Las Vegas 2022
Kuochun and I headed on our first road trip to Las Vegas Monday. Without stopping, it is a 4 hour 45 minute drive from Scottsdale. We had heard that it is a boring drive so we were not expecting much but in our opinion it turned out to be a very scenic and interesting route. Maybe people think because there are not many places to stop along the way that makes it boring. Kingman AZ is along the route and I know Kingman to be the location of the only remaining active turquoise mine in the US. Kingman turquoise is a very pretty bright blue with a dark matrix and is the most common type used in Native American jewelry making. We did not have time to go to the turquoise mine but stopped in the Kingman area (Wikieup) for a quick brunch at Luchia's Restaurant. I saw a billboard for it with a piece of pie and said "that's the place!" I had a breakfast burrito and Kuochun chose a classic egg breakfast with sunny side up eggs, ham and bacon. We shared a piece of cherry pie warmed up with vanilla ice cream. The food was great!
I had booked a 2 bedroom/2 bath Airbnb condo in the Spring Valley neighborhood of Las Vegas which is on the southwest side of town. It was challenging to find an updated style, clean Airbnb in a good Las Vegas locale. This one suited our needs, it was clean and updated but not decorated. The first floor location was convenient and we were given a reserved parking space. I have not been on a ton of trips in my life but have definitely visited Las Vegas the most. My first time was my honeymoon in 1992 and for 9 years went every year. The last time I was there was 5 years ago, also at Christmastime. It so happens that the second two weeks of December is the very best time to visit Las Vegas as far as reduced crowds are concerned.
It used to be that parking at the Strip casinos was free but now they give an hour free and $15 for the next 3 hours. Before our trip I researched places I wanted to go including a few celebrity restaurants. What I did not realize was these restaurants book weeks to months in advance, plus Kuochun did not want to be tied down to a schedule. The only place we ended up eating at on the Strip was a food hall. A food hall is an elevated version of a food court, orders are placed at a kiosk and when the food is ready it is picked up at the counter of choice. We split a burger and onion rings and it was good, and we were able to leave before the hour was up. We found that overall it was just not worth it to pay the high Strip prices for food plus the $15 for parking. We were staying in a location which had tons of food choices nearby.
On our last visit, we had good luck at a few spots and decided to try a couple of them again. Monday night it was getting kind of late and I remembered that we went to a local casual restaurant last time that was open until 11:00 PM. It was good once again - we both went with a Cajun theme (kind of) as I chose a Caesar salad with blackened shrimp and Kuochun opted for jambalaya. Unfortunately the next day Kuochun said it must have had MSG in it because he had a dry mouth reaction to it overnight.
The next day, we went to another place we had been to before, Hash House A Go Go. We were going to go to a nearby breakfast spot recommended by the Airbnb hosts but it turned out to be Filipino and was too ethnic for me. As much as I love purple I cannot do purple yam pancakes! Hash House A Go Go is famous for their big pancakes. I did pretty well and ate half the pancake and then had the other half for breakfast the next day.
On Wednesday night we went downtown to the Fremont Street Experience. There were a good amount of people but not overrun like I have seen in the past. Last time we went to an amazing Italian restaurant at the Golden Nugget but found it to be closed during the holidays. The staff at another restaurant said it was because they were slow this time of year. Kuochun decided to Google "italian restaurants near me" and Al Solito Posto came up. I headed that way and we were both shocked to find a gorgeous shopping center that looked just like Italy. It was an hour lead time but we decided to wait. I just loved the wall of vintage colored glass behind the host stand and something told me it would be worth the wait. While waiting we walked around the shopping center even though it was chilly. The only place open was an art gallery so we took a spin around. It was very eclectic and pricey but fun to see. We window shopped at the other stores, a highlight was the awesome modern furniture store.
The experience was fantastic, we decided to try the calamari and I ordered my go-to which is rigatoni with vodka sauce and sausage. Kuochun had lamb shank osso buco and it was the most beautiful dish I have ever seen him order. The meat literally fell off the bone and the bone was totally clean. The bread that came with our meals was the best I have ever had at a restaurant. It has been a lot of eating out lately so I was not able to finish my dinner but I took it home for another time. Big advantage to having an Airbnb!
Between meals things were kind of low key but we did go on a few excursions. We went to Boulder City which was about a 40 minute highway drive from our location. It is a cute town, we popped into a couple of antique malls but did not find anything. Boulder Vintage had a Christmas pop-up and the store was beautifully decorated. A highlight was definitely the vintage Native American jewelry collection but unfortunately at high-end retail prices. The owner was very nice though and chatted with us about the history of Fred Harvey era jewelry. He said the jewelry was actually made by Whiting & Davis, the folks most well-known for metal mesh purses. He then had to help his employee so I whispered to Kuochun "get me out of here before I'm tempted to buy something!" On the way out I stopped by Erick Begay's gallery. Last time I bought a beautiful vintage Zuni needlepoint cluster necklace which was on sale. This time I found the offerings to be pretty sparse. They did not have the vintage display in the front of the store they had last time and when I tried to explain it to the salesperson, she kept insisting I must have gotten the necklace somewhere else. When it comes to jewelry, I do not forget! However I did end up buying a 60" necklace of Navajo pearls, mostly small 3mm pearls with graduated patterns throughout. I can wrap it around 3 times and it makes a great everyday layering piece, perfect for a rounded neckline. I know I will get good use from it.
We went to Bellagio to view the Christmas decorations in the atrium. This was recommended as a must-see in a few of the Facebook videos I watched. Once we arrived, I did recall being there and seeing the same display before. The Christmas display was fine but I much preferred the Wynn. Unfortunately we did not make it to the Wynn this time.
On Thursday we paid a visit to the Arts District which is near downtown. Five years ago there was tons of construction going on and it was difficult to navigate the area. This time the construction was gone but I was disappointed to see the mid-century modern store was shut down for 6 months because they are moving. Antique Alley Mall is a cool and eclectic spot, I found several items I liked but prices were just too high. As cute as it was, I do not need another ceramic Christmas tree for $250! I found a Christmas gift for Mother at Vintage Vegas and for once it is not jewelry. As soon as I saw it on the bottom of a shelf I knew exactly what it was - a vintage 1970s Fitz & Floyd snack set with mugs in an orange and white modern floral. Mother already has dessert plates from this era in white with orange stripes so they will look great together. I told Mother about this cool orange desk but in the end she decided not to get it.
Friday was spent helping Kuochun's family in China. His son, daughter-in-law and 4 year old granddaughter all tested positive for COVID and do not have access to over the counter medications to relieve their symptoms. We had trouble finding children's Tylenol but were able to track it down at a Walgreens in a not so great neighborhood. Nearly everything in the store was under lock and key. We beat it out of there and headed to DHL to ship the package. It took about an hour to make an itemized invoice etc but the woman behind the counter, Claudia was amazing. She was helping four sets of customers at once, including one in Spanish. We had to translate the Chinese address Kuochun's son provided to English as surprisingly Kuochun was not comfortable doing it. We ran it through Google Translate and for some reason the English words were in Spanish. We had Claudia translate the Spanish for us. What a journey!
Christmas Eve was a day of waiting for food. I wanted to at least hit one sweet spot on my list so I suggested we try Saint Honore Doughnuts & Beignets. One of their two locations is in Summerlin which was a few minutes away from our Airbnb. We got going early and arrived at 9:00 AM only to find they do not open until 10:00. We went back at 10:05 only to find a huge line down the sidewalk. If we would have stayed, we would have been first in line. It was a 45 minute process but we finally made it to the counter. The donuts are large so we opted for a box of 6. Clockwise starting from the upper left - vanilla iced, not sure but it looked cute, hazelnut Nutella, white chocolate peppermint, creme brulee and chocolate salted caramel. We also picked up two Doughsaints which are a donut and croissant hybrid. I tried a bit of a Doughsaint and thought it was outstanding. Kuochun loved them so much he ate them both right away. The other donuts were very good (I tried them all except creme brulee) but I prefer cake donuts to yeast. Overall it was worth waiting for and next time less yeast donuts and more Doughsaints!
I also wanted to try one buffet while we were there and from a couple of videos I saw, A.Y.C.E. (All You Can Eat, of course!) at the Palms looked right up my alley. It seemed that they were focused more on quality than quantity, it had a cool vibe and the people in the videos all totally loved it. The line was SOOOO long but we did the wait. We thought it was going to be $36.99 per person as that is what the sign said but when we got to the front, the price was $58.99 per person for the Christmas Eve menu. We did not want to get out of line after waiting so long so we paid the price. For me it was not worthwhile because I do not eat the seafood offered at buffets. There was a lot of quantity but not a lot that I was interested in eating. When we first got there, the order your custom pasta station was open but when I went up for my second round after the salads, it was gone. The desserts were the best part of the buffet. We both had sea salt caramel gelato, it had little chocolate hunks in it which had caramel inside.
Finally, on Christmas Day I thought it would be fun to play bingo so we went to the South Point casino for their 5:00 PM session. I had only played bingo at a casino once and it was many years ago and Kuochun had never played bingo at all so we were clueless as to how it all worked. We ordered a bunch of cards for $62.00 and thought we could share them but everyone in the room must have their own set of cards. The cashier set Kuochun up with a simple set of cards at $31.00. We then each grabbed a tablet and logged in as instructed. At first I was not sure what to do but then realized it was all automatic and the best cards sorted to the front page. When there is one number left to go for bingo the card starts flashing. Overall my cards were getting closer to a winner than Kuochun's but Kuochun won a coverall for $250! He was one of the big winners of the session. Kuochun tipped the money runner $10 so he came out ahead $147. Now he loves randomly raising his hand and yelling BINGO!
All of the restaurants at South Point including the buffet had hours to wait so we left and Kuochun found a seafood boil place. He has always wanted to try this concept and although it is not my cup of tea I agreed to go. Luckily they had other choices and I enjoyed my shrimp dinner. Kuochun had shrimp, crab legs, sausage, corn and potato in a bag. He liked it but will not be in a hurry to get it again.
We did have a good amount of downtime during the trip and I brought sterling jewelry to polish just in case. I am glad I did because I got quite a bit done including pieces I have had for two years. I found the most amazing necklace with what looks like a moon goddess on it on top of a lapis inlay pendant. There are clusters of moonstone and blue topaz on each side of the necklace. I kept things simple and did not bring any pricing materials but I calculated pricing on everything. Once everything is priced, I will send a box home to add to the jewelry caravan and keep the more expensive pieces to put in the online store. There will be lots of rings to send which is great because they are always popular.
Even through Las Vegas has changed since we were last there, we had a good time and Kuochun is already talking about going back again. It was a pretty reasonable trip in cost because we did not have plane tickets or car rental. The car gets good mileage and we made it there in less than one tank. We did buy some groceries at Sprouts Farmers Market (which is comparable to Fresh Thyme in the Chicago area) but next time I would like to be more selective on where we eat out and eat at home more. On Monday, we are moving on to explore Northern Arizona for a few days before heading back to Scottsdale.