First places to see on the Las Vegas Strip

With the traffic, the noise, the mobs of people and stuff as far as the eye can see, the Strip can be overwhelming. Confusing. Disconcerting.

And that’s on a good day for a seasoned local. Imagine what the first-time visitor or new valley resident feels when confronted with the sensory smorgasbord along that 3.6 mile stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard.

Out of the hundreds of things you should do or see on the Strip, what should come first? And how do you figure that out?

You could ask some locals. But for many, it’s a point of pride that they avoid the Strip entirely, rejecting it for its P.T. Barnum-like ability to sucker those fools called "tourists." But maybe it’s really fear that fuels their attitude. Faced with so many things to do or see, they have no idea what should come first and are afraid of choosing the wrong thing or being out of date.

In an effort to pare down all those choices, we did a casual survey. Of course, we got the expected suggestions: Bellagio’s fountains and conservatory, Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay, The Mirage volcano, Sirens of TI and the "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas" sign.

But we also ended up with a few not-so-obvious suggestions that offer good places to start your exploration of the Strip. Just remember to wear sturdy shoes.

1. Big Elvis at Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall and Saloon, 3595 Las Vegas Blvd. South, Mondays through Fridays at 3, 5 and 6:30 p.m.

The Strip is not the Strip without an Elvis sighting. You’re likely to see several around town without even trying, but you won’t see one like Big Elvis, aka Pete Vallee. Once weighing in at nearly 1,000 pounds, Vallee lost hundreds of pounds and is now half the man he used to be, but still all about Elvis.

2. The Bonanza Gifts shop, 2440 Las Vegas Blvd. South, open daily, 8 a.m. to midnight

Promoted as "the world’s largest gift shop" at 40,000 square feet, Bonanza is large, indeed. It has become the de facto place to buy real Vegas kitsch: dice clocks, slot machine piggy banks, Elvis Presley sunglasses with sideburns, old playing cards from various hotels and even slightly offensive gag gifts. If you want cool, fun junk, this is where you get it. Even if you go in with no intention of purchasing anything, we’re betting you will walk out with something. Maybe a postcard, maybe some fake dog poop.

3. The lions at MGM Grand, 3799 Las Vegas Blvd. South, open daily, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

We’re not talking about the golden lion statues in front of the hotel. We’re talking about the cage full of real, honest to goodness lions in the middle of the MGM casino. The walls of their enclosure are clear so guests can watch the lions as they sleep, eat, sleep, play, sleep and fight. Did we mention they sleep? The biggest challenge is being there when they’re awake. Sometimes, you can see lion cubs, which are awfully cute.

4. The Peppermill Restaurant and Fireside Lounge, 2985 Las Vegas Blvd. South, open 24 hours daily

For a taste of old Vegas, Peppermill’s your place. There aren’t too many spots like this left on the Strip. The pink and turquoise decor, disco ball mirrored ceiling and velour booths will make you feel like you’re taking in the Strip sights circa 1979. The food is said to be good and their cocktails are legendary for their flamboyance. But no one suggested Peppermill for its cuisine. No, the big draw here is the fireside lounge. Comfy couches surround a fire pit where the flames are always burning. One journalist described it as "the flaming Jacuzzi of love where every couple looks like they’re in the midst of an illicit affair." You have to go to the Peppermill just to see that.

5. The statue of David in the Appian Way at Caesars Palace, 3570 Las Vegas Blvd. South

This marble statue is an exact replica of the real thing. It’s 18 feet tall and weighs about nine tons, making it difficult to miss. An added bonus to checking out the statue is watching all the tourists as they point and snap photographs of the statue’s genitals. Way to be mature, people. If you’d rather see a sculpture that has more of a Vegas connection, there’s always the bust of Siegfried & Roy in front of The Mirage. Watch as, one by one, tourists walk up to it and stick their head in the tiger’s mouth.

6. Adventuredome at Circus Circus, 2880 Las Vegas Blvd. South. Call for hours, 794-3939

The Strip boasts some neat thrill rides. There’s the New York-New York roller coaster and every ride atop the Stratosphere. But if you’re looking for a singular roller-coaster experience, you’ll find it at the Adventuredome. It’s a short ride, but it takes you through a double corkscrew and a double loop.

7. Jean Philippe Patisserie at Bellagio, 3600 Las Vegas Blvd. South, open Mondays through Thursdays, 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., Fridays through Sundays, 7 a.m. to midnight

Jean Philippe Maury’s pastry/chocolate/gelato shop near Bellagio’s conservatory boasts the world’s largest chocolate fountain. Watch white and milk and dark chocolate cascade into pools of chocolate, then go buy some. He usually has some chocolate sculptures on display, too, in case you need more encouragement.

8. The Statue of Liberty at New York-New York, 3790 Las Vegas Blvd. South

The statue was recently in the news when it was accidentally featured on a U.S. postage stamp. Oops. It’s hard for some to imagine how that could happen, but we can understand, especially considering the prominence the statue has played on the Strip. It became a local memorial after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Tourists and locals alike made a pilgrimage to see the statue, and many left behind flowers, fire department T-shirts and other mementos. Now, there is a permanent memorial at the base of the statue.

9. The Las Vegas Walk of Stars, between Sahara Avenue and Russell Road (and a few casinos around town)

This was supposed to be the local version of the Hollywood Walk of Fame, but it has fallen well short of that goal (the $20,000 fee may have something to do with it). There are reportedly 42 stars that have been dedicated and placed somewhere on the Strip or nearby, such as New York-New York and Mandalay Bay. Think of it as a treasure hunt, with familiar names such as Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Wayne Newton, but plenty of others that will leave you saying, "Who?"

10. Secret pizza at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, 3708 Las Vegas Blvd. South

The Cosmopolitan is unlike any other Strip property, so you can’t go wrong hanging out here for a while and exploring. On the third floor, you can play a free game of billiards or some board games. There are restaurants, shops, bars, a very cool chandelier at the Chandelier bar. But one of the best spots has to be the secret pizza place. It’s not advertised; it doesn’t even have a name. There are no signs pointing you in its direction, either. It’s basically a small pizza kitchen at the end of a long hallway. They churn out some New York-style pizza that costs about $3.25 a slice. We won’t spoil the fun by giving away its location, because searching for it is half the fun. If you get frustrated, you can always ask a hotel employee. They’re more than happy to show you the way.

11. CityCenter Art tour, 3780 Las Vegas Blvd. South

One of the newest Strip properties features a $40 million art collection. Twelve pieces of fine art are at the Mandarin Oriental, Aria, Vdara, Veer Towers and near Crystals, the retail center. Visitors can pick up a map from one of the participating casinos and then take a walking tour of artwork by Maya Lin, Frank Stella, Nancy Rubins and others.

12. Views, views, views, all along the Strip

One destination for any newcomer is a Strip spot with a great view. It’s hard to say which one is the best, or better than the others (we’re partial to Mandarin Oriental’s Sky Lounge on the 23rd floor). You can take your pick of them. There’s one from the Foundation Room at Mandalay Bay; VooDoo Lounge at the Rio; ghostbar observatory and Moon’s deck at Fantasy Tower, both at the Palms. Then there’s the view from the Stratosphere’s Top of the World restaurant.

Contact reporter Sonya Padgett at or 702-380-4564.

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