Leaving and Living in Vegas Travel Guide: Budget-Friendly Edition

Let’s face it – Las Vegas is not a cheap city to visit. As far as American cities go, the cost of living isn’t bad, but the Las Vegas Strip is basically a black hole for tourists to throw their money in, whether it’s with “resort” fees, ten dollars for a bottle of water or a twenty-dollar cocktail. But there are ways to save money while you’re in Las Vegas if you plan ahead and get creative. Here are some of the inexpensive and free things you can do around Las Vegas:

General Tips

  • When you arrive, catch an Uber and hit up a grocery store. This probably sounds weird but hear me out. You’re presumably going to need things like water and food while you’re in town, and if you rely on the gift shops to sustain you, you’re going to be paying out of your nose for everything, from water to toiletries. There’s a Walgreens on Las Vegas Boulevard you can hit up, but you’re still subject to “Strip” prices. I’d recommend getting a ride to the Smith’s grocery on Silverado Ranch and Spencer and stocking up at the start of your trip.
  • Uber everywhere if you can. Uber to your hotel, Uber around town; parking fees are no joke these days up and down the Las Vegas Strip, and it’s an easy way to save some cash. Plus, you don’t have to worry about filling up the tank on a rental for the duration of your trip.
  • If you know someone who lives in the city (with a current, local ID) coordinate ticket purchases with them. The local discount doesn’t pack quite the punch it used to, but it can still help you save a few bucks here and there.
  • Avoid leaving or arriving in Vegas on the weekends. You’ll spend more money on your ticket, and it can be a pain trying to get out of McCarran depending on the time of day you get in.
  • If you really want to save money, avoid staying on the Strip. With the rising price of hotel rooms on the Strip combined with parking fees and resort fees, you’re paying out the nose before you get to do anything fun. Options that are closer to the Strip include The South Point and the M.
  • Prices tend to be higher the further into the Strip you go. For example, on average prices are cheaper, from room rates to bottled water, at Mandalay Bay and the Luxor, compared to somewhere like the Bellagio or the Cosmopolitan.
  • If Uber isn’t available or accessible to you, take advantage of the monorails. The monorails don’t cover the length of the Strip (here’s hoping for one day) but it can help cover some of the distance you may have to travel in between hotels.

Hotels

Hotels and lodging are one of the easiest ways to cut costs when you’re going on vacation. Hostels and AirBnBs are usually the best option for money saving, but there are times when a hotel is better suited for your needs. Travelers can find AirBnB options all around Las Vegas, but if you’re doing most of your business on the Strip, or if most your planned activities take place in the same general area, you might find a hotel room more cost effective. Hostels are few and far between in Las Vegas; budget hotel/motel chains are far more common, like Motel 6, Travelodge, Super 8, and the Red Roof Inn.

This list includes some of the more inexpensive hotels you’ll find in Las Vegas, minus the budget chains and hostels. Please note that the prices are subject to change, depending on the time of year you visit (season, time of week, etc.) and events taking place during your visit.

  • All prices are listed in U.S. Dollars

The South Point

If you want to stay close to the Strip and don’t want to pay Strip prices, opt for the South Point Hotel & Casino, just south of the Strip on Las Vegas Boulevard. Room prices, on average, are about half of what you’d pay staying on the Strip, and that goes for the food too. Besides its proximity to the Strip, the South Point is also a short drive from Town’s Square, one of the city’s newer and busiest shopping centers, and the Las Vegas South Premium Outlets. It’s especially ideal for California travelers; if you’re driving home, you’ll be able to avoid the bulk of the city traffic on your way home.

Price: $60-100 per night *Subject to change

The M

If you’re not interested in staying on the Las Vegas Strip, the M is another good alternative. The M is known for its style, consistently named “One of the Finest Hotels in the World” by Forbes. It’s a little more expensive than the South Point, but its resort fee (24.99), free shuttle service (to the Tropicana) and complimentary parking are nothing in comparison to what you can pay on the Strip.

Price: $90-115 per night *Subject to change

Tropicana

The Tropicana is a great choice if you want to stay on the Strip but are traveling on a budget. The retro The Tropicana’s location and price make it hard to beat; it’s next to the MGM Grand, and across the street from Mandalay and the Excalibur. It first opened in 1957, making it one of the oldest casinos standing on the Strip today. The resident entertainment includes Purple Reign and the Laugh Factory, but if that’s not your thing, you’ve got easy access to the rest of the Strip.

Price: $49-120 during the week *Subject to change

Bally’s

Further north on Las Vegas Boulevard, you will find Bally’s. Bally’s used to be the MGM Grand, until the fire of 1981 caused the property to close and re-open in a different location. As far as Strip hotels go, the room prices are reasonable and its location is hard to beat. Bally’s used to be the home of Jubilee!, the infamous showgirl revue, but these days you’ll find Wayne Newton, Masters of Illusions, and Tony N’ Tina’s Wedding in its place. From Bally’s, you can easily walk to the LINQ, or the Flamingo.

Price: $40-70 during the week *Subject to change

Red Rock

@Kennejima/Flickr

To experience a different side of Las Vegas, check Red Rock Resort & Casino. Red Rock has all the amenities you’d find on the Strip, including big name acts

This hotel is a twenty-minute drive to Red Rock National Conservation Area and Mount Charleston is about an hour away. Depending on the time of year, you can hike, bike, and camp out at Red Rock; Mt. Charleston offers skiing and snowboarding opportunities in the winter. Red Rock has a pool, movie theater and arcade as well a full food court, fitness center and a bowling alley on its property.

Price: $80-110 *Subject to change

Silverton

Another budget-friendly hotel option is the Silverton Las Vegas. Located in the southwest area of Las Vegas, the Silverton is primarily geared toward those coming to town from California. This hunting-lodge style hotel and casino is home to the Bass Pro Shop and live entertainment inside its Mermaid Lounge; if you’re lucky, you might even be able to catch a special “mermaid swim” inside its 117,000-gallon saltwater aquarium.

Price Range: $40-70 *Subject to change

Downtowner Motel

by L. Wilder

If you’re really wanting to cut down on lodging costs, try the Downtowner Motel This funky little motel is in the heart of downtown Las Vegas, so it’s ideal if you plan on hitting up First Friday, eating at Boncho Sushi or La Comida, seeing the Fremont Street Experience, or going ziplining.

Price: 20-40 *Subject to change

Hotel Galaxy

If you really want to save some money on a hotel room, check out the Hotel Galaxy located west of the Las Vegas Strip. It looks like your average motel on the outside, but the view of the Strip and the price tag is hard to beat. Nearby points of interest include the volcano at the Mirage, and the Bellagio fountains, and the One huge plus to staying at the Hotel Galaxy is the fact that they don’t charge a resort fee. Resort fees are pretty new to the Las Vegas Strip, and they are only getting higher as time goes on.

Price: 34.99-74.99 *Subject to change

 

Things to Do

 

In a 24-hour town like Las Vegas, there’s never a shortage of things to do. Whether you want to gamble, hit a club, see a show, go to a movie, shop, or bar hop, you can usually find something or somewhere to accommodate your needs. The problem is that leisurely activities in any major city can be expensive. This wasn’t always the case in Las Vegas; free drinks were rampant when you played the penny slots, and there was such a thing as the 1-dollar shrimp cocktail. You also never had to pay for parking. But as time changes and climate of the tourism industry moves forward, Las Vegas does what it can to keep up. Now, dinner and a show for two on the Strip can easily cost 200-400 dollars, depending on where you go, and that’s just for one night of entertainment. If you’re in Las Vegas and want to find some things to do that won’t break your bank, consider some of these options:

Visit the Welcome to Las Vegas sign

by: Joao Carlos Medau/WikiCommons

This is an easy one. You can take an Uber to the iconic sign, which is located south of Mandalay Bay on the Las Vegas Strip, and across the street from the Little Church of the West. You can walk there from Mandalay Bay if you feel so inclined, but most people take a cab or a car. You may have a long wait when you get there, depending on the time and day you decide to visit.

Price: Free (or the cost of a cab/Uber)  

Mob Museum

If you make it into downtown Las Vegas, be sure and check out the Mob Museum. The Mob Museum, also known as the National Museum of Organized Crime, in downtown Las Vegas tells the story of organized crime’s influence not only in Las Vegas but throughout the United States. Visitors can use an actual tommy gun in a simulation display, listen to interviews with former members of La Cosa Nostra, or listen to actual wiretaps from FBI operations. The centerpiece of the museum is the bloodstained wall left behind from the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.

Price: 26.95 for general admission, but add-ons are available

Neon Museum

While the Mob Museum tells the story of Las Vegas and its relationship with organized crime, The Neon Museum tells the city’s history through signage. Located next door to Cashman Field off the Interstate-95, the Neon’s exhibition shows the evolution of Las Vegas from its early days as a stopping point on the way to California, to its status as a top tourist destination. Tours are limited and sell out quickly, but as of June 2018, the Neon is offering a limited number of self-guided tours throughout the week.

Price: 19.00 for general admission

First Friday/Last Friday

by L. Wilder

Depending on when your visit is, be sure to check out First Friday (or Last Friday). Each event, which take place on the first and last Fridays of every month, respectively. First Friday is a more popular event to attend, in part because it’s been around longer, but both promise a fun night out in the city. These monthly events provide an opportunity for artists, vendors, and musicians to come together and connect with the community. Last Friday takes place, appropriately, every last Friday of the month in Henderson.

Price: Free admission

Bellagio Fountains

Another stop you can’t miss during your trip to Vegas is the Bellagio Fountains. These infamous dancing fountains put on their display every hour, on the hour after sunset. The fountains have appeared in countless ads, commercials and films, making it one of the top tourist spots in the city, second to the Welcome to Las Vegas sign.

Price: Free

Lion Habitat Ranch

The adventurous family will want to take a ride out to the Lion Habitat Ranch. The open-air animal sanctuary is open Friday-Mondays during the daytime, so it’s best to book your tickets in advance. Besides lions, the ranch is also home to giraffes. There are multiple tour options available, including feeding the animals and a behind-the-scenes tour.

Price: 25.00 per adult, children 3 and under are free.  

Visit the Michael Godard Art Gallery

The Michael Godard Art Gallery, located inside the Rio All Suite Hotel & Casino, is a must-see if you’re an art lover and in Vegas. Even if you don’t know the man by name, chances are you’ve seen his irreverent and humorous work, from the cigar-smoking olives, gun-toting strawberries, or grapes being given a sobriety test. You can walk in any time during the gallery’s open hours, and there is no charge to view the art.

Price: Free Admission

Go to a 51s Game

Baseball fans can get their fix in the fall and spring watching the Las Vegas 51s. The 51s, named after the infamous military field, is currently a feeder team to the New York Mets, but that could change as the team undergoes rebranding during the off-season. But no matter what team they’re affiliated with, or where they play (Cashman Field has been their home for the last thirty years but that is also changing soon) a night at a 51s game promises a good time for all ages. Depending on when you go, you might even be able to catch a Major League game when the Cubs come through town.

Price:  $10 – $15 dollars per ticket.

Take a gondola ride

If you find yourself inside the Venetian, do as the Romans do and take a ride on a gondola. You’ll be serenaded by a gondolier as you drift through the Grand Canal Shoppes or, if you decide on the outdoor option, the outer façade of the resort. It is one of the most unique ways to look at the Strip, second perhaps only to the view from the Eiffel Tower.  This is ideal for couples, of course, but it is something you can do on your own.

Price:  29.00 per person/ 116.00 for a private ride (seats 2)

Spend a Day in the Mountains

Las Vegas is unique for many reasons, one of which its geography. In one direction you’ll find red rock desert, you run into Hoover Dam and Lake Mead. In another you can find green mountains, and depending on the weather, little to no humidity.   Despite the scorching summer temperatures that drive people to the pools or indoors, the mountains offer another fresh-air alternative

Price: Varies, depending on which park you decide to visit.

Visit Fremont Street

If you’re staying in the downtown area, you have to stop and see Fremont Street. This quirky little corner of the city is full of street performers, cosplayers, musicians and artists. A nighttime show, known as “The Fremont Street Experience”, happens every hour on the hour, seven days a week. You can stop at one of the outside bars, or wander inside to the D for a yard-long margarita and enjoy the  live music happening on the First and Third Street stages.

Price: Free (or the price of parking)

Places to Eat

Steak n’ Shake

For a quick meal that is easy on your wallet and big on flavor, go to Steak & Shake. This 50s-style diner is not unique to Las Vegas, but once the first location inside the South Point opened, it’s been a popular place for locals and tourists, with lines regularly wrapping around the casino floor. Their menu is pretty straightforward – burgers, hot dogs, fries, cheese melts, milkshakes, etc. The burgers are made with steak patties instead of beef, and the milkshakes are hand-dipped, and the ambience makes you feel as though you’ve stepped back in time.

Besides the South Point, there are three other locations around the city, including one inside the Hooters on the Las Vegas Strip.

Dona Maria’s

Dona Maria’s is, in my opinion, the best place to get tamales in Las Vegas. Located just off Las Vegas Boulevard in downtown Las Vegas, this little Mexican eatery has been a staple in the community for nearly thirty years. My favorite items off the menu, (besides the tamales of course) include the deep-fried ice cream, the albondigas soup, and the frozen margaritas. If you’re a vegetarian, you can always opt for the vegetable fajitas cheese tamales or enchiladas.

In N Out

You can’t talk about burgers in Vegas and not include In N Out. This West Coast burger chain is all over Nevada, California, and Arizona, and is one of the most inexpensive places to get a burger in Las Vegas. Those from the East Coast might disagree (I can already hear cries about White Castle in the background), but to those of us who grew up on In N Out, it also ranks as one of the best fast food burgers there is. The menu is simple and to the point – burgers, fries, and shakes – and an entire meal will cost you less than a cocktail.

Ri Ra

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If you find yourself in Mandalay Bay or the Luxor, don’t leave without checking out Ri Ra. This Irish pub inside Mandalay Place strives to maintain its authenticity not only through its menu, but through its décor as well, importing and restoring pieces from Ireland. Ri Ria offers live music throughout the week and hosts sporting events throughout the year, making it a great place to unwind with friends for locals and tourists alike. If you go during dinner, try the traditional potato cakes or the Kilcooly. If that doesn’t suit your fancy, try one of the many other traditional Irish dishes, like the corned beef & cabbage, bangers & mash, or the Shepherd’s Pie.

 

Vegenation

by. L. Wilder

Vegans, vegetarians, and lovers of street food will want to try Vegenation. Owned by local chef Donald Lamperle, this restaurant prides itself on its locally-sourced ingredients and its commitment to a plant-based menu. Popular dishes include the African yam stew, the organic spaghetti and the pineapple pizza. Try the brownie sundae or chocolate tacos for the perfect end to your meal.

Rice & Company

Rice & Company is a lounge-style restaurant located on the mezzanine level of the Luxor Hotel & Casino. This is good place to come because their prices aren’t exorbitant, but you don’t have to sacrifice flavor. The one thing I like about this place above its competitors, besides its prices, is that there is an emphasis placed on healthy items, like the garlic chicken with vegetables, or the Chop Chop Bang Bang rolls.  There are two locations currently operating right now: the one inside the Luxor, and another in Downtown Summerlin. Two more will be opening soon; one inside the Galleria Mall and another in the Miracle Mile shops of Planet Hollywood.

I Love Sushi

If you’re new to eating sushi, I Love Sushi is a great place to start. The dim lightning and traditional décor make it a fun place for family outings, small gatherings, or an intimate date night.  It doesn’t offer any all-you-can-eat specials, but their varied, eclectic menu ensures that you will never run out of options to try. Their menu boasts rolls with names like The Screaming Orgasm, The Jackpot, The Spider Roll, The Dynamite and the Double D. If some of the specialty rolls seem too intimidating, you can’t go wrong with an order of Rolly Rice or the agadashi tofu.

Pin-Up Pizza

Pin-Up Pizza is located inside the Planet Hollywood’s Miracle Mile Shops. It’s open late, so it’s a perfect place to visit after a late-night show or a night of clubbing. With ingredients flown in directly from Italy, Pin Up Pizza promises an eating experience you won’t find anywhere else in the city. This cute little spot only offers pizza by the slice, but one slice is big enough for two people.

 

Annual Events

With hundreds of shows, events and performances Las Vegas takes its title as the City of Live Entertainment very seriously. But beyond the Strip, where prices are higher and the lights are brighter, you can find even more events to partake in that will be kinder on your wallet.

Downtown concerts

If you find yourself in downtown Las Vegas on a weekend, you’ll find plenty of things to keep you occupied. Besides the hourly Fremont Street experience, the bars, the casinos, and the restaurants, you can go to one of the many free live concerts that goes on throughout the year. Fall is the best time to catch one of these shows, especially around Halloween, but they’re free, they are fun, and you can drink as much as you want.

Pet A Palooza

Animal lovers, if you’re traveling with your furry friends, you’ll want to check out Pet A Palooza. It’s a completely free event that happens usually in April or May each year and caters to the four-legged members of your family. There are hundreds of food and retail vendors on site for the day, so you won’t run out of options for things to do while you’re there.

Ren-Faire

If you’re a fan of Game of Thrones, chances are you’ll enjoy the Age of Chivalry Renaissance Festival, also known to locals as Ren Faire. Held every year at Sunset Park, this Renaissance festival takes places every fall for three days straight. For those three days, guests can enjoy live performances, food carts, artisan shops, music, and games. For single day, adults can get in for 13 dollars each, and kids can get in for 8 dollars. If you plan on going for more than one day, you’ll save money by buying a package, but entry doesn’t include the price of anything you buy inside.

Viva Fest

If you’re in to Cirque du Soleil, you’ll probably enjoy Viva Fest. This is a relatively new festival to the Las Vegas area, and one of the few that caters to the live performance and circus community that thrives in the city. Over the course of a long weekend, usually in February, guests can watch student and professional performers put on lyra, trapeze, dance and aerial acts. There are food and retail vendors on the site as well.

Viva Las Vegas

Every year in April, vintage music, fashion, and cars take over Las Vegas. The Viva Las Vegas is one of the biggest festivals that takes place every year, drawing thousands of guests to the Orleans Hotel and Casino. You can find hot rods on display, get your hair done in Victory Rolls, take part in a tiki pool party, learn how to swing dance, or even get married.

National Finals Rodeo

The NFR has been coming to Las Vegas every year since 1985, making it as much a part of the Christmas festivities in Las Vegas as the Christmas tree is in Rockefeller Center. Cowboy Christmas gets everyone to put on their boots and descend upon the Thomas & Mack Center to watch men from all over the world partake in one of the oldest sports in the American West. It’s more expensive to get into the rodeo than it is the other items on this list, but NFR is something that everyone in Las Vegas, visiting and residing, should do at least once.

LINQ Promenade Halloween Party

This is a newer event to the Las Vegas Strip, but it’s been a welcome addition ever since it started. On Halloween weekend, the LINQ caters to its smaller patrons with a host of activities and performances that will surely delight everyone in the family. From trick or treating at various shops and restaurants in the promenade, costume contests and live shows, the party never stops.

 

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