegas Boulevard, more info)
PLAY: The Best Bars, Clubs, and Pool Bacchanals
What would Vegas be without its famous nightlife (and daylife)? There are numerous options for liquid lubrication, flirting, and grinding to some good ol' house music.
FREEDOM at Marquee Nightclub at The Cosmopolitan: One of the newest gay parties in Vegas, FREEDOM is a rousing good time with some seriously beautiful dancers. (3708 Las Vegas Boulevard South, more info)
Temptation Sundays at the Luxor Las Vegas: When you think of Vegas pool parties, you likely imagine a crowded scene with sweaty bodies, ear-splitting music, and pounding sun. Temptation Sundays is actually nothing like that: it's relaxed, chill, friendly, and there's great music and plenty of room to flop around in the pool (with great views of Luxor's pyramids). If you won the night before, make sure to get a cabana. (3900 Las Vegas Boulevard South, more info)
REVO Sundays at Revolution Lounge at The Mirage Hotel & Casino: Sunday is gay night in Vegas, so make sure to swing by REVO Sundays. A perfectly-sized club — not too big, not too small — REVO's DJs spin great contemporary tunes and remixes. It's also a great place to meet someone. (3400 Las Vegas Boulevard South, more info)
Share: This off-the-Strip club is a serious blast. Patrons flirt underneath gorgeous dancers, while reputable DJs put sexy spins on the songs we all know and love. This is a good old-fashioned gay club experience, where you'll find yourself crawling outside as the sun rises. (4636 Wynn Road, more info)
(More: Pics of Opening Night at Krave Massive)
(More: Pics of Opening Night of FREEDOM)
(More: Pics of Temptation Sundays)
WATCH: The Shows Worth Seeing
There are countless musicals, magic shows, and "adult" performances happening in Vegas. So, which ones are can't-miss?
Michael Jackson ONE at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino: This celebration of everything Michael Jackson is what everyone in Vegas is talking about now. A production of legendary performance house Cirque du Soleil,One is Cirque at the top of its game. It starts off with a bang and doesn't let up — there is no shmaltzy nostalgia for Michael, just an appreciation for the amazing music and dance he brought to the public. With tunes from the Jackson 5 days all the way to the recent past, the song is a visual and aural feast that relies more on dancing agility and amazing special effects than dancers balancing on a high wire. Look for sizzling renditions of "Dirty Diana," "The Way You Make Me Feel," "Beat It," and "Don't Stop 'Till You Get Enough." If we tell you anymore, we'll ruin it — just go. (3950 South Las Vegas Boulevard, more info)
Celine Dion at Caesars Palace: Celine's return to her residency at Caesars is indeed triumphant. This new show improves on the last, dropping schmaltzy numbers and dances and instead highlighting that voice. Celine sings her hits, of course, but she also reinterprets Adele and does a "duet" with Stevie Wonder. The closing number is really amazing; gasps were audible. (3570 Las Vegas Boulevard South, more info)
Veronic Voices at Bally's Las Vegas: This is quite possibly the gayest show in Vegas. Veroniq DiCaire is a French-Canadian singer who opened for Celine Dion's Taking Chances tour and not only does she have a great voice, she's an incredible mimic. During her show at Bally's, DiCaire sings songs from Adele, Lady Gaga, Madonna, Pink, and Whitney: pretty much every gay icon there is. It's really a blast, especially for the diva-loving crowd. (3645 Las Vegas Boulevard South, more info)
KAat MGM Grand: Beset by tragedy recently, KA perseveres as one of Cirque's best shows. Following the story of two separated twins, KA is lyrical, beautiful, and will have your jaw drop with its amazing acrobatics and jaw-dropping martial arts that take place on a stage seemingly from the 22nd-century. (3799 Las Vegas Boulevard South, more info)
(MORE: See all the dresses Celine wears in her show)
MY CITY: LAS VEGAS
As the diversity & cultural manager for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitor's Authority, Jim McMichael, encourages all kinds of people to visit Sin City, including LGBT travelers. Though he likes to escape a few times a year to less arid places (see picture!), McMichael loves his city and offered up his favorite things to do while in Vegas. Read his suggestions here.
MORE ON LAS VEGAS
A Weekend in Downtown Vegas
Live Proposal for Vegas Drag Superstar Frank Marino
Electric Daisy Carnival Lights Up Las Vegas
Want a Pied-e-terre in Vegas? Liberace's House for Sale
In Living Color: Vegas's Neon Museum