I usually dread the thought of visiting Las Vegas. I've been wanting to visit Death Valley for a very long while and wasn't going to wait around for anyone to join me any longer. My stepmom was tired of me talking about it and gave me the push to finally go. I decided to go at it solo. Traveling solo isn't anything new to me. I love the freedom of not having to compromise for anyone. I've traveled solo for a while now starting when I would visit Europe for work and extend trips before or after to visit a new place. I would meet plenty of people traveling solo along the way which made me feel more confident about it. I met a girl from France many years ago at an airport in the Philippines who told me she traveled the world solo. I thought to myself that one day I'd like to do the same.
Seven Magic Mountains
Just after a 3-hour drive from Los Angeles, I arrived at the site of Seven Magic Mountains about 20 minutes before reaching Las Vegas.
For my first meal upon arrival I chose Kaiseki Yuzu. The chef has 15 years experience as a kaiseki chef in Japan. You'll have to make the reservation 3 days in advance to experience it so he has enough time to source ingredients. For lunch, I made a special request to serve me omakase.
Pink Box Doughnuts
Part of my short tour was trying their local donuts. I stopped by Pink Box Doughnuts to try a donut. They recommened their version of the cronut. I ordered a maple cronut. Satisfying, but not quite like the original version by Dominque Ansel.
Khoury's Fine Wine & Spirits
I stopped by to check out Khoury's selection of drinks. They had some unique craft beer offerings that don't get distribution in Los Angeles. They also had a display of different vintages of Pappy Van Winkle. After some browsing of the craft beer in stock, I did a tasting of their recommend craft beer on tap at their tasting counter.
I can't help but to think of what just happened in October whenever I passed the Mandalay Bay. I heard that they're having trouble filling their rooms now.
I walked into my room for the next couple days and was surprised. It was not what I expected for $22 a night without the $28 resort fee. It was a very clean and modern looking room. There were some scuffs on the door, but the room felt clean. The bed was firm and comfortable. The blanket wasn't thick enough even with the blanket I brought so I had to turn on the heater. A great option in Downtown (Arts District) for budget travelers who just need a clean room to sleep in at night. I loved not having to make the long walks from a parking structure to my room. The artwalk is in the area. Velveteen Rabbit, the best cocktail bar is close to the hotel. For beer lovers, there Atomic Liquors and some local breweries just a short drive away.
Sparrow + Wolf
I wanted something different for dinner and the place that stood out was Sparrow + Wolf, the highly anticipated restaurant from chef Brian Howard. I made it in for happy hour and was informed that the items are the best of the menu at a discount. The food was inventive and reminded me of the food scene in Los Angeles. The cocktails were outstanding. My server at the bar was Andrew. He was very attentive and made my experience dining wonderful.
For dessert, I head to Sweets Raku for their set menu of desserts. It's best to sit at the bar and if you're not picky, ask for recommendations.
Death Valley National Park
At around 8 am we headed to Death Valley. I booked tour group online instead of driving out solo. It was a small group. A couple from Hong Kong and another one from New York City.
Downtown Las Vegas
I headed to Downtown to checkout the Fremont Experience and also grab a bite. As walked over to the main drag I spotted a White Castle. I had a limited amount of time before "the show" started, so I walked in for my first ever White Castle restaurant experience. Back home, it's a guilty pleasure of mine. I first tried White Castle at a pop up on Sunset Boulevard when the movie came out. I've been hooked since. I buy it frozen at the grocery store and pop it in the microwave oven for a snack or light meal. After White Castle, I headed to the Fremont Experience. It was such a waste of time. It's like CityWalk in Los Angeles and very touristy. You've got a cheesier Strip experience in Downtown. I was better off heading to a Downtown bar or nicer restaurant.
Since I had the three mini sliders at White Castle, I head to Starboard Tack for drink and to try their longanisa empanadas. None of the cooks or owners are Filipino, but they were inspired by the Philippines with their islander themed bar and added a couple items on the menu, and are serving dessert from Magnolia Ice Cream of the Philippines. I was told that this is one of the very best bars in Las Vegas along with Velveteen Rabbit and Herbs & Rye.
Grand Canyon National Park
I left the Thunderbird at 4:30 am and headed out to meet my group tour bus at 5 am to make the 4.5 hour drive to Grand Canyon National Park. We spent only an hour at the Grand Canyon before heading back to Vegas with a quick stop over to Hoover Dam. Not a fan of group tours. I am a fan of not having to drive down there myself. I slept most of the way through.
For my last meal before hitting the road, I chose another Japanese restaurant visited by local top chefs after work. Vegas chefs (Sparrow + Wolf, Black Sheep, Joël Robuchon) are fans of this izakaya. A food writer described Kyara as "the love child of Ichiza and Raku." I would visit this place on a regular basis because of their extensive menu of popular and esoteric Japanese food. It's also an affordable option in Vegas catering to locals.
On this trip, I discovered that I don't hate Las Vegas as much as I thought I did -- as long as I experienced it on my own terms.
The locals are kind and there is a lot more to Las Vegas than the Strip. A long time ago, I met a local bartender who told me why he enjoys living in Las Vegas. It's something I hear all the time. The cost of living and being close to nature. People are able to buy property which is something that is no longer attainable for many people living in Los Angeles.
If you enjoy nature, there are many beautiful places to visit such as Red Rock Canyon and the more local favorite -- Valley of the Fire State Park. For me, it was being able to visit two national parks back-to-back as day trips; both places that attract people to visit the US from around the world.
I much enjoyed my stay in Las Vegas avoiding the Strip and avoiding the kind of people that the Vegas Strip typically attracts. The whole Vegas Strip scene feels cheap, dirty, and full of skanky people. Even the locals told me to stay far away from that Strip as possible for a better experience.
I love exploring Los Angeles like a tourist. I have as much fun in my hometown as I do traveling to another country. I hope my adventures inspire you to eat well and travel often.