24 hours in Las Vegas: The hasty traveler's guide to Sin City

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You don't have to be a high roller to have a good time in Las Vegas.

Welcome to "24 Hours in..." We explore the ways you, the average, hard-working Houstonian, can spend a whole day in a place you may not know, or a place you've visited but haven't yet turned upside-down. Whether you know the landmarks or not, we cover a city that is easily reachable through the lovely aviation services at our multiple airports.

Whether you have vacation time to burn or a weekend where you want to avoid monotony or household chores, this mini-guide can help you along the way, especially if you're hastily quenching your wanderlust.

In this edition, we tackle a destination known the world over and most familiar for its anything-goes aura. After all, the Las Vegas tourism bureau's "What happens here, stays here" slogan has become a multi-billion dollar boon to the once-tiny outpost in the southern Nevada desert.

While you wouldn't be wrong in assuming that sinful pleasures take over the area, Las Vegas has actually grown up past the boozyness and greed, with many casino properties preferring to emphasize entertainment and experience over gaming.

In any event, the now family-friendly town has much to offer in 24 hours, and it doesn't have to include alcohol or a craps table.

Behold, here are things you can do in Las Vegas over a 24-hour period:

Arrival

Houston's airports have direct flights to McCarran International Airport, which is situated within minutes of the famed Las Vegas Strip. When you arrive, you will be met with the unusual sight of slot machines, a feature that's one-of-a-kind to Las Vegas.

From there, you can either take a taxi or ride-share to your resort. Now, not every resort is created equal, and, yes, there is life beyond the Strip. Depending on your needs, plans and preferences, you can select to book any of the hotels that flank South Las Vegas Boulevard.

You're also offered many options in downtown Las Vegas, which is home to hotels that have endured the mining boom and mafia eras of Las Vegas.

For those who like to take it easy, outlier resorts, especially those owned by Stations Casinos, offer a toned down bustle than the Strip.

Exploring

For first time visitors, the Strip provides a hodgepodge of street performers, lights and the occasional advertiser who wants your business at a nightclub. Still, it's a lot to take in, and of course, pictures are the key to your 24-hour vacation.

Depending on the time of year, though, exposure to the elements may not be key for a stroll around the tourist center. Nevertheless, the Bellagio fountain show provides dancing shots of water every 30 minutes in the afternoon and early evening and every 15 minutes between 8 p.m. and midnight, just in case you and some buddies want to reenact "Ocean's Eleven."

Newer features to the Strip include the High Roller observation wheel, which at 550 feet claims the title of the largest in the Western Hemisphere. The 30-minute amusement gives visitors a peek of the Strip as well as the mountain ranges at the south and north of the Las Vegas Valley. After the High Roller, you can take in the sights of the Linq entertainment district, which was formerly the alleyway between the Flamingo and Imperial Palace casinos.

Other spots along the Strip include The Park, which offers dining options that include California Pizza Kitchen and Shake Shack. Within walking distance of The Park sits T-Mobile Arena, which will be home to the Silver State's first ever major league professional sports team, Vegas Golden Knights of the NHL.

Outside of the Strip, downtown Las Vegas has proven to be a key attraction item for tourists. Inside the Fremont Street Experience, you'll be treated to a free music and light show thanks to the LED video canopy that shines down on visitors every 30 minutes.

For those seeking a thrill-ride while in downtown, the Slotzilla zip line offers a ride in the air that lasts 1,750 feet. Riders can fly as high as 12 stories in the air.

A gem overlooked in downtown is the revamped East Fremont Street district at Las Vegas Boulevard. In recent years, gentrification has given rise to a bar-hopping experience comparable to Sixth Street in Austin. For families, though, nearby Container Park provides a treehouse playground area as well as a praying mantis that surprises visitors with flames shooting out of its antennae.

Entertainment

Gone are the days of the Rat Pack. In the place of Sammy and Frank, you have modern day pop luminaries like Britney Spears and the Backstreet Boys, who have residency on the Strip.

Still, plan on show tickets featuring people whose livelihoods come purely from performing. Any of the Cirque du Soleil shows will do the trick, but we suggest Beatles Love at the Mirage, which is staged in 360-degree showroom.

For those looking for the anti-Cirque, check out "Absinthe," which holds all the flips and daredevil stunts of its rival but with more dirty jokes than a fifth grader.

Nature

There are nature options in every direction outside of Las Vegas. For immediacy purposes, we offer you one of these choices.

To the east-southeast of Las Vegas, Lake Las Vegas and Lake Mead offer water options for the aquatic minded individual. Rent a boat, stand-up paddleboard or a tube to wade your troubles away.

To the west of town, Red Rock Canyon gives adventurers a chance to hike and climb the peaks of the national recreation area, where if you time the part of day right, you'll be able to see the monolithic structures of the Las Vegas Strip. They should look like Lego buildings, trust us.

To the immediate south, Seven Magic Mountains jots out of the desert like colorful pebbles from afar. Up close, you'll see that these man-made structures are the most noticeable part of a drive-in from California. Yes, we admit, these aren't exact natural, but the photo opportunity is too hard to ignore.

Dining

The sin in Sin City can also mean gluttony, and in Las Vegas, that gets magnified many times over.

But for foodies out there, finding the right buffet is a must, especially for first-timers. We checked out several spots, but none hold a candle to two places, Bacchanal Buffet at Caesars Palace and the Studio M Buffet at the M Resort.

Of course, the Strip holds offerings from the foremost celebrity chefs in existence. Giada DiLaurentis lends her name to Giada inside the Cromwell. Gordon Ramsay offers up multiple spots, including fish and chips and burger joints. Even the chef behind the high-end Nobu sushi restaurants lends his name to a whole hotel tower at Caesars Palace.

Other unique attractions

Downtown is home to the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement, or simply the Mob Museum. It would be remiss of us not to mention the town's mafia history. After all, former Mayor Oscar Goodman was a prominent lawyer for many key mob figures.

For those looking for some hands-on amusement, the Las Vegas Pinball Hall of Fame offers a time-traveler's journey into the history of arcade.

For thrill seekers, the Strip offers options like New York-New York's Big Apple Roller Coaster and the various rides at the top of the Stratosphere tower. Acrophobics need not apply.

Of course, no journey to Vegas is complete without a picture at the Welcome to Las Vegas sign situated at the south end of the Strip. While a visit there will test your patience since others want a picture too, we suggest heading to the sign in the middle of the night right before you head to bed when it is less crowded

We're checking out more cities that are a direct flight away from Houston. Let us know where you want to check out. Send us an email here.

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