Sometimes, it’s not about the place but about the people you’re with.

I hate Las Vegas.

Ranking among the top domestic tourist destinations in the country, the city, with its glittering party atmosphere, calls to many who adore spectacle and fun. What happens here stays here—at least those things that aren’t documented in selfies or The ‘Gram. I like having fun, too, but the only thing I’ve really loved about Las Vegas is leaving, preferably for the wilderness that surrounds it.

The only times I’ve visited the city have been for travel-industry conferences, which take everyday Vegas and make it even more swanky and extravagant, turning the events into celebrations on par with multi-day Formula 1 races. Despite going along with it all—drinking the drinks, dancing at clubs, eating at restaurants, gambling at the tables, hitting the Las Vegas Strip, seeing the shows, and trying to wash it all away with wellness treatments—after three such events, I didn’t see the need to return.

The one Vegas experience I enjoyed blended a little of the city’s flash with the vermilion-banded canyons and sandstone peaks of Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. Along with a handful of colleagues, I joined a luxury supercar tour where we drove a Ferrari 458 Italia, Jaguar XKRS, and Corvette Z06 on roads through the seemingly endless red-rock formations. When I wasn’t driving, I scanned the landscape for hiking trails and climbing routes, intending to do Vegas my way one day.

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On second thought, maybe I don’t exactly hate Las Vegas.

I Don’t Hate Vegas

After years of writing about travel and destinations, I’ve become much less rigid in my judgment of a place or manner of travel. I feel that I owe people and places my full attention rather than sticking rigidly to an opinion I’ve formed from a previous experience. Destinations I’ve avoided in the past beckon me with a challenge to see beyond my initial impression. After nearly a lifetime of disliking the idea of cruise ships, I’ve become a guest on a few to understand how beloved they are by some travelers and to see how I can appreciate them, too.

Does it mean you’re a travel snob if you just don’t like things others might love? It might be if you spend your time telling people how they’re wrong. But if you remain open to experiences and still find that some places call to you more strongly than others, that’s not snobbery. Despite trying to stay impartial wherever I go, there remain places that have immediately resonated with me. That hasn’t happened in Las Vegas. It’s just never felt like it was my place.

When I got one more invitation to a Vegas conference, I considered declining. But my friend Matt was also invited, someone who travels there several times each year to cover the destination for travel articles. I decided to give the city one more chance and asked him to show me why I should change my mind about Las Vegas. If he couldn’t get me to feel better about the place, I figured nobody could.

Make Me Like Vegas

It turns out Matt took the assignment seriously. With no requirements except for leaving after the last conference event was over, keeping things (relatively) legal, and returning to the hotel in time to check out and get to the airport, he created an itinerary for seven of us. My goal, from the moment we piled into the My Vegas Limo Tour limousine and headed to the Strip from the Westin Lake Las Vegas Resort & Spa in Henderson, was to keep an open mind.

Our first stop was the Happy Half Hour pod of The High Roller at The LINQ Promenade, where we gawked at the skyline from the windows of the 550-foot-tall observation wheel with cocktails in hand. Making sure to take turns at the best vantage points in the cabin, I tried to locate everywhere I’d been in Las Vegas up to that point. Each place I spotted held good memories, something that surprised me a little, considering that I’d held such a negative opinion of the city.

Once our half hour was over, we took a quick ride over to Rosina Cocktail Lounge in The Venetian Resort and skipped the velvet rope to settle at our reserved table. While we all spent time catching up with each other despite most of us living within an hour or so apart, the main focus was tasting through a menu of recently introduced cocktails and pressing the Champagne call button for an endless flow of bubbles.


At the classic Peppermill with its mirrored ceiling and retro lights, we dove into cozy couches around a fire pit and ordered scorpion bowls as large as my head—64 ounces of cocktail with two shots of rum, vodka, and cherry brandy. A forest of arm-length straws made it easier for us to share the behemoth drinks, and post-pandemic me shudders a little when I look at photos of that scene.

The two members of our group who didn’t hail from the San Francisco Bay Area peeled off at that point, having been flirting since The High Roller. Now down to a core group of five, we settled our bets about the assumed hookup and wrapped up the night with some cannabis orders from the drive-up window at NuWu Dispensary and a slice (or two) at Secret Pizza in The Cosmopolitan.

Nothing about the evening was special, and yet everything was. All our activities were in places open to the public, where a visitor can make reservations to follow the exact same itinerary. But that group of friends and colleagues in that place at that moment became the stuff of legend. Nobody ended up with a face tattoo and a tiger, but we all still talk about that night to this day.

Do I Actually Like Vegas?

Sometimes a great travel experience is about the place, and that’s where my previous experiences with Las Vegas ran into a snag because the destination and I didn’t exactly click. But sometimes, it matters less where you go than who you make the journey with. Whether they’re ride-or-dies who board the plane with you or folks you meet along the way, the people you travel with can make a trip far more memorable than even the most extravagantly packed itinerary.

It was those moments with friends that allowed me to set aside my beef with Vegas and see it through different eyes. I forgot that I’d thought it was too crowded, the casinos were too smoky, and the Strip was too artificial. I wanted to do it all again.

I’d still prefer to return to Red Rock Canyon without the sports cars or perhaps hike on the trails at Mount Charleston and Valley of Fire State Park because the outdoors calls to me with a stronger voice than the spectacle of the Strip. But when the opportunity arises for me to dive into the indulgence with my friends, I’m all in.


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