I've got a lot of interests, and most of them are pretty tomboyish. When I have free time, you'll probably find me trekking up a mountain, setting up a tent somewhere off the beaten path and unspoiled, or sitting on my couch watching sports (football or golf most likely). There's a girly side to me too, though, and it seems to rear its prissy little head when I am in a mall. Yep, I like to shop. Nah, I love to shop.
So how lucky am I to live in Las Vegas, where the shopping is so varied and so great? From seriously upscale to hilariously kitschy, the ways to blow your paycheck are endless. Here's my take on the malls and shops of Vegas, along with the eateries I frequent when I am out shopping.
Down-and-Dirty Souvenir Shopping
Let's face it, you can't go home without some fuzzy dice, retired playing cards and Las Vegas t-shirts for the friends and family. Souvenir shops are in every casino/resort up and down the strip as well as in stand-alone shops. Probably the most impressive of the souvenir shops is on the corner of Sahara and Las Vegas Blvd. Bonanza Gifts, also known as The World's Largest Gift Shop, is where I take visiting friends and family when they want to pick a little something up. True to its nickname, the place is huge, and so is the selection. And it's a fun place to kill an hour or so.
A couple other great spots for souvenir shopping are Fremont Street and The Hawaiian Marketplace. Fremont is great if you are downtown, as the shopping is under the huge canopy, mixed in with casinos and plenty of restaurants. The Hawaiian Marketplace is between MGM and Planet Hollywood on the east side of the strip. Despite its prime location, it seems the recession has hit The Hawaiian Marketplace hard. Most of the stores and vender carts are still open, but the food court has been abandoned. Still surviving in the food court building, however, is a great Indian restaurant called Tamba. My husband and I recently had dinner at Tamba. Great food, solid drinks (I recommend the super-sweet Kama Sutra), comfortable surroundings and outstanding service. They are probably staying afloat due to a steady flow of locals, particularly Indian locals; I heard about Tamba from a friend. A great menu choice is Buddha's Feast, which gives you small servings of many Indian dishes, along with rice, naan bread and a little dessert. Make sure you order some naan regardless of the dinner you choose, as they do it right.
By the way, if you leave your souvenir shopping until the last minute, there are some pretty good options at McCarran International Airport. In the airport's main building, there are small storefronts for most of the major strip casinos; so if all else falls, you can grab a stack of MGM Grand t-shirts on the way to the security checkpoint.
Like any decent-sized city in America, Las Vegas has some traditional malls, complete with The Gap and JC Penny. On the west side of town, at US 95 and Valley View, you'll find Meadows Mall, while in Henderson, at Sunset and Stephanie, you'll discover The Galleria. Centrally located at Maryland Parkway and Desert Inn is The Boulevard Mall. These are all pretty good malls, but they are pretty common. I say if you're shopping in Las Vegas, skip these malls and head for the ones with more glitz.
Not-So Run-of-the-Mill Malls
If you're looking for a more exciting, more Vegas shopping experience, the malls for you are on the strip.
Located on Las Vegas Blvd., just north of TI and across the street from Wynn, The Fashion Show mall offers the usual mall shopping options with some higher-end specialty shops and top-notch eateries as well. And, it wouldn't be Vegas without a free show, so The Fashion Show puts on a runway extravaganza for shoppers Friday through Sunday. The shows are every hour, on the hour, from 12:00 pm – 6:00 pm. They are a pretty darn corny but still worth taking in.
The anchor stores at The Fashion Show are Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdale Home, Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom's, Macy's and Dillard's. Personally, I love the Macy's at The Fashion Show, as it's bigger than most Macy's and therefore has a larger, more varied selection.
The restaurants at The Fashion Show are pretty great. My personal favorites are California Pizza Kitchen, Café Ba-Ba-Reeba! and Ra Sushi. The last two are located on the very east side of the mall, facing the strip. Both offer outdoor patio dining, so you can enjoy your meal while you watch the action on the strip. My number one pick, Café Ba-Ba-Reeba!, is a Spanish restaurant whose specialties include tapas and paella. The paella is divine, probably the best I've ever had. The sangria is awfully special, too.
If you're looking for a quick and cheap bite to eat, the third floor on the strip end of the mall houses a very large food court. You'll find the usual fast food suspects and some nice surprises, like Crazy Crepes and Greek Island Café, which has a lip-smacking good gyro.
Inside Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino is The Miracle Mile shopping center. It doesn't have anchor stores, but otherwise the retailers are what you might find in a typical American mall. It's mostly moderate priced stores, like Banana Republic, Urban Outfitters and H&M, but there are some designer and boutique offerings as well, along side souvenir shops. It's pretty much a little bit of everything.
Formally, The Miracle Mile was called Desert Passage, when the Planet Hollywood was the Aladdin. They're still (slowly) working on changing over the décor. Through some stretches, the mall has a sleek, contemporary, rock-n-roll feel, while in other areas, it still looks like Disney's take on Marrakech. A hold over from the Desert Passage days is the free Rainstorm show – every hour Monday through Thursday and every half hour Friday through Sunday, a thunderstorm develops over a little pond in the mall. It's complete with lightning, rain and fog. Personally, I keep walking even if I happen to be in right spot at the right time to catch the Rainstorm. It just isn't all that exciting.
The dining options at Miracle Mile are pretty great. I've had solid, satisfying meals at Cheeseburger Las Vegas, La Salsa Cantina, Lombardi's Romagna Mia, Sin City Brewing Company and Aromi d'Italia. I had a less than satisfying meal at Blondie's, however. The food was decent, but the prices for what they are serving, I thought, were outrageous. I think I paid $14 for a grilled cheese sandwich that didn't even come with fries, and they only offer bottled water (at a ridiculous price, of course). Give me my free Las Vegas Municipal tap water, I say!
While not technically on the strip, Town Square is on Las Vegas Blvd. It's a couple miles south of Russell Road and the Mandalay Bay and totally worth the effort to get to. It's an open-air mall with attractive buildings, cute touches and a casual feel. The stores are similar to what you might find in a traditional mall, with places like H&M, Abercrombie and Fitch, Tommy Bahamas, etc.
Additionally, Town Square is home to a Whole Foods Market and Robb & Stucky, as well as Rave Motion Pictures (Cineplex). I love just strolling down the little streets, taking my son to the tot park (complete with a water fountain play area), and grabbing a snack and sitting on the fake-grass lawn in the square. At Christmas time, they go all out with the decorations and bring in a Norman Rockwell themed house that holds a jolly Santa.
As for food, there is a good amount of variety at Town Square. My picks are California Pizza Kitchen, Brio Tuscan Grille and Whole Foods Market. I'm reluctant to recommend Claim Jumper. The one time I ate there, I was disappointed with my meal. My Cobb salad had some good points, but the tomatoes were mushy and the bacon was fake. Nothing irritates me more than fake bacon! Plus, the garlic toast that accompanied my salad was pretty much tasteless. In their favor, Claim Jumper offers a large, moderately priced and highly diverse menu; a comfortable, charming and clean restaurant; and plenty of seating, including on their patio. They can accommodate large groups easily, and during my visit, I received top-notch service.
This mall isn't on the strip either. In fact, it's miles away, attached to Green Valley Ranch Casino and Resort.
What I like about The District is its cuteness. Like Town Square, this is an open-air mall built to look like a charming neighborhood. The lowest level houses shops and restaurants, while the higher floors are condos. The mall itself is lovely tree-lined streets. You'll find shops like Williams Sonoma, Ann Taylor and, my personal favorite, REI at The District. There are also some small boutiques and specialty outlets. The District often has live music on the weekends, as well as festivals and events throughout the year. It's a lovely destination during the holidays, as they decorate the area in a classic and beautiful way.
During my most recent trips, I've noticed more and more empty storefronts at The District. Apparently the recession is causing some problems there.
If you're looking for a meal at Green Valley's The District, you'll have some good options. Chains like Panara Bread, La Salsa, P.F. Changs and The Cheesecake Factory offer consistently good food. I also reluctantly recommend Lucille's Smokehouse and Bar-B-Que. Lucille's has a fun, “down-home” atmosphere and a clever, kitschy décor. The service I received on a recent visit was exceptional. On the plus side, I thoroughly enjoyed their version of sweet tea and gleefully devoured the warm biscuits and honey butter that accompanied my meal. However, my entrée fell short. I ordered the Tri-tip sandwich, which according to my waiter is one of their best sellers. I found the meat to be a little tough, and I was surprised by the lack of depth of flavor – usually you get more depth from smoked and slow cooked meat. I was also disappointed with my corn on the cob, as it was overcooked to the point of being mushy. I'd go back, though, just for the biscuits, honey butter and sweet tea. I'm eager to try another entrée in the hopes that it would be better.
Ooh-La-La Upscale Malls
Attached to Caesar's Palace, you'll find The Forum Shops. It's big, with over 160 outlets, and it's a mix of the usual mall store suspects, like Ann Taylor and Brighton Collectables, and upscale, designer shops, such as Tiffany & Co. and Roberto Cavalli.
What's really special about The Forum Shops is the décor. They did a great job of making it feel like you're walking the side streets of Rome. And as far as I know, Caesar's was the first place to paint their ceiling like the sky. I remember seeing it for the first time back in the 1990's, and it blew my mind. Sky ceilings are more common now, but they're still beautiful. While the décor has held up, the free shows at Caesar's Forum Shops feel pretty outdated to me. There are two: Festival Fountain Show and Fall of Atlantis. The moving statues are pretty corny, and I find the dialogue is difficult to understand, no matter where you stand. Bad acoustics, apparently. The laser lights don't add anything to either show. Don't go out of your way to see either.
A very cool thing at The Forum Shops, however, is the circular escalator in the newer, three-story area of the mall. You may get a little vertigo when you ride them, but do it anyway. Also in this area you'll find a beautiful reflecting pool and replicas of Trevi and Triton fountains.
The dining options at The Forum Shops go from moderate in price to expensive. I recommend Spago, which can be moderate in price if you're careful. I recently had dinner in their bar area. My glass of wine and the appetizer mushroom pizza I made into an entrée ran me just $20 before tip. I loved the atmosphere of the restaurant, and the service was exceptional. My pizza was very good, as you would expect from a Wolfgang Puck kitchen.
A couple other good eating options at The Forum Shops are Cheesecake Factory and Trevi Italian Restaurant. If you are looking for an extra special (and extra costly) meal, try The Palm Las Vegas. From what I hear, you won't be disappointed.
Like Caesar's Forum Shops, the Grand Canal Shoppes at Venetian went with the sky-painted ceiling. They also themed-up the store fronts and ran a canal, complete with gondolas and gondoliers, through the middle. I have to say, they did a good job of recreating Venice. My favorite section is St. Mark's Square. There, you'll find several restaurants with palazzo seating and ongoing performances by singers, dancers and musicians. You can often find living statue performers in the mall as well. They kind of freak me out…no one should be able to stand that still.
The shopping at Grand Canal Shoppes leans upscale. There is a mixture of moderate priced stores and high-end boutiques and designer shops. You'll find Bebe, Banana Republic, Mikimoto, Kenneth Cole and many more.
Grand Canal's eating options include a food court and plenty of fine dining options. For the most part, the fine dining is Italian. I highly recommend Zefferino, which has a fabulous menu, great wines, and an inspired setting. Give their lasagna a try...it'll melt in your mouth.
Attached to the Grand Canal Shoppes are The Shoppes at The Palazzo. This is one of the strip's newer malls, and the focus here is mostly on upscale retailers. The Shoppes at The Palazzo are home to Barney's New York, as well as smaller designer stores like Jimmy Choo, Diane von Furstenburg, Fendi and Salvatore Ferragamo.
The feel of the mall is classic and classy. They stayed away from a theme and went for simple elegance. The centerpiece of The Shoppes at The Palazzo is a two-story atrium that houses a beautiful waterfall and a stunning fountain and is teaming with colorful plants and decorations.
There are a couple restaurants located in The Shoppes, but I have not eaten at them.
While The Palazzo, The Venetian, Caesar's Palace and Planet Hollywood all attached big malls to their properties, some of the other large resorts went with more of a mini-mall approach.
Between Luxor and Mandalay Bay, you'll find Mandalay Place. It's a very well lit and simply decorated mall that serves as a walkway between the two sister properties.
It's failed to catch on like some of the other shopping areas in Vegas, but Mandalay Place is nice. Mostly you'll find boutiques and specialty shops there, along with some restaurants and a bar that's been getting a decent amount of press lately: Minus 5 Ice Lounge. The bar is kept at 5° and is decked out in ice. Looks like it'd be a lot of fun.
A popular restaurant at Mandalay Place is Burger Bar. I haven't eaten there, but I've heard great things about it and have seen lines of people waiting to get in when other restaurants in the vicinity have empty tables.
Everything at Bellagio is done tastefully, and the Via Bellagio shops are no exception. This mall is dedicated to exclusive shopping, with retailers like Gucci, Chanel, Fred Leighton and Prada. This level of shopping may not fit most people's budget, but you can always window shop and browse.
The restaurants along Via Bellagio are pretty upscale, too. Picasso and Prime Steakhouse are award winning dining experiences. More moderately priced but still expensive is Olives. All three restaurants boast views of Bellagio's Fountains.
Like Via Bellagio, Wynn and Encore Esplanades offer exclusive retailers, like Minolo Blahnik, Dior, Cartier and Alexander McQueen. In addition, there is a Ferrari dealership on the property, just in case you need a new ride.
The mall areas on both properties are brightly lit and tastefully decorated.
A hidden gem I've found is Sugar and Ice, an ice cream parlor at Wynn Esplanade. I stopped one day to get an ice cream cone, and not only did I fully enjoy the scoop of homemade cookies and cream, I fell in love with the shop's outdoor patio, which overlooks a lovely pool with pounding waterfalls. I was there on a 107° day, yet because I was on the north, shaded side of the building and next to the water, it was cool and comfortable. I could have sat there for hours. In addition to ice cream, Sugar and Ice has a small menu of sandwiches and salads.
Get-Your-Deal-On Outlet Malls
So if your shopping goal is to get great deals, you'll want to check out one or more of the three outlet centers in the greater Las Vegas Area.
Premium Outlets Las Vegas is my favorite of the Vegas outlet malls. It's an open-air mall with around 150 stores and a comfortable, casual feel. It's a fun place to shop, and the bargains are there for the picking. It definitely gets hot at this mall in the summer, being that it's open air. They do run misters, though, and you can always duck into an air-conditioned store if you're overheating. On a rainy day, this mall probably isn't your best choice. Let's face it, though, it doesn't rain very often in Las Vegas.
The food options at Premium Outlets are decent: you'll find a food court with a nice variety as well as Makino Seafood and Sushi Buffet. This is not a dining destination, however.
To get to Premium Outlets, you're probably going to have to take a cab. The public bus is an option, but you'll have to make a transfer at Stratosphere. And who wants to lug a bunch of packages on a couple of buses to get back to their hotel? If you have your own vehicle or a rental car, take I-15 north from the strip and exit at 41B (Charleston Blvd.). Then turn left on Grand Central Parkway.
Located several miles south of the official “strip” but still on Las Vegas Blvd. is Las Vegas Outlet Center. This mall is older than Premium Outlets, and it shows. The industrial, utilitarian feel of it doesn't really appeal to me. It is full of great shopping, though, and is a wonderful option if you are looking for a rainy day activity.
It seems to me the Outlet Center has less upscale and designer outlets than Premium Outlets. They do have 130 retailers, though, and a lot of them are pretty great.
You'll find two food courts at Las Vegas Outlet Center, along with an endless barrage of restaurants between the mall's parking lot and Las Vegas Blvd. For the kids, there is a merry-go-round in one of the center's food courts.
Getting to Las Vegas Outlet Center is pretty easy. The Deuce bus stops there, and of course, there are plenty of cabs in town. If you're driving yourself from the strip, go south on Las Vegas Blvd, past Mandalay Bay, the Welcome to Las Vegas Sign and Town Square. The mall is on the southeast corner of Las Vegas Blvd. and Warm Springs Road.
Fashion Outlets of Las Vegas — Primm
The last outlet mall, Fashion Outlets of Las Vegas, is located on the California/Nevada state line in the city of Primm, NV. I've only been there once, even though I liked it. Honestly, it's not worth the drive to me, since with one exception, all the stores I like in Primm I can find in Vegas. The exception I speak of is a Williams-Sonoma outlet.
If you're driving in from southern California, you may want to consider stopping in Primm to do some shopping. The mall is large with 100 storefronts. It is enclosed yet has an airy feeling. They have a decent food court that includes a Mad Greek (if you've ever stopped for lunch in Baker, CA, you know about Mad Greek, which is arguably the best fast food Greek restaurant west of the Mississippi).
If you decide to visit this mall from Vegas, you can take a shuttle from the strip. The shuttle ticket will run you $15, but a cab ride would be much, much steeper. Reservations are recommended.