Vegas ego trip: Life outside The Strip

LAS VEGAS, Nev. — There are about 2,000,000 people living in the Las Vegas Valley. And they don’t all go to Caesars Palace to see Celine Dion every night. In fact, most locals never go to The Strip — except to chaperon visitors.

To steal from a 17-year old British sketch comedy show, there are local shops for local people. And local restaurants. And, yes, local casinos.

As a native Oregonian who’s spent 21 of the past 31 years in the DMV, one thing I really miss living in the East is the big sky of the West. Yes, for some reason, the sky actually appears bigger in the western U.S. You need only drive to one of the valley’s edges to experience a sunset in which the mountains appear to be etched into the deep blue metal of the sky. And, when it rains fewer than 20 days a year, the sun and sky become your regular companions.

When it comes to food, the Vegas neighborhoods have it made. A lot of cooks and executive chefs who burned out after years at the big hotels open their own small, modest joints in strip malls from Summerlin to Henderson. The value and quality are something to behold.
Some chefs just chuck their big-time gigs in other cities and start from scratch in Vegas. And some, who retain roots in their home towns, bring that cuisine to Las Vegas.

And long before Vegas became a gourmet destination, this city had a Chinatown. The Asian community here dates back to the railroad days of the late 1800s. And, with decades of immigration from every Asian country, you can find every conceivable sub-set of Asian cuisine in a strip mall somewhere along Spring Mountain Drive, just west of The Strip.

Along with Florida, Las Vegas as the first canary to die in the coal mine that was the 2008 recession. This is still the land of upside down homes, walk-aways, short sales and bank foreclosures. But it’s nowhere near as bad as it was even three years ago. Unemployment is down, construction is up, home prices are slowly increasing and casino revenue is up in most categories.

A new 20,000 seat arena that’s shovel-ready for an NHL or NBA team opens in a few days. The closed Riviera Hotel is coming down this summer to make way for more convention space. The convention authority has actually had to turn away huge conventions because the millions of square feet of convention space is booked solid.

And Las Vegas is the new Florida. It’s a retirement destination that’s growing in popularity. Age-restricted housing is springing up. Top flight medical facilities are expanding. The University of Nevada – Las Vegas is working on building a medical school.

There’s even a brand new downtown.

So my Vegas sermon comes down to this: If you like living in springtime weather nearly 10 months out of the year (yeah, it’s broiling in the summer, but the rest of the time it’s spring), getting a lot for your housing dollar ($250,000 gets you a 3 bedroom, 2 bath, two-story house in an upscale neighborhood), having world-class entertainment a couple of miles away and having easy access to the best food in the world, you might want to consider Las Vegas.

And yes, there is the easy burrito access.

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.

This content was republished with permission from CNN.

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up