Vegas ego trip: The Strip that never sleeps … or stops eating

LAS VEGAS, Nev. — The first thing you need to know about Las Vegas is how not to anger the locals. And the first lesson in that is how to pronounce “Nevada.”

It’s neh-VA-duh, not neh-VAH-duh. That middle vowel is “a” like “cat” and “hat,” not “aah” like “say aah.”

The next lesson: Get off “The Strip.” But I’ll save that for another post. The Strip, the nearly four-mile stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard between Mandalay Bay and The Stratosphere, contains about 100,000 hotel rooms, half a million slot machines, and who knows how many slushy drink machines, beer taps, restaurants, buffets, burger joints, sandwich shops and at least six CVS and Walgreens drugstores (with more to come).

For the rest of the planet, The Strip defines the Las Vegas Valley — which is actually a metro area comprising about 2 million people. Yes, hospitality is the state’s largest industry. But lots of people have real jobs far from The Strip. But there’s a huge upside to living in the shadow of The Strip.

The most prominent influence is the 24-hour lifestyle. People who get off work at 4 a.m. want to dine, shop and socialize for a bit before calling it a “night.” Compared with the 9-to-5 world of the D.C. region, it’s, well, night and day.

We all love a late night at the Silver Diner once in a while. But have you ever tried to find something beyond diner food or a pizza after midnight in D.C.? It’s not easy.

In Las Vegas, you’ll find a burrito, a bowl of house-made noodles and broth, a western omelet, the perfect ribeye or even a pizza at 3 a.m. And, of course, you can wash down your food with any sort of alcoholic beverage imaginable. From a beer on tap to a $15, four-rum, frothy concoction with an umbrella and slice of pineapple, it’s available.

But, for the moment, let’s return to The Strip. Yes it’s a sight to see at night, when the neon is bright and the crowds flood the sidewalks and casinos. But my favorite time is first thing in the morning. If you can get up (or stay up) until sunrise, The Strip is the perfect venue for that morning run, jog or (in my case) casual walk.

It’s flat, paved and still serves up plenty of opportunities to take a break. Your companions will be the street cleaners, fountain and plant-maintenance staffers, fellow walkers and runners, and yes, a few homeless folks looking for your spare change. Frankly, I’m more inclined to reach into my pocket for someone who’s staked out a spot on the sidewalk at 7 a.m. than I am to cough up a buck at 7 p.m.

My walk usually starts at The Cosmopolitan, thanks to its ultra-easy underground self-parking lot. A quick elevator ride and I’m on The Strip, armed with a tall dark roast from Starbucks.

If the sun is up and it’s already 80 degrees, I’ll head for the east side of Las Vegas Boulevard, and the shade, as I walk north. I’ll take the pedestrian overpass from The Cosmopolitan to Planet Hollywood, then walk past Paris, Bally’s, The Cromwell, The Flamingo, The LINQ (both the hotel and the passage and mall that share the name), Harrah’s, Casino Royale (and its star attraction, White Castle), The Venetian, The Palazzo, The Wynn and The Encore.

Most of the places on the east side of LVB offer easy in-and-out access, in case you want to see what a sleeping casino looks like. You can also submit to the temptation to break up the walk with a little (or large) breakfast. Or if you just want to grab another coffee and a pastry, you’ll find plenty of options.

That’s already an ambitious walk, but we’re only halfway there. Cross the street and return south, past empty space that once house the legendary Stardust. It’s making way for a China-themed mega-casino called Resorts World. But it will still be a couple of years before it opens, so move on to Treasure Island, The Mirage, Caesars Palace, The Bellagio and back to The Cosmopolitan.

If it’s too hot already (or it’s a rare rainy day), you can always walk through the casinos. Of course, that means you’ll be subject to many temptations along the way: bagels, pastries, coffee, espresso and the aforementioned slushy drinks.

So, enjoy The Strip if you come to Vegas on vacation, for a conference or convention or for whatever reason. But the lesson here is: The Strip has a bit of charm outside its normal “business” hours. If you get up (or, at your own risk, stay up), you’ll get to enjoy a nice, peaceful walk in non-scorching weather.

NEXT: Fremont Street

Editor’s note: Rich Johnson is a WTOP reporter and anchor was a Vegas Virgin until 2012, when former Fox colleague Ed Henry showed him around. Rich took a year off from D.C. and lived in Las Vegas to work on a website. That gave him a chance to immerse himself in the wonders of desert landscape, the “dry heat,” awesome sunsets over the mountains and 24/7 burrito availability.

Follow along as Johnson’s series cover Vegas and all it has to offer.

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