Las Vegas is all about over-the-top glitz and having fun -- and about that fine line between naughty and nice that's earned the place its "Sin City" moniker.
Some people love it; others find it downright appalling. The latter come out of curiosity and often find themselves simply overwhelmed, especially by the Strip, where much of the action takes place. (And the massive CityCenter complex is particularly astonishing, even by Vegas standards.) But beneath the glare of the neon lights lies much to explore, including world-class restaurants, tropical pools awash in tan bodies and pulsing music, designer shopping, top-rated spas and mega-shows in mega-theaters -- all surrounded by a stunning desert landscape.
True, Las Vegas has suffered the past few years during the recent recession, and a number of partially completed buildings bear testament to the city's diminished coffers. Signs, however, are pointing to a resurgence, with conventions, visitors and revenues on an upswing. That, no doubt, is reassuring to the city's population of more than 565,000, including many retirees.
For a time, Vegas was creatively marketed to families. Not surprisingly, the city's wilder side won out, and today most marketing is geared toward adults (e.g. "What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas"). That doesn't mean kids can't be wowed and families can't have fun -- as long as parents are aware that this is no Disneyland. Children are not allowed in casino gaming areas (the gambling age is 21), and kids under age 18 can't walk on the Strip without an adult after 10 p.m. on weekdays and midnight on weekends because of a city curfew.
Visitors should be aware it gets hot here in summer, as July and August temperatures regularly top 100 (forget the "But it's a dry heat" argument; it's still hot). But the sun shines year-round, and in winter the climate can be pleasant if you time it right, downright cold if you don't. Fall and spring are the best times to visit weather-wise.
Most visitors are immediately drawn to the Strip, though the relatively un-modernized Downtown area offers a compelling taste of Old Vegas (think older hotels, cheaper meals and local crowds). If you're concentrating your travels on one portion of the city, you don't really need a car, though be advised there are great distances among some of the casinos. There are double-decker buses that stop at most major resorts, a monorail system, a torrent of taxis and raised pedestrian walkways. But if you want to explore the whole area, including sojourns into the desert, a rental car is recommended.
--written by Fran Golden; updated by John Deiner